The Firm of the Future

Jul 18, 2005

For this, our annual “A/E Firm of the Future” issue, you will see a lot of predictions. Therefore, I thought I would throw in my two cents’ worth of predictions on what that firm of the future will be. Here they are, in no particular order of importance: The office will be more virtual, with less people in the same location every day between 8:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. There are many reasons for this. It is getting harder and harder to find dedicated full-time workers. The technological advances have made it easier and easier to work from anywhere. And e-mail, instant messaging, and cell phone conversations are replacing a lot of personal meetings. Firms will be broader in what they do, but more focused in individual markets that are not geographically based. What I am saying is you will see fewer and fewer architects or engineers who do anything for anyone in a given geographic area, and instead see more firms that include both of those services, plus allied services such as planning and interiors and environmental, plus other services such as economic consulting, management consulting, financial consulting, business planning, executive search, IT consulting, and more. These firms will either focus on single markets, such as airports and aviation clients or retail clients, or have multiple units each focused on a single market. There will be more megafirms and more microfirms. Sure— there will still be mid-sized firms along the evolutionary trail. But the fact is certain projects and contracts will require very large companies to handle; and at the same time, the barriers to forming a new entity are probably lower than they ever have been. Little companies will spring up everywhere. Financially driven, highly integrated firms that need strong balance sheets will gobble up mature companies. There will be a lot of younger firms. More people who are good will get fed up with the B.S. that often develops in larger firms. The result will be that they will be starting their own companies with a desire to do things differently in record numbers. These younger firms will look different, feel different, and be more competitive. Each principal won’t have a private secretary. Offices will be smaller. Younger staffs won’t require the same kind of benefits (and overhead) that the older staffs with 10 or 20 years of service in the more mature companies do. All of this will give younger firms a competitive cost advantage over their older-firm counterparts. Firms will get rid of their phone systems. We are all going to be carrying our cell phones and microheadsets around 24 hours a day. And we will use them for everything, including our desk phones. There will also be new hybrid devices that work like intercoms inside a building and cell phones out. We will all have wireless networking. This will facilitate the elimination of many private workspaces as you won’t need to have your own hardwired computer there. More firms will be in China and India. If that’s where the work is, and that’s where the educated workers are, and it’s all cheaper over there, it only follows that this is where the firms of the future are going to be located. Many firms will have videoconferencing centers. As travel gets costlier, more dangerous, and harder to reconcile with one’s personal priorities, you will see more firms develop virtual conferencing capabilities. They are already out there in some of the more progressive companies. You will see more of this in the near term, though we will never completely eliminate the need to have dumb meetings. Where else can we eat all the doughnuts we want with impunity?! These are some of my predictions for the future. What are yours? Originally published 07/18/2005

About Zweig Group

Zweig Group, three times on the Inc. 500/5000 list, is the industry leader and premiere authority in AEC firm management and marketing, the go-to source for data and research, and the leading provider of customized learning and training. Zweig Group exists to help AEC firms succeed in a complicated and challenging marketplace through services that include: Mergers & Acquisitions, Strategic Planning, Valuation, Executive Search, Board of Director Services, Ownership Transition, Marketing & Branding, and Business Development Training. The firm has offices in Dallas and Fayetteville, Arkansas.