Change is Here

As I prepare to pass the baton of the IIDA presidency and NeoCon rolls ever closer, the phrase “Out with the old, in with the new” takes on a profound dimension.

by James Williamson, IIDA, LEED AP

Like it or not, change is always in the wind. With NeoCon nearly upon us and my tenure as IIDA president drawing to a close, I’m feeling that perhaps a bit more acutely than I otherwise might. But change is always taking shape in some form or other, and the demands of the workplace and work space are evolving right in step. When Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer announced to the world that she had decided to cancel its mobile work policy and demanded the return of all employees to a company office, it was in part a message to shareholders that she’s committed to reversing the disappointing performance of Yahoo!’s stock. But the public at large also sensed a seismic shift in the direction that workplace culture is taking.

Some of you may have read my blog entry on the subject, “Like Bees to Honey: Yahoo! and the Future of Mobile Work,” which I published on back in February, shortly after this incident occurred. From the feedback I received—to say nothing of the hits the feature earned for the website—it’s obvious that this subject struck a chord with many in the design community. As we ready ourselves for the watershed moment that NeoCon tends to be for so many of us each year, I thought it might be a valid time to re-evaluate the trends in workplace culture that affect their design, and reflect on the relevance of the workspace both now and in the future.

For years now, we’ve seen a tendency toward mobility on the part of the workforce. As I stated in my initial blog entry, Yahoo! was ironically one of the first companies to catalyze and embrace this change, seeing it as an opportunity for its workers to not only gain freedom of movement and greater flexibility in their workdays, but also greater exposure to the world around them and the ideas that it might inspire.

This was revolutionary thinking in its time and it’s hard to understate how different of an approach to the work ethic it was—and arguably still is. For literally centuries, dedication was defined in terms of how much time was spent on the premises (excepting the sales force, of course); suddenly, technology has untethered the worker from his or her space and set in motion an exodus in the name of productivity, not protest.

And here we are just a few short years later, it seems, watching the leash being pulled and bringing personnel back to more grounded surroundings. It may not be completely surprising in Yahoo!’s case, given its share price, as many—myself included—have noted. But if proximity is going to be anything like the new norm with regard to how and where people work in the future, design should be playing a crucial role in how new and developing companies make that return to the office not just palatable, but productive.

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Yahoo! employees will soon be returning to the company’s offices, including its headquarters in Sunnyvale, Calif., as management tries to turn around its disappointing stock price and increase innovation.
photograph courtesy of Markus Spiering/spieri_sf via Flickr
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