Cloud Offices

I think highfalutin offices are often like a skyscraper indicator for individual companies, almost always coming near the peak of corporate success. So I’m finding the number of tech company offices showing up on architectural sites rather disturbing. As an investor I want any profit or new capital used to generate more profit, or at least revenue. Yet too many startups are ensconced in costly digs without having an actual product, let alone profits, and offices produce neither one. When did using investor money to fluff your ego start counting as changing the world?

More disturbing, many of these companies are in cloud computing – in some way selling the ability to do what you need to do, and know what you need to know, wherever you are, whenever you want. A true game changer. But if these services allow you to do anything anywhere, why do they need any office? Why has the game not changed when the industry itself is the greatest argument against the need for a physical office – even a cheap one?

Managerial insecurity or incompetence is an obvious reason 30 years of lip flapping about the virtual office has led to almost nothing. Managers fear that without having employees directly under their thumb productivity will fall. But that attitude really only applies to physical labor, if at all. The process of knowledge work is largely invisible. No matter how much a supervisor breathes down necks there’s really no way to tell if anything productive is being done until something useful is delivered.

Expensive offices are also a status symbol. Power and status are diminished if they aren’t obviously displayed, so a corner office in a massive complex is always preferred to a corner office in a strip mall, regardless of the economic merits. When success is being judged by how many of your neighbors’ houses you can overpay to acquire, a de minimis brick and mortar (or steel, concrete, and glass) presence is just not done.

A more worrying possibility for users is that these companies don’t leave the building and embrace the technology they sell because they don’t trust it. They know their security practices, and what they do with data stored on their systems, and conclude their shit is too hot to risk to the cloud and virtual offices. Though they’re all hoping you will.

Whatever the cause, it’s a blatant disregard of fiduciary duty and a hypocritical refusal to eat their own cooking. It should be embarrassing but it rarely is, and discipline is often slow to come, so the mercenaries quickly overwhelm the missionaries. But in every generation of computer mania – whether it’s mainframes, PCs, internet, or cloud – people eventually wise up. Unlike mom, the markets won’t always love you.

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There’s also no reason for Congress to be in Washington D.C in the 21st Century, so send them home too.

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