Alternative workplaces: Then versus now

In 1998, the Harvard Business Review published a futuristic article, The Alternative Workplace: Changing Where and How People Work. While it was a new and exciting concept back then, in 2023, it isn’t too groundbreaking. If anything, it’s the new normal.

It describes remote work and a growing detachment from the traditional workplace. That said, it’s a prophetic-sounding piece from more than 20 years ago that predicted the alternative workplace we’re seeing today. 

Indeed, we have moved from an era in which people actively seek connections with one another to an era in which people decide when and where to disconnect — electronically and socially. Current organizations pursuing alternative workplace initiatives — particularly those with home office arrangements — must be mindful of that paradox. 

The rise of the alternative workplace has been a long time coming, as evidenced by the above passage. The global pandemic was just the latest catalyst driving alternative solutions into the spotlight. Today, alternative workplace strategies have taken center stage and are fulfilling the vision first adopted in 1998.

Alternative workplace definition 

What is an alternative workplace? It’s a fair question and readily answered by many of the work trends we’re familiar with today. Telecommuting and remote work. Coworking. These paint a picture of the alternative workplace. 

Alternative workplaces refer to where employees work that is not in an office, and how that environment supports their productivity.

In 1998, “alternative workplace” focused more specifically on alternatives to working in an office. Today, the definition focuses more on where employees work and how that environment supports them — from a well-furnished coworking space to the free Wi-Fi at a local coffee shop.  

Key elements of the alternative workplace 

Alternative workplaces are highly diverse because they can encompass just about any environment that supports work. So long as it supports your ability to work and it’s outside of the “home base” workplace, it falls under the guise of an alternative workplace. 

A coworking space might have an office feel and all the amenities of a traditional workplace. Still, it’s an alternative workplace because professionals from other companies and career paths surround you. Your home office is an alternative workplace. Even an airport lounge is an alternative workplace — even if you only work there for 45 minutes before a flight. 

Are you sitting in an alternative workspace right now? Take stock of the environment and see if it offers these essential elements: 

  • Are you using your own technology? 
  • Do you have control over your seating? 
  • Do you have control over your work habits? 
  • Is the environment conducive to your work? 
  • Are there people other than coworkers around you? 

Examples of alternative workplace

Most coffee shops, coworking spaces, home offices, breakout spaces, airport terminals, public libraries, and similar facilities fit the bill. But the alternative workplace isn’t only shaped by physical surroundings — more important is how it empowers employees.

Emphasize the worker instead of the workplace 

Alternative workspaces are defined by the freedoms they afford workers. These workplaces sever the tie between work and any one single place, which also means they give employees the power to self-govern. When allowed to choose their own venue and work in their own way, many workers seize the opportunity to do their best work in their best manner. 

It’s not surprising that many companies invested in alternative workplace strategies over the past two decades — even pre-pandemic. Unlinking work from the workplace and instead hitching work to the worker brings untold flexibility to the concept of what a workplace is. Hence, the current rise in alternative workplaces.

If an employee can produce 100% regardless of whether they work at a desk, in an office, or an easy chair at home, does it matter where they work? Most likely not. What if they could accomplish 120% from their easy chair? It’s a very real driver behind the hype in alternative workplaces. 

Alternative workplace concepts come down to an investment in work and the worker, instead of the workplace. So long as they can do the job, who’s to stop employees from doing it in a place that’s comfortable, familiar, and supportive of their personal work habits? It’s a trade many employers willingly make for bolstered productivity, improved culture, and employee satisfaction.

Alternatives are part of today’s modern workplace 

This is not a fad” is a simple but striking sentence in the groundbreaking 1998 Harvard Business Review article. Indeed, it’s not, especially to have survived over 20 years and become the foundation for the adaptive workplace solutions we see today. 

The rise of the internet, cloud applications, and better computing technology have all made alternative workplaces viable solutions as companies navigate the modern workplace.

Remote work, flex scheduling, hoteling, experiential workspaces, and coworking are all alternative forms of work, but they’re only part of the greater alternative workplace employees rely on today. 

