- Work environments are changing: We are moving from a world of inflexible work in a centralized office, to a situation where more and more workers work remotely and under flexible arrangements.
- Work environments can be distinguished by their physical location, their configuration, and the working style applied.
- While there are pros and cons to each, it is becoming increasingly obvious that most companies should adopt remote work and flexible work models.
With the rise of remote work, businesses are paying more attention to the type of work environment that they wish to create: Remote, in-office, hybrid, flexible, async, are all different ways of working that need to be considered.
Here we look at the different work environments available today with a focus on physical location, configuration and working style.
Different Work Environments: Physical Location
There are several different types of work environments, each with its own set of characteristics that can influence employee behavior, productivity, and job satisfaction. A common way of distinguishing work environments is based on where the work occurs.
Some of the most common types of work environments, considered by physical location include:
1. Traditional office
This is a conventional work environment with cubicles, offices, or open-plan workspaces. Historically, it was characterized by a hierarchical structure, formal dress code, and strict schedules.
Over time, distinct and delineated office spaces for workers gave way to more ‘fluid’ design arrangements. Open plan setups emphasize the removal of physical barriers such as cubicles, walls, and partitions to create a large, shared workspace where employees work side-by-side in a communal space. The concept of open-plan offices originated in the 1950s, but it gained widespread popularity in the 1990s and 2000s as a way to promote collaboration, communication, and teamwork among employees.
2. Remote work
This type of work environment allows employees to work from home or any location outside of the office. Remote work is becoming increasingly popular due to advancements in technology and provides flexibility for employees.
Remote work is similar to, but distinct from, the related concepts of telework and telecommuting in that it is more flexible and generally not tied to a specific location: Telework and telecommuting typically refer to working from a location other than the traditional office, such as from home or a satellite office. These terms were more commonly used before the rise of remote work and were often used interchangeably.
3. Hybrid work
Hybrid work, also known as ‘hybrid office’ is a type of workplace environment that combines elements of both traditional, in-person office work and remote work. In a hybrid office, employees have the flexibility to work from home or another remote location part of the time, while also coming into the physical office for a portion of their work week.
Different Work Environments: Configuration
We can also look at different work environments in how they are configured to support workplace productivity.
1. Collaborative workspace
This type of work environment is designed to encourage collaboration and creativity among employees. It typically features open-plan workspaces, communal areas, and flexible work arrangements. Collaborative workspaces are best suited for creative work that requires brainstorming and collaboration.
2. Flexible workspace
This type of work environment is designed to provide employees with a range of workspaces to choose from, depending on their needs. It may include traditional workstations, private offices, meeting rooms, and communal areas. Flexible workspaces can improve employee productivity by allowing them to choose the best workspace for the task at hand.
3. Virtual workspace
This type of work environment is entirely digital and allows employees to collaborate and communicate using online tools and platforms. Virtual workspaces are ideal for remote teams or businesses with employees in multiple locations.
It’s important to note that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to creating a work environment. Businesses should choose the type of work environment that aligns with their goals, values, and employee needs.
Different Work Environments: Working Style
Working style is about the way in which team members interact with each other within a company. The key options are synchronous working and async.
1. Synchronous working
The synchronous working style is a way of working where individuals or teams work together in real-time, either in the same physical location or through technology that enables immediate communication and collaboration.
The advantage of synchronous working is the ability to facilitate real-time collaboration and communication, enabling individuals or teams to work seamlessly and quickly resolve any issues. It is often used in fields like healthcare, emergency services, or manufacturing where immediate collaboration and decision-making are critical.
In this work style, people use various tools like video conferencing, instant messaging, or shared project management software to facilitate real-time collaboration. These tools enable teams to work together across different time zones and regions, regardless of their physical location.
2. Async work
Asynchronous work is a work style where individuals or teams work independently on tasks or projects without the need for immediate real-time collaboration or communication. This work style is common in fields like software development, design, or writing where focus and independent work time are crucial.
One of the key advantages of asynchronous work is its flexibility, as it allows individuals to work on their own schedule and at their own pace. It can also lead to increased productivity, as it allows individuals to work without distractions or interruptions, resulting in higher quality work.
