New spaces for a specific category of workers?

December 2023

The experts

Nicolas Cochard

Nicolas Cochard

Director of Research & Development

+33 6 42 92 53 34

Marc Bertier

Marc Bertier

Workplace Strategy Expert

+33 1 82 97 02 02

"The teleworker will be on average 2 to 3 days a week away from the office, while considering that these days will be relatively flexible from week to week."

New spaces for a specific category of workers?

Never have we gone to the office as little as in recent years! The Covid-19 crisis was a major gas pedal in the deployment of telecommuting: overnight, a large proportion of service sector workers were forced to experiment with remote working. Today, a majority of them have retained this habit and work outside the office.

However, this population of teleworkers is not homogeneous. According to the Obsoco[1] telecommuting observatory, the post-health crisis telecommuter is above all a highly educated person, belonging to the CSP +, living in Paris or in the central city of a large metropolis. They have a high income and tend to be self-employed or work for a company with more than 250 employees (ETI or large companies). Today's teleworkers tend to work in the information and communications sectors, financial and insurance activities, scientific and technical activities, administrative and support services, business services and, to a lesser extent, in public administration or the voluntary sector. Finally, teleworkers will spend an average of 2 to 3 days a week away from the office, although these days will be relatively flexible from one week to the next.

In other words, the issue of new spaces and hybridization affects a very specific category of workers whose practices fluctuate over time. What's more, this population is not homogeneous. Behavior varies over time according to a number of personal factors (seniority in the company, family configuration, type of accommodation, distance from the workplace, for example).

This population is therefore particularly at the heart of considerations on new hybrid work environments, even if certain points may affect a wider field of workers. The experience of these employees will be analyzed through the lens of different positions: employees, managers, organization and society. This approach demonstrates the diversity of needs relating to hybrid working, while highlighting concrete and forward-looking solutions adapted to each of them.

For the hybrid employee, multi-spatial work situations

On average, hybrid employees work half their time away from the office. According to the Obsoco Telework Observatory survey, most of this remote work is done from home. And yet, the alternatives identified by this study are varied: corpoworking (a company space other than its home site), coworking, tiers-lieu (different from coworking in their diversity of use and frequent societal vocation), workspaces in spaces made available (in banking and insurance agencies, for example) or cafés and hotels. Their lack of success is mainly due to the fact that, in many cases, neither employees nor companies are prepared to finance these spaces, and the interest that teleworkers find in them is limited compared with the advantages of working from home. Contrary to certain preconceived ideas, telecommuting has had a limited impact on the location of teleworkers' homes. Rather, it has accelerated existing trends[2]. Two profiles stand out. Firstly, households from the middle professions and stable working classes. With telecommuting, they tend to move further away from the city center, in particular to gain access to better housing conditions - in a detached house. This is a long-standing phenomenon. The second group is made up of senior executives who tend to multi-reside, commuting throughout the region between different attractive locations. In concrete terms, this may mean people dividing their week in two (one part in the country, one part in the city) or organizing their presence at the office on longer rhythms to, for example, relocate from the cities during school vacations. Although there are a few cases in point, there are not many workers who have relocated their homes thanks to telecommuting.

The office has undergone profound changes in response to the new practices of teleworkers. The first evolution is linked to the generalization of working with people at a distance. Whereas this practice used to mainly concern international teams or multi-site organizations, telecommuting means that you can be in the office and work with colleagues who are at home. Indeed, it's not always possible to fully synchronize agendas. The second evolution is linked to the first observed side-effect, and is the result of an attempt to synchronize work to encourage collaborative tasks in the office and individual tasks at a distance. These two developments mean that employees are more mobile than ever before when they are in the office, and that space needs to be more collaborative (multiplication of spaces dedicated to remote exchanges and group work). A third evolution is linked to these new uses. Employees are realizing that they don't come to the office every day, and that when they are on site they use more different spaces, while at the same time having a greater need to reconnect with their various colleagues. They are therefore more inclined to share and mutualize spaces; provided the acoustic comfort is right and they have enough space available.

In these shared spaces, the workstation becomes a working position integrated into a veritable "ecosystem of spaces". This change in semantics reflects the diversification of office workplaces. Today, for example, you can work alone in a quiet library-type space, in a team base camp, or in a shared workcafé-type space. Remote exchanges and group sessions are carried out in ad-hoc spaces. Generally speaking, the number of small, enclosed spaces has increased by over fifty percent (+100% in the most innovative spaces). Likewise, meeting rooms are being re-sized to better suit practical needs (fewer large rooms, more small ones). Mixed social/work spaces are becoming increasingly widespread, and are taking up more and more space (up to 30% of the surface area in the most innovative cases). The notion of position also refers to a new, more dynamic approach to ergonomics. It's no longer a question of sitting at a desk for 8 hours, but of using positions that allow you to sit in different ways, or to work standing up. In addition to the benefits in terms of combating sedentary lifestyles, numerous studies have demonstrated the value of varying postures to better support different work situations.

