While both these terms are often used interchangeably—even by some of today's top managers and IT firm executives—there are many differences between workspaces and workplaces. In very simple terms, the place where you go to work is your workplace while a workspace defies physical boundaries. Instead, it's simply the place where you get the job done.
It's clear that work has been forever changed by these pandemic years as have we, as humans, been forever changed. Now that our workspaces are physically safe to be back in, how will things continue to evolve? Or, more importantly, what do our employees want and need from us? According to Gallup's State of the American Workforce, companies with engaged employees report 21% more profitability. And those with highly engaged employees have been found to outperform competitors by 147%.
So is it a physical workplace that delivers higher productivity and employee satisfaction? Or the now omnipresent remote workspace?
Workspace or Workplace: Which is More Important?
If I asked you “where do you work?”, what would your answer be? Your organization’s name? Maybe your office location? Or perhaps from home, from a coffee shop, or from your travel destination du jour? Have you ever heard anyone say, “I work at the desk next to the quality control team’s cabin”? Or, “the cubicle opposite the conference room door”? The answer is no, probably not.
Yet, these answers may be the most appropriate since they best illustrate your actual work surroundings and environment, and those physical surroundings matter when it comes to your ability to do your best work. It's one factor as to why many employees have preferred working remotely over the past few years. Apart from the obvious safety concerns of working in person during the height of the pandemic, the simple fact was that at home, they found a more convenient, comfortable, and flexible ‘workspace—one that also made the other aspects of their lives better and easier to manage.
And this shift in work location and flexibility has been overwhelmingly successful. In PwC's US Remote Work Survey (January 2021) 83% of companies reported feeling that remote work was a success for them. 79% of employees highlighted the importance of flexibility to manage family matters alongside work, made easier by remote and flexible work.
Yet those answers don't necessarily mean a traditional workplace is seen as obsolete. In the same survey, employees shared that collaboration and building relationships are their top-rated needs for the office, with 87% believing that the office remains important for these needs.
In physical workspaces that are really well-designed, for example, you see a seamless flow between different types of work that people need to do and the different types of interactions that spark teamwork. These spaces also take into consideration peoples' diversity in learning and work needs. When it comes to designing your central physical workspace, this means giving thought to your ability to move from a private space to do quiet document work, to a conversational hub that facilitates micro-collisions with your teammates. It means meetings spaces that are designed to be inclusive of all attendees, whether they are in-person or joining remotely.
A good office, well-designed interior, and good facilities go a long way in ensuring employees that you’re a dedicated organization that cares about the staff. Entering a lobby that feels like a resort is in itself a big morale booster for employees. Blending indoors and outdoors helps facilitate more mindfulness and calm, and can significantly boost morale.
Managers across the globe concur—nothing inspires an employee as much as conveying to them that they’re valued. The care and thought we put into our workplace design sends out a message that our employees are a part of something much bigger than themselves, and that their contributions are meaningful and appreciated.
These responses and the expressed desire for both in-person and remote work aren't conflicting; they instead reflect the need for flexibility and the diversity that exists within the people on your teams. While both workplace and workspace are important aspects of working, most employees believe that the workspace, i.e., the place where they sit and do the actual work, matters most. The Modern Workspace is a coming together of physical location, employee choice, and corporate culture.
So the answer to which is most important is really, which is most important to your employees and culture? This is a time for us as leaders to listen. Survey your teams and ask them, "Where and how do you do your best work?" Different employees think and work differently, and work best in different ways. How can your organization support the diversity in needs across your employees? How can your workspaces lower barriers to move ideas forward and support fluidity and flexibility?
What is a Modern Workspace?
At CSI, we use the term modern workspace, and consider it as a destination of thought and creativity. Modern workspaces include every digital item or device that an employee uses for work in the space they choose to work in. This could be a digital calculator, your laptop, mobile phone, licensed software, and other electronic gadgets in your bedroom, on the couch, at the local coffee shop, or in your town's co-works space.
These are integrated tools and a framework of management that assist employees in storing data, accessing it from different devices, and creating endpoints for data access, storage, and delivery.
These are mostly cloud-based services that bring a user’s files, software, operating systems, and everything digital under one roof for easy, flexible, and secure access. The Modern Workspace also means you can move from physical to virtual workspace just as seamlessly—ensuring hybrid and flexible work is not only possible, but truly helps your organization thrive.
Digital workspaces are important infrastructure to support this flexibility for employees who want to work remotely. But then, what is a digital workplace?
What is a Modern Workplace?
This is where the Microsoft Modern Workspace enters: this modern infrastructure becomes the essential foundation that allows and empowers motility of thought from your people, impacting their productivity positively and with it, the success of the business.
Microsoft's Modern Workplace is defined as “an operational setup which has been professionally designed to meet both the physical and technological needs of both your business and its employees.” This may take the form of open space design, a modern office reception, and inclusive collaboration areas that can facilitate hybrid team members. It's a flexible, scalable suite of tools designed to improve engagement and productivity.
Microsoft Modern Workplace solutions include:
Microsoft Office 365 and Exchange powers email, calendars, and contacts
Enterprise Mobility + Security handles your device management
Microsoft Teams provides video conferencing and collaboration tools
Other apps, including Power Automate and Power BI, connect apps and provide business intelligence
SharePoint provides a cloud repository for document management
Azure is secure data storage.
Together, these functions create the backbone for a modern workplace and seamless communication.
Key Differences between Workplaces and Workspaces
1. Workplaces are Fixed; Workspaces are Fluid
Take a very simple example. If your organization has a policy of conducting meetings on MS Teams or Zoom, it’s very unlikely to change its protocols and allow, say Google Meet to be the hosting platform for the next annual conference. But can the same be said for your company's laptops or phones? No, they are the workspace tools and the workspace itself will keep evolving as employees enjoy the flexibility of change as often as they need.
2. Digital Workspaces are Dependent; Digital Workplaces are Not
This one is fairly straightforward. If your individual computer’s operating system does not support a Zoom call which is where all your meetings are scheduled, what is likely to change? The meeting platform (which would affect everyone across your organization) or your computer, which can be upgraded to one which has no such limitations?
3. In Digital Workspaces, People Interact with Technology. In Digital Workplaces, Technology is Merely the Platform
Workplaces offer you the infrastructure, which can then be utilized to implement digital workspaces that best suit each employee.
Enabling a Modern Workspace
Employees and HR managers sometimes have a hard time identifying the difference between the two terms. While both are fundamentally different, creating a strong culture where employees feel valued and empowered requires that you pay attention to both the physical workplace and your workspaces. As a general rule, keep in mind that the ideal workplace is one that aligns best with what your company stands for, and the ideal workspace is where your employees feel the most comfortable and inspired.