Implementing a new method of working in your office can be daunting. If you are considering changing the way you work, it’s important to understand how any particular method is going to work for your organisation. Finding the right one for your team will need detailed research and strategy.

If you are considering changing the way you work, it's important to understand how any particular method is going to work for your organisation.

Understanding the options available to you is a good starting point. In this blog, we’ve outlined the most common ways of working in an office. Remember that every organisation is different so finding a way of working that will suit your people and culture is likely to be a hybrid system, taking elements from all the different methods and making them unique to your team.

Traditional Office

In a traditional office, everyone has their own workstation. These are often divided by screens, and everything an individual requires is close at hand. Typically, the workstation is made up of a large desk, a pedestal, PC and monitor and a certain amount of desktop clutter. There would be a large boardroom, which is suitable for full team meetings and very little other meeting space. Senior managers have their own designated offices or executive suite. Staff perform their day-to-day activities at their desks, breaking away only to attend meetings in the boardroom or visiting the canteen.

Typically, working in a traditional office is a heavily partitioned space with a clear hierarchical structure.

The benefits of working in a traditional office:

  • Everyone has their own workstation, that can be personalised and made feel like “home”
  • There is a lot of personal storage space
  • Teams sit together

What is not so good about a traditional office:

  • Workstations typically take up a large amount of space
  • In some organisations the desks could often be empty, and the space is underutilised
  • Workers tend to stay in their primary workzone, which may not necessarily be the most productive place for every task
  • Meeting space may be in short supply, and difficult to book
  • Space is used inefficiently

Open Plan Office

Similar to the traditional office, the open plan office adopts an individual method of working, with every team member having their own desk. The difference with the open plan space is that there is a lack of dividers between the desks. Open plan offices tend to be noisy and workers may have difficulty concentrating. The large meeting rooms often become booked up quickly, leaving staff to hold informal meetings in the office space. This can be distracting for others around them.

For staff working in an open plan office environment, they may have to opt for working from trains, coffee shops or even cars when they need to concentrate.

The benefits of working in an open plan office:

  • A friendly family atmosphere
  • Team members are closer together, and when management sit in the main office, this can lessen the pressure of traditional corporate hierarchy
  • Ideas and knowledge shared freely

What is not so good about the open plan office:

  • There are a lot of distractions
  • Staff find it difficult to concentrate and hold meetings
  • When the office is under-occupied, empty desks could mean wasted space

Hot Desking

Hot desking is the practise of assigning desks to individuals as and when they need them. No-one in the office space owns their desk, and there is generally a system (automated or otherwise) for staff to book their desks. Hot desking allows organisations to reduce the number of desks in their office, often enabling them to make significant space and real-estate savings. Staff possessions are stored in lockers and employees are assigned a personal storage caddy such as a hotbox.

Whilst hot desking makes a lot of sense commercially, it can also be demotivating for employees. Staff lose the security of their own desk and forgetting to book a desk or arriving late on a busy day could mean working on the edge of a meeting table or in the canteen.

For hot desking to work successfully, the scheme must be supported by reliable IT and Behaviour management.

The benefits of hot desking:

  • By allocating desks on a needs-basis, you can decrease the number of desks required, allowing you to save space and rental costs.
  • Ideal for paperless working

What is not so good about hot desking:

  • Staff may not be able to find a desk when they need one
  • Individuals may feel undervalued and demotivated
  • Hot Desking can be frustrating for team leaders if their team is not all in one place


Hotelling is the practise of assigning desks to staff members on an “as needed” basis, rather than booking or owning a desk. This is usually managed through an automated system, and is more often used in Co-working spaces or for short term letting of excess office space for use by other organisations. The Hotelling method of working is ideal for short-term working, and allocation of office space to a temporary worker. However, for a long term solution, this can be demotivating and isn’t conducive to helping employees feel valued and enhancing job satisfaction.

This system must be backed up with foolproof IT and booking systems, otherwise chaos is likely to ensue!

The benefits of hotelling:

  • Office space is used efficiently
  • Underutilised space can be used by other organisations, thereby generating income

What is not so good about hotelling:

  • Staff have no space to call their own
  • Employees have to remember to schedule their requirements.

Activity Based Working

Activity based working is the practise of organising the workspace based on tasks (or “activities” hence the name) rather than people or teams. This method of working empowers employees to choose where they carry out work, based on the task in hand. Setting up an Activity Based Working environment requires background research and a detailed understanding of what tasks are actually performed day to day in the organisation.

Activity based working boosts staff productivity by providing environments that are ideally suited to various activities. For example, a workspace would include a range of different meeting zones and working spaces to suit the activities.

