Alternative vs traditional – which office environment works best?

Steve Preston columnist

Steve Preston, founder and managing director of Heat Recruitment

When it comes to tea, few nations can beat the UK. In fact, we rank third in the world with the average person drinking around 876 cups of the stuff every year. We’re also big on our coffee too, with over 24,000 coffee shops dotted all over the country, and this is growing by 5% each year.

Driving much of this is the growth of the coffee shop as an alternative office location and the widespread adoption of flexible working practices.

But does this mean the end of the traditional office as we know it?

With remote working on the rise, many businesses are reinventing their workplaces by introducing break-out and creativity zones in their offices. Some are even doing away with offices altogether in favour of laid-back co-working spaces and noisy coffee shops in which to conduct meetings.

This makes sense for some people, but not all.

After all, we each spend around 70% of our working week performing a work-related task. So, it makes sense to do it in an environment that is both enjoyable and stimulating.

However, which environment is more productive? Office? Coffee shop? Co-working environment? Home?

Research published by Cornell University found that speaking to a colleague face to face and asking them to do something is 34-times more effective than asking the same question via email. This would suggest that the isolation of the home office is not as effective as a ‘busy’ location when it comes to getting things done. Certainly when it comes to those in a management position.

Indeed, further research has shown that people tend to work more effectively when there are others around them – it’s known as the audience effect and is as common to business as it is to sport. The reason you see professional cyclists huddle together isn’t just because of slipstreams – it’s because they go faster when there is a steady pacemaker leading the pack.

Mental effort, it seems, is contagious. Simply being around others who are working is enough to make us work harder, too. Moreover, it makes us happier too.

Humans are social beings by nature and, when it comes to problem-solving and brainstorming activities, as well as creating a positive environment that will reduce stress and boost mental wellbeing, the office – whether in the traditional sense or not – can work wonders.

Indeed, with 1 in 4 workers in the UK reportedly suffering from work-related stress each year, the consequences of not being in the right environment can be detrimental both to the business and the individual themselves.

So, the question has to be asked – What do you think is the most effective working environment is for you and your teams?