Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Is the ‘Office’ going extinct?

Dramatic economic shifts don't occur very often. Historical periods of innovation, such as with the coming of the railroad, lead to dramatic shift in social structures. The impact on society of the internet and related information technology has been no less profound.
Manufacturing entities rely on information technology to perfect the 'just in time' inventory management system. The implications for jobs and downstream industries are clear. Greater efficiency to squeeze cash from processes has been the mantra of corporations for many decades.
To this day, the media and the internet joust for readers and a complementary business model. Newspapers grapple with declining print sales and the onslaught of an overdose of free information. Monetizing and paying for quality content is a secondary issue for readers. Currently, the balance of power clearly lies with readers and not producers of content.
The industrial revolution acted as a catalyst for the creation of cities. Large urban areas became economic powerhouses.
Slowly but surely, the internet is chipping away at the mantra of centralization and bigger is better. Small really is the New Big.
People work on the go. The office is nice to have (even to visit from time to time!) but with laptops and travelling schedules a static location is not always necessary. Commutes from the bedroom to the study are the new norm.
The impact of online technology on the financial services industry shows the extent of change. Hardly any bank customer visits a bricks and mortar bank branch for executing daily transactions. Bank transfers, deposits, withdrawals and all manner of services are conducted at convenient locations through ATM machines. Can you even remember the last time you walked into a bank branch?
Several decades ago the securities markets were the preserve of a few well heeled and connected investors. Today, anyone with a laptop can effectively manage a hedge fund out of their living room.

Deep discount brokers offer rates which were unthinkable during the last century. Complex products such as options and futures are easily accessible to all manner of investors. Most importantly, the products are available at competitive prices. It is not necessary to be a bank or broker to get near wholesale rates.
(Perhaps the dramatic reduction in earnings from traditional brokerage and securities products is partly responsible for the dangerous shift to highly leveraged proprietary trading by the banks?)
The office worker used to dictating memos to a secretary taking notes in shorthand will be a fish out of water in today's office. From email to PowerPoint, the modern office worker is a different animal. That is, if she still works in a traditional office.

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