The FM Professional

The new workplace lexicon: defining future workspaces

Brina Martens
December 9th, 2020

The workplace is evolving. As a result, so too must the terms we use to define it.

According to the Harvard Business Review, workspaces are both a ‘reflection and projection of company culture.’ And there’s no denying COVID-19 has significantly influenced this new normal in shaping the future of workspace design.


Although 2020 has seen an enormous rise in remote work due to COVID-19, it’s clear employees still prefer the option to work from the office. Office work has clear benefits for employers, too, with a recent study showing a work-related request made in person is 34-times more effective than a request made via email. We’ve spoken before about the impact of workspace design on employee culture and business success. Below, we define some key terms added to the workplace lexicon.

activity-based working

Activity-based working

An activity-based workplace or workspace (ABW) is a space within an office that directly reflects the work. Activity-based workspaces encourage movement throughout the workday and can affect major improvements to employee productivity, engagement, and job satisfaction.

Most of the standard office layouts we’re familiar with were designed long before wireless technology was used with regularity. But Wi-Fi means we no longer need to be stationed in one place as used to be common practice up until the past decade. 

Activity-based workspaces move away from the traditional 9-to-5 stuck-at-a-desk model of the past. Instead, they encourage free movement, face-to-face contact, flexibility, and collaboration.

An activity-based workspace can take many forms but should always have space for quiet, deep work (this could be in closed offices or cubicles) and areas to talk, collaborate, and create. 

The key is flexibility. Employees should feel mobile and free to move between spaces depending on their needs. This model is most effective when combined with a work-from-home option for days when workers need quiet and focus. 

The flexibility works for companies, too, reducing the number of required desks and significantly decreasing overheads. It can also foster creativity and encourage relationship building. Companies like Meetup have talked about the productivity improvements and cost reductions they saw after introducing an activity-based model.

However, activity-based working does present some challenges. For example, it can represent a significant shift from how things have been done in the past. To organizations and workers used to the traditional, desk-based work environment, it might seem a little ‘out there’ at first. 

Communication, planning, and thoughtful design are vital to getting buy-in from executives or c-suite employees. Tools like the OfficeSpace Move Manager and Visual Directory can help communicate change, and Space Management can help you understand your traffic flow and space utilization.

Agile working

According to the Advanced Workplace, an agile organization is defined as “a business that has implemented specific strategic decisions that enable flexible working, in and out of the physical workspace.” This work style gives employees the freedom to work in a way that’s conducive to maximum productivity.

Agile working can mean different things to different organizations. This kind of work style focuses on collaborative spaces that can transform per changing needs.

An agile office allows dynamic and flexible working conditions so organizations and workers can quickly adapt to the latest health guidance and restrictions or changes in project requirements. An important note: Agile working isn’t to be confused with the similarly-named agile methodology, which is a project management framework.

Chris Hood, director of Advanced Workplace Associates, says agile workspaces give workers the ability to ‘make spur-of-the-moment choices as to where, when, and with whom they work,’ letting go of the perception that workers are tied to a desk. In some businesses, this might mean an activity-based model, or it could take it further by making the workspace completely ‘free address’ with no assigned seats. 

Fewer desks mean companies can reduce overheads and spend money on a better workplace experience. As with all significant changes, strategic planning, clear communication, and careful monitoring are crucial to success. 


Office neighborhoods

Office neighborhoods are areas of an office dedicated to specific departments or functions. In other words, office neighborhoods are to your office space as neighborhoods are to cities.

Office neighborhoods are like city neighborhoods—areas of the office dedicated to specific teams or functions. Based on urban physics principles, office neighborhoods are collaborative, needs-based communities, taking activity-based working to the next level. 

At first glance, this sounds similar to how most traditional offices are structured (i.e., teams sit in different areas), but neighborhood spaces are quite different. The difference is that spaces are designed for teams’ specific needs. A design team may have fun, open spaces that foster creativity, while accounting might have quiet desks with enclosed rooms for focus work. A team that spends lots of time off-site may have a small number of hot desks, plus a lounge area for workers to congregate and catch up when they’re in the office.

Citi is a fan of the neighborhood approach, with company leaders citing increased collaborative problem-solving capacities since its introduction.

Without a dedicated desk for every worker, companies can save space and reduce overheads while increasing productivity, engagement, and happiness. 

Transitioning to a neighborhood set up (and reaping the significant benefits) is a big undertaking, especially as the concept is new to many. We discuss the benefits of this workplace structure in more detail here.

Open office

An open office space is a workspace without walls for offices or cubicles. Employees typically work in the same, large room, typically with the aim to spur communication and collaboration in a team environment.

Open offices boomed in popularity in the second half of the 20th century. Think big open spaces with lots of desks, plus a few meeting and break-out areas. 

Although a lack of walls is meant to foster collaboration, countless studies show they reduce face-to-face interactions by up to 70%. Fully open-office floor plans have attracted criticism for their lack of privacy, high potential for disruption, and noisiness. Without thoughtful design, they can hamper productivity.  

Despite their drawbacks, open offices are undeniably very cost-effective. The lack of individual offices maximizes available real estate so that a single space can accommodate many workers. You can learn more about the pros and cons of open offices in this article.

collaborative workspace

Collaborative workspaces

A collaborative workspace is an office where employees from different companies work in one space.

