The Future of the Workplace is Actually You

World renowned author Douglas Coupland has shared with us his exclusive insight into the workplace of the future.

Douglas Coupland recently joined is in Berlin where we announced our new Workplace Hub. A device that is designed to empower users to manage their business infrastructure, administration requirements and provide virtual collaboration spaces for teams, all housed within one box. We've shared our insight into how this can impact the workplace of the future to enable better decision making and increased efficiencies and we wanted to share some thoughts from Douglas Coupland around the workplace of the future and what it may look like:

The Future of the Workplace is Actually You

The first time it really sank in how much the workplace universe had changed was in London a few years back at the Ace Hotel in Shoreditch. It was a Wednesday afternoon and the hotel lobby was full of twentysomethings — one on every single seat on all of the sectional couches, and all along a long bench running down the length of the (very) large room. But here’s the kicker: everyone was silent. Everyone was on a laptop mostly with headphones and buds, with only a few ears unclad. To be honest, it was initially spooky, but then I thought that’s being ungenerous — what is the upside of all of these blogging, video-editing web surfing young people being in a room together? I did find the upside: all of these people could have been upstairs in their rooms working but instead they chose to work together, albeit in monk-like silence punctuated only the sound of tapping fingers on keyboards and the clinking of coffee cups. One could have spoken in the lobby, but to do so would be, in the most high-school sense of the word, uncool. Something was going on here.

I’ve been self-employed since 1988 — or, in another sense, unemployed since 1988. My last gig was working as a junior staffer at a long defunct business magazine, and one of the last things I wrote was a semi-puff piece on telecommuting — that’s right: “In The Future You’ll Be Working From Home!” The internet didn’t yet really exist, so the conceit was that you could put work onto disks and take it home with you. It felt weird writing the piece as working from home seemed impossibly having-your-cake-and-eating-it-too. And then came the Cloud.

I like working on large art or theatrical projects and like to have three on the go at any given time. I do it to keep things interesting and to meet new people and learn new skills. In recent years, much of this work has involved working with people with specialized electronic skills. There will be times when a project is near completion that I’ll have up to a dozen people on site doing whatever they do on their laptops, and everyone finds a seat or a table and does the work on my project — but they work their own projects as well. It’s my favourite kind of energy: people getting things done without a fuss in a reasonably nice and hopefully flexible space. All you need is coffee, snacks …and the awareness that this is the future and regardless of one’s business, the laptop + caffeine model is here for at least two decades, and that’s a good thing. I would also add to this model lax dress codes bordering on pajamas (“Wear what you’d wear to your 11th grade social studies class” — a real quote from a friend at FaceBook), but most of all: Insanely Good Wifi.

While self-employed, I’ve done stints in a few offices over the years, most memorably at Wired magazine in the early 1990s, and in recent years at Google and Facebook. As pioneers of workplace reinvention, the one thing they’ve all had in common was a powerful infra-office systems that track who’s where, what needs doing and which also obviates a need for the worst thing of all in any office: meetings. People don’t like speaking on the phone any more — a reordering of our sense preferences predicted by Marshall McLuhan — and they like meetings even less.

In fact, last month I was in Berlin for the launch of a new system Konica-Minolta is releasing in the fall that controls all the IT within a company — most importantly it anticipates what appears to be an unstoppable onslaught of IoT and AI tools careening towards Earth like 1990s movie asteroids. Konica Minolta says it will help take the work out of work, but we can only also hope it takes the meetings out of meetings.

I do think that whatever system ends up winning in the office of tomorrow, it will be the one that eliminates meetings.