For managers, places to gather

Feedback from experience with forced teleworking has demonstrated the vital role played by the managerial function. Leadership (maintaining team cohesion, sharing knowledge, stimulating cross-functionality, immersing employees in the corporate culture) and individual support have made all the difference. With the partial return to the office, these issues remain paramount: how do you animate a team whose norm is no longer simultaneous presence?

A number of spatial arrangements help to address this issue. Firstly, the pooling of work positions is accompanied by the creation of preferential base camps. In other words, zones where employees settle down in a common situation, with more or less marked boundaries. They are often used for a variety of purposes: working alone at their workstations, rapid exchanges between colleagues and sometimes a few phone calls. It's all about "being in the mood" of the team. The diversity of activities within and between teams, as well as the motivations for coming to the office - socializing and collaboration, mean that these spaces are not always the most frequently used. For certain professions, it sometimes happens that an entire team is present, but no one is present in the base camp! The notion also raises the question of the definition of the team, and the scale at which it is defined: are we thinking in terms of the local manager, or of the top management? The finer the mesh, the more marked the boundaries between base camps are likely to be, and the more limited the pooling of space.

The base camp complements more proactive initiatives to motivate teams. These include organized collocations. A team (hierarchical or project) meets in a specific area or in a project room reserved for the occasion. Usually, a specially animated meeting is used as a pretext for the collocation, and then everyone stays together. In these cases, the proximity of workcafé-type spaces is appreciated for a relaxed start to the day over coffee or lunch. As the different members of a team each have their own tasks, it's generally accepted that these places are multi-purpose. For the organizer, it's easy enough to measure the success of the initiative: was there a good exchange of good practices? Were there moments of general laughter in the space? These are all signs that a climate of trust has been established. A closed space, isolated from view, will encourage the construction of an "entre-soi": the feeling of privacy encourages openness to others. In addition, a suitable location, set back slightly to limit untimely visits and interruptions, will be welcome.

This project space can help the manager to animate his team on a regular basis. The frequency of use will vary from business to business. For some professions, one day a week will be the right rhythm. For others, it could be one week a month, for example. Common areas, and in particular event and/or training areas, enable the manager to create complementary one-off meetings. Team training - particularly on soft skills and/or with role-playing exercises - is an interesting way of stimulating inter-activity. In this way, the training space becomes an exceptional place in which relationships are built. This doesn't necessarily require a huge surface area. A large, conventional meeting room can easily be transformed into this type of venue. The furniture is changed for more mobile solutions, enabling plenary sessions and small groups to be accommodated in the same session. The next step is to add storage space for personal belongings, a small bar-type corner for breaks and discussions in between, and some storage space for supplies. In short, to provide unity of time and action for the hosted group.

For organizations, the question of the right need

At a time when managers are trying to breathe collective life into a work organization that has become highly individualized, organizations are seeking to upgrade their work environments to meet new practices. They must invest in redesigning their spaces to offer more social and collaborative environments. They are strengthening their common spaces to enhance their employer brand. They are banking on their address to attract employees living in increasingly extended catchment areas. At the same time, they are faced with a number of challenges. Returning to the office is not always easy. This is often the case when managers are unable to make sense of coming to work. What's more, attendance is highly irregular. On some days (Tuesday, Thursday), there are major peaks in attendance, while on others (Friday) there are major absences. This concentration on a few days generates dissatisfaction and emptiness the rest of the time.

The question of good office occupancy is becoming central for organizations. To enable this, the right ecosystems of spaces need to be created to best meet different business needs. As a result, the workplace is changing its role: from a place where employees are "stored", it is becoming a place of flow at the service of the experience. What counts is no longer the number of residents assigned to a site, but the quality of occupation of the spaces on offer. The number of residents will depend on each company's presence rule - and on whether it is actually respected. An average weekly occupancy of 70-80% of the various spaces in real time is an ambitious target that can be considered as a maximum to continue to guarantee the comfort of those present. Digital tools for declaring attendance and/or reserving spaces aim to make occupancy more fluid, while improving everyone's experience. This is the "smart workplace". The most advanced solutions can generate different scenarios in advance, while guaranteeing dynamic site monitoring. The smart workplace implies the implementation of systems and processes for capturing, monitoring and exploiting data. The most efficient workplaces are monitored by dedicated teams. The most innovative hybrid workplaces require steering teams with profiles more akin to Data Analysts than Chief Happiness Officers.

