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Why office is a threat to economy

By XN Iraki | Published Tue, April 4th 2017 at 08:24, Updated April 4th 2017 at 08:29 GMT +3

He is an officer, come see me in my office, my office is located in such and such a place. Such phrases are still very popular in Kenya. Owning an office, which makes you can officer, is still a sign of prestige and power but a hangover from a bygone era that has persisted to the computer age.

The real estate developers have reaped from this hangover. They are putting up more offices for sale. They are getting into a market that was previously dominated by apartments and residential houses. The latest advert for office space gives a price of around Sh13,000 per square foot. It is not clear why the construction industry still use feet. Paradoxically, progressive firms are selling off their offices!

Owning an office or better being allocated one was always a sign of power and prestige. That was when life was about shuffling papers and meeting people face to face. In the office, you could meet people on both official and non-official matters in privacy.

Untold, the biggest attraction to office ownership was the power to exclude. By using another archaically name employee, secretary, you could decide who to meet
The exclusivity made the office and the officer appear mysterious. As kids grew up, they longed to be officers.

The comfort of the office, both mental and physical is also threat to creativity and a source of unemployment. Real work is done elsewhere. Value addition is often outside the office.

It is amazing lots of Kenyans still believe the office is a status symbol, long after alternatives took over.
The most popular alternative to office is the open space. We long realised that all that an employee needs is minimal working space. Why would we waste money with excess rental space? Have you noted how planes utilize space?

Open space has another advantage, it increases productivity. The employees work as a team and reinforce each other. The open space "flattens" the organization, making communication among all employees easier. Ideas are easily generated and shared. In hierarchical organisations, espoused by opaque offices, communication is slow and often gets distorted through the chain. In open space, decision is making is faster and informality spices up innovation.

The newer alternative to the archaic office is alternative work place, where work comes to you instead of going to work. The term alterative work place is not new; it appeared in Harvard Business Review in 1998. The US Bureau of labour Statistics report that "The share of workers doing some or all of their work at home grew from 19 per cent in 2003 to 24 percent in 2015."

Who said we must go to work? With all the internet and ability to teleconference, why do we need to spend four hours on the road and work for eight hours? Have you wondered what percentage of your day generates value for your company or yourself?

The office has held us hostage, just as its walls never move. In addition to alternative work place, we can try flex work. Why must we all report to work at 8am? Why not choose any eight hours of the 24 hour day when you are most productive? What of compressed week? Why not work more hours on some days and be free on others?

Soon you may not need to give your office address on your business card. It seems the so-called "brief case" workers were ahead of their time. The shift away from the office makes economic sense. After all, the biggest office block is our head; we carry it wherever we go.

The office was envisaged as a centre of productivity. The number of offices per employee is a good proxy measure of an organization's efficiency. The less, the better.Attachment to the office in the age of whatsup, twitter and Facebook is a threat to economic progress. The word office should be replaced with "work place" or better "productivity centre." Did you read this in an office?


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