A confluence of high digital literacy among younger workers, huge technological leaps, and globalization has upended the whole concept of what work is and where it happens. Peter Miscovich, who describes himself as “a 51-year-old baby boomer who works like a 20-year-old in terms of digital and mobility practices,” embodies this transformation in the meaning of work in the 21st century.
It was not easy for Miscovich, managing director of strategic consulting at commercial real estate firm Jones Lang LaSalle, to retrain himself, a process that took two years. But today he is happily enabled by technology that helps him conduct much of his business digitally and often from home.
“I don’t believe in working in an eight-foot workstation or working in a traditional office,” he says. “I think it is obsolete as a concept. With technology today we can work in mobile and distributed ways more effectively.”
As for the supporting documents and information he might need when speaking to or visiting with clients and colleagues — his fully mobile “office,” which includes data storage in the cloud, 4G broadband, a terabyte drive, a cell phone, a tablet, and a laptop, allows him to carry along 15 years’ worth of data.
Miscovich will speak on “Emerging Technologies’ Impact upon Urbanization and the Workplace,” on Wednesday, September 14, at 8:30 a.m., for the New Jersey Chapter of CoreNet Global at the Jones Lang LaSalle offices at Metro Top Plaza in Iselin. Cost: $50. For more information, contact Joan Leiwant at 973-992-6773 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
The technologies Miscovich uses not only make him more productive, but have provided a greener lifestyle, with minimal commuting and far less business travel. Here are some of the changes Miscovich has been seeing in work styles and work environments:
#b#Multiple venues for collaboration#/b#. Whereas once colleagues collaborated either face-to-face in a conference room or on the phone in a conference call, the possibilities today have multiplied.
They now include sophisticated video conferencing, meeting in virtual space through the presence of an avatar, and attending a meeting as a robot. Holograms are advancing rapidly so that eventually meetings will take place between three-dimensional versions of ourselves.
Miscovich attended a conference working session in Singapore where his face appeared in a screen atop a four-foot robot. And at a recent meeting Miscovich and about a dozen others gathered for a working session that took place in a virtual world. All the participants had created avatars, or graphical representations of themselves, to represent them at the virtual meeting.
At this meeting, which looked to viewers like a cartoon video, the participants talked, brainstormed, demonstrated software, and wrote on white boards. All the information was recorded and could be replayed later. The next week’s meeting could begin exactly where the last one left off.
“It’s still a little primitive,” says Miscovich, “but it’s almost as good as a physical meeting, especially if you think about flying 15-20 people around the world to be together for two hours. It’s efficient, economical, and very productive.”
#b#Distributed teams#/b#. “In many corporations, colleagues are no longer in the next cubicle, but on the next continent,” says Miscovich. And managers can get reports from anywhere in the world. This dispersion of employees affects the role of corporate headquarters, which may now be the location of a 50-person conference call rather than a 50-person meeting.
Increased individual productivity. Miscovich, who used to work on a laptop, now uses two 24-inch monitors. The ability to review up to six documents at a time increases his productivity while enabling him to dispense entirely with printing (which he has not done since 2005).
He expects the future to bring more voice-activated technology. “The old laptop with keyboard will still be around, but we will have a more natural interface that will improve our productivity and allow us to do things faster and better,” he says.
#b#Reorganization of the mother ship#/b#. Today the actual physical workplace is the hub for collaboration and interaction more than it is a space for individual work activity, which can happen anywhere. The old rule for planning corporate real estate was that 80 percent of the space was allotted to individuals who worked in their assigned offices and 20 percent of space was collaborative.
But that has changed. The change showed up first in technology companies and large consulting firms, then in advertising. Now it is happening in pharma, financial, and media and entertainment firms.
Companies are redesigning their corporate spaces to promote greater collaboration and flexibility and less hierarchy. “Sixty to eighty percent becomes collaborative and interactive, and twenty to forty percent becomes individual, but maybe not territorial,” says Miscovich. This means that even when individuals use offices, they are not assigned spaces sporting nameplates and family pictures. But they can also work at home, in coffee shops, or wherever.
When Cisco realized that two-thirds of its offices and cubicles were likely to be empty on a given workday, the company created its Connected Workplace. Instead of assigned offices, the largest spaces are open common rooms with desks and chairs on wheels. These spaces are surrounded by conference rooms and individual offices open to whoever needs them.
The resulting 40 percent increase in space utilization means lower costs on real estate as well as on maintenance. Similarly, in 2010 the Grey Group, a New York advertising firm, moved to an open-plan layout and in the process reduced its footprint from 26 floors to six.
As a result of changes like these in many companies, the average amount of space allotted per employee has dropped from about 400 square feet in 1985 to 250 today. Another 100 square feet per employee is expected to drop away, according to Jones Lang LaSalle.
#b#Other types of work spaces#/b#. Flexible office sites, called “co-working sites,” are growing in major cities in Europe and in New York. These are entrepreneurial spaces that people can rent by day or month at a very reasonable cost and be surrounded by colleagues. Co-working sites in the Netherlands even offer childcare.
Miscovich’s father was an international mining consultant, his grandfather a well-known inventor. Miscovich has always been interested in how things work, and for a period was obsessed with aircraft and flight.
He earned a bachelor’s in civil engineering at the University of Arizona. and has worked at Anderson Consulting and PricewaterhouseCoopers, where he focused on workplace transformation. He has been at Jones Lang LaSalle for 25 years.
Work is becoming more diverse and, as a result, less predictable in terms of what commercial space looks like. “We have so many more choices around how and where we work,” says Miscovich.
But this new world of work has pluses and minuses. “We are creating a richer work experience,” says Miscovich, “but the downside is you can work 24/7.”