Why the Office Won't Go Out of Style

Question: What will the workplace of the future look like?  
Clay Shirky: Well so, the “everybody can work from \r\nwherever they are” logic has been around for a long time.  And in fact, \r\nwell again, well predates the Internet.  I mean, really, in every \r\nconsecutive year since the 1964 World’s Fair, when AT&T you know, \r\nunveiled their video phone, we’ve been promised that video conference is\r\n going to mean that nobody has to have, you know... there doesn’t need \r\nto even be any business travel anymore. And that has turned out to not \r\nmerely to be wrong, but actually exactly backwards.  Which is to say, \r\ncommunications and transportation are not substitutes for one another \r\nexcept at the margins. They’re mainly compliments, right?  If you talk \r\nto somebody for a long time, after a while, you want to meet them \r\nface-to-face.  And if you meet someone face-to-face and like them, or \r\nhave business to do with them, and then you separate, guess what?  You \r\nwant to stay in touch. So, more transportation drives more \r\ncommunication, more communication drives more transportation. In \r\nparticular, the ability to connect with the home office using these \r\ntools have meant more people have spent more time on the road because \r\nface time with clients is often more valuable than face time with \r\nco-workers. 
So, I don’t believe that there is... I don’t \r\nbelieve that there’s any work coming in which the telecommuting model \r\nbecomes the normal case for most workers.  It just... getting humans in \r\nthe same room creates a kind of coordinating value that’s impossible to \r\nreplicate in software right now. Again, to the open source people... \r\neven open source projects they’ll periodically all fly to the same city \r\nto sit around and, you know, work together in the same room.  So, I \r\nthink the workplace of the future, I think the big change in the \r\nworkplace of the future is an increasingly loft-like flexibility.  \r\nRight? If you look at what Jennifer McNolty is doing at Herman Miller, \r\nthe research on configurable work spaces.  I think that what we’ve \r\nlearned about businesses and habiting existing loft basis, such as the \r\none in which we are doing this interview, is that the flexibility of the\r\n business to periodically reconfigure itself matters more than the kind \r\nthat "anybody can work from anywhere" logic which has not played out \r\nvery well. 
So, I think the premium is going to be on \r\ndesigning work spaces that are a good fit for whatever the local work \r\nclimate is, but still using the space as places to get people together \r\nface-to-face because social pools, you know, social software, is not \r\nbetter than face-to-face, it’s just better than nothing.

Recorded on May 26, 2010
Interviewed by Victoria Brown

''I don’t believe that there’s any work coming in which the telecommuting model becomes the normal case for most workers.''

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