Teams would tend to have an anchor point or team station where they can come together. This method of working requires robust IT and behavioural management, however when implemented successfully can work well to promote employee job satisfaction and productivity, as well as saving space and attracting and retaining talent.

The benefits of Activity Based Working:

  • Staff are empowered to choose their working environment. This trust and empowerment helps to enhance morale and job satisfaction
  • When correctly designed, the office space is varied and inspirational
  • Space is allocated for specific uses within the organisation so there is ample meeting space as well as quiet working zones, collaboration spaces and traditional open plan desking
  • Activity Based Working demonstrates a forward-thinking corporate culture which can help to attract and retain talented individuals
  • ABW is an efficient use of office space, helping you to save on real-estate costs
  • Less maintenance and rebuilding of office space to accommodate increasing numbers of staff

What is not so good about Activity Based Working:

  • You must invest wisely in technology to ensure that the scheme is supported by wireless devices, wifi and information management.
  • Behaviour and employee expectations must be clearly outlined to avoid confusion and abuse of privilege
  • Team members don’t have their own individual desk

Agile Working

Agile working allows employees to work when, where and how they choose. Results and success are measured by the output of work, or by pre-defined performance indicators. This empowerment and trust helps employees to feel motivated and enhances job satisfaction.

Agile working takes into account that work is an activity and not a place. The Agile Organisation define it as: “Agile working is about bringing people, processes, connectivity and technology, time and place together to find the most appropriate and effective way of working to carry out a particular task. It is working within guidelines (of the task) but without boundaries (of how you achieve it).”

The design for the agile method of working in the office includes a range of different zones. Typical Agile offices include sofas, informal break out areas and traditional desking. Furniture features such as the “Railway Carriage” or acoustic pods help employees to work more productively. However, the greatest difference with an agile environment is the approach and culture that gives employees the freedom to perform how they feel best.

Workspaces need to be highly personal to the company. People and places must be connected with adequate technology, and team members must clearly understand what is required of them.

For more information about Agile Working, you can take a look at this whitepaper, published by RICs.

The benefits of agile working:

  • Staff are empowered and deliver results
  • Team members are more motivated, balanced, creative and efficient
  • Organisations can save space and reduce real-estate costs
  • Attract top talent, many of today’s talent pool are looking for employers that will empower and trust them to perform.

What is not so good about agile working:

  • Organisations must clearly state their boundaries, rules and objectives or staff can feel confused.
  • Employees must know what their performance indicators are.
  • Employees may not always be present in the office

Flexible Working

Flexible working is often confused with Agile Working. Although similar, these are 2 separate methods of working. Flexible working tends to refer mainly to the hours spent in the office, although does include location and method of work too. Flexible working tends to focus on the needs of the individual, for example a parent may need to start at 9:30 so they can drop off their children at school in the morning. They may leave the office again at 2:15pm but start working again (from home) in the evening.

The office design is not so relevant with flexible working, but there may be significant space savings available if a large proportion of your workforce is empowered to work away from the office. Overall occupancy of the office decreases, meaning that there is less need for a desk per person.

The benefits of flexible working:

  • Employees are empowered to choose their working hours and locations
  • Work/life balance becomes, in some cases, easier to manage
  • Potential office space savings can be made

What is not so good about flexible working:

  • It can be difficult to keep a team spirit if members are constantly away from the office
  • There is scope for employees to abuse the system, so boundaries must be well established
  • Managers must be in constant communication with team members to ensure accountability

Bringing the different ways of working in an office together for you
When planning the ongoing success of your organisation, it’s crucial that you implement the correct method, or indeed a combination of methods of working in your office.

Whilst all of the ways of working mentioned above have been tried and tested, we know that every organisation is different. With any of these methods, there may be a negative impact on your people or your organisation. However, we have the answer. Our unique Habit Action evidence-based design methodology allows you to truly understand your teams activities. We’ve studied how people work in offices, how they interact, where they work and how they feel. We develop our design strategy by analysing both the good and bad habits and different ways of working in the workplace.

Our Habit Action evidence-based design methodology is the answer to the wide-ranging challenges and frustrations faced by organisations when redesigning their workspace or strategising the future of the company.

Our tried and trusted research methods will get under the skin of your organisation to understand what is going on in your office space, and unearth a workplace strategy that will suit the ongoing needs of your organisation.

Our offices are scientifically, yet beautifully designed. We back up our designs with research and we’re hugely focussed on numbers. We allow you to make long term business decisions with confidence and peace of mind. We can help you back up your gut feel with evidence and justify your workplace decisions with facts and data.

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