This is part two where we explain the post-pandemic, hybrid work era terms and concepts getting the most buzz and hype and how they’re defining our work spaces of the future. It’s important to note that many workplace terms overlap one another causing confusion and misuse. We attempt to sort that out.
Workplace Terminology Covered:
Activity-Based Workplace Design
Activity-Based Work (ABW) spaces are intentionally designed spaces for particular work or work-supportive activities to take place. Design features or change management programs educate employees on how to productively use and benefit from the space. The idea is that there should be a particular part of the office for all the activities that employees need to engage in. ABW design seeks to optimize productivity and employee experience. The word intentional is important for defining ABW space. ABW does not work unless leadership is involved and company culture supports it.
Generalized types of ABW spaces include:
- Quiet spaces, e.g., a library or study for heads-down, focused work.
- A lively, high-energy kitchen or coffee area for casual collaborations with colleagues during a break.
- Meeting rooms with collaboration boards when it’s time for groups to put thoughts in writing.
- Phone booths for private phone calls.
- And more.
These spaces can exist in any layout, but they have been particularly successful in mitigating the issues of total open plan layouts. They do this by providing privacy, freedom from distractions and interruptions, as well as psychological safety for employees that suffer from too much togetherness in open space office layouts. Quiet spaces or phone booths can be soundproofed or sound-absorbent. When ABW is incorporated into a total open-plan layout, the result is the mixed open-plan layout we learned about in part one. You can see here how workplace terms overlap one another and why so many terms get confused for one another.
Specific examples of ABW spaces are:
- Bubbles – A full or partial enclosure that gives workers a sense of privacy to do concentrated work while still offering them a 360-degree view of their surroundings. Also known as Orbs.
- Pods – Partially or fully enclosed rooms within rooms.
- Breakout Spaces – A comfy area separate from the more formal, established working area. A breakout space has a more casual look and feel and is designed for employees to spend time in during the working day in order to take a much needed break away from their desks.
- Huddle Rooms – An ABW solution to the popularity of meeting rooms and the worse-case scenario that no meeting rooms are available when you need them. Out of this problem, the small collaboration space with capacity for 2 to 4 people on an ad-hoc basis, meaning no reservation required, was born. It’s quiet enough for focused, group work and has enough amenities (e.g. desk, whiteboard, video conferencing, etc.) to support desirable levels of productivity.
- Touchdown Spaces are typically laptop centric, informal settings such as a private concentration room, lounge, presentation room, or a collaborative area. They use modular workstations with fast Internet access for specific tasks which are shared between coworkers and management. Employees can use a touchdown space to quickly respond to an email, a call, or a text message and then move to other areas to complete tasks and projects.
- Collaboration Spaces – can take many forms —from formal meeting rooms designed for working as a group, or informal social spaces that allow staff to come together in a more relaxed, natural way. Regardless of the style, the key purpose is that the space will encourage an atmosphere of discussion and team work, to connect people within the company and enable true collaboration.
Benefits of well-designed collaboration spaces at work, include:
- Increased communication between traditionally isolated teams
- More effective meetings and teamwork
- Increased staff morale and a positive culture
- New ideas, that may not have emerged previously
- Better staff retention
#Activity-Based Workspaces #Activity-Based Working
Mobility In Our Work Spaces
Mobility in the workplace is the extent to which technology and workplace policies allow workers to untether from their desks and work from anywhere, both in the office and beyond. It’s not solely the policy of being able to work from different settings, but the practical ability (provided by the IT department) of accessing your workplace from various corners of the office and locations in the world. Thus, eliminating the restriction of being in office at a particular desk.
Where Mobility and Remote Work Intersect
In the war on attracting and retaining top talent, job candidates are looking for secure company policies that allow for working remotely. For companies looking to future-proof their workforce, tracking and increasing mobility can make all the difference because telecommuting is the 2nd most important criteria for job prospects after salary.
“The case studies in Work on the Move confirm [mobility programs] show an average of 25% to 40% return on investment. Most of the cost savings are found in the reduction of real estate because an increase in mobility causes a decrease in real estate.”
Mobility & Office Space Demand
Pre-pandemic mobility programs introduced a level of unpredictability in space demand that resulted in seat sharing as an alternative to assigned seating allocation methods. Now, as a result of the largest work from home experiment in history, business leaders are recognizing that knowledge workers can get work done in a variety of settings. Increasing mobility and greater user choice will result in a more erratic office space demand signal on a daily, weekly, and longer-term basis. As such, we will need methods, enabled by digitally intense tools, to account for this new micro supply and demand dynamic.
