Hybrid with flexible space: For the execution-oriented large enterprise.

Your people are your most important resource, but they need a different kind of environment to work efficiently. You need to allow them the freedom to work in the environment where they will be the most productive. Leslie Perlow is a renowned Organization Behavior scholar at Harvard Business School. In her research on “time famine,” she points out that constant interruptions at work can have dire consequences for productivity, creating a feeling (and a reality) of having too much to do and not enough time to do it. Your employees need time to work independently in order to be productive. The most beneficial location for this is not always in the office; it might be in the place each employee decides is the most favorable setting for themselves, which could possibly be at home, a coffee shop, or even on a tropical island. So, giving employees the ability to work remotely at least some of the time may be beneficial. There are two additional benefits to this arrangement: you can save on real estate costs and your employees can save on their commute, which can improve their productivity according to research.

However, we also think that working remotely full-time has many disadvantages. The level of coordination that is necessary to align employees towards a corporate goal today cannot be facilitated by this. This includes team meetings to divide up projects and manager check-ins to motivate and track individual progress. There can be occasional planned interactions in virtual meetings, but there is still a lot of friction in interactions and just plain physical exhaustion. We wrote a case study about Zoom Video Communications, which has been successful in video conferencing, during the pandemic. Zoom is aware of the Zoom fatigue people are experiencing and are working to eliminate it with the technology available today.

If you want to allow your employees to work independently but still need coordination, you can use various tools to bridge these needs. For example, you can use a project management tool to assign tasks and track progress, or you can use a chat tool to stay in touch with remote employees. Change the way you think about the time your employees spend together in-person. Your goal should be to build a strong team culture instead of just filling up their time with meetings.

Your organization can build shared language, norms, values, and culture by giving your employees the time and space to socialize in person. The ability to make consistent decisions is valuable in the long run and helps to keep employees on the same page when they are working remotely and independently. This also reduces the need for constant communication with coworkers and managers.

Coworking environment: For the creativity-oriented small startup.

The primary challenge for small businesses is that they have a smaller pool of knowledge to draw from within the organization. Their employees hold the key knowledge required for innovation, but it is more limited than what larger businesses have access to. Though it is most often found within, innovation can come from outside sources as well. If you want your startup to be creative, you need to make sure that knowledge is able to flow freely between your company and others. The distance doesn’t need to be great, it could be down the hall or next door, ideally no further than 20 meters.

If you put your office close to other companies (or even competitors), you can benefit from spillover effects of knowledge. Additionally, we discovered that creativity is elicited from proximity to other organizations that contrast greatly in areas such as technical abilities and target audiences, as well as in demographic composition. This facilitates networking between people from different companies which helps to build relationships and trust, as well as providing an opportunity to share knowledge which would be beneficial to both parties, and as a result, improve both organizations.

Managers need the right office architecture to promote social interaction and exchange information. Our research suggests that having common spaces such as kitchenettes can functionally make people closer to each other, even if they sit in more distant places. Even though an open office design may be more aesthetically pleasing, it could end up being counterproductive because employees still need private space in order to work efficiently.

Full remote: For the execution-oriented small startup.

These startups just need to focus on execution and getting the job done efficiently. Everyone involved knows what needs to be done, so there should be no issue with completing the task at hand. You need to give your employees the power to work independently and efficiently.

At the same time as needing to grow rapidly, you will also need to be aware of the different phases of growth. You’ll want to make sure you have the ability to expand your workforce without being limited by the size of your office. Cloud computing services offer scalability that can accommodate your growing business.

There may be limits to how effective a fully remote model can be. An online education provider called Treehouse started out as a company with no employees working in an office. Initially, this was the appropriate model for them. Treehouse managers realized that as they grew and had more employees, coordination became more difficult. So that employees would remain independent, the company decided to open offices in Orlando and Portland and to shift to a hybrid model with flexible space. Teachers and other roles that require coordination can work together in these offices, while roles that can be executed independently, like designers, can continue to work remotely.

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You do not often have the chance to change your workplace. Today, many managers are failing to take advantage of the opportunity to improve their organizations that was presented by the pandemic. Some people are struggling in a work environment that is a mixture of the past and the future, and they are experiencing all the negative consequences that come from having a work place that is not fully one or the other. You should design your organization for the future based on your size and goals for growth.