The connection between design thinking and workspaces

In today’s hybrid workplace where occupancy and utilization fluctuate regularly, creating workspaces that matter to employees has never been more important. The days of a 1:1 desk-to-person ratio are now more the exception than the rule. Sharing space in an office is now as common as using a smartphone to request a ride home or rent a shared bicycle.

Continue reading “The connection between design thinking and workspaces”

The ultimate guide to space optimization in the hybrid workplace

Walls no longer confine work, and the hybrid workplace is here to stay. A Gartner survey predicts that 39% of the global workforce will work hybrid by the end of 2023 — up from 37% in 2022.

By the end of 2023 39 percent of the global workforce is predicted to work hybrid.

Many employees want to spend at least part of their time working in the office to collaborate in person with their colleagues, reserve a quiet place to concentrate, and take advantage of on-site amenities. Managing a hybrid workplace brings new challenges, including space optimization.

How do you maximize office space while also allowing employees the flexibility to work remotely part-time? There are no easy answers, but here are a few recommendations.

What is space optimization?

Simply put, space optimization is making the most of all the available office real estate you have and using it to support a positive employee experience while reducing waste and minimizing costs. The goal of space optimization isn’t just to increase the number of employees per square foot but to ensure each space is being used the way it’s intended.

5 strategies to improve space optimization in the hybrid workplace

  1. Establish a baseline occupancy target to determine office space per employee

While different employee roles and functions require different types of space to be productive, it’s good to have some general guidelines.

Consider your employees different space needs depending on their department and roles.

Start by considering your average occupancy percentage before the pandemic or before you transitioned to a hybrid workplace. How much space did you have per employee at that time? If you don’t know, look at recommended industry averages.

Commercial real estate website Squarefoot also offers a handy space calculator.

Consider how employees’ needs might differ depending on your industry and their department and roles. Your legal team will likely need more private office space for closed-door meetings and review of confidential documents. In contrast, your marketing team will want more open areas for brainstorming and collaboration.

If you plan to continue having assigned desks, you probably won’t need one for every employee. Determine which employees can share desks based on how often they intend to be in the office — or consider implementing office hoteling.

  1. Establish a remote work policy

While each department may have its own guidelines for when employees work remotely and how they use your hybrid workplace, company-wide expectations help create clarity, transparency, and understanding. Decide what values are most important, not just for team morale and productivity but also when it comes to planning and optimizing your space.

when will teams meet in person?

Set clear parameters around when teams will meet in person, when they are expected to meet with clients in person, and when fully remote employees will be expected to attend company events.

  1. Survey employees to determine how often they plan to use the office

Ask employees to consider all aspects of remote and in-office work and give them the flexibility to decide on their hybrid work schedule.

Questions to ask employees include:

  • How many days each week do you plan to be in the office?
  • During what hours do you plan to spend most of your time in the office?
  • How do you feel about attending meetings when you are not physically present?
  • How will you take the initiative to remain involved in office activities?
  • Have you discussed how often, if at all, you can travel back to your department’s primary worksite?
  • How will you feel if your travel is limited once or twice yearly?
  • What type of meeting space and amenities do you need when meeting with clients in person?

As you consider employees’ needs, don’t forget about their belongings. You might need to add shelves, closet space, or intelligent lockers to help employees keep valuable items secure.

When you understand your employees' needs and expectations, you can leverage space optimization.  

Intelligent locker systems are ideal for a workplace with desk hoteling because they can be reserved, assigned, and reassigned by any employee throughout the day.

Understanding the employee’s needs and expectations helps you optimize your space accordingly. It also enables you to analyze, test, and implement tools to streamline space reservations/claims.

  1. Use a desk booking system

As you give employees more flexibility to choose when they come into the office, you need a way to manage seating while ensuring space optimization.

A desk booking system gives you a more structured way to manage your space and resources. Desk booking allows your employees to reserve space in advance, helping your facilities team update your workplace based on the number of employees who plan to be there. It also helps you monitor space utilization trends over time to better design your future space needs.