Distributed Teams are groups of employees that work on projects or a job function together, but are located in different offices or locations. Because of this, they share characteristics of remote workers in that they require cloud-based, mobile technology in order to collaborate and be productive.
However, unlike remote workers, distributed teams lack co-location resulting in asynchronous work. Additionally, companies do not see traditional remote workers as core employees. Whereas a distributed worker’s connection to the company culture is valued. They are seen as the same as an in-office worker. Distributed teams may meet in one location from time to time to reinforce employee engagement and collaboration. Distributed team members may work in separate offices provided by the company or they may not be connected to an office at all. It can be assumed they work across multiple time zones. Team members might even be all over the world.
Distributed Teams & Co-location
The opposite of a distributed team (and/or virtual company) is a co-located team. Co-located means that people work in or are assigned to the same office. Pre-pandemic, most teams were co-located. It is yet to be seen whether the global workforce will be mostly distributed or mostly co-located going forward.
“There are still issues of time zone, but the lack of co-location itself puts a larger premium on asynchronous modes of communication and collaboration.”
Distributed Teams & The Pandemic
As a result of the 2020 lockdowns, distributed teams became the necessary work model as it was the only one available. All employees and their managers worked from home. Cloud-based, digital technologies made both the distributed and remote team possible and liberated some from the single, central office model.
Distributed Teams Are Not Always Hybrid Teams
This term is incorrectly used interchangeably with the term ‘hybrid teams’ which refers to teams with some members working in the office and others working remotely. While not always the same as hybrid teams, distributed teams are increasingly also hybrid teams. But distributed teams could also be fully office-based because the definition is teams with members that work in different locations across a region or world. The definition does not specify whether those locations are office-based, home-based, a coworking office, coffee shop, or beach chair. Hybrid teams must include a combination of remote and office work. Distributed teams do not.
It takes a nuanced management style to manage members of a team located in different offices/locations versus the management style required for the single, central office. In the latter case, the manager could physically supervise in-person as was the objective with the Taylorist office design style. How to build globally distributed teams that outperform co-located teams.
Hybrid Work refers to a type of flexible working arrangement, within a single company, in which employees perform work both in the company office with other colleagues and remotely. There is more than one type of hybrid work arrangement and hybrid work is about the location where work is performed. Please see asynchronous work for a definition of the flexible work arrangement that deals with time and not location.
There must be a combination of work performed at the company office and remotely by the employees in order to qualify as hybrid work. The venn diagram below shows the three forms hybrid work can take. So a fully office-centered company policy is not hybrid and a fully virtual or remote team is not hybrid either. A distributed team can be hybrid, but not necessarily.
No longer can we assume everyone commutes to a traditional office to perform work during roughly the same work hours. Thanks to the 2020 pandemic, an emerging trend of workers being freed from the need to go to the office in order to meet company policy and be productive has been accelerated. Technology has liberated the worker from the desk and increased mobility. Collaborative work can happen between an in-office worker and remote worker with the right tools and support.
“Hybrid Work is an approach that designs the work experience around and for the worker, wherever they are. It empowers people to work onsite, offsite, and moving between locations. Hybrid work also promotes inclusiveness, engagement, and well-being for all employees.”
Flexible Work is any work schedule or workplace location that deviates from the traditional office-based, synchronous work. Before the present work evolution, you might have found this type of work listed in job advertisements as Flex Work or Flex Jobs. Today, you’re most likely to see jobs advertising hybrid work as the term increased by 464% in job postings between Q2 and Q3 2021.
Other Types of Flexible Work
Hybrid work is a type of flexible work. Other flexible working arrangements might include:
- changing from full-time to part-time work
- adjusting the part-time hours that you work, for example from weekends to weekdays
- making working hours fit in with school hours, college hours or care arrangements
- compressed hours, that is, working your usual hours in fewer days
- flexitime–which allows you to fit your working hours around agreed core times
- working from home or remotely for part or all of the time
- job sharing
- self-rostering–when management creates the shift schedule based on employees’ work schedule preferences
- shift working
- staggered hours–which allow you to start and finish your days at different times
- time off in lieu
- annualized hours– when an employee’s set number of hours are based on a yearly time frame and not a weekly time frame
- term-time work, so you don’t work during the school holidays
The Pros & Cons of Flexible Work
When an employee with an assigned office does not work in that traditional office environment. This could mean working from a local coworking space, from home, at a coffee shop, or in a city across the world.
