Thinking outside of the box?

By Andrew Stack    

Just the other day, there was an employee telling her colleague that she was leaving the office early so she could go home and “get some work done.”  

She continued to tell her workmate that the office had become a distraction and, for her, having the solitude of a quiet space in the spare bedroom was better than the office.

That in itself is incredibly profound in the sense that how and where you define your work environment is not so much about location or design as it is about your ability to produce.

That tired phrase of “thinking outside of the box” has taken on the figurative meaning of unorthodox or creative, but in this case, literally means thinking outside the box—the box being the four walls of your office and what you define as your workspace.

While you must still recognize the need for a formal place to gather so you can plan, organize, and collaborate on work projects, you can alter your perspective on your workplace to one of “just in time and just enough” versus having a reservoir of resources sitting idly on standby.

Increasingly, thoughtful business leaders are doing just that.

Office evolution

There was a time not so long ago that “the office” was not only a place for work, but was a symbol of status. You knew your company had arrived the day you signed that seven-year lease or completed the final touches on the executive boardroom.

In many cases, that time has come and gone. With the commercial real estate industry struggling with double-digit vacancy rates and warehouses upon warehouses of used office furniture, there should be a new exhibit at the Smithsonian on the evolution of the American office.

It could start circa 2006. On display, the curator shows a 400-square-foot executive office (with a 50-inch big screen TV); a 20-person boardroom table with a state-of-the-art, HD projector that works with every model of laptop, except of course, yours; a $30,000 copier/scanner/fax/printer/aggravator; and a wax figure of the post-modern administrative assistant.

The very next exhibit would show the “future office” and how it will evolve by fast forwarding to 2011. There, a business owner is seated in a nondescript, 12-foot by 12-foot office, firing up his iPad, plugging in his DA-Dongle, and opening MS Office 365.

He’s able to do this because of something called the Cloud. All of his applications, file folders, documents, and drivers reside nowhere near his computer, but in a bunkered SAS 70 data facility thousands of miles away, owned and operated by a third party.

What’s in it for you?

 All of this should not be too hard to imagine because in many cases, it’s true. Software as a service (SaaS) allows business users to tap the computing resources they need real time without the expensive hardware, maintenance, upgrades, and support that come with traditional enterprise systems.

With such a system, you can basically operate from anywhere. You can work from home, on the road, at a coffee shop, or share a workspace—perhaps even “share” a seat. For example: When a business owner sits down at a workspace to conduct his business, he may notice that the seat is warm. That is because just moments earlier, a sales representative that he neither knows nor ever will was conducting a product demonstration via ISDN videoconferencing in that very same chair.

This type of set-up allows you the freedom to work from wherever you are and when you need to without having to pay for equipment, services, a building, and overhead. You have the liberty to set aside a block of time, head to a workspace, conduct your business without distractions or other items getting in your way, and then leave when you are done, while still maintaining and running your small business.

Many workspaces come fully equipped and furnished with state-of-the-art technology, meeting and training facilities, and business support services. Because of these services, you may find a group of folks working at an open workstation area collaborating with people from a multitude of different companies, where they share best practices, leverage past experiences, and bring critical mass to the idea-generating process that is necessary in today’s chaotic marketplace.

Or, you may hear a woman listening to her voicemail on her laptop in the office coffee lounge. She’s able to do this not because her company bought her the latest iPhone, but because she was provided with unified messaging services via her office business center shared-services membership—a system that sells for tens of thousands of dollars is now available to her for a few dollars a month.

The future

The future may show your accountant reviewing the P/L statements for the last two years, looking a bit befuddled because on your 2009 statement, he sees rent expense, tenant insurance, office furniture and equipment, IT systems and support, and the full-time salary of an administrative assistant.

However, no such line items appear in your 2010 statement and the percentage change in net income is astounding. What radical change in standard operating procedure could produce such results?

Whether you need these services for one-time training and meeting events, once in a while for big presentations or videoconferencing, or more frequently as a place to “get stuff done,” your business needs can be met or enhanced at a workspace as many are a one-stop-shop for office services.

With a workspace or office business center, you can enjoy the state-of-the-art services they offer without the hassles of purchasing and maintaining the systems yourself.

Andrew Stack is the president of My Executive Center LLC. He can be reached through

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