By 2010 nearly a quarter of all office workers were following the new mobile work style trend: working from home. Predictions called for numbers to jump to more than 80 percent by mid-2014 due to the many benefits it provides, including lower employee-related costs for companies, increased personal productivity and better work/life balance for employees.

As a result of this new trend, the average office space has begun to shrink – significantly. The average space allocation per person has decreased from an average of 200-300 square feet per office worker, traditionally, to approximately 125 square feet, with predictions that it will fall as low as 100 feet or less by the end of 2016.

By encouraging employees to work from home, companies reduce the number of offices and the overall amount of office space needed to support their workforce. And by creating more open and collaborative team spaces, along with hiring more freelance workers, many companies have saved a significant amount of money. But at what cost? And is the pendulum now beginning to swing back?

Where companies once preferred employees to work from home to save money, many now are realizing that what was lost is something unquantifiable – that is, workplace culture and the benefits of face-to-face collaboration. It was a bold move when Yahoo’s new CEO Marissa Mayer abolished its former work-at-home policy, stating the obvious benefits of face-to-face interaction among employees. But while a new “open-plan,” team-oriented office structure has begun to replace the old traditional office design of separate walled offices and meeting rooms, some may argue this has done little in terms of creating an optimal work setting. Many employees liked the idea of a more laid-back and collaborative atmosphere to work in, but that same atmosphere has also proved damaging to many workers’ attention spans, productivity levels, creative thinking and overall job satisfaction. And further, when compared to standard office architecture, many employees experienced higher levels of stress, and lower levels of concentration and motivation.

As companies now try to get workers back into the office, they’re challenged to find innovative ways to do so without costing themselves more money. The new reality is that more flexibility in work schedules along with the growing awareness on the part of management that staff can and will be most productive when working within their personal circadian rhythms and preferred work styles. It’s no longer about desk time, it’s about results. And to achieve results, companies also need to provide mobile-ready technology platforms enterprise-wide, because by 2020, 50 billion devices will be connected, and the average employee will access his or her company network from six different devices.

There are at least three important things to keep in mind as we look to see what shape the office of future actually takes:

  1. People – invest in getting and then keeping the best
  2. Process – globalization and consolidation of workforce and efficiencies
  3. Technology – integration and connection of all things (people included)

And of course, plenty of really excellent coffee.

About Deborah Baldwin

Deborah Baldwin is the Marketing Manager for SCA AfH Professional Hygiene North America, and serves as Office Building segment expert and primary link between Product Management, Marketing and Regional Sales driving innovation and market insight. A member of BOMA International and key collaborator, Deborah's background is in marketing and communications, having worked as a professional content provider and creative problem-solver for over a decade.