A family dream comes true: The Latte Macchiato Office

Digital change keeps rolling, the Latte Macchiato Office is already ubiquitous, and Deutsche Telekom´s Work 4.0 study says it will soon change the lives of practically everyone. Therefore, let us take a look at the future relationship of work, place, space and humans, the dangers inherent in it and the promises it holds for us employees. Because, as every innovation since the invention of the wheel, flexible workspace concepts are neither good nor bad in themselves. They are what we all make of them.

It is not a surprise anymore that digital technology is the single most important engine of change.

  • Employers, operating in global markets under constant pressure to keep their competitive edge, demand total flexibility and mobility from a new generation of knowledge workers who, in return, expect shallow hierarchies, trust-based teamwork, a healthy work/life balance and wide room for self-realization.
  • More and more people embrace digitization not only in their private lives. They make use of communication technologies to work wherever and whenever they might want or need to, taking projects along on transcontinental flights, business trips to Chicago, and, frequently, to the coffee-shop on the corner. Theirs is the Latte Macchiato Office, a virtual workplace which extends far into public spaces.

Great news for families like mine

Rise at the ring of the alarm clock, no matter what. Shower, dress, commute, sit down in your office at nine sharp to push paper for eight hours. Repeat tomorrow. Repeat every day ever after, until, eventually, you are delivered from work by death, disease or old age retirement. I read that generations have lived this kind of life, organizing their homes, families, transportation, leisure and general circumstances around rigid work schedules, until, eventually and lucky me, the first faint notion of impending change came with the arrival of digital information technology:

  • As early as 1992, the industry advertised archetypical lone business wolf types juggling bulky laptop computers in hammocks under palm trees. The copy that came with the photos promised a bright future for the cubicle generation and seeded collective dreams in the minds of burned-out nine-to-fivers.
  • Yet, it took another two decades of globalization and digitization to provide the business world with affordable, dependable equipment seriously capable of moving all those file cabinets, office desks, schedule boards and meeting rooms from physical office buildings into globally accessible virtual workspaces. Now all the machinery for change is in place, and more often than not its business end has shrunk from still sizeable laptop format to breast pocket smartphone size.

The arrival of Liquid Work is great news for families like mine, because flexible work in virtual spaces can be done at home. This may allow me and my husband to pursue our careers while being home to watch our son grow up. On the other hand, he gets a whole new perspective and understanding of work, watching his parents work at home instead of disappearing in the black box “office” every morning.

  • So, the arrival of “liquid” flexible work might, in the long run, save our relationships. Our assumption is that those most enthusiastic about moving to the Latte Macchiato Office will doubtlessly be “white-collars”, who seriously enjoy living a nomadic lifestyle, temporarily settling in the most beautiful, inspiring spots on the planet to work on exciting projects, moving their home-bases according to personal preferences and life phases. If you also count yourself among those happy few: Congratulations, studies predict that at long last the world is really, really yours!
  • This, in turn, is also great for your employers, because flexible working in a borderless virtual workspace means that the company can always deploy the leading talents in every field to cooperate on projects, independent of peoples´ physical locations, let alone national or cultural borders

Three years ago, Jackie Reses, Head of Human Resources at Yahoo, axed Liquid Working. She wrote a memo stating that communication and cooperation work better in office environments and that the best decisions are made “during coffee break discussions.” Yahoo walks a lonely road here, ignoring the broad consensus between leading management thinkers who recommend lots of trust, latest technology and a healthy balance between homework and office presence for best results. A recent Stanford University study even claims that homeworkers are a whopping 13 per cent more productive than their colleagues in offices, and also 50 per cent less likely to quit their jobs. So Liquid Working in virtual office spaces is real, honest win-win in terms of productivity gains, work/life-balance, employees´ health and general happiness, right? RIGHT? Well, maybe, yes, but then again …

As a matter of fact, there are some serious misgivings about Flexible Working, and they reach far beyond mere personal sensitivities.

  • Serious objections have been raised about data safety and privacy issues: Hacked, stolen or lost devices and disastrous consequences of such mishaps have repeatedly made international headlines. Standardized company hardware versus “Bring your own device”, safe cloud service use and the potential for, legality of and protection against total surveillance of an employee´s every last single keystroke are three of the most glaring company policy issues to be resolved before even the most modest Liquid Workspace program can be rolled out.
  • It is also worth remembering that legal environments in most European countries put tight regulations on the time and duration of office work, employee privacy etc., while Liquid Work philosophies aim at removing all barriers of time and distance. The resulting conflicts between companies aiming at honest win-win and unions defending hard-won rights can be costly and exhausting for both sides.
  • Lastly, individual preferences and talents come into play: While many employees excel at self-organization, self-motivation and independent working, some of the brightest, most creative minds may need a more rigid frame of time, space and social relations to really shine.
  • There is also the physical side to be considered, and those bound to be profoundly unhappy in mobilized work environments are doctors, engineers or scientists who cannot dismantle and move their patients, experiments, machinery or laboratory equipment at will. Even more grief will come to those who are easily distracted by noise, people or everyday chores and who would gladly settle down behind a locked door with a big “Do not disturb!” sign.
  • But beyond all these issues, the enemy lurking behind the backs of all Latte Macchiato Officers is self-destruction: If we get used to working during our coffee break, really dangerous side effects are threatening us. Absent any checks and balances, we might very quickly work ourselves into the ground, finally winding up as burnout victims.

A burnout waiting to happen

As a matter of fact, there are some serious misgivings about Flexible Working, and they reach far beyond mere personal sensitivities.

  • Serious objections have been raised about data safety and privacy issues: Hacked, stolen or lost devices and disastrous consequences of such mishaps have repeatedly made international headlines. Standardized company hardware versus “Bring your own device”, safe cloud service use and the potential for, legality of and protection against total surveillance of an employee´s every last single keystroke are three of the most glaring company policy issues to be resolved before even the most modest Liquid Workspace program can be rolled out.
  • It is also worth remembering that legal environments in most European countries put tight regulations on the time and duration of office work, employee privacy etc., while Liquid Work philosophies aim at removing all barriers of time and distance. The resulting conflicts between companies aiming at honest win-win and unions defending hard-won rights can be costly and exhausting for both sides.
  • Lastly, individual preferences and talents come into play: While many employees excel at self-organization, self-motivation and independent working, some of the brightest, most creative minds may need a more rigid frame of time, space and social relations to really shine.
  • There is also the physical side to be considered, and those bound to be profoundly unhappy in mobilized work environments are doctors, engineers or scientists who cannot dismantle and move their patients, experiments, machinery or laboratory equipment at will. Even more grief will come to those who are easily distracted by noise, people or everyday chores and who would gladly settle down behind a locked door with a big “Do not disturb!” sign.
  • But beyond all these issues, the enemy lurking behind the backs of all Latte Macchiato Officers is self-destruction: If we get used to working during our coffee break, really dangerous side effects are threatening us. Absent any checks and balances, we might very quickly work ourselves into the ground, finally winding up as burnout victims.
    Anais Fabinger

    HR Digital & Innovation Ambassador and Millennial Mum
    Deutsche Telekom AG

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