That highly coveted corner office may just be more passé than powerful.
Just ask today's twentysomething workforce.
Thanks to profound social and economic changes brought on by the Internet, millennials are reshaping the so-called office. They want to do away with the hierarchical layouts of the past and build collaborative spaces where they can rub elbows with clients and colleagues.
Thomas Fisher, dean of the University of Minnesota's College of Design, told a gathering of commercial building owners last week that millennials actually see privacy as a negative. In fact, by 2025, "the office" as we know it will probably be gone, he predicted.
"The idea of the separate office as a private piece of real estate that you must have is going to disappear very quickly with this generation," Fisher told the Commercial Real Estate Development Association (NAIOP). "How they use space flips what we have today: Most of an office will be open, flexible and fluid in its use, with only occasional need for private spaces."
Not only is there a preference for shared spaces, a good chunk of millennials will perform their work off-site, either from home or elsewhere.
The transformative power of the Internet on how young workers will do their jobs has, if anything, been underestimated, Fisher said. The online world has become the "real" world for them -- so much so that the distinctions between home, leisure and work spaces are becoming meaningless, he added.
That's being reflected in the millennials' preferences for live-work hybrid spaces that combine not only apartments and offices but also small manufacturing functions, made possible by advances in Internet-based 3-D printing.
Obviously, such a paradigm shift would pose challenges for NAIOP's office building owners in the not-too-distant future -- not to mention to city zoning codes, which seek to enforce the separations between the very functions the millennials are determined to combine, Fisher warned.
"It changes the very nature of commercial real estate -- where does commercial real estate and residential real estate end? Can we make that kind of distinction anymore? In a networked world, all of the neat divisions that we have in our economy and in the way that we define ourselves are becoming extremely blurred."
If there are examples of how the office of the future could work, he said, it's co-working business centers such as CoCo in the Minneapolis Grain Exchange, which independent workers, entrepreneurs and others can use as an alternative to working from home or a coffee shop.
But more importantly for the future of the office market, CoCo uses the kind of fluid layout (on the Grain Exchange's former trading floor) that suits millennials' seemingly laid-back but highly productive way to work and innovate through open networking.
"It's like a big Mixmaster for entrepreneurial activity," Fisher said. "For the millennials, the office space isn't necessarily a place to do work, it's a place to network. It's a place to be with other people and generate as much creative activity as possible."
Fisher also told building owners the most competitive buildings in the next 15 years will be ones that are accessible by bicycle and mass transit. Young workers "simply aren't interested" in long automobile commutes.
"If you're only accessible by car, you're going to find people starting to look elsewhere," he said.
Don Jacobson is a St. Paul-based freelance writer.