Any time, any place, anywhere - the evolution of the office

By: Mark Ellis

Date: 4 March 2019

Evolution of the office with office workers using smartphonesMost of us trundle through our working lives without giving too much thought to how quickly technology evolves. I certainly do, but this excellent infographic on the evolution of the office from British Gas business made me realise how far we’ve come.

For me, there’s one key area that has evolved at break-neck pace: software. It has evolved so fast, in fact, that it’s genuinely difficult to pinpoint how we reached the age in which we live now, where enterprise-class software can run flawlessly on smartphones.

In reality, I think the evolution of office software varies depending on the industry within which you work and your degree of interest in technology itself.

So, consider this a personal journey through my own evolution of the office, based on the software I have used.

The Microsoft years

There’s no escaping the fact that 86% of the world’s computers run Microsoft Windows, and if I think back to my earliest computing memories, Windows plays the leading role.

Having left school with Windows 3.1, Windows NT and Windows 98 experience under my belt, I entered a workplace that was littered with machines running those operating systems. And it was a pretty exclusive club.

Back then, Apple Macs were used almost solely for creative endeavours and Linux remained the domain of the print server or super geek. In turn, this provided a prosperous platform for software developers, with a guaranteed audience for the best enterprise software.

The drawbacks? A huge, messy hardware landscape meant frequent problems with PCs crashing if they were built with poor or incompatible components and frequent upgrades if you wanted to stay ahead of the curve.

For me, it wasn’t long before I hankered after something that ‘just worked’.

Hello, Apple

During the late 2000s, I finally found an excuse to use an Apple Mac at work; I ventured into marketing.

Back then, Apple was in a transitional phase, having been saved from financial ruin by returning CEO Steve Jobs in 1997 and, unbeknownst to almost everyone, on the verge of releasing a revolutionary product in the form of a certain smartphone.

The ability to use an Apple device for work was transformative for me - it proved that powerful computer hardware could work flawlessly without constantly updating drivers or carefully selecting components. In turn, this meant that any piece of software on which I relied to be productive really did just work.

The subsequent launch of the iPhone propelled Apple to superstardom, and further wedded me to their design philosophy and ability to create computing devices that outlasted any PC I’d previously used.

This was of course before cloud computing, but both the Mac and iPhone provided the green shoots of progress I so badly yearned for; clearly, we were in for a very exciting future when it came to business software.

The age of any device

As I write, I have a smartphone resting on my desk that contains every app I need to run my business. It can be a word processor, email client, web browser, audio recorder, project management tool, communication device and 4K video production suite.

If we need proof of just how far software has come and the impact it has had on the evolution of the office, we need only look at the devices that fit in our pockets. What’s more - and although I still very much work within the Apple ecosystem - we can finally be device agnostic.

If my iPhone breaks tomorrow, I could borrow a colleague’s Android device and have access to the same level of computing power and software I need to get work done. That wasn’t possible in the Microsoft years, nor during my early days with Steve Jobs’ Apple.

The combination of cloud computing and ability for developers to create software that is cross-platform either via native or web apps has freed me from a single desk and made it possible to collaborate with people across the world from the palm of my hand.

So, where to next?

I freely admit I’m a bit of a geek, therefore unless you share my same techy genes, the above progression of hardware and software may not be that memorable for you.

Despite this, we now live in an age where we all rely on software daily to get work done, and with businesses across the globe focusing more on digital transformation and less on the devices used, I think we can expect a rich, affordable playground in which every business can invest comfortably in the very best tools for the job.

This post is a promotional feature in association with British Gas business® but all thoughts are my own.

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