Alternative workplace; emphasis on work and worker, not the workplace


By Emmanuel Oppong PEPRAH(Dr)

Working from somewhere outside your designated office space is not a new phenomenon per se. However, during the period that the world was battling with COVID-19, when workers could not go to their offices to work but had to work from home, has brought such a working practice to the limelight.  That is, organizations emerging from the global pandemic serve as a stimulus for the necessity to reconsider office space layout and explore alternative work environments. At the moment, it is common to have people switch jobs and locations. Alternative workplace (AW) is the combination of alternative work practices, settings, and locations that are starting to substitute traditional offices.

Basically, what distinguishes alternative workplaces from conventional methods is that, conventional work environments often consist of physical office spaces where staff members have assigned workstations, perhaps isolated from other departments and colleagues. Hence AW entails switching to a non-traditional workspace where an employer can give employees the freedom and choice about where they work each day.

Alternative work environments strive to transfer the work to the worker and offer flexibility in exchange. Workers want more freedom which the traditional offices do not offer. This freedom can also come with higher productivity and retention. There are various ways to use alternative workspaces, such as remote working, coworking, hot desking, among others, which will be discussed very soon in this article.

Investing in work and the worker rather than the workplace is the essence of AW philosophy. The possible advantages are obvious with AW. Yet not every organization is a good fit for AW programs. Adopting such initiatives can be challenging, even for the organizations who would benefit from them the most because overcoming ingrained habits and pragmatic obstacles can be challenging. But for those who AW strategies work for, variety of AW choices seem to be more effective than a one-size-fits-all strategy. In fact, the whole idea of an AW necessitates customizing the program to the unique requirements of a firm and therefore, some companies employ two or more options at the same period.

Alternative Workplace Examples and Options

Remote Work (Working from home): This is a practice where employees are allowed to work from home or from any other location aside the designated office space provided by the employer. Remote working offers an understanding that the worker works away from the traditional office premises. Remote workers most at times work from any geographical area regardless of where the firm’s offices are located. Workers under this arrangement normally only require a stable internet connection to undertake their assigned duties from wherever they are since there is the general agreement that on-site presence is not required.

Hot Desking: This is the practice where the office space has flexible workspaces that are not assigned to any specific employee. This means that any employee can use a workspace once it is available. Hence, an employee can opt to set up his or her workstation at a different location in the office every day or can even be in several places within the day.

Hoteling: This is an office practice where a worker has to schedule to use a workspace in terms of a particular cubicle, desk or office.  A ‘hotel’ work space can be reserved for an hour or hours or a day or even a week. At its advanced level, hoteling can include a customized workspace with the yet-to-occupy staff’s personal memorabilia and photos just before the person arrives to use the workstation and then all the personal memorabilia removed as soon as the staff leaves that workstation.

Therefore, just like hot desking, the working space is not permanently assigned but a desk can be occupied by Mr. ‘A’ today and be occupied by Mr. ‘B’ tomorrow making it available to any staff who needs the space. Technically, both hot desking and hoteling are forms of ‘desk sharing’. However, the difference is that while hoteling requires an employee to reserve the workstation in advance, hot desking deals with a first-come-first-serve basis.

Satellite offices: A satellite office is a company’s branch office which is physically separated from the company’s main office. These offices disperse big concentrated spaces into a network of more manageable workspaces that can be found near to the company’s clients or near to the homes of staff members. A satellite office aids an employee to reduce his or her commute travel time to the office from home and also aids in the ability to work at different locations.

A firm can actually reduce its expenses by diversifying its sources of risk from overconcentration in one place, and increase the number of possible hires by using satellites. While some satellite offices are fully furnished and equipped, others are just with only the most basic technology or office needs. Satellite offices are typically found in suburban and urban regions that are reasonably priced with their fixtures and furnishings typically simpler and less expensive.

Flexible work arrangements:  This practice entails employees choosing the times they prefer to work as well as develop their own work schedules. It is an alternative work arrangement from the typical traditional work schedule in terms of a work week or day. Similarly, an employer may also decide to alter the traditional work schedule to meet the company’s customers need or demand. In this work arrangement, time to start work and finish work is altered to either fit the employees preferred schedules or that of the customer.

Coworking: This is an arrangement that consists of employees from different departments (or even companies) sharing an office space. This practice gives workers the option to work together on an assignment as well as seek the different perspectives from the different departments. Co-working helps employers to save cost via sharing or using common infrastructure such as utilities, equipment, receptionist, just to mention a few.  This arrangement also enables small businesses or individuals to rent an office space without going through the pain of coughing up huge sums of money for a long-term lease and/or the purchase of office equipment and furnishing for the office.

Telecommuting: This is an arrangement which permits an employee to work away from the firm’s designated physical office but rather perform his/her work tasks electronically. As a form of working from home, telecommuting involves the use of email, internet, telephone, and other electrical gadgets as employees perform their duties away from the companies’ premises. Sometimes, remote work and telecommuting are used interchangeably due to their extreme similarity. However, the slight difference between the two is that, while remote work allows greater flexibility with no in-person presence required or the need to report to the traditional office, with telecommuting, the employee is sometimes required to report to the traditional office for check-ins and meetings.

