The home office is on its way out. It’s not that people are going to stop working at home and head back to the cubicle farm. It’s that work has spread out around the home so much that a dedicated home office space is increasingly irrelevant. What’s more, developers are designing for this change, and the shape of our houses is changing to fit our new habits.
Back when working from home was called “telecommuting,” you might actually have an office at home, complete with a fax, a printer, and of course a big computer sitting on your desk. These days, home working is more likely done on a laptop with an all-day battery. People spread out around the home, starting in bed, perhaps, and maybe following the sunny spots through the kitchen and living room throughout the day. In fact, the coffee shop around the corner is more likely to be one of your work locations than the drafty room upstairs.
Speaking to Bloomberg, Zillow chief marketing officer Jeremy Wacksman said that mentions of home offices on his real estate listings site have dropped 20% over the past year. And at the same time, homes are being designed with more flexible, open-plan layouts. There may be little nooks to hole up in while you wander the house, for example, and losing a dedicated office space frees up square footage for a more open-feeling space.
Even working from home might be an old-fashioned thought. That neighborhood coffee shop is one alternative, but many jobs can be done on the hoof. Every summer, for example, I take a few weeks away while still working. For this job, I only need an iPad and a keyboard, so I can work anywhere that offers shade and a cellular connection to the internet. The rest of the year I sit alone at a desk with a big screen and a clicky keyboard, but it shows how flexible our work has become. For somebody whose job consists of email and phone calls, staying at home can seem pointless.
Much of this is generational. When surveyed, half of older folks prefer a dedicated home-office space, says Bloomberg‘s Patrick Clark. Young people, on the other hand, don’t care so much about where they work. There’s one exception here, though. According to Adam Arturian of John Burns real estate consultancy, parents born in the 1970s and 1980s “need to escape their noisy children and barking dog during the day. The opportunity to close the door when on a business call makes a big difference.”
The home continues to change to suit our needs. It used to be somewhere we slept, and perhaps entertained ourselves in the evening. Now we spend a lot more time there. Perhaps bedrooms will shrink, as the rest of the home grows to fit this need, or maybe the bedroom will get even bigger as we work from bed. Or perhaps we’ll all just spend our lives on a permanent co-workation, while we wait for the end of the world. The one thing we won’t be doing is heading up to the home office to send a fax.