The world of classical music doesn’t instantly conjure up visions of a bright new technological beginning.
However just as a commercial property company needs to invest in technology to keep a mobile, flexible workforce competitive, so does a world class orchestra. It is, after all, a commercial property business like any other.
The London Symphony Orchestra (LSO) has eighty musicians who travel the world acting and recording and a staff of 75 who run the office, their commercial property London venue, education division and music label.
Head of technology at LSO, Jeremy Garside, said: “For a lot of the time the orchestra is away from the Barbican, which is out main base.”
He further added: “Their support team, particularly the orchestra managers who look after the day to day running of the orchestra, are probably away two-thirds of the time from our core base.”
The need to upgrade the commercial property organisation’s IT infrastructure and its ageing telephony network gave them the chance to introduce flexible working on the move. Mr Garside said: “If you’ve got a session in Abbey Road studios, or a film recording session, or are in an airport, it isn’t always possible to introduce to get through on a mobile, they’re often switched off.”
Getting rid of ISDN lines has created cost savings, and the capability for the management team to log onto their laptops and make choices in real time whether in Beijing, New York or London has made the commercial property organisation more agile declares Mr Garside.
This might not seem to be a predominantly new set-up. However there’s a growing organisation that sees this as the first steps to a vision of the future workplace, where thanks to technology that keeps us constantly linked to the office, the office is where you are.
So just how does this specific version of the future work?
Technology giant Microsoft and their advisory board, the Anywhere Organisation promote a more, flexible horizontal organisation. As part of this, the commercial property company has put its money where its mouth is and is in the course of rolling out vital changes to the way some of its European commercial property offices function.
The catalyst for this was its Dutch commercial property office in Amsterdam. Theo Rinsema, the General Manager at the Dutch office, was faced with a confined office environment and a workforce who were selling a philosophy to clients that had little to do with the way they themselves were working.
Rinsema decided that the best way to sell an idea was to show it in practice. This meant a new, customer-designed commercial property office, a huge investment in combined communications and cloud computing, as well as staff training and support.
Staff at the commercial property office-no longer have a desk, and are encouraged to decide where they work that day centred on the tasks they have to do.
This might be in the open area on the first floor that includes a restaurant, breakout areas and meeting rooms, coffee bar, a private room on another floor or a hot desk. Employees are also encouraged to work from home where possible. Line managers work with employees to draw up delivery schedules and expectations.
Microsoft’s Klaus Holse says there are a number of things to contemplate: “You’ve got to be thoughtful about what you’re doing, because not all positions in a company are created equal.”
He further added: “If you’re in the HR department for example, the physical requirement for you to be at the office is probably higher than if you’re a consultant.”
Mr Holse believes that it is important to be clear on what is appropriate when working from home.
The outcome, according to Microsoft, has been a happier workforce, improved productivity and greater sales as well as cost savings. The new commercial property office has half the floor space of the old one, but capacity isn’t a concern.
Microsoft isn’t alone among commercial property technology giants in forecasting a flexible future for the average commercial office worker. Commercial property Dell recently published the second report in a series of what they call the evolving workforce.
Dell’s Bryan Jones said: “I think the workplace of the future to me looks like a connected, enabled, empowered knowledge worker.”
He further added: “It’s an employee who is less bound by physical location, by conventional work hours, and the performance of that employee is judged more by the output and indexed towards quality of output rather than the number of hours worked.”
The study found that developing economies such as Brazil, China and Mexico had been quickest to adopt flexible practices. One reason for that is a shortage of existing IT infrastructure, said Mr Jones.
“They’re able to skip a generation of technology and go directly to it. I think it speaks to the entrepreneurial spirit that we are seeing in developing countries as well.”
Mr Jones believes that commercial property companies that fail to implement a more flexible approach risk being unable to appeal to the biggest and the best.
He said: “I would say that companies that are categorically saying that they’re not willing to embrace these types of opportunities, I would say you’re going to miss out on a level of employee-led innovation that will be debilitating to you long term.”
Nevertheless the research also underlined the fact that it was not just the younger age group that was pushing for different methods of working.
He commented: “What we found was that there was a gap between the technology savvy and non-technology savvy. It really doesn’t matter what age group you’re in, it depends more on how the individual employee or user has embraced technology.”
It’s not just technology commercial property companies that are keen to encourage more flexible ways of working. For Conservation charity WWF this means assisting commercial property companies reduce their carbon footprint.
Senior transport policy advisor for WWF UK said: “All companies are concerned about their bottom line. And one of the biggest items of cost for a lot of companies is business travel.”
She further added: “And if there are ways you can cut that means you can save money. And the cost of business travel is only going to increase with the cost of oil.”
The charity works with the Anywhere Working Consortium, an organisation that includes commercial property companies like Nokia, Vodafone and Microsoft, to promote home-working and video conferencing amongst other things.
The charity is in the process of building new commercial offices, where distant working will be encouraged-as will public transport, as there are no parking services.
This is just one possible version of the future-and it’s one that is perhaps most applicable to the knowledge-or commercial office-worker. For example, a manufacturing production line is unlikely to move to your front room anytime soon.
For some commercial property businesses, permitting staff to have so much free reign may seem like a step too far, and for others dealing with delicate customer data, too risky. But for Phillip Ross, Chief Executive Officer of Unwork.com, the development is complete.
His commercial property organisation studies attitudes towards work, and has just finished its 2012 Unwork.com yearly survey. The study found that 71 per cent of respondents have not implemented home-working or telecommuting, citing the fear of loneliness and the need to be seen in the office.
Phillips said: “What that says to me is that people still want to get out of home, they don’t want to be home-workers, they want to come in and they need that kind of buzz.”
Philip predicts that as well as home-working, people will use other spaces to come together and work outside the commercial office. With around 45 per cent of commercial office desk space available at any one time according to Unwork.com, this could lead to substantial savings.