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The Office of the future: From Mad Men to nomadic

It used to be that you had to “go” to the office to get work done.  Back then, people took their lunches with them and worked a solid day in one location. During the Industrial Revolution, workers went to the factory because that was where the big machines required for productivity were located. By the Don Draper era of the 1960s, workers still went to where the work was–big offices with steno pools and rooms full of neatly arranged desks. Later, as we moved into the Information Age, offices were still where the tools resided, but instead of big industrial machines or typewriters in tidy rows, workers used mainframes and expensive desktop computers.

Mad Men and space planning

Office space itself was designed for prestige. To climb the corporate ladder, you landed the larger office. Then you moved to the bigger office with a window, with the final prize of the even bigger corner office with two windows and the mahogany desk. All of these symbols were signs that you, as an employee, were movin’ on up in your organization. But no more.

Today we carry our offices with us.  In our backpacks, messenger bags, briefcases and carry-on luggage, we have all the power we need to work anywhere.  Mobile phones, unified communications and cloud storage have made it just as easy to work at the local coffee shop as at the cube farm (and in many cases, far more pleasant).

So why do we go to the office at all?  Why not work in the comfort of our own homes with bunny slippers on our feet?  Because we no longer go to the office to connect to data or tools-we go to connect with people.  We brainstorm, we meet, we collaborate, we talk to customers. We interact as human beings.

We’ve noticed some key trends and happenings  

Recent research from Herman Miller shows that 70% of architects and designers (the people who design the places we work) believe the category of “collaboration and new forms of group work” is the most important office design consideration today.

Further, the trend in new construction of business spaces is to place more focus on “neighborhoods” of desks where workers can openly collaborate and the overall reduction of single offices. Those private offices are being replaced with huddle spaces and team rooms designed for collaboration, not just single-person productivity.

A recent article in the LA Times talks about CBRE, the international real estate brokerage company, and how they are adopting an “untethered” approach to their corporate headquarters in Los Angeles. The company, which knows a thing or two about office space, is using this process to change how they work and collaborate. And it’s not just collaboration improvement they’re seeing, but also tangible cost reduction as a benefit of such a change-as much as 30% savings in rent and capital expenditures in CBRE’s case.

Where does technology fit into the equation?

Architects and designers can create great spaces that are more communal and flexible enough to allow workers to move from place to place, carrying their tools with them. Mobile solutions – phones, laptops and tablets – allow people to move from room to room and office to office and still maintain productivity.  In many cases, the rooms they move to have dedicated conference phones and, in some cases, Video Teleconferencing (VTC) solutions.

However, there’s still a disconnect: Despite all the investments in technology, collaboration still suffers. Although I may be able to walk into a conference room or collaboration space and project my personal device onto a screen, invariably someone grabs the most antiquated piece of technology in the room – the whiteboard marker.

And here’s where group collaboration can fall apart.  If there are people who are working off-site, on the phone or on a dedicated VTC system, they’re out of the loop. They can’t see the whiteboard, so now the people in the room are the only ones truly collaborating.  The conversation has comments such as, “you guys on the phone can’t see this, but…” and “we can’t see what you’re doing on the whiteboard, but I assume…”

Further, when the meeting is done, someone has to take pictures of what’s on the board and send the images to participants or have the information transcribed.

The Perceptive Pixel collaboration connection

Perceptive Pixel (PPI) devices are large screen devices (55″ and 82″) that allow a user to open applications on the computer and interact via pen and touch.  The user can launch any application and, while standing at the screen, they can ink in or manipulate applications as they need.

In the case of our remote collaboration scenario, using PPI devices creates the ability to share the screen and draw whiteboard diagrams and notes in a powerful software application, such as OneNote or PowerPoint.  Everyone can see the notes and they can be shared easily with everyone in the room or on the call.  With OneNote, anyone who has access to the shared notebook can pull up every note and diagram from the meeting. This is especially useful when you want to pick up where you left off from the last meeting.  Imagine starting a meeting with all of the whiteboard notes from the last time you met available to you, regardless of the room location-no more “DO NOT ERASE” notes required.

Using PPI to present with PowerPoint allows you to do the same thing, plus more. When you stand at the PPI screen and use your hand to move between slides and the pen to annotate directly on the slides, you create a deeper connection between you, your audience and the content you’re presenting.  When someone asks if you can you send them the slide deck and your notes, you send just one PowerPoint file because your notes and diagrams are automatically included in the file.

Imagine the digitized versions of charrettes, kanban boards and the like. This type of technology opens up a plethora of other key scenarios that can help an organization of any size be more effective and productive.

These are just a few examples of how Perceptive Pixel devices can help with changes in the workplace.  So when thinking about how your organization embraces this new world of work, make sure you’re thinking beyond tablets and audio/video equipment-include the wall space as a part of the digital space you’re working to improve.

For more information about Perceptive Pixel devices, check out http://www.microsoft.com/office/perceptivepixel/