Space on the Go

Workplace mobility is changing how employees use and view the office, but what does that mean for designers tasked with creating next-generation spaces?

a new language
As with anything truly new, this revolution in office space has generated a whole new language to describe it.

You are probably already familiar with the term telecommuting (also known as teleworking). This is when staff performs all or a portion of their work from an alternative worksite—usually from home—instead of commuting to an office. Another commonly used term is distributed work (also called a virtual office). This describes the concept of the workplace being wherever an employee happens to be working at any point in time, whether it’s an airport lounge, coffee shop or train.

There is hot desking, which is also referred to as desk sharing, red carpet, free address and group address. Hot desking owes its origin to the Navy’s practice of “hot bunking,” in which bunks are shared by several sailors on different watches; as such, hot desking involves the use of non-permanent workspaces that are assigned on a first-come, first-serve basis. This practice may also incorporate drop-in or touchdown spaces. As the names imply, these are unassigned offices that are used for short periods (usually a few hours) by employees who have not made a reservation for a workspace.

Hoteling and “just-in-time” concepts describe a program of not assigning offices to individuals on a permanent basis. Workspaces are assigned by using a reservation system on an as-need basis. Satellite offices or neighborhood work centers refer to smaller office spaces used by employees who are nearby. This space could be occupied by one company or shared by several different companies. These terms may or may not be important to your design work going forward, but the concepts they describe will be vital.

the mobility dilemma
Companies’ desire for worker mobility is exploding. According to a recent Gallup survey, 86 percent of companies now offer alternative work strategies and mobile work. This number is up from 50 percent in 2009.

Employers see several benefits in pursuing these alternate work strategies. Almost half (49 percent) think that offering opportunities to work remotely improves their employees’ work/life balance. Add in the fact that mobile employees work an average of 10 more hours a week than their office-bound colleagues, and it’s easy to see why companies are enthusiastically embracing worker mobility.

Nearly a third (31 percent) of the companies who responded to the survey have the bottom-line view that worker mobility saves them on real estate costs—and with good reason. Businesses can save an average of $13,000 a year for every employee who works remotely. If 100 staff members give up their desks and work remotely, an organization can save more than $1 million a year.

The one sector that is most aggressively pioneering employee mobility is actually the federal government. Pushed by shrinking budgets and a presidential mandate, government agencies are embracing remote work more than four times faster than any other sector, and private businesses can learn from them.

What about the employees? How do they feel about teleworking? You would think that people would embrace it and jump at the opportunity to work from home, but you would be wrong. Despite all the factors favoring increased mobility, organizations report that only 10 percent or fewer of their employees are working remotely on a regular basis.

Why? The simple reason is that people think it is in their best interest to go to the office. Seventy-two percent of respondents said the office is the best place to interact with colleagues and 40 percent said the office provides access to much-needed tools and technology. Many people worry that out-of-sight is out-of-mind. We all need to remember that we are human; we are social, territorial and creatures of habit. We like being around others and seek them out.

While the digital native millennials may have initially driven the mobility movement, it is ironically the gen Xers and baby boomers who are the prime example of distributed workers today. This is primarily because they perceive working remotely as being in their best interest. They cherish the flexibility, and more than likely have kids to chauffeur to school and various activities. In addition, they may have aging parents who need their attention. Working from home is a perfect solution for these employees. What’s more, they feel they’ll probably be working longer and are looking for a soft retirement. They are also more senior, so they are the ones that have “tenure.” They know what is expected of them and their employers know what their capabilities are.

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