ABC News has a story up on virtual offices and businesses in the future leveraging technology for the bottom line. This article talks about how corporations are moving into virtual workspaces, and how people are leveraging technology to cut their ties to a physical office (with the big desk, nice chair, and family pictures). This is a good article that makes many good points. Give it a quick read, then read on.
I feel very strongly that inside of five years we will start to see this virtual office model take root in mainstream businesses, not just the cutting edge tech firms. The first and most obvious sectors to make this move are knowledge workers and any business involved in phone or online support services. Some of these companies will go virtual to cut expenses associated with dedicated employee office space. This is already taking place on a small scale with transient office space in large corporations, people working at home and coming into shared office space a few times a week. Other companies will go virtual to green up their organization, and to do away with the large carbon footprints a commuting group of knowledge workers leave on the planet. And still others will do it because it will allow them to tap specialists from around the world, to pull them all together into teams to work on specific projects, then disband and reform new teams with other specialists for new projects.
Instead of building a career with a single company in a single town, state or country, future virtual-workers will offer up their talent like consultants in virtual worlds and over video conference links. VoIP in the home will allow corporations to track phone calls and time spent by employees talking with clients. Nothing is missing today that is required to do this technologically, it’s companies clinging to the old ways and fear of the unknown that is holding them back from doing this tomorrow, or even next year. I suspect that once this shift starts to take place, people will log into virtual workplaces and contract out their services to many companies at once, pooling fees paid by these corporations to derive their pay and benefits. Employment agencies and brokers will likely spring up to facilitate these activities and leverage pools of employees for underwriting and risk management. Employees will be able to scale their work to their financial needs.
And why stop with business? Our schools are in need of a serious overhaul. We are still using an industrial education model to prepare our students for a future like the one described in this article. Most IT departments and teachers ban students from using the tools they will likely use in their future careers in our schools today? Virtual world platforms, social networking sites, instant messaging, wikis, blogs, podcasts, and even Twitter (or more evolved versions of these) will be the foundation of these future workplaces, it’s how business communications and collaboration will be conducted virtually in the future. Large school districts with large schools are bleeding ADA (Average Daily Attendance) to home schooling, small magnet schools, charter schools and soon online schools offering college credits. Microsoft’s School of the Future in Philadelphia is an excellent example of smaller and more open campuses that lets students navigate their way through the requirements of “their” curriculum using technology every step of the way. When our students come to school today, they power down and log off from the connected online world and attempt to meet our state standards ”unplugged” from all of the resources that could enhance and engage their learning.
I think I speak for all of us educators out there now exploring these new technologies, trying to bring them into our schools, and trying to let the students use the tools that they use daily away from campus on campus. We go out and we talk about our projects to others, we share our enthusiasm for these technologies, we share the excitement of engaged students, and we try to convince administrators to step a tiny bit toward the edge of technology for the sake of the students. It’s often a tough job selling these ideas to skeptical administrators unwilling to look even 5 years down the road at what the future holds for our students related to technology, careers and their future success.
Let’s not forget that there’s a labor shortage headed our way. The Baby Boomers are about to retire enmass and they will leave a hole in our workforce that you’ll be able to drive a country through. These “Boomers” are living a lot longer than ever before, often living productive lives into their 80’s. With medical advances on the horizon life spans could likely be extended even further. Does it make any sense that people still retire at age 55? How about 65? Could you still be productive and earning a living while not retiring until 75? Phased retirement might be a more viable option for many who want to ease into retirement and stay connected with their careers, even if only part-time and virtually.
The collision of all of these factors will force educators (yes, kicking and screaming) into changing the ways that we teach, and tapping into the rivers of creativity and knowledge for our students charging towards this strange new world that will be their future.