WorkStyles, from office inhabitant to net worker

By M. Mooij

Views on working and the work place are undergoing a rapid and drastic change. Since the first ‘much discussed’ examples in the United States and Scandinavian countries, people are experimenting with new office forms all over the Netherlands. Something that was the scope of specialists until recently, nowadays shows up on the agenda of directors and executive boards. Not surprisingly so, because it entails changes which touch on the strategy of a company.

Applying new work place concepts, specialists don’t just expect to realise impressive reductions in costs because of reduction in space use. They also expect to increase effectiveness and flexibility of employees, using work time more optimally and intensifying communication. Some examples (Chiatt Day) even hint at an increase of employee creativity, because of a highly associative environment that maintains a dialogue with the employees.

New visions on working and the work place entail all traditional frames of areas of interest, e.g. housing, facility management, human resource management and IT-management. Attention by management, followed by interdisciplinary cooperation between different departments and supporting services are the conditions for implementing a new way of working successfully.

The work place, the key to change
Why these sudden interests in the work place? It is a logical reaction to certain changes in society, technology and economy that compliment each other and have great influence on the way people work. In developments that take place at this moment, I see four movements that each in their own way have an influence on work.

  1. Increasing dynamics. The first movement is one of increasing dynamics in business: the life cycle of products shortens, ‘time-to-market’ gains importance and demands on flexibility increase.
  2. More intelligent technology. The second movement is that of an increasingly intelligent technology, that facilitates concepts like ‘lean production’, ‘paperless office’ and ‘working from home’.
  3. Thinking in added value. The third movement concentrates itself on increased thinking in added value. Organisations evolve into networks of small units (competence units) that connect, based on the exchange of added value.
  4. Balance of working and private life. The fourth movement focuses on increasing attention to balance between working and private life. The baby boom generation has set the outlines of a changing morale on work, in which work should be an enrichment of life.

Clearly, the priorities given to different movements, point out the direction of development in how people work in an organisation. However this direction doesn’t directly tell what work place concept is most suitable for a certain type of work or worker.

All sharing desks?
One link fails between the strategic orientation of a company on change in ways of work and the tactical and operational choices made in designing work places. It shows in all kinds of practical questions. On what grounds for example, can you decide what occupations are suitable for non-territorial work places? What employees are suitable? Can they be easily trained? What standard workspace should one have, when one has both traditional and non-territorial work places within a company?
Research to find out how intensively places are used is easily achieved, but what conclusions can you take when it shows that most work places aren’t used more than half the time? Is a work place, used once a week, too expensive? It has to be possible to answer all these questions looking at the strategy of a company, in order to reach a successful change within all areas.

Styles of Work
We need new knowledge for this as well!
For example: knowledge about personal ways of working. I don’t mean the traditional way, which is common among office employees, but strategies used by an independent worker to effectively do his work and use his time, while reacting to new developments. Artists are a good example. If you look at the patterns in their working behaviour, you see work styles that have developed in complete freedom.

Insight through work styles
By gaining insight on employee work styles we understand the connection between aimed effectiveness and the individually optimal place to work with the appropriate facilities for it. Thinking in work styles offers an instrument to guard effectiveness of different kinds of support.

Range of tasks
On the one hand a work style is determined by the pattern of activities, support equipment and the range of tasks, on the other hand by individual differences. Each range of tasks has a limited number of possible work styles. The performer of the range of tasks chooses from within these possibilities.

Work style Research
Because work style cannot automatically be derived from the way an organisation reacts to developments as mentioned earlier, it is necessary to do research on work styles per employee category. There is a method in which relevant elements of a work style of a certain employee group gains attention. One does research on the work style of a group as well as individual ones. Concerning individual work styles one looks at the balance between autonomy and cooperation, between immobility and mobility, between task orientation and relation orientation and between routine and creativity/innovativity.

Concerning group work style, the primary focus is on acknowledging the link existing within a group between place, time and sequence of work. Besides that, one researches what common input, output, facilities, management and culture elements exist.

The outcome of the work style research is written down in a sequence of scores per research item, which are summarized in a work style profile. To make this profile come alive it requires some vivid descriptions:

  • spot selector
  • office inhabitant
  • chaotic worker
  • satellite worker
  • traveller
  • team worker
  • production worker
  • operator

A vivid example is the work style prevalent among many consultants, interim managers or project managers. These workers are independent or are increasingly paid in terms of achievements. Because of this they themselves are responsible for developing their most effective work style. They will request freedom to discover and design their most effective style of working. These workers become aware of the influence the environment has on their effectiveness and the influence they can have to arrange their environment in order to be able to work optimally.

Spot selector
As workers become more aware of the influence the environment has on their effectiveness and the influence they can have on the environment to meet their needs, they can start acting accordingly. This can have far reaching consequences. It may mean that employees develop different styles of work for different kinds of work. For writing a rapport they might for example rent a little hut on the beach, for having a meeting they go to a swimming pool and for thinking about a new ‘burning system’ they make a stroll through a shopping street.
These employees, that actively look for or create a work place in order to work in their most efficient work style. You could call these employees, ‘spot selectors’.

Office inhabitant
The place searcher that is always mobile is continually in search of new environments and new challenges to support his work style more effectively. Another example is the ‘Office inhabitant’. these workers install themselves in the office as if they live there. They take plants, pictures, coffee machines and even their own furniture into the office to make it their own, homely environment.


Chaotic worker
Another type is the ‘Chaotic worker’, which in the eyes of others has no system in his work. But he is really in trouble if a cleaning lady or a new secretary has ‘helped’ him clean up.

Other types of workers I think of as: the ‘Satellite worker’, the ‘Traveller’, the ‘Team worker’, the ‘Production worker’ and the ‘Operator’. The work style of the latter for example, is strongly dependant on the equipment or facilities used.
Instrument of awareness
Typology of work styles is a powerful instrument to help people become aware of their own work style and possibly more sensitive to the effective varieties of others. Typology of work styles as described here was developed as an instrument for organisations to become aware of their own work style. This is a preparation for implementing new and more efficient office concepts, and also as support for improving personal efficiency.

Internal marketing
Catching behaviour of a target group in types, is not new. In marketing the term ‘lifestyle’ is in use for quite a while now. Where lifestyle served as a way to characterize a certain group of customers in order to develop new products, the purpose of work styles is to recognize working behaviour of employees in order to offer the right kind of support.

Facility management
For facility management the work style concept is very useful. Work style binds itself solely to that part of behaviour that really matters in supporting work. Even more, this behaviour is bound for an important part by the function and task of the employee.

A department for example that needs the temporary possibility to work concentrated for an hour, should be offered concentration rooms. Offering m2 based on function level isn’t enough for a long time now. Sometimes ranges of tasks must be grouped around a special facility (e.g. machine), sometimes activities must be clustered around one person, but this shouldn’t be the case automatically just because we are used to it. Work style is a way that types work behaviour in a fashion that shows what forms of facility support is necessary and demanded.

Effective work styles
Work style is not only interesting for the supplier of facilitative support in whatever form, it is also very interesting for the employee himself. By gaining knowledge about the own style of working, effectiveness can be increased. Choosing the proper way of working and the right supporting facilities becomes increasingly important; especially when working is credited for on result and less on effort.

First published in 1996 in Facility Management Magazine and in Het Nieuwe Werken.


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