Desk booking allows employees to reserve space in advance, helping you monitor space usage trends to better design your office.

One of many considerations for desk booking is creating a welcoming and productive workspace for most people. It’s common for facilities managers to plan their booking strategies by thinking about the average day. How many people are typically in the office? What resources do they need? This narrow planning may create problems later. Instead of preparing for a reasonable scenario, think of the worst case.

Consider your peak demand; how many desks will you need if everyone shows up? Desk booking software gives you analytics and data regarding usage and timing. You can use this and prepare around that number.

  1. Make smart, multi-purpose furniture and surface choices

Your workspace is more than computers, desks, and tables. After overcoming a global pandemic, we all learned to adapt and pay attention to our surroundings to create the best environment to thrive. Look around your office space for innovative ways to use your current assets.

Companies use innovative ways to better optimize their space and assets.

Use whiteboard paint on the walls in brainstorming or meeting rooms., an industry news source for facilities and space managers, offers these and other tips for optimizing your space.

Furniture also plays a role in creating a space that can host a board meeting in the morning and be subdivided into smaller team meeting rooms later in the day using mobile walls or dividers that double as whiteboards. Use smaller desks or tables that can be rearranged Tetris-style to create differently sized spaces, change the energy or mood, and make the most of your area.

Use space management software to optimize your hybrid workplace

Space management software helps you visualize all your spaces, track utilization, and reconfigure your floor plans.

You can see a graphic representation of your floorplans overlaid with real-time data on desk and space reservations, giving you the ability to make strategic, data-driven decisions.

The right space management software will provide you with a sense of control and understanding of your facilities from a global perspective, helping you create short and long-term strategies while avoiding paying rent on unoccupied space. Understanding how your space is used and creating a space that serves your employees will lead to better employee productivity, boosting the bottom line while minimizing costs.

Just because your employees are scattered, your office space organization doesn’t have to be. Tour Eptura’s space management software and find the tools to improve space optimization in your hybrid workplace.

Making sense of going to the office based on corporate seniority

As more and more of us work in a hybrid model, it’s important to consider the impact that corporate seniority has on how we approach going to the office. It’s easy to assume that all workers have the same motivation for visiting the workplace. Our most recent quarterly data finds several notable nuances depending on whether you’re an individual contributor, a mid-level manager, or a senior leader.

Understanding what motivates you and your team members is key when deciding how often you should visit the workplace. It’s important that both employers and employees take into account all of these factors – including isolation, loneliness, lack of social opportunities – when creating an effective work from home and workplace experience.

What motivates us to visit the office depends on our management level

Senior management often requires more frequent visits to the office than junior staff to stay connected with colleagues, have face-to-face conversations, and access resources only found in the office. At the same time, managers understand that employees need a work-life balance and must be given some freedom to manage their commuting schedules – especially for fully remote workers.

Our data shows a clear movement back to the workplace because social connection and collaboration magnetize the office. The ability to collaborate with colleagues is a key motivator for visiting the office. When working from home, it can be difficult to replicate the same level of collaboration as being physically present with other human beings. Face-to-face communication allows for more organic problem solving and better decision making, as well as helping to foster team spirit.

When asked to rank the three things they appreciate most about going to the office, senior managers and middle managers both rank collaborating with colleagues highest. While socializing with friends/colleagues is the next most important thing for middle managers, senior managers rank in person contact with their manager second and place a much higher value on better career progression.

Many senior leaders manage across four to five generations, often with different priorities, as is by our survey. When you break down non-managers by age band, we see a tipping point at around 45 years old. The 18- to 44-year-old band prioritizes socializing with friends/colleagues while the 45- to 64-year-old band ranks collaborating with colleagues number one. Interestingly, however, younger generations of employees have more spontaneous meetings and collaboration than other groups.

