The workplace used to refer to a single location, like an office or factory. But, now that the internet makes mobile communication easy, work can happen anywhere.
As more spaces such as homes, trains, and restaurants become workplaces, the social dynamics of work change, too.
We surveyed 1,003 people who can do their jobs from an office to investigate the social dynamics of getting work done, as well as how the spaces we occupy when we work change the ways we interact with each other.
The 8 statistics this article explores shows that while the majority of employees still use traditional offices, many would rather telework, or use technology to work elsewhere, and think they’re more effective outside the office.
- Over two-thirds (68%) of workers complete their jobs in a traditional office, which shows that offices are still the most popular workplace option.
- Managers are 9% more likely to work from a traditional office than individual contributors.
- Private offices are the most common office arrangement for traditional office workers: 38% of workers have a private office compared to a shared office (31%) or cubicle (25%).
- Over half (54%) of employees who have multiple workspaces think they’re more effective when they work outside the office.
- A major cause of office inefficiency is poorly-designed spaces that don’t help workers get their jobs done.
- The most popular reason for working outside the office is work-life balance (26%).
- Spontaneous collaboration (25%) and personal and professional growth (22%) are the most popular benefits of coworking spaces.
1. Most Employees Work From Traditional Offices
The majority of workers head to traditional office workspaces to get their tasks done, showing that the office is still the most popular work setup.
Over two-thirds (68%) of employees frequently complete their work in an office, or a space where employees of the same company gather to hold meetings, brainstorm, and work separately.
However, nearly three in ten (29%) employees often work from home, and nearly one in five (18%) work from either a coworking space or a public free space such as a coffee shop or library. These numbers point to a rising trend of working outside a normal office.
Though more people are working remotely than ever before, the concept of an office as a physical business hub remains relevant. According to a Gallup poll, 57% of Americans spent at least some work time in a traditional office in 2017.
Business leaders have often said that in-person, collaborative work is key.
“There’s a temptation in our networked age to think that ideas can be developed by email and iChat. That’s crazy,” said Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple Inc, in a biography by Walter Isaacson. “Creativity comes from spontaneous meetings, from random discussions.”
Furthermore, not all offices have to be traditional.
CodigodelSur’s Montevideo Office: A Modern Workspace Case Study
CodigodelSur, a Uruguayan mobile app developer, bought an old house in Montevideo that had once been a nunnery and transformed it into an office. Nicolas Amarelle, CodigodelSur’s founder and CEO, was intentional in creating a space that encouraged both collaboration and concentration.
When CodigodelSur opened in 2007, it only had two employees. Now the company has more than 70, so Amarelle knew he needed to move his team into a space that could fit them all.
However, Amarelle also wanted a beautiful space that would encourage creativity.
That’s why CodigodelSur bought and renovated a mansion built in the 1930s. The company surveyed employees to find what they really wanted from a brand-new office setup.
The most popular request was that the office have spaces for both recreation and concentration. Amarelle made sure that the floor plan included a library for quiet focus. However, the new office also includes multiple collaboration spaces, such as kitchens on each floor and a garden outside.
This lounge is one of CodigodelSur’s collaboration spaces.
By taking charge of his company’s workspace, Amarelle created a unique office that catered to as many employee needs as possible.
2. Managers Are More Likely to Work in an Office
Team managers have a higher chance of working primarily from a traditional office than their direct reports.
Over three-fourths (77%) of managers work at a traditional office, while 68% of employees with no managerial responsibilities work in offices.
Individual contributors are more likely to work from home or a coworking space than their managers because the primary task of a manager is to coach, something that usually requires in-person conversations.
Christopher Liu, an assistant professor of strategic management at the Rotman School of Management in Toronto, compared managers to editors in a newsroom.
“Editors allocate the task to the beat reporters to go out and chase that tragic highway accident. Depending on what the reporter comes back with, they decide how to allocate the space within the newspaper itself,” Liu said.
To assign tasks, ensure individual contributors follow through, and make decisions managers need frequent contact with their direct reports.
It’s possible to establish that contact through internet tools, such as Slack and Trello, but that can often be less efficient than in-person coaching.
“I’d argue that as you move up the pyramid, decisions become more complex. Very often, that requires face to face interaction,” Liu added.
"As you move up the pyramid, decisions become more complex."
The importance of in-person conversations is why it makes sense for managers to work from an office more often than individual contributors.
3. Private Offices Are the Most Common Setup
A person who works in a traditional office is most likely to have a private office, despite a recent trend toward open office design where employees work in shared spaces with their peers.
Nearly two out of every five employees (38%) work in a private office.
About a third (31%) work from a shared room, while a quarter (25%) work in a cubicle.
The concept of workers accomplishing more in quiet, closed-off spaces is both old and established.
