May 6, 2021

Workstyles: A Versatile Tool to Forecast Space and Service Needs

Designing Experiences

By Yen Chiang

Workstyles integrate quantitative and qualitative information about users to enable planners and designers to forecast the variety and scales of user needs with more certainty. This article explains what workstyles are and how to develop and apply them to space and service design projects.

The term workstyle has been popularized in several disciplines to signal the different ways in which people work. In mass media, there are comparisons between ‘old’ and ‘new’ workstyles, such as the work mentality and tools of Generation X versus Generation Y. In the workplace, workstyles function as employee personas that must be managed and engaged in different ways to optimize the well-being of staff, as well as their performance and growth. And finally, in workplace strategy and design, workstyles quantify the space and service offerings that each user group receives in order to forecast final design needs.

What Are Workstyles?

So, what defines a workstyle and how do they differ from personas?

Akin to personas, workstyles are flexible, tangible representations of user groups that capture their key characteristics and needs, and that inform research and ideation.

For example, their expectations about their work environment, their technology skills, the amount of time they spend working with others or their motivations for advancing their career. And, like personas, the ‘buckets’ or characteristics to fill for each workstyle can be defined according to the project’s needs.

But, unlike typical personas, workstyles go beyond illustrating users’ needs to include quantitative information about how those needs will be met: asking not only what but also how much, for example, of different spaces, services, and technologies are required to enable effective work. Workstyles act as building blocks, each with a kit-of-parts to meet that workstyle’s needs. Furthermore, workstyles typically follow the MECE rule – Mutually Exclusive, Collectively Exhaustive – so that each potential user or user group can be assigned to a workstyle.

Developing and Applying Workstyles

Workstyles are developed and validated in the research phase and applied during planning through the following workflow:

  1. Conduct general research, interviews and/or workshops to understand and broadly define the different types of users and the key dimensions that differentiate them.
  2. Survey users along the key dimensions.
  3. Analyze survey, interview and/or workshop data to develop workstyles, based on the key dimensions, which should be mutually exclusive and collectively exhaustive. At a basic level, this is done by ‘cutting’ the data along one or multiple dimensions following natural breaks in the data. If the future user group is known, they are surveyed in Step 2 and concurrently assigned a workstyle when defined in Step 3.
  4. Define the types and quantities of spaces and services (the kit-of -parts) that each workstyle receives, based on research, best practices, and/or aspirations.
  5. Review and validate the workstyles and kit-of-parts through further interviews, workshops and/or observations.
  6. Calculate the ratio of workstyles to be served.
  7. Calculate, based on the ratios and kit-of-parts, the final types and quantities of spaces and services to deliver.
Developing and applying workstyles

As workstyles are a tool to integrate qualitative and quantitative information, the questions asked in each research method should strive to deliver both types of information. As an example, understanding the narrative about where, how, and with whom users work, as well as how long they spend in each location and how frequently they use workplace services, can reveal how many service points to provide, the staffing needs by type (e.g., technology, research, finance) and level (e.g., novice, expert), and the proportion of services to provide.

Successfully defined workstyles take the guesswork out of forecasting what is needed.

They integrate qualitative and quantitative information so that planners and designers can easily scale up or scale down designs and offerings, and they afford a view of micro- (individual) and macro-scale (environment) in concert. Moreover, designers can use workstyles in a dynamic manner, adjusting kits-of-parts in real time, as needed, to understand the effect on and to negotiate the bottom line. With their level of detail and flexibility, workstyles enable designers to break down the complexity of planning for a variety of users and to do so in a efficient, considerate, and research-backed manner.

Beyond the Workstyle

Putting aside the ‘work’ in ‘workstyle,’ workstyles can be applied in numerous settings beyond the workplace, whether it be for spaces only, services only or integrating both in serviced environments such as libraries, airport lounges, museums, hotels, banks, fitness clubs, and community centers. Just as personas have been used across disciplines, we hope to see planners and designers in all realms use workstyles to understand and plan for their users, to make grounded design decisions, to explain their work to others, and to surpass the call to conduct and apply qualitative and quantitative research to the design process.

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