The end of the company office is in sight, as the recession, mobile technology and the emergence of a generation brought up on social networking come together, a major study by Microsoft predicts
The study, produced by academics, a public sector think tank and the Institute of Directors, has major implications for IT departments.
IT directors will increasingly be called on to support workers on the move, working from home, or from temporary shared offices, says Dave Coplin, national technology officer at Microsoft UK.
Companies will use technology to shed fixed office space in favour of giving staff access to shared office space in bureaus, or enabling them to work on the move, the report predicts.
"Companies will be a bit more aggressive with how much office space they need. The savings in the short term will be around office space. At best 55% of office space is used at any one time, leaving 45% unused. That is 45% of your office costs," says Coplin.
But the real benefits will come from allowing staff to make use of social media and collaboration tools, rather than, as many companies still do, barring them from access, the study says.
"For the IT department it is all about confidence. We have 20 or 30 years' experience delivering solid secure IT platforms for our users. It is time to free up those users," says Coplin.
"There is a message here for organisations that block tools like Twitter at the firewall. You can't do that any more because you are restricting people's activity. Be confident in your security and let go a bit of your control."
The study predicts that collaboration technology will help businesses work in a more innovative way. Public sector organisations are beginning to take advantage of these technologies, not only to save money, but also to deliver better services, he says.
Companies will replace their fixed office space with shared bureaus that allow staff to have office space when they need it, and at the same time, mix and swap ideas with people from other organisations in ways that could benefit employers, the study predicts.
"We are seeing this happen in major cities like London, Birmingham and Manchester. Offices are not owned by a particular organisation. There is coffee, light and power. The water-cooler conversations you have there are very different from conversations you would have in your own organisation."
"We have talked for a while about the death of the desk phone. Now we are talking about the death of the desk. Its not just about working from home. There are compelling reasons for working from a variety of locations," said Coplin.
"I think we are faced with a number of different challenges in the UK - the economy, the changing political landscape, the technology environment. Equally important is the whole consumerisation of IT.
"For a limited time only those four events intersect. We have a limited time to take advantage of it."
Government should relinquish control of website applications
The government should open up online services to the private sector, Microsoft's study claims.
It argues that the public sector could cut its costs significantly and deliver better services by opening up its data and applications to the private sector.
"The government has to relinquish a bit of control and just provide the basic platform," says Dave Coplin, national technology officer at Microsoft UK.
"Why should I be limited to an HMRC platform to file my tax application? The government should provide the APIs and I should be able to chose a private company to provide me with my tax application, as they do in North America," he says.
The study predicts that public spending could be cut from 50% of GDP to almost 30% if the government opened up its applications to the private sector.