Today, though, what employers and employees need from offices changes so quickly that decision-makers don’t always know how to accommodate workers.
“We live in a time where the rate of change is faster than it has been before,” said Scott Delano, design director at Wright Heerema Architects, a design firm. “The notion of signing a 10-year lease, designing and building an office, and having that work for all 10 years is no longer as tenable.”
Many designers today recognize that private offices have both benefits and drawbacks.
The Benefit of Private Offices
Private offices give their occupants a small space that workers can customize and use however they want. These offices “put the people who do the actual work in control,” wrote David Fullerton, CTO of Stack Overflow, in 2015.
Many large, high-profile companies like Facebook, Google, and Pixar build massive open offices. Some business leaders, however, oppose the design choices of these technology giants.
Solo offices cut down on visual and auditory distractions, according to Fullerton and those like him. Private offices allow employees to feel like they’re in control of their surroundings, which leads to comfort.
Not everyone agrees with him, however.
The Drawbacks of Private Offices
Many companies give private offices only to top-ranking employees. This practice sometimes creates a sharper impression of company hierarchy than what exists in reality.
Shared offices, cubicles, and open office plans can be a solution to this problem. These office designs, which emphasize employee interaction, create more moments of connection between workers.
“Improved communication boosts collaboration efforts between various levels of employees, so even a manager can feel more approachable,” writes Samantha Pena, an SEO strategist at Conductor.
In an open office plan, every worker has the same space privileges, no matter a worker’s company rank.
Multiple Workspace Setups Are Best
Most jobs require a variety of tasks. That’s why multiple workspace options,, such as focus rooms plus kitchens or private offices plus conference rooms, work well.
“Very often, there are tasks you allocate that are best done solitarily. Other things require social workspaces. People often cycle between them,” said Liu.
Offices with the resources to customize their space should take this best practice of having both private and share workspaces into account.
4. People Feel More Effective Outside the Office
The majority of people who both telework and work in traditional workspaces say they get more done outside the office.
Fifty-four percent (54%) of people who work from multiple spaces, such as a home office, coffee shop, coworking location, and traditional office, think they’re more effective when working outside a traditional office.
Other research echoes this finding. According to a 2017 survey from FlexJobs, a site for flexible job listings, 66% of professionals think they would be more productive if they could work remotely.
Theresa Boehl, an editor at BeachDeals.com, a travel deals website, agrees. Boehl is based near Detroit, but travels frequently, and she prefers workspaces that allow her to be solitary.
Some of the workspaces that Boehl likes to use while traveling include coffee shops, libraries, and restaurants, although she also has a vintage camper she works from sometimes.
“Having co-workers around is great for collaboration… but during times when I need to write or edit a lot, I prefer to work alone to minimize distractions,” Boehl noted.
For those whose jobs require lots of “head-down time,” or intense focus, working in quiet spaces, like a home office, provides the necessary atmosphere.
5. Employees Prefer Remote Work Options
Employees would rather work remotely than in the office. This is likely because many workers don’t have access to the ideal work environment and find better workspace options elsewhere.
Over three out of every five employees (62%) who have access to multiple workspaces say they find working remotely to be preferable or very preferable.
On the other hand, only 15% find that arrangement unpreferable or very unpreferable.
The people who would rather leave the office to get work done may feel uncomfortable or interrupted at work. They may also have personal situations, such as children, a long commute, or health problems, that make working from home easier.
When offices are poorly designed, it’s usually the result of decision-makers copying offices they admire rather than asking workers what they need from a space.
“We see a lot of offices that were designed to a trend, but not to a client,” said Scott Delano of Wright Heerema Architects. “Frequently the decision-makers have a workflow that is so far removed from the people who are actually doing the work… so [decision-makers] are less aware of what those people need to perform at their best.”
“We see a lot of offices that were designed to a trend, but not to a client.”
Employees who feel like they don’t have the physical environment they need will go to other work locations if possible.
Case Study: Coffee Shops as Third Spaces
Coffee shops have been sources of creativity and inspiration since they were first founded in the early 1500s. Since the rise of the laptop, though, the coffee-shop-as-office phenomenon has exploded.
This makes sense, according to Delano. “Most research on creativity innovation indicates that you’re in a position to be your most creative when there’s a level of [audio] buzz, about the level of a coffee shop,” he noted.
Gary Barnes, assistant to the CEO at Gregorys, said that founder Gregory Zamfotis wanted a coffee shop with both quality coffee and quality space for work and socializing.
“At that point [in 2006], there was just Starbucks, which had space for guests. Then there were specialty coffee shops that cared about coffee quality but didn’t care about the guest experience and didn’t want computers out,” Barnes explained.
