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Balancing act: Rolodex, standard hours listed as office dinosaurs

Published: Monday, Oct. 22 2012 1:00 p.m. MDT

The rolodex is one of the top 10 items or trends that are in danger of becoming extinct in the next five years.

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When I moved to Utah in 1995 to take a job as a reporter in Ogden, only one computer in the newsroom had Internet access. The wonders of the Web were new to many people then, and we were just starting to explore the different ways we could use it to help us do our jobs.

Even more amazing and exciting to me then was the opportunity I had after a few months at the paper to borrow one of the newsroom's cell phones while out on an assignment. I remember trying to figure out how the big brick worked. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to call in my story update, because I was in an area that didn't yet have cell service.

What a difference 17 years make. Today, it's hard to imagine a computer — or a cell phone, for that matter — that can't access the Internet. And you really have to work to find an area that doesn't have cell service.

These memories came to mind recently as I read about a new study from LinkedIn, a professional network that links more than 175 million members worldwide.

LinkedIn surveyed more than 7,000 people for its "Office Endangered Species" study, asking them which tools and trends will most likely not be seen around offices by the year 2017.

According to the survey, the top 10 items or trends that are in danger of becoming extinct in the next five years are:

Tape recorders, 79 percent.

Fax machines, 71 percent.

The Rolodex, 58 percent.

Standard working hours, 57 percent.

Desk phones, 35 percent.

Desktop computers, 34 percent.

Formal business attire like suits, ties and pantyhose, 27 percent.

A corner office for executives, 21 percent.

Cubicles, 19 percent.

USB thumb drives, 17 percent.

This top 10 list seems right on the money to me. We still use a fax machine quite a bit at my current company, but we're trying to find ways to go completely digital. As for desk phones and desktop computers, it's easy to imagine them being replaced by mobile technology.

And would anyone weep at the disappearance of cubicles? I think not.

I found particularly interesting the response about standard working hours, especially because the LinkedIn survey also showed that 52 percent of respondents said flexible working hours were on their way to becoming ubiquitous.

As I've discussed before in this column, the idea of standard, 9-to-5 working hours does seem to be disappearing, and that's not necessarily a bad thing. I'm all for the rise of flexible hours, as long as "flexible" isn't code for "working 24 hours a day, seven days a week." I'm afraid that is the case in many jobs, and it's something about which we all need to be wary.

The LinkedIn survey also showed that professionals selected tablets (55 percent), cloud storage (54 percent) and smartphones (52 percent) as other office tools that are growing more common. In fact, 62 percent said tablets are the office tools that are ruling the Earth.

(I'm writing this column on my iPad, so I can't argue with that last stat.)

“It’s no surprise to see the Rolodex gathering dust as the pace of technological innovation rapidly makes many workplace practices and tools redundant,” said LinkedIn’s connection director, Nicole Williams, in a press release about the survey. “The beauty of modern devices and platforms, such as LinkedIn, is that they constantly evolve to meet professionals’ needs, allowing them to connect more quickly and easily than ever before.”

True enough. But again, I hope we all remember to stay truly connected — in person — to family and friends and don't focus too much on 24/7 connections to our jobs.

Finally, the LinkedIn survey asked people what dream tools they'd like to see in the office of the future.

"These include having a clone or assistant to help you in your day (25 percent), a place in the office that provides natural sunlight (25 percent) and a quiet place in your office where you’re allowed to take a nap (22 percent)," the LinkedIn release said. "In a funny twist, 19 percent of respondents said they wish they had a mute button for their coworkers, so they don’t have to hear them talk."

Hmmm. That mute button does sound interesting, and I've written before about the need for more napping spaces in the office. However, I'm not entirely comfortable with the clone idea. I'd be worried that the clone would do a better job than me, making me expendable.

I'm interested to hear your thoughts on this topic. What office tools or trends do you think will disappear in the next five years, and which ones have you seen vanish in the last five or 10? What tools will grow in popularity in the years to come? And what would your dream office tool or trend of the future be?

Send me your ideas, and I'll revisit this topic in a future column.

Email your comments to kratzbalancingact@gmail.com or post them online at deseretnews.com. Follow me on Twitter at gkratzbalancing or on Facebook on my journalist page.

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