NEW YORK CITY-”We’re going to go back to much simpler surfaces to work. The concept of being tethered to a desk will go, and go quickly,” says Phillip Ross, CEO of the UK-based Cordless Group.

To a tradition-bound C-level executive, this prediction might suggest a nightmare future of unstructured workplaces bordering on anarchy. In fact, Ross and his fellow panelists at a recent presentation here, sponsored by CoreNet Global’s New York chapter, were discussing ways in which new and emerging technologies will continue to transform how–and where–people work. This transformation has enormous implications for corporate real estate.

Already, said panelist George Bouri of Deloitte Consulting, real estate decisions are being driven less by CRE managers and more by CIOs. The transformation does not render CRE professionals obsolete, he said, but represents a new language they must learn. Conversely, technology service providers must learn to understand the corporate environment and speak in terms that CRE professionals can relate to.

Bouri, principal of Deloitte and leader of its capital and real estate transformation practice, said telepresence technology is bringing video conferencing to a level of in-person tangibility that is making some corporations question the need for inter-office air travel. He cited telepresence and Second Life–the 3D virtual world first launched as a video game in 2003–as the two technologies most likely to have a major impact on CRE.

Ross said that workplaces are moving gradually toward fewer desks and more team spaces. As an illustration, Bouri noted that he’s been told by clients that with employees’ increasing ability to work productively from remote locations, more than 50% of the desk space is not used regularly.

One example of this trend, Ross said, is Beacon Communications’ Tokyo headquarters: there are no desks or offices on the premises of this major advertising agency. Instead, employees choose where to set up their laptops when they come into work.

Similarly, employees at the Mountain View, CA world headquarters of Google–which reported revenues of $5.37 billion for Q2 2008–work in high-density clusters rather than offices or cubicles, and enjoy perks ranging from snack rooms to a grand piano. The company’s director of real estate and workplace services for the Americas, Jim Laumann, told the CoreNet Global audience that he’s “continuing to challenge everybody on what our investment is” in office space. As one example of determining the most efficient use of space, engineers at Google have begun modeling how often conference rooms are used and how large they need to be, based on how many people typically participate in meetings.

Advances in wireless technology are making it increasingly possible to conduct business outside of an office, even as 1.6 million new cell phones worldwide are activated each day. The cell phone is gradually becoming a portable computer, said Ross, who predicted “the death of the office phone altogether” within five years.

The “ubiquitous city” of New Songdo, currently under construction on 1,500 acres in South Korea, is designed in part as a large-scale testbed for integrated technology. Advances tried out there will eventually come into widespread use in the business world, Ross said. Although New Songdo is not scheduled for completion until 2014, one of the technologies that will drive it–WiMax–already has the potential to create what Ross called a “bubble” of high-speed wireless Internet connectivity over each of the world’s cities.

It all points to a workspace environment of the future that the current generation of schoolchildren will find far more comfortable than the present-day workforce, Ross said. That’s particularly true in the C suite, where the benefits of technology that upends the traditional desk-bound format are still not fully understood, said Bouri. Yet it’s in the C suite where the commitment to introduce these technologies must originate, he said, and he called on CRE professionals to lead the way.

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