Businesses are getting ready to embrace tablets, which means companies will need to rethink the whole office too, says silicon.com editor Steve Ranger.
Offices are strange places. Just look around you – see what I mean?
Some people throw themselves completely into personalising their desk as if it were one of those home makeover shows, putting up shelves to hold all the gonks, lanyards and other freebies they’ve built up. This pattern of behaviour can make visiting their cubicle a slightly creepy experience, like making an unexpected incursion into the inside of their head – often a dark and disturbing place.
Other workers refuse point-blank to make any changes to their desk at all. Even after working there for decades, they’ve clearly concluded that desk decoration is the equivalent of a galley slave asking to put up a few nice pictures around the place.
But the type of office you work in helps define the culture of the organisation. High-sided cube farms are great for squeezing more drones into a smaller area but they aren’t known for encouraging teamwork. And I doubt that incessant hotdesking is good for creating strong teams.
Apart from that, the standard-issue desk – featuring keyboard, phone, monitor and some kind of PC tower tucked away somewhere – hasn’t altered for years.
But all that could be about to change. If tablets really are going to replace PCs in business – as CIOs think will happen in the next five years – it could mean big changes for your desk, your office and the way you work. And I’m not sure anyone’s really thought about this too much yet.
The obvious change is that a tablet makes you mobile.
Certainly more mobile than a PC and more mobile than a laptop, too. Tablets are de facto mobile devices – chaining one to a desk doesn’t make a lot of sense.
So it’s interesting to note the government is mulling whether iPads can replace printers and paper. Instead of printing off documents, civil servants could presumably huddle together and share information on their touchscreens.
The tablet concept is not just about portability – it’s also about sharing. With a laptop, the screen can still create a barrier, a shield, between you and your co-workers. In contrast, tablets seem designed for sharing. And sitting at uniform rows of desks, or being tucked away in a cubicle, just doesn’t seem to fit the image of tablets.
That change of technology would suggest a much more fluid environment than we have now. Does the tablet mean the cube farm is on its last legs, to be replaced with bean bags and juice bars?
Perhaps not – but perhaps it really should. If businesses are serious about adopting tablets, they should already be thinking about how this new form factor will force them to rethink the working environment. And for most of us that means rethinking the office.
After all, if following the tablet revolution, all that’s changed is that you plug your keyboard and monitor into a tablet instead of a laptop or PC, then really, what’s the point?
Used well, tablets could help improve teamworking and information sharing. But if your desk and your organisation isn’t ready for the changes they could bring, then it’s a waste of time.
Steve Ranger is the editor of silicon.com and has been writing about the impact of technology on people, culture and business for over a decade. You can find him tweeting @steveranger.