There are interesting statistics comparing remote work prior to and during the pandemic. However, these stats do not differentiate between remote work at home and remote work outside the home. The assumption is that everyone is working from home likely because this is largely the case. But as remote work becomes more commonplace in the future, we look foward to the research comparing these realities of the various remote work locations.
The word “remote” is in fact meaningless if there is no center to be remote from.
Sometimes represented by the acronym WFH is a type of remote work that is only done at the home of the employee. “[A]s of 2019, only 5.4% of employed in the EU-27 usually worked from home–a share that remained rather constant since 2009. However, over the same period, [employees who sometimes worked] from their homes increased from 5.2% in 2009 to 9% in 2019. [WFH] was considerably more common among the self-employed than dependent employees, although it increased in a similar way for both categories over the past decade.”
Compare that to the US, “Before the pandemic, only 6% of the employed worked primarily from home and about three-quarters of workers had never worked from home.” By May 2020, “over ⅓ of those employed worked from home as a result of the pandemic.”
Virtual First is a type of remote work where employees primarily work from home, “but also schedule visits to the office for in-person work with teammates.” In this work model, the company consciously preserves the office as a place for collaboration and employee engagement only. Employees perform their individual work at home. Dropbox made this work model popular in October 2020.
Fully Remote refers to the work arrangement of an individual employee, an entire company or some groups of employees in between as shown by the hybrid work venn diagram above. It means an employee either doesn’t have to work from the company’s office or there is no option to perform individual work from the company office because it has been reserved as a team collaboration space. In the instance where a company office does not exist or the employee is not assigned to a particular office, this would be the definition of 100% virtual work.
Fully Remote vs WFH
Fully remote work differs from WFH because fully remote workers can work from anywhere in the world that their company allows. Companies may limit employees to working only in certain areas to comply with different regulations. Understanding legal and tax policies of each country and municipality for each remote worker is one of the most difficult aspects of maintaining a remote workforce. The regulatory environment is incredibly complex and evolving with the emergence of new remote ways of working e.g. digital nomad, hybrid work and fully remote work.
Some teams also find it difficult to coordinate and optimize productivity when team members are in different time zones. While it’s possible to work from anywhere remotely, the vast majority work from their home near the company. Others work in coworking spaces near the location of their home and company. At the moment, very few remote workers are working from the beach in Bali or the chalet in the Swiss alps.
Asynchronous work is the type of work distributed teams most commonly perform because they generally work in different time zones. Employees work asynchronously when they collaborate and submit deliverables at different times of day/week on the same project. This is the opposite of the traditional, office-centered work model that relies on synchronous work. Synchronous work employees all go to the company office. They start and finish the work day at the exact same time and complete their work simultaneously.
Asynchronous Work vs Autonomous Work
Asynchronous work differs from Autonomous Work in that the former is about when work is performed and the latter is referencing the extent of independent authority workers have to decide what tasks they perform. The level of independence can be on a continuum, but this type of work is in direct contrast to micromanaging.
After working from home for over a year and a half, people started to experience isolation. They missed being able to socialize spontaneously. Metaverse spaces are one answer to this lack. A combination of the words “Meta” and “Universe” metaverse workspaces are virtual or augmented reality workspaces created to mimic professional, real world interactions. Picture an employee working from home. They put on their virtual reality headset, select their avatar, and engage in spontaneous water cooler conversation with colleagues. Early adopter companies are exploring workplace experience through curated office metaverses.
“Who’s building the virtual office? It seems like everyone, from Big Tech to shiny new startups, wants in. Microsoft plans to integrate its VR/AR platform Mesh with Teams and hinted at future “immersive spaces” within the messaging app. Meta [previously known as Facebook] built Horizon Workrooms to hold meetings with Oculus headsets. But as Protocol has previously noted: It’s the companies we’ve never heard of that are likely to make the work metaverse happen.
“Microsoft seems to think it could involve virtual meeting rooms to train new hires or chat with your remote coworkers.” See Microsoft’s announcement of their foray into the metaverse technology and workplace experience.