Structured vs. Unstructured Work Environments: Preference?

structured versus unstructured work

Most educators are familiar with the idea that there are four types of learners: visual, auditory, reading, and kinesthetic.

In the world of work, a similar concept is divided into two kinds of office environments: structured and unstructured. You may prefer structured work environments to unstructured, or vice versa. Often, people work in both.

To get the most out of yourself and your team, you first must understand these two modes of work and how they can be achieved.

In this guide, we’ll talk you through the key differences between unstructured and structured work environment — so you can work out which you prefer.

In this structured vs. unstructured work environment guide you will discover,

What is a structured work environment?

Structured work is most common in larger organizations. It involves clear, specific tasks that are expected to be done in a certain order at a certain time.

The work is well-documented and scheduled. There should never be a question about what a person is assigned to work on. Expectations are easily understood, and employees can expect consistent feedback from management.

The advantages of a structured work environment are:

The disadvantages of a structured work environment are:

What is an unstructured work environment?

Most people in the workforce spend much of their time on unstructured work. It is made up of the day-to-day tasks that keep the organization running, such as meetings and responding to emails.

The tasks have much more flexibility than structured work tasks. Team members may rarely get feedback from management, and it is largely up to each individual to learn on the job, plan as they go, and complete tasks however they see fit.

The advantages of an unstructured work environment are:

The disadvantages of an unstructured work environment are:

Workfront's State of Work Report

Do you prefer unstructured or structured or work environments?

Unstructured — perfect for creativity and collaboration.

It is likely that the more creative type of person will prefer to work in an unstructured work environment. This allows them the freedom to collaborate more freely with colleagues and provides them with the ability to succeed, or fail, without unnecessary meetings or micro-management.

Having other colleagues to motivate and be motivated by will be a big advantage for those wanting to work in an unstructured environment. Without a supervisor readily available or a document to consult, peers are encouraged to solve problems together. That's a good thing if you have the self motivation to keep going without clear expectations and clear feedback.

Structured — the choice for clarity and oversight.

Working in a structured environment is best for those who crave the stability of a set routine. You’ll have clear deadlines, deliverables and remits, and regular check-ins with management and stakeholders. Think less uncertainty, but more oversight — with clear policies and procedures. This can be motivating for some, particularly those who may feel disheartened, bored or directionless without clear tasks.

So how do you tell?

Start by looking at your current job, do you feel like you’re being stifled or micro-managed and wish you had a bit more freedom to get on with your work? Or do you wish your management team would help you to achieve your deadlines with set goals and performance targets?

Whichever one works for you, it’s best to speak to your management to see how they can help you find the right balance to feel productive, valued and fulfilled.

It is now common for employers and HR departments to ask which working environment you prefer, due to the rise of people working from home. It is always best to answer these types of questions honestly, not only will it put you in good stead with the organization, but it will also help you to see how they deal with the two different types of the working environment.

Finding the best of both worlds.

In today’s fast-paced, diverse workforce, project managers should make it a goal to include structured and unstructured organizational processes.

As a result of the pandemic, many employees now expect a degree of autonomy in their work. In the Adobe Workfront 2021 State of Work Report, Executive Director Elizabeth Villini writes:

“Employees who were forced home to work now expect the flexibility and autonomy that comes along with remote work. Regardless of where people work in the future, companies will need to continue to support a more independent workforce with the right technology, transparency, and a shared agreement on the outcomes they want to achieve.”

Innovation is what moves companies forward. Your team members need time to brainstorm and gather new ideas in addition to completing their everyday tasks.

Frequently asked questions about structured vs. unstructured work environments.

How do you operate in an unstructured environment?

With a lack of workplace structure, you’ll need to take the initiative. So create a clear gameplan for you work, collaborating with others to ensure that you’re not stepping on anyone’s toes. Work to your own routine and find ways to fit into the day-to-day of unstructured workplace life. If you’re wondering how you deal with a structured environment, then your work will be more about completing your daily tasks efficiently and fitting in with people up and down the structure.

Do you prefer a structured or an unstructured work environment?

If you want more flexibility, and feel stifled doing set pieces of work, then you probably preferred an unstructured setting. On the other hand, if you feel you have no motivation as no-one asks you for updates or deadlines, then you may prefer structured. Speak to management to see if they can offer some stability or flexibility and make sure that how you work, works for you and the organization.

How do you know which work environment you prefer?

It all depends on how you feel about the current environment you’re working in. You shouldn’t be dreading work because you have a rigid set of goals to achieve, just like you shouldn’t resent the fact that days can pass with no one checking in on you. Sometimes, it’s a good idea to mix them both up and see how your work is throughout a few days of combining the two environments.

How Adobe Workfront can help.

A blend of structured and unstructured work can help you find a sweet spot of accelerated productivity and ingenuity. This can be accomplished by using an efficient operational system of record. The right work management tool will help bring structure where isn’t any, while still allowing for flexibility and creativity. It will bring order to some of the work chaos, without stifling those employees who prefer an unstructured environment.

In Adobe Workfront, unstructured, repetitive, day-to-day tasks are automated, driving greater productivity. Social-style updates and dashboards add some structure to collaborative projects that aren’t usually run by a trained project manager. Instead of communicating through several different email chains and applications, an entire team can look to one place for all relevant correspondence.

In 2009, Trek Bicycle Corporation set out to increase the company’s overall efficiency. “Our process wasn’t very efficient and we still had no way to really communicate collaboratively with our offices in Taiwan, China, or Germany,” said Steve Malchow, Trek’s vice president of operations.

The senior manager of the Trek team said he spent 40 percent of his time trying to connect with their global teams. After deploying Workfront’s enterprise work management platform, team members regained 30 percent of their time for innovation and improvement. They added some structure, while freeing up time for those who prefer to tap into their creative side with unstructured work.

Today’s workforce looks much different than it did even 10 years ago. In the foreword of Adobe Workfront CEO Alex Shootman’s book, Done Right, Ray Wang, the founder of Constellation Research writes:

“The modern workplace has radically transformed. Where we work, how we work, what we work on, who we work with, and why we work no longer appear the same. As five generations of workers enter the modern workforce, leaders face challenges in how they inspire their organizations to execute in highly competitive market places. Not only do leaders have to attract the right talent, but they also have to ensure that their teams can succeed in the right organizational structure while dealing with massive change. This shift requires some new modus operandi for culture, leadership, and vision. Organizations need a defining direction.”
ray wang

Work management tools make it possible for organizations to mix the productivity of structured work with the flexibility of unstructured work.

Everyone will be able to get their day-to-day work finished quicker, and seamlessly switch to formal, planned out projects within the same portal. Whether they prefer structured or unstructured work, there is something to help everyone stay on task and collaborate. We all learn and work differently, and it’s now easier than ever to leverage this diversity to propel your business forward.