KINNARPS' TREND REPORT PART 6. From solitude to multitude


Twitter and Facebook bring us together like never before while at the same time studies show that we are becoming more and more isolated. Kinnarps' Trend Report shows that the offices and workplaces of the future will have to provide other new functions when new social rules arise.

 Technological progress usually brings with it unwanted side effects. When supermarkets replaced the corner shop the personal interaction with shopkeepers behind the counter disappeared. Telephones meant that we stopped knocking on our neighbour's door. The car reduced the number of spontaneous encounters on the street or on the bus.

Facebook and other social networks and digital media have also changed how we interact with people. Research shows that our contact with people is more superficial even if our networks have increased. A study carried out by Stanford University in California shows that Facebook even reinforces our feeling of loneliness:

Seeing all these happy people with so many friends can make us feel that we have failed with our own lives.

Sherry Turkle, a Professor of Social Studies of Science and Technology at MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) in Cambridge writes in her book Alone together that we use technology to meet people but at the same time protect ourselves from them as intimacy scares us.

We can keep our online relationships at a safe distance but the problem with digital relationships is the very fact that they are digital; one press of the Like button can never replace an appreciated look or a hug.

"The ties we form on the Internet do not keep us together but they do keep us occupied," writes Sherry Turkle.

The number of one-person households has increased in line with the massive outburst of social media.

Almost every second household in Sweden today is a one-person household. The figure in urban areas is even higher. In the US in 1950 less than 10 per cent of households were one-person households. Today they make up 27 per cent. The number of one-person households in the world increased from 153 to 277 million between 1996 and 2011.

The workplace partly takes on a new role when our mode of living changes and social rules are rewritten. What was previously a place many went to purely for economic reasons is now being transformed more and more into perhaps the most important location for social interaction. This development emerges at a time when greater emphasis is being placed on cooperation in the workplace. The workplace is less and less about the individual and working under your own steam but rather more about social skills and teamwork. The workplace is changing from a place of tasks to a place of projects.

In the thought economy, the key to success is the ability to connect concepts and different ideas in order to create something new and innovative.

Studies also show that the amount of individual work has gradually decreased in workplaces and today makes up only 50 per cent of the time. But many analysts think that we are now seeing a change and those work duties carried out together with others will increase up to 70 per cent by 2030. What demands does this place on how the workplace is planned?

"Teamwork has to be supported and reinforced," says Jonas Hurtigh Grabe, partner in the Dutch consulting firm Veldhoen + Company which launched the concept of activity based working environments in 1997.

In practice the concept means the transition of the office from a workplace to a meeting place, where the environment is no longer linked to individuals but to the joint activities within the company.  Workplaces in the future have to be organised in a manner that encourages spontaneous interaction so that new ideas can be discussed and coordinated and that the transfer of knowledge takes place all the time.

Louise Klarsten, CEO at the trend and colour agency Colourhouse, describes the workplaces that can manage to create such cohesion as We offices, where the digital generation's entry into the labour market is managed by thinking of interior design in different ways. Sara Córdoba Rubino, researcher and project manager at the Dutch design studio Booreiland, thinks along the same lines:

"If employees change their mindset and try to think about networks and collaborative work, it can be a way to deal with the future and the new demands of the market."

 The increased levels of internal transparency, between employees and between departments, is likely more and more to also apply externally. Knowledge sources previously available in the company can now be retrieved outside the company from what, at times, is called collective intelligence or Open source talent management.

"The aim during the entire 20th century was to retain expertise within companies. But with the Internet expertise is accessible outside the company and the entire world can be a resource," says the author and speaker Don Tapscott, who has written for instance the books The Digital Economy and Growing Up Digital.

In order to succeed, companies must refine and develop all the knowledge which is found on the Internet into something tangible that benefits the company's business concept and operations. The more the hierarchical workplaces with their rigid structures are dismantled and move towards a more autonomous collective, the more crucial networks will be, both in and outside of the company. There are many instances of where much effort is invested to make digital communication fast and smooth. At times however one cannot but wonder if it is all a bit much: Three years ago, 1,300 kilometres of fibre-optic cable was laid between the stock exchanges in Chicago and New York at the cost of SEK 2 billion. The end result: Communication between the stock exchanges was three milliseconds – three thousandths of a second – faster…so investing resources to also facilitate human communication between office staff is almost certainly money well spent.


Did you know that

…the number of one-person households has increased by 80 per cent in 15 years and that more than one in every five young people (18-24 year olds) in Great Britain are worried about being alone.

...that as far back as the 90s researchers were already talking about the "Internet paradox", where the increase in the number of lonely people was a result of an increase in Internet usage. The question is whether the Internet makes us more alone, or if lonely people are more easily drawn to the Internet?

…teamwork is ranked higher than anything else in a career according to Academic Communications' survey Career Index where 4, 812 young academics responded.

… 47 per cent of all employees say that they do not feel productive in their current place of work according to a survey conducted by the consulting firm Veldhoen + Company.