‘Nonterritorial’ workplace allows maximum employee choice

by Bernice Boucher

Some lucky employees have all kinds of options when choosing where to get their work done. Their em­­ployers have embraced what I call the “nonterritorial workplace.” It allows employees to work wherever they will be most productive on any given day.

That could be at a satellite office, on another floor of the building where they usually work or in a different building where they can use tools that aren’t available at their main workplace. Members of teams whose co-workers are located in different buildings, cities or even countries might find they are more productive, for brief stretches, if they physically work side by side with them.

In fact, some corporations have so thoroughly em­­braced a mobile workforce that they no longer assign desks to employees whose work does not require them to sit in the same place every day.

If, on Monday, an employee whose home office is in New Jersey plans to spend the day collaborating with a colleague at the company’s Manhattan headquarters, she might be more productive if they meet in person at one office or the other and spread out in a small conference room. Then, on Tuesday, if she will be participating in a lengthy conference call at 3 a.m. with clients in China, where it’s 3 p.m., it might make sense for her to work from home all day so she can grab a long nap before getting back to work.

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Nonterritorial working means when people do come to the office, they choose to sit where their activities dictate. If they want to do heads-down work, there’s a quiet room for that, without ringing phones, distractions or interruptions. Later in the day, if they want to connect with the team, they’ll sit at a desk out in the open so teammates can approach them.

To make room for this, look for opportunities to repurpose existing space. If fewer people need permanent offices or cubicles, for example, you can place desks in an open area for employees to use when they’re working on site, and reserve the offices for lengthy phone calls or private meetings.

A must: Equip every space with the technology mobile employees need. A great workplace integrates mobile tech infrastructure.

Don’t overlook the people component. Managers may need help when you push the envelope and move from an assigned-desk model to a model that gives employees the authority to choose where they will work.

Here are six “preoccupancy” arrangements to make before you launch such a program:

  1. Train managers to get them comfortable with the new workplace arrangement. They’ll be better able to lead their employees past the uncertainty.
  2. Along with the autonomy to choose where to work each day, give employees clear directives about deliverables, productivity and expectations.
  3. Expect employees to feel a little unmoored. Hey, you took away their desks and they don’t know where to put their stuff. Providing the right technology will quickly help them feel more productive and satisfied.
  4. Establish protocols for decorum in the new workplace. Common sense suggests taking confidential calls in private. Noisy teamwork might need to happen in an enclosed conference room.
  5. Change the way you measure performance. Scrap annual and midyear performance reviews. Instead, continually communicate with mobile employees about checks and balances, deliverables and performance.
  6. Gauge the suitability of each job and employee for this alternative way of working. It’s not for everyone, including new employees who are not yet comfortable with the organization’s culture. Those who handle a lot of paper might need to sit in the same seat every day. The same is true for tech staff who work with multiple monitors and other expensive tools.


Bernice Boucher is managing director and head of workplace strategy for the Americas at Jones Lang LaSalle, a professional services and investment management firm based in Chicago. Contact her at Bernice.Boucher@am.jll.com or (212) 418-2619.