What counts as a workplace?

Seems like a silly question at first … A workplace is a place where we work. But what does that really mean? People disagree on what counts as ‘work’, and what doesn’t. If we do work outside what we think of as a standard workplace, does it still count as work? Does just being in the workplace already qualify as being ‘at work’, even if we’re not doing anything?

The words we associate with this concept of a workplace vary depending on our culture of work and the economy we live in. Anything from an office, cafe, or market stall to a factory, farm, or building site could be a workplace: the common thread between them is that they are public spaces with employees who are generally compensated financially for completing certain tasks while in this space.

But what about work that might be done outside of a space like this? Care work for the elderly and the young is carried out by countless people day in day out, but doesn’t happen in a specifically defined space. On the other hand, household chores are by definition done in the home but often not defined as work, largely because they’re often not paid for. People who are applying for jobs don’t have a workplace, but if what counts as work is a productive use of time in pursuit of a particular goal, then they’re definitely working.

This seems like a strange thing to dwell on, but what counts as a workplace is pretty key to identifying where we fit into the economy. If we’re workers in a space that society doesn’t recognise as a workplace, we’ll have a much harder time getting the value of our work acknowledged. But equally, overly structured workplaces can stifle our creativity or get us caught up in bureaucracy that distracts from what really needs doing.