Research Summary

A review of workstyles and workplaces

There is not one solution to creating an effective workplace in terms of the spaces we need, the tools we use, as well as considering when and where we work. When looking at workstyles, we are breaking new ground by including the whole of the University community in our study. Workstyles and workplace studies are normally carried out on staff with roles similar to those carried out by our office based Professional Services staff. It became clear early in the process that it would not be possible to apply workstyles to academics in the same way, as the mode of working changes as academics carry out different roles and tasks throughout the academic calendar.

Understanding academic workstyles

Unlike some Professional Service staff, the work stream recognises that an academic cannot be categorised into a single working style and that the focus of their work shifts from day to day and year to year. The work stream also recognises that updated models for workplaces, which support both concentration and collaboration, need to be developed to ensure academics are supported when carrying out creative thinking, as well as interactions with colleagues and students.

Workstyles in other organisations

Various organisations have used different criteria to look at how Workstyles vary. Traditional allocations were often simply made on the basis of one’s place in the hierarchy. In previous studies, the key characteristics of a workstyle have been based on the level of face to face interaction, degree of autonomy and amount of mobility. These factors formed the basis for our interviews and helped us to understand what defines the different ways of working.

Other organisations have used workstyles in different ways; for example, Vodafone have a simple model of 3 workstyles, with most of their workforce (85%) working with the ‘Flex’ model. This is based around the concept of an output based management process which means staff can work when and where they want as long as they meet their objectives. In practise, this means flex staff share all facilities, including desks, but everyone can use all the spaces in a way that best meets their needs.

Our research has shown that models (like Vodafone’s Flex model) were enabled by very clear and directive leadership and have led to a reduction in costs and increased flexibility of the organisation. At Exeter, these approaches would be hard to implement as we have a much more complex model and a wider range of different ways of working, however, we can learn from the processes identified and understand the role of workstyles in briefing and space modelling.