The most advanced organizations deploy strategies based on a targeted number of attendees. This number is expressed as a percentage, and in some cases reaches 30% - and this has been observed in various business sectors. This rate of 30% of the registered workforce present corresponds to 1.5 days' presence per week, even if in these approaches a monthly or annual count is preferred. Target attendance rates as low as these mobilize management, who must rely all the more on appropriate spaces. They also push back the technical and security limits of conventional office buildings, while requiring special design and management of the space. In France, the average attendance rate is 70%. This rate corresponds to the peak occupancy rates observed in most French commercial sites, the average being around 40-50%. It is therefore relatively comfortable and has little impact on work organization. However, this rate does not allow for optimization of hybrid workplaces. On certain days, particularly Fridays, the premises will be occupied at 20% or less of their capacity. This means that on these days, companies are overpaying for the space they use, both in terms of rent and operating costs. It's to optimize these latter costs - and also for environmental reasons - that some companies choose to close their offices on Fridays. While the savings in terms of consumption are real (on the order of 10%), the social cost is also significant. Offices that are open 4 days a week become a dead spot in neighborhoods, impacting the entire local economy. Global approaches to the carbon cost of a commercial building show that, on average, 70% of a building's carbon cost is linked to its construction (over 50 years). Energy consumption accounts for only 30% of a building's overall carbon cost. Closing on Fridays therefore only saves 3% of carbon emissions, while at the same time impacting on the life of a neighborhood. At the same time, better use of office space on a daily basis saves 20 to 30% in overall carbon emissions (estimated on the basis of space savings), while contributing to the life of the neighborhood[3]. This requires the implementation of an innovative policy for the occupation of workplaces - and therefore of its hybrid work organization. Finally, a study carried out by ADEME[4] shows that it is possible to reduce consumption by 10% to 20% through new behaviours.

For society: work is everywhere, so why not bring the city into the office?

The hybridization of work has transformed every part of the city into a potential workplace. The economy of use and the concept of "space as a service" facilitate this. Surprisingly, workplaces are among the only ones not to participate in this logic. And yet, as we saw in the introduction, hybrid workers live in dense urban centers. Here, square meters are scarce and at the heart of fierce competition. Against this backdrop, some are beginning to question the compartmentalization of the office in relation to the city. The beginnings of this can be seen in campuses, which offer mixed spaces between the city and office space. Others give their staff access to the company's living spaces at weekends for personal events. Others have set up the famous corpoworking, networks of shared spaces within the company dedicated solely to its employees. Finally, some go even further, opening up their premises to the local community. They become a karaoke venue at weekends, or host general meetings of co-owners. Finally, others opt for solidarity initiatives, for example, by inviting people back into the workforce to live in their business premises for a time (Bureaux du Coeur). These initiatives demonstrate that offices are not necessarily the fortress we imagine them to be, and that the issues of insurance, security, safety, management, etc. can be overcome.

As is the case for other types of space, not all work surfaces should - or can - participate in the economy of use. Opening up some of them would require a rethink of building design and layout. A first series of actions will open up spaces during working hours to hybrid workers from other organizations, whether "friends" of the host organization or not. Another series of actions will extend the operating time of these same workplaces to accommodate forms of work other than salaried employment. In this way, part of the office space could become a place for schoolchildren, extracurricular activities, students or associations, either in the evenings or at weekends. In addition to workspaces in the strict sense of the word, it would be possible to envisage complementary uses for other areas of the company, in particular meeting and entertainment areas. These could be open to employees as well as to local residents for private events.

These approaches will vary from one region to another, to suit the different catchment areas of hybrid workers. Thus, the hybridization of workplaces in favor of community life will not be the same according to the sociology of neighborhoods and the tension on the local real estate market. It requires complementing the roles and skills of work environment operators. After integrating skills linked to data processing, they need to know how to welcome different audiences. While this brings added complexity, the most innovative organizations have everything to gain from hybridizing their workplaces. This contributes to their CSR initiatives, while increasing the flexibility demanded of real estate. In fact, networking workspaces makes it possible to balance internal supply and demand, either through external demand (other occupants coming to maximize the use of certain internal spaces) or external supply (company employees being able to use the spaces of other participants in the network).

Better with less?

This could be the maxim of a controlled hybridization of work. The most obvious point of view, that of the employee, shows the individual benefits of hybridization: more freedom, more comfort, more balance. The manager's point of view reminds us that hybridization has an impact on our teams, and identifies solutions to make them work better. From an organization's point of view, hybridization raises issues of balance between teleworking policy and optimizing work environments. The more a work environment adapts to an ambitious hybridization policy, the more the employee experience is transformed. Finally, from a broader perspective, the company is questioning the place of - unoccupied? - in the city. To what extent should they not also be hybrid? The broader the scale of reflection, the more complex the solutions may seem to be to implement. Yet it is these solutions that are the most important, as they raise the question of the place (space) of work in the city and in our vision of society.


This opinion piece is part of the K2 Group's "Teleworking and Hybridization of work: a reinvented employee experience?" report.

Download the report (french version available)

[1] - Au bureau sans bureau. L’obsoco : Observatoire du télétravail. IDHEAL et Actions Logement. Mai 2023.

[2] - Exode urbain, un mythe et des réalités. Gouvernement. Février 2022.

[3] - R&D Kardham, Kateryna Kuzmenko. Lien

[4] - R&D Delphine Labbouz Actualités - Delphine Labbouz Consultante-chercheuse en psychologie sociale et environnementale

Release date: December 2023

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