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They say that over time, a dog and its owner come to resemble each other. Maybe true for some (although I know a few owners who will vigorously dispute this), but there's no denying that it holds for workspaces and how they reflect the work done in them. Some organizations encourage strongly personalized workspaces, littered desks, sofas, extra shoes and lots of family photos

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while others enforce austere, vacant expanses gridded with cubicles that echo the same empty design. They also differ in the tools they add to their workspaces - some will populate each bare space with only a chair and desk, others recognize the need for real offices, and add desktop monitors, sound-quieting partitions, PoE phones, power and network connections, on-tap desktop video, and more.

 

One emerging distinction here is that "office" and "workspace" are no longer synonymous. A workspace is only what it says - it may host some helpful infrastructure but it's basically a place, a location that can be geotagged. On the other hand, an "office" is the full show, built from a diversity of elements: not only a location, but also real-time video and audio connections, real or virtual whiteboards, software applications and the ways to access them - all the tools needed to work well. The same worker can occupy a variety of workspaces from company HQ to an hourly co-working rental or a home nest, but the need for a full and robust office solution is universal, whichever latitude that worker selects for the day.

 

The worker often has some freedom in selecting a workspace, but the organization usually has a strong voice when it comes to fully equipping it into an office. So having the right office blends in a lot of influences: company policies, workstyle (transient or permanent, where even permanence has its nuances), the tasks needed, personal desires. These, in turn, are changing at an unsettling pace as they're influenced by globalization, job assignments, policy changes. And finally, we see that even a lot of the accepted truisms about what what's most important in the "office" are changing as we understand work better: what makes for a good work environment? What's an effective worker? Are nearby noise and neighbor conversations good or bad?

 

Because "work" is still evolving for all these reasons, the best tools to support it are those that form a solid but adaptable foundation. Now is not the time to buy a cow if you might instead need soy milk next week, but it is a good time to get one great cooler that can keep all kinds of milk. In the language of UC, that means interoperability among brands and protocols, integration among tools and workstyles, and the ability to adapt, grow, and even repartition how those tools and investments are used.

 

A workspace has a special advantage in this world. Because most workspaces are in fixed locations, they can support workers with a platform of stable, high-reliability services and features. Every workspace obviously can't have every possible accessory - most workers don't need a dozen cores of video rendering or a 3D printer anyway - but the best workspaces always meet some basic, common requirements: Power. Wi-Fi. An ergonomic place to sit. Stable, never-fail phone and network connections. And a friendly environment, with acoustics and visuals that support efficiency and comfort. To talk and to listen, to discuss, to interact with others in real time, without surrendering the ability to successfully tune them out when the job calls for it. These are the elements that lie at the root of collaboration, and at the root of work.

 

We can only view the future of work through a wavery glass, because the goals and the nature of work continue to change. We once predicted that at least the tasks tied to physical locations (store clerk, taxi driver, doctor) would stay put, but ebay has transformed the storefront, Lyft the taxi, and ycombinator or Google just about everything else including themselves. In the same way, many things are changing at work, but what remains constant is that talk and collaboration among people everywhere will remain crucial, and the tools enabling all collaboration are the ones that form the foundation of the future of work.

 

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