While being overlooked for career opportunities is a concern for everyone, it’s surprisingly low, especially among non-managers and middle managers who ranked it sixth and seventh overall as a risk for not going to the office.

It suggests the higher an employee grows in a company, the more concerned they are about being out of sight and out of mind for promotion opportunities. Better career progression was ranked significantly higher by senior managers than middle managers and non-managers.

We analyze our global data quarterly. See our findings based on analysis of 2.7 million desks, 37,000 buildings, and 440,000 floors across more than 8,000 companies.

44 percent of people want to work from home 2-3 days per week

Isolation, loneliness, and lack of social opportunities impact home workers

The lack of connection for younger generations correlates with non-managers’ responses when asked about the greatest risks of not attending the office. Overall, non-managers ranked fewer opportunities to socialize with friends/colleagues as the biggest risk, and increased sense of loneliness or isolation third.

Remote working has become more normal in recent years. While there are certainly advantages to remote working – such as fewer office distractions and increased productivity – there can also be negative effects, such as isolation, loneliness, and lack of social opportunities which can significantly impact the mental health and well-being of home workers.

The absence of physical connection with colleagues can lead to feelings of loneliness, especially when video calls and other virtual communication solutions cannot replace in-person conversations. This is compounded by the fact that many people may feel disconnected from their peers due to a lack of social opportunities outside of work. Without human interaction or a sense of community, feelings of loneliness and isolation can become overwhelming very quickly.

Recent studies have revealed that while remote workers do benefit from fewer office distractions which leads to higher productivity levels, this comes at a cost if they don’t have enough social support available during their working hours. It is not just about having someone to talk to; It is about having meaningful conversations with peers who share similar interests which can help foster creativity and collaboration within teams.

The need for work and home boundaries is another motivation for office visits

Working from home can be a great experience, but it also requires clear boundaries between work and home life. To ensure that tasks are completed efficiently, and that personal time is respected, it’s important to have dedicated working hours and take regular breaks from work.

Setting expectations with family and friends about when one is available will help them to understand why you need to focus on your job during certain hours. Communication is key here. Make sure you keep your colleagues updated about when you’re taking a break or are unavailable for the day.

But some employees are now showing a tendency to want to come back to an office to help reinforce boundaries. Our data shows over a third (32%) of employee’s rank establishing a boundary between work and home as a top three priority after socializing and collaborating. The need for physical separation is an identifiable trend. It allows for the mental separation of work from personal life.

going into the office statistics

And while we also know hybrid work is today’s standard working model, we’ll be watching closely to see if the need for a physical boundary expands. By creating clear boundaries between work and home life, remote workers can ensure that they get the most out of their professional lives without sacrificing their mental health or well-being.


Studies show that social connections play a central role in fostering a sense of purpose and well-being in the workplace. They also impact the bottom line: effective management of social capital within organizations facilitates learning and knowledge sharing, increases employee retention and engagement, reduces burnout, sparks innovation, and improves employee and organizational performance, according to Harvard Business Review.

Focus on bookings vs. utilization for space planning

It’s time to better understand office use with workplace data. To calculate the right balance of meeting rooms, desks and breakout spaces, data from booking software, sensors, and access control points can all be aggregated to provide a snapshot of what kinds of spaces are most in demand and what are actually being used.

Know who is in the office

Employers can use presence awareness and automated space-release technology to facilitate spontaneous collaboration by allowing employees to see who’s in the office and where they are sitting and working.

Ask what employees want, regularly, and test

employers can collect direct employee feedback on the type of breakout areas they desire. For example, do they need privacy, or do they want open spaces? Then, you can test it out using utilization data to measure if what workers say they want matches what they do – and report the numbers to everyone.



Dive in. Download the Q2 Workplace Index

Top trends and takeaways from Eptura’s Q2 Workplace Index report

What really happened in your workplace in Q2 2023? Our latest research combines survey feedback on employee preferences and behaviors with an analysis of building use — and its impact on asset maintenance.  

Continue reading “Top trends and takeaways from Eptura’s Q2 Workplace Index report”