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The Office of The Future Should be a Money-Maker, Not an Expense

Your office space should pay you, not the other way around.

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BY Jeff Barrett - 10 Jan 2018

The Office of The Future Should be a Money-Maker, Not an Expense

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

The pager, the personal computer, caller ID were all once revolutionary ideas. There will always be a future, there will always be work and there will always be a conversation on the future of work. Just the names and buzzwords have changed.

That said, we are facing a monumental shift. Gradual shifts happen every five or ten years. What we are about to see could be as drastic as the Industrial Revolution.

Canon, which has a core business that works in concert with offices, collects and uses data to determine how and where people work best--improving existing layouts and even determining how new offices should be built.

"Most visualize the Office of the Future and think about collaborative open workspaces, lots of sunlight, etc. But we think about data--how you capture it, how you analyze it, and how you use it to disrupt your organization's business model," said Gregory Ryan, vice president of corporate planning & marketing, Canon.

Data will drive all design decisions.

We often think of data--and the collection of data--in terms of how it can be used by marketers to reach people better or in how city planners create efficiency. But data can and should inform all office decisions from an enterprise level to a startup. And this is especially important for a startup where the margins are much smaller.

When you're starting a business, decisions on where to establish office space and how to be most efficient are make or break in the first years. They can be the difference between success and failure, between growth or stagnation.

And most of these decisions are made with our gut. My gut in starting businesses has always told me limit your expenses, use contractors rather than employees in the beginning, create the longest runway possible for your business in its early stages because you will need at least 18 months to start being successful.

But not everyone sees that model. We grew up idolizing Google, Apple and now Facebook, Snapchat. In fact, the Google office model still has its imprint everywhere.

That was the revolution of the early 1990s when startups pushed back against cubicles and created more aesthetically pleasant, open work spaces. That, with some adjustments and improvements, is what we still see today.

The office, like the smartphone, is ripe for total disruption.

The phone you use today may look cooler, sleeker, have better apps and better cameras but it's still essentially the same as the first smartphone in 2007. We have been doing the same with office space for the 25 years. You can add more windows or couches or wood accent walls but it's still an office.

We have been trying to make the office look more and more like the third place. But what we should be doing is creating a third place that can do office functions when needed.

If organizations aren't tied to a physical space, it opens up all possibilities on what to do with space. If you're paying for office space, especially as a small business or startup, it can and should serve multiple functions.

So why can't your "office" be public facing, providing value to your community? Why can't it be a learning and mentoring center, a coffee shop, a partnership with another business in the area where there is synergy.

Your office can generate revenue.

Last week I walked through the meeting and co-working space NeueHouse New York, saw how it generates revenue through both events and office activity and realized there's nothing stopping companies from adopting the models of smart co-working spaces.

For too long we have looked at an office as a necessary expense. But in reality, it's just a meeting space. You don't need filing cabinets, desks, desktop computers, or even data storage. You just need a space that can facilitate work and have some quiet work/private meeting space.

And the new architects of workplaces are recognizing this as well.

"Complex problems require high bandwidth communication. Being in person obviously offers that. But at the same time, it requires the best talent in the world, said Aaron Dignan, founder, The Ready, a organization design firm that has already helped transform the workplaces of PepsiCo, Microsoft, GE, Uber, Airbnb and more.

"And the best talent in the world doesn't all live in Cupertino. It lives all over the world. So we need the flexibility to gather or disperse when needed."

Knowing this, when planning your office space view it as its own business. How can you use space to provide value? Breaking even on the expense of your office space by it providing monetary public value can mean hiring an extra employee, contractor or simply longer runway.

If you dream of taking your business public someday, start first by taking your office public.