For most of us, we get up each morning and commute to work. We then sit at a computer all day, usually working with systems connected via a network, that could be at the other end of our building or the other side of the planet. We might even have a telephone meeting with one or more people at a distant office. So why do we travel to one location to talk to systems and people located somewhere else? Can’t we just stay home and get the same amount of work completed, and save on all the commuting expense? Couldn’t your business save on expenses by not renting all that office space?
In this article written by Carlo Ratti and Matthew Claudel, we hear their take on what options might be possible to solve this issue, because we are closer to a solution than ever before.
The well-known prediction by U.S. professor Melvin Webber seemed imminent: “For the first time in history, it might be possible to locate on a mountain top and to maintain intimate, real-time, and realistic contact with business or other associates” (Webber M.M., 1973). Instantaneous communication with everyone else on the planet — even from the summit of Mount Everest — would soon render traditional offices obsolete.
History has charted a far different course. Today’s technology does allow global and instantaneous communication, but most of us still commute to offices for work every day. Telecommuting from our homes (let alone Mount Everest!) has not picked up as much as many thought it would. Meanwhile, lots of corporations are investing significantly in new or renovated office spaces located in the heart of urban areas.
What early digital commentators missed is that even if we can work from anywhere, that does not mean we want to. We strive for places that allow us to share knowledge, to generate ideas, and to pool talents and perspectives. Human aggregation, friction, and the interaction of our minds are vital aspects of work, especially in the creative industries. And that is why the quality of the physical workplace is becoming more crucial than ever — bringing along watershed changes.
The transformation of our work environments is only just beginning, but it could have a major impact on architects, developers, corporations, and society at large in the years to come. Far from making offices obsolete, as the digital pioneers of the 1990s confidently predicted, technology will transform and revitalize workspaces. We could soon work in a more sociable and productive way, and not from the top of a mountain. The ominous “death of distance” may be reversed with the “birth of a new proximity.”