Whether you work best in a collaborative group or prefer a quiet space in the office or at home, everyone has a specific way they like to get the job done. With the goal of learning more about how people like to work, a new study from Microsoft Canada calls for a fundamental shift in how the workplace must adapt to allow workers with diverse modern working styles and preferences to succeed and thrive.

It goes without saying that we’re all different. While those surveyed in the Microsoft study said that working in teams was motivating (68 per cent) and inspiring (71 per cent), half of them said they’re more productive working alone. Tech is pretty important, too, with two-thirds saying they required the latest to do their jobs.

Digging deeper, though, things get even more interesting. The study, which looked at a sample of 2,000 Canadians in full-time employment, nationally representative by age, gender and geography, took place online in December last year in English and French. Respondents were asked about their attitudes and habits in the workplace, with the results identifying a range of what Microsoft calls “distinct workstyle personas that make up the modern Canadian workplace.”

The study stresses that beyond more standard factors such as generational differences, gender or role demographics, there’s a complex mix of traits, habits, technology and work-style preferences that define how people like to work and how they work best.

It’s these personas, the study says, that employers should be paying attention to in an effort to adapt to the needs of the modern employee, with the goal of equipping them for success.

The four personas the study identifies are:

1. The Connected Builder

Representing 30 per cent of those surveyed, this persona is a multi-tasker described as being passionate about their work, and often takes it home with them to finish in the evening or on weekends. Ninety-one per cent identify themselves as focused and 70 per cent identify themselves as ambitious.

2. The Autonomous Problem Solver

Also representing 30 per cent of respondents, this persona likes to do things their own way, with 56 per cent of them taking their time to carefully think about their ideas. Forty-three per cent of Autonomous Problem Solvers are easily distracted, with mobility tech and working offsite being key to their success.

3. The Creative Connector

Twenty per cent identified as Creative Connectors, this persona thrives and is most creative working in close-knit teams – 71 per cent of them work this way all or most of the time. Nearly 50 per cent of them work in shared or open spaces, and for 86 per cent of them the day is done when they leave the office.

4. The Independent Ally

The remaining 20 per cent makes up this persona and is the loner, and distracted working with others. Sixty per cent of them find it most productive working alone. Eighty-six per cent of Independent Allies like to get their work done in the office and, like the Creative Connector, when the day’s done, it’s done.

Flexibility is key

“It’s interesting how we are seeing themes emerge from within the personas that impact our modern workplace,” Jordan Sheridan, general manager of Modern Workplace, Microsoft Canada, tells ITBusiness.ca. “Flexibility, for one, is important. Workplaces are no longer about work spaces. Many people are choosing their workspace based on a task, schedule or what’s convenient for them. Business decision-makers need to understand the persona differences to equip their employees with the resources they need to achieve more.”

But changing up workplace ideologies can be a costly and slippery slope. Take the open or shared workspace concept that everyone from Google to Facebook to Rogers have adopted at one point or another. While the idea is supposed to encourage collaboration and creativity, a recent Harvard Business School study found that open workspaces and office layouts actually inhibit collaboration because the constant forced contact with colleagues can cause employees to actively avoid face-to-face interaction.

That’s not to say an open concept approach, or other approaches for that matter, can’t or don’t work for everyone. Sheridan acknowledges the challenges businesses face when approaching their own methodologies, but points to flexibility and a focus on employees and their work styles, as well as making sure they have the right technology and tools they need to do their job from anywhere any time, as the way forward.

“It could be as simple as a lighter laptop or having a video conferencing solution,” Sheridan says. “New collaboration and productivity tools make it possible for leaders to reimagine how they empower their employees.”

Adapt or lose your edge

But make no mistake, Sheridan also stresses that this is a warning call for employers who risk losing their competitive edge, and even their top talent, if they don’t evolve to the changing needs and expectations of the workforce.

“Organizations that fail to use modern solutions to address modern challenges will have trouble staying competitive,” Sheridan says. “At the same time, companies that have committed to their digital transformation are seeing tremendous payoff, in the form of more engaged employees, easier access to data insights, and faster pace of innovation,” he says.

Some employers, such as Harry Zarek, president and CEO of IT service providers Compugen, acknowledge the importance of a flexible working environment and is already well underway in proving it to their employees. “We try to provide a variety of spaces to allow people to work in different modes,” Zarek tells ITBusiness.ca. “Whether it’s in a group, or a quiet, door-closed environment, or the ability to have complete functionality outside of the office.”

But Zarek also likes how the Microsoft study looks at different personas, enough so that he’s taking it to heart. “We’re going to look at that in a thoughtful way to see if it provides more guidance on how we can support those different types of personas,” Zarek says.

Not to turn the piece on myself, but having done the Microsoft survey, it identifies me as an Autonomous Problem Solver. Which is interesting, because I am at home in my dining room writing this with the radio on and the house to myself. And I like it that way, a fact that I am grateful to my employer for allowing. Which is kind of the point of this whole thing.

“Understanding that today’s modern workplaces are populated by diverse yet distinct personas can help determine what kind of tools employees need to maximize their potential,” Sheridan says in a statement. “This is key to both employees’ success and that of the business overall.”

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