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Work isn?t working: Microsoft ?envisioner? Dave Coplin on why the office must change

Cover of  by Dave Coplin

We?ve all done it. We?ve all regretted it. It?s just too easy. Why on Earth would we poke our head round the computer screen in front of us to talk to the person on the other side when a simple email to them will suffice? Having an actual conversation with someone two yards away is so overrated.

This scenario is one we all recognise and joke about, but there is something serious ? and even dangerous ? about it.

Technology has undoubtedly had a massive impact on the way we carry out our jobs, but if we don?t use it properly we may as well be stuck in the dark ages. Email habits are just one example of how, at many companies today, work simply isn?t working.

This is the view of Dave Coplin, chief envisioning officer at Microsoft UK, whose book, Business Reimagined, was published this week.

He warned that technology may be regarded as a force for good, but we have to use it to its full potential.

?It was supposed to be something that enabled us to be better,? he told Metro.

?In the last few years, one of the things I?ve been worried about is as human beings we tend to use technology in exactly the same way as we?ve always done. That actually limits how far we can go with it.?

According to a survey by talent consultants Mercer, more than half of British workers are unhappy with their roles. Coplin believes this kind of disengagement is costing companies dearly.

?There?s got to be a better way of thinking about how do we get people engaged in what they?re doing,? he said.

To do that, he argues a radical overhaul of our approach to work and the working environment is needed. In his book, Coplin points out that despite the influx of gadgets, the workplace has changed little from Victorian times.

?The whole concept of what work is goes back a couple of hundred years,? he said. ?From the industrial revolution, we?ve swarmed around these central places that used to be factories and now it?s offices.?

And even though memos and writing pads have been replaced with emails and tablets, those offices have not altered greatly in the past decade or so.

?Not that long ago ? maybe 15 years ago ? you all had to go into the office because that?s the only place you could get to use a computer,? said Coplin.

?Then maybe ten or 12 years ago, you all had to go to the office because if you wanted to get on the internet that was the only place that was going to happen.

?The reality is today none of those things are true. Still, what do most people do? Nine to five, Monday to Friday, they?re commuting into some bloody office when actually they could be in many different locations.?

While many people would be delighted at the prospect of working nine to five, the point stands that having their staff members tumble outta bed, pouring themselves a cup of ambition and going to the same place every single day is not how companies will thrive in the modern world. Dolly Parton was right: it?s enough to drive you crazy if you let it.

Coplin feels that allowing staff the capacity to work where their skills will be most needed ? whether that is in the office one day, at home the next or on location the day after that ? is the future organisations need to grasp with both hands.

When your boss allows you to perform your tasks away from their gaze, it empowers the worker and benefits the company, said Coplin.

?Trust is the key thing. There are some companies who know they need to change and others that are oblivious to this.?

But offering that trust to just one or two staff members is no good ? Coplin said an ?overarching approach to flexibility? is needed.

?The role of the office, the container of the office, will change,? he said. ?We?ve got to stop thinking about work as a destination and start thinking about work just as an activity.?

Coplin practices a nice line in self-deprecation when it comes to his rather grand sounding title (he calls himself an ?Inventor of Pretentious Job Titles? on his Twitter page) at

Microsoft, who let him work between his home in Banbury, Oxfordshire, and a work ?hub? in London.

?If I really want to be creative and innovative, it?s much better for me to be outside the boundary of my organisation,? he said.

As an ?envisioning officer?, Coplin is tasked with trying to predict what the worker of the future might need to make the most of their talents.

He said: ?I hope that the work of the future is something that is much more about the individual than it is about the organisation, so it?s where organisations empower the individual to be responsible for the contribution they make for the outcome of the company.?

The desk is dying, he added.

?Most people work in an open plan office, which was genius back in the day when there wasn?t email and personal computers and if you wanted to get a team of people collaborating together.

?Now, if you look at the reality of the open plan office, people sit in front of their computers and send emails to the person sat 12 inches away from them.?

The research backs this up, indicated that open-plan is not as productive. A study of Danish workers in 2011 showed that those in open-plan environments had 62% more sick days than their counterparts in single spaces. In the US, a joint study by Virginia State and North Carolina State universities found that open-plan led to less motivated and less productive staff.

?The future for a lot of businesses? success is going to come from creativity rather than being better at doing the existing stuff that you do,? said Coplin.

?These open plan offices are really problematic when it comes to creativity because you?re not afforded the mental space to think differently, to be creative, because you?re too busy answering bloody emails or chatting to your mate about last night?s Coronation Street. Your brain never really gets the chance to do the really heavy lifting.?

Technology has both helped and hindered us in work, according to Coplin, although, ultimately, we hold responsibility.

?The biggest hindrance is what my old man refers to as the interface between the keyboard and the chair,? he said.

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