Workspaces evolve as demands for skills, products, and services progress. The change is slow, but inevitable.
Centuries ago, most of us would have been working as farmers, housekeepers, blacksmiths or carpenters. As technology advanced and the population grew, factory work, retail jobs and sales professions became more popular.
In the last few decades, a significant number of employees obtained postgraduate degrees so that they could enter knowledge-based industries. These professionals worked in offices, some which were not always conducive to productivity. Cubicles and open concept offices were common, but they didn’t work for everyone.
Post-pandemic, the 9 to 5 workforce is seeing a move away from the traditional office workspace for more employee-friendly options.
With no commute, the potential for a better work-life balance, and other cost-saving benefits, working from home is generally viewed as a good option for employees. Many businesses are offering flexible work arrangements that allow staff to work from home 2 or 3 days each week.
Not only do staff have more personal time, but they can be more productive because colleagues are not around to ask questions or organize impromptu meetings.
Nevertheless, there are pros and cons to every workspace setup. When it comes to working from home, some people may not have enough space or privacy to be as productive as they’d like. Working from a bedroom, couch or kitchen table isn’t ideal for everyone, and staff who are responsible for buying their own equipment may not be able to afford all of the things that their company’s office can provide. Some staff have found that it is actually harder to stop working since they can be online earlier and later.
There are also compliance, liability, insurance, and process issues that should be discussed if leaders are going to make the hybrid work model a permanent option.
In order for a hybrid work set up to succeed, employers and employees need to work together to establish effective processes, expectations, and training. Communication is key and arguably more important when team members don’t see each other regularly. Staff must be comfortable enough to let management know if they are experiencing problems or if they have ideas to improve current arrangements.
Companies must also have simple (but secure) software for sharing files, collaborative work/communication, and a system for booking days in the office. This last point is sometimes overlooked, but companies that no longer have dedicated employee desks must use a booking system. This ensures staff aren’t wasting time looking for a workspace.
The employer-managed office is what most think of when they picture a traditional workspace. This environment is still the norm; commercial real estate is a global industry and there are several different types, styles, designs and prices available to small and large companies.
Companies will usually lease office space. The longer the agreement, the cheaper the rent tends to be. However, this also means that companies have less flexibility to scale up and down in space. As such, it makes sense that C-suite executives still expect staff to come into the office (at least some of the time).
In the 2010s, there was a renewed push to improve how offices were structured. Instead of simply existing to provide a physical place for work, leaders were trying to figure out what could be done to encourage more collaborative and comfortable environments. The results were mixed, but changes did not always improve conditions for employees the way that employers had hoped they would.
Leaders still want to promote collaboration, but we are less likely to see businesses trying to fit as many desks as they can into one office. Instead, companies are taking advantage of the hybrid model and converting the unused space to make a dynamic office. There might be a small meeting room, a station for solitary work, and a small private office for employees who need to be on the phone all day.
There is still a need and desire for office space, but most employees would prefer not to work in an overcrowded place with little room for flexibility.
A satellite office is a company space that is physically separate from the organization’s main office. This type of workspace could be in a different state or province, or even in a different country. A satellite office can be a single desk, or a multi-level building.
Satellite offices can help companies enter new markets. Not only do they allow organizations to hire top talent from other places, but national or international customers usually prefer working with companies that have a physical presence in their city.
One big downside is that it is harder to regulate processes and unify the company’s culture and values at satellite offices. Similarly, employees at the satellite office may find it harder to participate in important decision-making processes.
There are a number of different coworking spaces, including full-service and minimal spaces, big box coworking studios, and coffee shops. Coworking offers flexibility, a sense of community, and amenities that people may not be able to afford on their own. If an entire start-up opts to use a coworking space, it is likely to get a lease that is short and cheap; month-to-month agreements are normal. Freelancers also enjoy this option because they can secure a space to work without having to invest in their own office.
The downside is that companies may grow out of the coworking space. Staff will experience some disruption if they have to move to a permanent location, and there could be some unhappy team members if the new location is far from where the coworking space is located.
It’s also harder to establish a respectful environment when working alongside people who do not belong to your company.
Both rural and suburban coworking are on the rise as people who live outside look for a happy medium between working from their living room and commuting to the office. Coworking spaces give them an office environment and an opportunity to socialize with others who live near them.
With data or internet connection, and some form of smart device, people in knowledge-based industries can work from almost anywhere. They may prefer being outside in a park, at a local library, or they can even work while taking an extended vacation (also known as a workcation).
Staff and leaders must be clear on what is and is not allowed when it comes to non-traditional workspaces. For some organizations, public workplaces will not be allowed due to the nature of the work being performed by the employee or company. For other organizations, flexibility will be supported and promoted.
The knowledge-based industry is fortunate to have so many workspace options to consider. Staff are generally much happier to have some flexibility and say as to where they can work.
Workplace options will vary greatly depending on the company, the leaders who manage the company, and the nature of the work. Good communication, a willingness to try new things, and trust will all be critical factors in making alternative work setups effective.