Importance of Alternative Workplace

AW programs provide a lot of advantages to both employers and employees. One of the key justifications given by businesses for allowing flexible work schedules is increased productivity. Giving workers the chance to start over, try a new strategy, and be free to complete tasks on their own schedule increases productivity. Increment in productivity levels of workers is not in doubt because employees who find themselves in any of the AW options tend to dedicate more time and energy to customers and less on office routines.

Secondly, it gives employers the freedom to hire a wider range of talent without being limited by geography. Since the finest applicants are not always able to move, it benefits everyone when they can work remotely. That is, AW gives organizations the edge to attract and retain highly qualified and talented employees since geographical area is not a barrier, as well as motivate and retain them.

Also, an organization can reduce its costs by adopting AW. Even in a coworking or hot desking arrangement, because AW is used to lessen the demand for private offices, office sizes can be reduced which can translate into lessening expenditure on additional office space and furnishing. Similarly, releasing space and making better use of what is left can help companies make some savings financially. An AW program can provide management with a workable substitute for costly, long-term leasing agreements in new firms.

Is Alternative Workplace a Good Alternative for Your Organization?

Currently, there is undoubtedly a bit of a craze in the corporate world as companies are implementing AW programs due to its numerous benefits. However, before you consider implementing this philosophy to managing work, there are several factors or questions that, as an organization, you need to consider or answer before AW strategies’ fitness or appropriateness can be concluded.

First of all, AW is best suited for informational-related organizations. Hence, the first questions is,  is your organization informational or industrial in nature? In this part of the write-up, all companies are categorized under just these two sections (i.e. informational and industrial) to simplify and prevent ambiguity. Therefore, the differentiation here is not about a particular industry or clientele but how workers carry out their duties. Industrial in this sense refers to organizations where workers have to be physically present in the workplace in order to discharge their duties and that the organization’s systems, management procedures, and organizational structure are all intended to facilitate extensive face-to-face interaction.

A typical example is a manufacturing company.  Hence, there is little chance of most AW options working in such an environment. On the other hand, informational firms are organizations who can primarily communicate with their consumers and employees via voice and data. An example are consultancy firms. In this case, employees can work from anywhere aside the office space and communicate their solutions to clients electronically. Hence, if your company can be categorized under industrial as defined in this article, then AW might not be for you. However, if you are under informational, AW strategies can be successfully implemented with all its benefits.

The next important question is, as a corporate body, “are you willing and capable of investing in tools and training required for Alternative Workplace to thrive?” An AW program’s prospects of success is only increased by providing all participants or employees involved with a comprehensive set of tools (in terms of gadgets, software, etc.), appropriate training, a very helpful administrative support which is ready at all times, and an accessible technical assistance. All the above comes with not just psychological commitment but financial as well. Hence, as an organization, you need to willing, capable, and committed to provide the needful before you can successfully implement any of the AW programs.

In addition, to ensure an AW program or option will be good for your organization, you need to analyze and find out whether the needed parameters will support this initiative. These parameters include: Can workers perform their duties over the phone? Is it vital for the employees to be in physical proximity to each other to work? Can the workers send their assignment electronically without their physical presence required? How much time do workers need to directly spend with clients of the firm in order to provide solutions? Can the workers work outside the generally accepted hours of 8am to 5pm? Does the location of the office help the staff to perform their duties as they should? Answers to these questions will be important to conclude whether the use of AW programs will be successful or not. For example, a ‘No’ to the first question simply means AW options such as remote work or telecommuting will not work in the organization.

Costs Associated with Alternative Workplace

AW comes with costs to the company: tangible and intangible costs. Tangible cost covers expenses on training, software, hardware, and equipment. Depending on the kind of AW program the company implements, furniture may have to be provided for the employees as well as general set up cost for employees’ personal offices or spaces outside the office space. Other tangible costs may include ongoing costs such as phone charges, extra allowance, fee for technical support and internet data. On the other hand, time spent on learning new work habits as well as customer and staff communication techniques, are some of the company’s and its workers’ intangible costs. The negative stories associated with certain companies allowing its staff to work outside the office space may also become an intangible cost to the company.


The foundation of the AW concept is investing in work and the worker, not the workspace. It is an intriguing issue and many of the modern workplace trends can provide an explanation because AW programs complement or completely replace typical offices with non-traditional techniques, settings, and places. The flexibility that AW provide employees is what makes this working practice unique. Employees can become self-governing and be free from the constraints of being employed in one location by establishing these types of workplaces. When given the flexibility to select their workplace and work how they want, most employees take advantage of the chance to produce their best work in their own unique style. Recently, a lot of businesses have invested in AW tactics and options. This means that the idea of a workplace can be greatly expanded by detaching work from the workplace and attaching it to the worker.

It is reasonable to anticipate that any firm implementing an AW program will achieve a new level of productivity, reduce fixed costs, and increased employee and customer satisfaction compared to its previous state. Furthermore, the company that gains from AW initiatives can reap further rewards in terms of bagging staff loyalty and dedication as well.

The liberties that AW grant employees break the connection between work and a certain location, thereby empowering employees to exercise self-governance. Many employees take advantage of the chance to perform at their highest level when given the freedom to select their own workspace and work style. AW is quite diverse since it can include almost any type of supportive atmosphere. In a nut shell, anywhere outside of your designated permanent workstation is an alternate workplace and implementing this working practice comes with a lot of benefits so far as any of the options fits the operations of the organization.

Dr. Peprah is a lecturer at Accra Technical University. He can be contacted at [email protected] or [email protected]

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