To facilitate communication and collaboration, individuals or teams in an asynchronous work environment may use various tools such as email, project management software, or asynchronous messaging platforms. These tools enable individuals to communicate and share their work with others, irrespective of their geographical location or time zone.
Which is the best work environment, remote or in-office?
So far we have looked at the different ways of distinguishing work environments based on where and how the work occurs. Post-pandemic, however, the biggest debate still continues to be around the in-office vs remote work distinction.
With that in mind, what are some of the benefits that might lead a workspace to choose a remote-first environment?
1. Increased flexibility
Remote work allows employees to have more control over their schedules and work from any location, as long as they have access to the internet. This can be especially beneficial for employees who have family responsibilities, live far from the office, or have health issues that make commuting difficult.
2. Higher productivity
Research has shown that remote workers are often more productive than those who work in a traditional office environment: Going back to a 2015 Stanford University study, it was shown that remote workers were 13% more productive than their office-based counterparts. A 2019 Owl Labs study reported that remote workers were 24% more likely to feel happy and productive at work.
In short, the research suggests that remote workers can avoid the distractions and interruptions that often occur in an office setting and can create an environment that is conducive to their individual work style and preferences.
3. Cost savings
Through remote work, employers can save money on office space, utilities, and other overhead costs by allowing employees to work remotely.
When employees work remotely, there is a reduced need for a physical office space, which can result in significant cost savings on rent, utilities, and other related expenses. Employers can also save money on office equipment and supplies, as remote workers typically use their own computers and other equipment. This can eliminate the need to purchase and maintain costly office equipment.
Remote work can also lead to cost savings related to employee retention and recruitment. Offering remote work options can make a company more attractive to job candidates, as it provides greater flexibility and work-life balance. This can reduce the need for expensive recruitment efforts and training programs. Additionally, remote work can improve employee satisfaction and reduce turnover rates, which can save money on the cost of hiring and training new employees.
Finally, remote work can result in reduced absenteeism and sick leave, as employees have greater flexibility to work from home when they are feeling unwell. This can result in cost savings related to lost productivity and the cost of temporary replacements
The cost savings for employees can be even more significant: For instance, employees who work remotely save money on transportation costs such as gas, public transportation fares, and parking fees.
Remote work also allows employees to prepare meals at home, reducing the need to eat out at restaurants or cafes and leading to healthier eating habits and cost savings.
Another potential area of saving for employees is around the increased flexibility it can provide for working parents, reducing the need for expensive daycare services. Finally, remote work can enable employees to relocate to less expensive areas, leading to significant cost savings on housing expenses.
4. Access to a wider talent pool
Remote work allows businesses to hire employees from anywhere in the world, expanding the talent pool and potentially bringing in employees with unique skills and perspectives.
By increasing the talent pool beyond the local area or even the country of the business, there is a greater likelihood of finding the most suitable candidate for the job: When companies are not restricted by location, they can tap into a global talent pool and hire individuals from any part of the world with the required skill set and experience. This is particularly useful for companies that operate in highly specialized fields or require expertise in niche areas.
Remote work also eliminates the need for relocation, which can be a significant barrier for candidates who are not willing or able to move to a new city or country. With remote work, the only requirement is access to a stable internet connection, which is widely available across the world.
Finally, remote work allows for more flexibility in terms of work schedules, making it easier to accommodate time zone differences. Companies can hire employees in different time zones and ensure that work is being done around the clock. This can be particularly advantageous for organizations that operate in multiple countries or serve a global customer base.
5. Reduced environmental impact
Remote work can reduce the carbon footprint associated with commuting and office-related activities, such as energy use and waste generation.
Overall, a remote work environment can provide numerous benefits for both employees and employers, including increased flexibility, productivity, and cost savings.
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Different Work Environments — Our Take
There are a range of different work environments that might suit your business, depending on your industry, country and the specific goals of management.
Where businesses are able to move towards a remote and flexible work environment, it is worth considering the significant benefits of doing so, including cost savings, environmental impact and improved talent acquistion.
In a remote-first work environment, remote work is the default position. In a remote-friendly environment, remote work is permitted in many cases, but will usually need to be negotiated on a case-by-case basis.
Post-pandemic there is some disagreement as to what the best work environment is for the modern workplace. Increasingly, a hybrid and flexible work environment is becoming the norm.