The rise of the deskless office

Posted on 11/04/2012 by Emma Dadswell


At the Guardian’s Activate Summit last week, Matt Mullenweg, founder of WordPress, endorsed the rise of the distributed workforce – whereby staff work remotely without fixed offices. He believes that companies should ‘move away from self-destructive, factory models of work where people are rewarded for arriving early and staying late’. Is he alone in his beliefs? And is this work model really feasible?

There has been a trend of late, especially within the creative and digital industries, for businesses to re-evaluate the way they organise their teams. There has been a shift towards more flexible office spaces, remote working, and functioning between time-zones. These changes have been made possible by the open source movement, mobile internet and the rise of the cloud. Ever more sophisticated portable hardware means it is now logistically possible for us to work away from a traditional office environment. But is it practical to take a nomadic approach to our professional lives? Is ‘anywhere working’ simply the latest HR buzzword? Or is this new approach to workspace reflective of the times in which we live?

Last week, GlaxoSmithKline, the global pharmaceutical giant announced that it is now planning a fluid workspace for 1,300 employees in Philadelphia after successfully opening a similar space for 200 employees in Columbia this spring. In theory, this model could save time, money and the environment by removing the need for each employee to have their own desk, or visit the office every day.

Google’s headquarters in San Francisco is infamous for its novel approach to office design but this highly stylised environment is now catching on closer to home. Last year, their London HQ had an extreme makeover – the third floor was completely revamped to include angular two-tier sofas, games consoles, and a coffee lab.

Technology giant Microsoft and its advisory panel, the Anywhere Organisation is in the process of rolling out fundamental changes to the way some of its European offices function. The catalyst for this was its Dutch office in Amsterdam which has no fixed desks – staff choose where they sit depending on their schedules. In its white paper - The Anywhere Working City, co-authored by Linda Chandler Enterprise Architect at Microsoft UK and Phillip Ross CEO of, Microsoft talk about a ‘third space’. This, they say, is an alternative workspace between the office and home - which will become more commonplace as companies replace their internal IT systems with the cloud. With WiFi availability steadily increasing in cafes, bars and libraries it could be argued that we are already beginning to work in this new dimension.

There is always a risk that working away from our desks could affect communication and creative collaboration. Does flexible working enable an increase in work life balance? Or does blurring the lines of work and leisure time create a world where we never switch off?

One thing is for sure – workforces are evolving – and only time will tell if the deskless office is the shape of things to come or just a flash in the pan. Let us know what you think by commenting below.