Finding The Right Work-Environment Fit

When deciding where, when and how your team needs to work, it helps to break down the type of work you need to do and plan accordingly. Here are a couple of suggestions on how to break down your work, whether you’re collocated or remote – or most likely, somewhere in between. 


Last week I had the pleasure of attending the Work 2.0 conferences on The Future of Work and Wellbeing. I wanted to cover the conference in order to create an episode for the 21st Century Work Life podcast, which would include some of the ideas and case studies presented by speakers as well as the themes being discussed in the corridors.

It’s going to take me a bit of time to put the episode together, so while I do that, I’d like to share what I picked up as the main trend in the UK corporate world, as well as a handy framework I came across that might help you structure your communications or decide where your team might work from best.

Activity Based Working

I’m always on the look out for emerging words and phrases to describe the world of work and in particular, how people work in organisations. Sometimes I notice words being borrowed from other disciplines (like ‘agile workers’); other times I cringe when words lose their specific meaning to become wishy-washy concepts, like “collaboration” or “resilience”. (For more winging on this, check out the episode Words We’d Like to See Disappear in 2016.)

I thought that I was getting my inspiration and food for thought from a wide range of publications, communities and industries, but it turns out I’ve been missing out on some terms.

In the opening keynote at Work 2.0 by Dr Nicola Millard, head of customer insight and futures in BT Global Services, I heard for the first time “Shoulder bag workers”. Nice image, eh? This is not the Digital Nomad (who needs luggage larger than a shoulder bag) or the entrepreneur based in a coworking space; nor does it seem to refer to the telecommuter with a nicely set up home office.

I suppose we’re talking here about the mobile worker, the person who carries their laptop and a few other things that can help them do their work from anywhere, within manageable distances of their home-base, wherever that is.

While I can see how I’ve missed this description of the work-from-anywhere worker, I can’t believe I encountered the term “Activity Based Working” for the first time at this conference.

Not wanting to show my ignorance in public in a room where I’m sure everyone knew exactly what that meant (really?), I googled the term and this is what I found.

“Having a choice about how, when and where workers work.”

Ok, it’s a little bit more complicated than that and the term has been around for some decades. I missed it because it relates to workspace design, an area I rarely look into. 
(If you too would like to know more about Activity Based Working, check out The Rise and Rise of Activity Based Working. )

This is where it gets interesting. In redesigning where we work in the office, we start to think about what we need to get our work done with others, and we can extend this to anywhere, including the virtual world.

What Work Mode Are You In?

During her keynote, Dr Millard mentioned that organisations need to create environments where people can





While the focus during the conference was on creating physical spaces in the brick and mortars world, we can also can do this in the virtual space through tools and protocols. And let’s not forget that the office itself can be considered one more tool that helps us to get the work done.

4Cs Teamwork

I particularly welcome the distinction between “communication” and “collaboration”. Just because we communicate, it doesn’t mean that we’re collaborating. Sharing the fact that I’ve come back from Pilates and feel energized might strengthen our relationship and help us feel connected, but unless I share some insight that is going to help our mutual work move forwards, it’s not collaboration. Just setting up a #watercooler channel is not going to help us collaborate, but it might encourage us to communicate.

Your Own Environment

For now, I encourage you to “do some contemplation”:

  • What environment/s do your team members need to carry out these four different types of work?
  • What do you need to know about each other to be able to do these kinds of work? (e.g. If I want to spend two hours in deep concentration analysing a report, I might need a quiet physical space, but I might also need to make sure you know that I’ll be out of reach for two hours.)
  • What’s the balance between those types of work right now and is that the right balance for your team?

Two For the Price of One

Later on in the day, David Faro, Chief Product Officer from the workspace providers WeWork, shared the different types of spaces they provide for their members. They design their locations so that people can:

(circulate and connect)
(mainly talking about nutrition here) and

Once more, is your environment designed so that your team members can do the above?

In the case of virtual teams, “circulating and connecting” might need to be addressed through behaviour rather than the design of an environment. Do your team members “move” amongst others in the organisation?

Whether we Talk “Office” or “Remote” our Attitudes to Working Together Are Changing

That was my main takeaway.

I was however, slightly discouraged to notice an underlying assumption in many conversations that being physically together in a space is the main way of meeting our social needs. For one, I socialize more with my online friends at Virtual Team Talk more than with any other community. Furthermore, not everyone wants their social needs to be met in the workplace, some might prefer to meet those needs somewhere else. (For more on this last point, listen to the conversation with Chris Slemp on episode 123.)

On the other hand, I was really encouraged to see the trend towards thinking of the office as a place to accommodate the needs of those working in it and not just as a way of gathering together the people we pay to work for us.

One step at a time, we might well get there….