What do your bed, the corner coffee shop, the gym and your living room all have in common? Today, they’re all offices.

Sure, they may not have copiers, water coolers or coworkers burning popcorn in the microwave. But with the introduction of new technologies that enable always-on access to key information, today’s workforce is working remotely more and more. In fact, a recent study found that by 2020, nearly three quarters of the U.S. workforce will be made up of remote workers—a gain of nearly 10 million workers over the next four years.

This seismic shift in the workforce has implications both positive and negative. But today, I want to talk less about the reasons behind this shift, and instead focus on how it will impact one key area: the office itself.

Does the office have a future?

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We should start by addressing the elephant in the room. Is the office itself an outmoded concept?

Sure, it may seem that way at first glance, considering this shift toward remote work. And the idea of working from your bedroom, rather than a cubicle farm, may seem quite appealing to most. But this hasn’t rendered the idea of the office obsolete—just those previous ideas of what the modern workplace *should* be.

Today’s modern office looks very different than the office of even 10 years ago. Cubicles have given way to open layouts. Many companies have begun offering perks like free meals, on-site day care, gym memberships and more, in an effort to not only bring in the best talent, but also to make the office environment much more dynamic and enjoyable for workers. It’s part of an ongoing campaign to not only make the office a more collaborative environment, but also to prove its value in this age of mobility.

This has caused some friction, however.

A more open layout may spur collaboration, but privacy can be a significant challenge. How can one share this space while still working without distraction, talk confidentially on the phone, or send emails without feeling that somebody is looking over their shoulder?  And what of the problems that affect all offices—making most effective use of the available space, saving as much as possible on hard costs like rent and electricity, and creating an environment that helps your workforce be at its most productive and efficient?

Solving these problems starts with a single word: measurement.

What lies ahead?

In this age of big data, it should be no surprise that data-driven decision-making is now even aiding businesses in making the best use of their available space. For example, sensors can now be affixed to chairs in conference rooms, helping to measure how often that conference room is being used, and by how many people.

Many companies are introducing IoT-capable technology that can measure heat and moisture in the air, and make changes to temperature, lighting and other factors based on if the space is being used and how many people are in the area. This has the benefit of not only improving comfort, but also reducing heating and lighting costs.


MORE: How to Run a Data-Driven Organization


But this data doesn’t just determine which rooms in your office might need to turn down the thermostat. It also can help your organization make better decisions about workflow and real estate. Looking at six months of data, you may notice high volume areas that frequently bog down at peak times, or conference rooms that are always in use. If you’re seeing this level of activity, it may be worth examining your basic business practices in those areas in order to help understand why the space is being used in that way. Can you look at different processes to help reduce the volume of people making use of the area? Are there any ways to shift this traffic to other, less-traversed areas of your workspace?

Conversely, what if one of your conference rooms is only being used 15 to 20 percent of the workday? Or what if you have rows and rows of cubicles sitting empty every day, left behind by your newly mobile workforce? In that case, it may pay to look at repurposing that space for another need, or even to sublet that space to somebody else to help cut down on costs.

Space shifters

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As this mobile shift continues, we will see more and more companies downsizing and repurposing their available space in an attempt to condense this unused area as much as possible.

At the same time, we aren’t seeing many established companies getting rid of their physical locations entirely. While this shift may still lie ahead, the value that the physical office brings most organizations cannot be overlooked. A central meeting location that has the tools and technology needed to work efficiently and productivity can prove invaluable (especially considering the varying quality of public Wi-Fi hotspots).  And there will always be a need for face-to-face, in-person communication, no matter how much our collaboration technologies progress.

But this mobile shift has certainly caused organizations to re-evaluate how they’re using their available space, what their needs are and what they might be, and how they can improve their workplace to help their employees become more productive and efficient. Making this evaluation, however, can take time—and the change that it engenders may well be disruptive.

Organizations looking at making changes to workspace would be wise to not only examine what the data says and plan for this change, but also to bring in a trusted partner who can help them make the best use of their available space.

Help your employees get the most out of your office—here’s how.