OPINION

Welcome to the World’s Largest Office

As Web access becomes more streamlined and efficient, the Internet — free-floating and nonrestrictive by nature — may gradually render the traditional office obsolete. Bye-bye cubicles and water coolers.

Scene: Master Bedroom. The sun is not yet out, but ticklish feet are searching for lost slippers, and rested fingers stretch in preparation for a frantic tap dance on the keyboard. With a few clicks, the doors to the world’s largest office open. Welcome to Google.

The big mama of Internet connectivity, Google enables searches of the entire globe. It joins millions via Gmail, and offers calendars, shared schedules, spreadsheets, aerial surveillance, videos and dozens of knick-knacks for launching any conceivable personal quest — as well as the information necessary to mount a cyberattack on a major corporation or virtually any other entity.

Shaking Up the Status Quo

This access to an omnipresent, fully functional office is so perfect that it seriously threatens the world order. It strikes at the core of bureaucracies, whose red-tape processes not only stifle progress with unnecessary complexity, but also promote a corporate mindset that unquestioningly accepts the existence of dysfunctional square cubicles, dark elevators, and stale air, and where hourly meetings are convened to determine why such meetings are required in the first place.

All that is changing with the establishment of the world’s largest office. All that’s missing is the water cooler.

Bravo, Google — your skateboarding through backstabbing boardrooms and corporate corridors is certainly paying off. All you’re missing are a few extras like G-banking, job searches, and so on.

Did someone say office? What office? In the near future, visitors to the Museum of Natural History will flock to the full-blown Office exhibit, where young children can learn about the rise and fall of the office hierarchy; the disappearance of three-hour dry Martini lunches; the final revenge of Dilbert’s armies and their breakdown of the cubicles; and the ultimate elimination of water coolers.

Eventually, the concept of having an office of any sort may dissipate, as conventional work spaces are rapidly giving way to rooms constructed to look like safari camps, art galleries, solariums, fish tanks, kitchens — and don’t forget the master bedrooms.

That Was Then

Offices of the past were wonderful places. They defined the images of the great corporate pioneers who laid the ground rules of hierarchy and delivered us the hard and soft goods that made us what we are today. Now, though, gray flannel is meeting colorful cotton; mahogany is meeting rattan. Four walls don’t make a prison — nor do “in” and “out” trays make a cage. Freedom, at last, has overcome the conventional 9-to-5 model with its daily traffic grinds.

Old mainframes first shrunk into PCs, then to laptops. Now there are cigarette-sized USB (universal serial bus) drives with several gigabytes of storage capacity enabling a high level of data portability.

These tools, combined with the information access provided by Google and dozens of other players in this space, are spurring a major office revolution. Business is on the move, and the days of stationary offices are numbered.

A new global e-commerce lifestyle is dawning. By simply providing free Internet and computer access to an entire nation, the economic landscape can be dramatically altered.

Unprecedented Power

The prevalence of such turnkey Internet tools as Google and Wikipedia makes accessing data and connecting with others easy. Harnessing the power behind this principle could bind together an entire city, nation, region or continent with streamlined interconnectivity and unforeseen efficiency, offering the potential to boost GDP (gross domestic product) significantly and shake institutional foundations.

The old notion of hard-wiring an entire nation to provide computer access — at a mega cost — is gone, replaced by Internet cafes at every street corner and, in some cases, city-wide wireless access.

The notion of an office-less society is spreading worldwide. Once difficult-to-imagine phenomena are in the making as young e-commerce players address image issues and kick-start cyberbranding in the global commerce arena.

This is precisely what IBM achieved with its introduction of the Selectric typewriter, which boosted the efficiency of corporate communications among companies as the art of business letter writing blossomed.

Since the dark ages, businesses have always sought to improve connections between buyers and sellers, by new means for every era — from telegrams to faxes to online directories and vast, community-based networks.

All nations should strive to maximize this power, which, although free and easily accessible to all, still remains underused.

It is now high noon. I am still in the master bedroom, and the publisher of the world-class magazine Office wants to make this piece a cover story and then quit, leaving behind the walled fortress to join some of us later in the local park. Please come — and bring the birdfeed.


Naseem Javed is recognized as a world authority on Corporate Image and Global Cyber-Branding. Author of Naming for Power, he introduced The Laws of Corporate Naming in the 80s and also foundedABC Namebank, a consultancy established in New York and Toronto a quarter century ago. Currently, he is on a lecture tour in Asia and can be reached atnj@njabc.com.


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