Will physical offices still exist in the future?

A lot of businesses have abandoned the uninspiring idea of filling offices with cubicles, which employees should occupy between the hours of nine and five, Monday to Friday. But in the future will we see workers abandon the idea of a physical space altogether?

A report from Citrix, an IT and cloud solutions company, predicts that by 2020 nearly a third of people will no longer work from a traditional office and the UK will hold one of the lowest desk-to-worker ratios with just six desks for every 10 workers. It’s not surprising then that, in time, some businesses may ditch the idea of having their staff in one physical place.

The cost of office space will be a major consideration in moving away from having a physical office for many businesses. With prices as high as £195 per square foot in some parts of London, opting to employ an alternative to a physical office will make huge savings for some businesses.

There are, of course, some concerns over what ditching the office could mean for the credibility of businesses, particularly around how completely abandoning the physical space could lead concerns for potential clients. However, businesses can make use of ‘virtual offices’ – office spaces that are used only when a company requires a physical space. Often located in impressive buildings – think desirable East London office space that a new business could never afford – virtual offices come with professional secretarial services, meeting rooms and the use of the business address for mail. 

“From every angle your business will appear to be just as large as your competitors,” Simon Howard of City Office says. “You can hold your meetings at the office, have packages shipped to your business address and all of your phone calls will be answered at the office and forwarded to you.”

Technology has advanced to a point where it means that businesses don’t need a lot of the hardware that they once did, meaning that it no longer requires a home – freeing them from being tied to one place. And even when they do need hardware, there are other options.

Read more: How to run a business from your house

Ben Risk, executive producer at Marshmallow Laser Feast wrote in the Guardian: “We have the odd bit of specialist hardware that sometimes needs a home. But, unlike our competitors who store theirs in the eye-wateringly expensive square feet of Soho, we simply keep ours in inexpensive storage spaces. Our laptops and smartphones are the real warriors. With all our systems in the cloud, we can work quickly, flexibly and with much more agility than ever before.”

Read more: Designing the ultimate workspace: how our environment shapes our ability to think

Some businesses may have concerns about workers being so remote from bosses and managing people when they’re not located in the same place. But Ben says that it’s not something that they’re worried about. “Communication and trust are the two main factors,” he says. “We’re a small company of under 20 people and we all know each other really well. We’re passionate enough about our jobs to know that no one will slack-off just because they’re not under a watchful eye at the office.”

It’s hard to imagine a world where big businesses will pack up their tower blocks and vacate the office. But, in time, it’s not unimaginable that more small businesses and start-ups will take a leaf out of Marshmallow Laser Feast’s book and opt to save money on office space.

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