Zamfotis wanted to create a shop that embodied the “third place” theory: a location that isn’t home, but isn’t work. It’s where people go to relax, think, and socialize.
Recently, the lines between the places people occupy have blurred: employees work from home, offices install home-like amenities such as showers and lounges, and locations like Gregorys function as third space and office.
Barnes said that for a coffee shop to be a good mobile workstation, there are certain qualities it has to have.
“You have to have internet. You have to have outlets. The right music volume. Above all that, cleanliness and overall ambiance.”
Gregorys locations have different playlists, Barnes said, depending on the time of day. During the afternoon, when more mobile workers come in, Gregorys coffee shops play slower, softer music to help them concentrate.
It’s not hard to see the same appeal that employees see when they look at spaces outside the office in which to work.
6. Non-Traditional Workspaces Encourage Work-Life Balance
The biggest reason why people prefer to work outside a traditional office is a desire to balance work with other obligations, from picking up kids from school to letting the plumber in.
Of those who work from a non-traditional space, the largest group (26%) find the main draw to be work-life balance.
In addition, over a fifth (21%) like teleworking because they prefer to set their own hours. This practice is known as flexible hours.
“Being an independent contractor without a conventional corporate office destination makes me responsible for structuring my schedule, work place and work flow,” Brooks explained, and that’s a dynamic she likes.
Brooks is free to leave the library whenever she wants. If she needs to go home, it’s only a short drive away, which makes the location convenient.
Plenty of workers like Brooks appreciate non-traditional workspaces for the same reasons. The more relaxed, self-directed workflow of a library or coffee shop can feel freeing. In addition, it’s generally more solitary, which leads to better concentration.
7. Flexibility is a Major Draw for Coworking Space Users
The top reason why people join a coworking space is its proximity to home, which emphasizes that employees prioritize flexibility above most other aspects of work.
Coworking is a community-based workspace movement that’s gaining more popularity every year. According to JLL, coworking/flexible space setups have grown at an average of 23% every year since 2010.
In a coworking setup, small companies, remote teams, and individuals share the same space.
Bat Haus, a space in Brooklyn, N.Y., is an example of a coworking space.
The groups usually have no prior relationship to each other, but the coworking space allows them to experience the same community atmosphere as each individual would at a much larger office.
In addition, coworking spaces usually include resources, like Wi-Fi, meeting rooms, office supplies, and coffee or snacks, so that workers have access to basics on-site.
Over a quarter (28%) of workers say that the most important factor in joining a specific coworking space is how close it is to their home.
A community network, which is the main goal of coworking spaces, is only second in the list of priorities.
According to Larry Alton, business consultant and Forbes contributor, the reason might be the number of millennials who enjoy coworking spaces. Millennials prefer to live in urban centers, which is where most coworking spaces are found.
Millennials who live in these cities are often in easy walking distance of several coworking spaces. That makes urban coworking spaces a “perfect fit in millennials’ dream locations,” Alton writes.
Proximity to home isn’t the only important characteristic of a coworking space, though. Participants do value the communities they can find in shared office spaces.
8. Coworking Spaces Create Community in the Office
A sense of community is crucial within coworking spaces.
According to the Coworking Manifesto, an online document that over 2,000 coworking spaces and individuals have signed, one of the key parts of coworking is “[envisioning] a new economic engine composed of collaboration and community.”
Clutch's data shows that 25% of people who use a coworking space think that the chance to work with people they wouldn’t normally meet is the best part of coworking.
Veronica Kirin, a serial entrepreneur who coaches LGBT entrepreneurs in scaling their businesses, exemplifies that trend. Kirin first joined a coworking space because she realized that she was paying more money buying coffee to hold meetings in coffee shops. Kirin chose The Factory, a space in Grand Rapids, Mich. that specifically prioritizes community.
“Every member is on Slack and we refer to each other often. My productivity went up in that environment,” Kirin said. Kirin now has multiple clients outside Grand Rapids and so no longer works at The Factory, but when she was a member, she routinely interacted with her fellow coworking members. She often attended networking events held at The Factory to get to know new members.
“On rare occasions, I would receive a lead from a new attendee,” Kirin said of The Factory events.
The community she discovered within the walls of the coworking space made Kirin’s experience a positive one.
Workspaces Matter, Regardless of Type
In a time where work might happen anywhere, some facts about the workspace aren’t changing.
Most people still work from a private room in a traditional office, especially if those people are managers. Many employees would rather telework, though, both because they think they’re more effective and because they have a better work-life balance that way.
In order to create effective office environments, companies should make sure to design with individual employees’ work habits in mind. The best offices are those that give workers the resources to do their jobs well.
In addition, companies should create flexible work/teleworking policies, if possible, to allow workers the freedom they want.
After all, the better employees feel in their physical environments, the more they’ll accomplish.