A while back I was invited to a very interesting presentation of some research going on in Sun Microsystems' labs. They were showing off a project called MPK 20. The name of the project is aligned with the naming of the buildings on their Menlo Park campus, MPK 1 - 19. MPK 20, the next building, will be completely virtual. Think of MPK 20 as a private, behind the firewall, version of Linden's Second Life. The idea is for Sun to provide a very rich area for remote workers to come together and collaborate. Their early vision is very much a virtual version of their physical workspace world. The question that occurred to me is, do we need to pursue this path of virtual workspaces?
Let's start with an assumption. The paradigm of bringing workers to a physical office is beginning to break down and it's only going to get worse. A few driving factors:
Carbon footprint. Organizations will be increasingly held accountable for the overall effect they have on the world. Asking workers to drive or fly to a physical location in order to do work that can be done virtually is undoubtedly the biggest contributing factor to overall carbon footprint for most organizations.
Competition for workers. If you require workers to come to an office every day, your hiring is constrained by the talent pool that is located within commute distance of your office. Would you rather have the best worker available in the world or the best worker within 30 miles of your office? Additionally, workers that commute from long distances are far more likely to become frustrated and leave.