Collaborative workspaces allow workers from multiple companies to share the same space. This could be a coworking space or a landlord letting one office to more than one organization. 

Collaboration is an excellent option for smaller businesses. They reap the benefits of activity-based spaces and agile offices without the employee numbers or budget to justify their own space. 

Also, workplace collaboration with other organizations offers a range of benefits. Teams can access office locations, facilities, and networking opportunities they wouldn’t otherwise have access to without this arrangement. In some coworking and collaborative spaces, this includes perks like coffee bars, meeting rooms with state of the art equipment, and networking nights. 

Collaboration also brings substantial cost savings, flexibility, and fluidity as businesses scale. On the flip side, businesses need to consider the lack of ownership and control—you can’t always choose your neighbors!

Remote workspace

Remote work is work that is done somewhere other than a company-provided office space. Typically, remote work is done from an employee’s home or from a remote location like a coffee shop or library.

One of the most notable features of COVID-19 is the increased prevalence of remote work. This is a change that’s here to stay. 

Companies can still foster a great employee experience with careful planning, even with their team working remotely. Remote working can bring similar benefits to activity-based workspaces. Workers have the flexibility to work where they feel most productive—whether it be in a coffee shop or a desk at home.

Remote work certainly reduces company overheads, but it does bring challenges. Organizations must ensure workers have everything they need to work safely, efficiently, and ergonomically from home. This often requires facilities managers to purchase additional equipment and develop more robust asset management processes. 

But the key challenges are communication and connectivity. Keeping office and remote workers connected can be challenging, but luckily we have a wealth of digital communication tools at our fingertips.

hybrid shift work

Hybrid workforces and shift work

Shift seating refers to employees occupying the workspace in shifts while at assigned desks.

A hybrid workforce blends remote and in-office working. This could be via shift work or under an arrangement where some employees work permanently from the office, and others work permanently from home. 

Shift work is an excellent option for introducing hybrid workforces. In a shift work setting, workers are split into groups. Some workers are in the office on specific days or weeks while the others work from home, and vice versa. 

For example, you could have an ‘A’ team, working in the office two weeks per month and two weeks from home, alternating with the ‘B’ team. This means all workers get some collaborative, in-office time, but they also have time in the home office for focused, deep work.

Hybrid workforces can significantly reduce overheads, with less desk space required. And shift work brings plenty of benefits for the company too—with fewer workers in the office at any one time, facilities managers can effectively manage physical distancing requirements and cleaning schedules.

Despite the clear benefits, shift work can be logistically tricky to introduce. This is where software like OfficeSpace comes in, with handy tools including the Visual Directory, Desk Booking, and desk check-in sensors. In this post, we explain strategies for balancing in-office work with remote work in more detail.

Workplace distancing workspace

Workplace distancing refers to maintaining a physical distance of 6 feet (2 meters) from employee to employee within a workplace or office environment.

Physical distancing is now an unavoidable feature of office life. For facilities managers, physical distancing means reducing your office’s operational capacity to allow a six-foot radius per person. 

Facility managers can enhance their physical distancing measures by combining the methods we’ve discussed, including shift work, hybrid work, and remote working. Not only does physical distancing reduce the risk of an office-wide outbreak, but it also ensures employees feel safer and more confident, reducing their re-entry anxiety

Floorplans need to be measured, mapped, and redesigned with the six-foot radius in mind to enable a physically distanced workspace. OfficeSpace Software includes an AI-enabled Distancing Planner to help you accurately plan your physically distanced space, as well as visualization tools to help employees get used to their newly changed surroundings. 

Also, in this article, we’ve collated some tips for establishing physical distancing in your office.

dynamic workspace

The dynamic workspace 

A dynamic workplace includes furniture and collaborative spaces that can easily be reconfigured to meet the company’s current needs. But what makes a workplace truly dynamic is the technology and tools that power it, which should fit a company’s unique needs. This workplace model is flexible to accommodate specific precautions without compromising on productivity.

The dynamic workspace shares similarities with the activity-based workspace, but genuinely dynamic workspaces are set apart by technology use. They are designed with flexibility and a rotating workforce in mind; they’re not intended for all workers to be in the office five days per week. 

By definition, dynamic spaces are both agile and adaptable. They integrate in-office and remote workers so they can use technology to collaborate and work together seamlessly. 

To be truly dynamic, facilities managers must utilize technology and software to plan, monitor efficiently, and adapt. OfficeSpace Software includes a range of robust solutions to transition from a traditional to a dynamic workplace model, including the Space Management tool and Visual Directory.


Embrace the technology-driven, ever-changing workplace

No matter which workspace model (or combination of models) your organization chooses, communication is vital. Always aim to over-communicate plans and changes, and don’t be afraid to consult and check-in with workers to make these communications a two-way discussion.

OfficeSpace Software has the tools to help you plan, communicate, and make data-driven decisions. Get in touch with our team today to find out how to make OfficeSpace work for you.


Photos: Toa Heftiba, Mimi Thian, Ant Rozetsky, bantersnaps, Marten Bjork, LinkedIn Sales Navigator