Activity-Based Working In The Hybrid Era

by James McDonald on May 25, 2021
Employee Experience Defines Business Success In The Hybrid Workplace

The widespread adoption of remote work during the pandemic completely shifted employee expectations of offices. Now that many employees realize they can be productive remotely, it’s more important than ever to create office spaces with purpose. Activity-based working (ABW) gives employees the flexibility they’ve come to expect while helping you manage costs in an environment where office occupancy varies from day to day.

Discover the benefits of activity-based working and how your organization can adopt it for your hybrid workplace.

What is activity-based working (ABW)?

Erik Veldhoen coined activity-based working in his 1995 book, The Demise of the Office. It refers to a workplace strategy where instead of assigning employees dedicated workstations, companies provide employees with access to various workspaces reserved for specific activities, such as structured meetings, informal conversations, and individual work. 

In an activity-based working office layout, employees can choose from a variety of different types of spaces depending on the type of work they’re doing that day. Veldhoen argued that when people can freely choose where to sit, they organize their schedules more efficiently and effectively. An activity-based workplace also appeals to both introverts and extroverts since it provides the feeling of a more open office with quiet areas like phone booths for more focused work.

Top benefits of activity-based working

  • Better recruitment and retention
  • Increased innovation
  • Reduced real estate costs
  • Better work relationships
  • Better health
  • A more engaging office environment

Adopting an activity-based working (ABW) environment offers many advantages for your business and your workforce, including:

Higher recruitment and retention

Activity-based office design empowers employees and is more conducive to creativity and collaboration. It also makes it easier to encourage employees to come into the office a few times a week, rather than every day. This can improve their work/life balance, which reduces turnover and makes it easier to attract top talent.

By offering a variety of different spaces, employees aren’t restricted to a single desk or meeting room. Instead, they can choose the kind of space that inspires them and fuels their creativity for that day. Speed to innovation is also faster because employees are more likely to stop by a coworker’s desk for short conversations and updates, instead of scheduling recurring meetings to keep the project moving forward.

Teams working closely together for a period of time can sit near each other for the duration of that project and discuss new challenges as they arise.

Reduced real estate costs

Many organizations were only using 40-60% of their corporate real estate space before the pandemic. Now, with most office workers planning to spend at least part of their week working remotely, you can look for opportunities to consolidate that unused space.

One large organization implemented occupancy sensors and discovered that almost half its workspaces were empty at any given time, due to employees working off-site or at home. By eliminating assigned seats, they saved more than $300,000 in a single year.

Activity-based working also benefits employees. When they can take charge of where and when they work, they’ll take a greater sense of ownership in their role and feel more in control of their day.

Other benefits include:

Better work relationships

When your employees always sit at the same desks, they spend most of their time talking to the same people. In an activity-based working environment, it’s easier for employees to build relationships with people outside their department or function.

Better health

Prolonged sedentary behavior has been linked to heart disease, diabetes, and cancer, according to the World Health Organization. In an activity-based working environment, employees tend to move around more throughout the day instead of sitting in one place. Even these small increases in physical activity can help improve an employee’s health.

A more engaging office environment

When you don’t need dedicated desks for every employee, you have more room for amenities like cafes and recreational rooms. There’s also more room to add inviting design elements, such as plants and eye-catching artwork that supports your brand and your mission. These extras give employees the feeling that’s similar to arriving at their favorite hotel, rather than a sterile office.

What does the research on activity-based working show?

In general, activity-based working (ABW) has a significant amount of research demonstrating it makes employees more productive and satisfied.

Employees expect new, more relevant workspaces

According to Gensler’s 2020 U.S. Work From Home Survey, people are anticipating a return to a new and different workplace. Simply reopening your office with minimal changes will only cause employees to question whether it’s worth making the commute again.

Activity based working improves employee satisfaction

Research by Veldhoen + Company in 2020, an integrated consultancy firm, found a 17% increase in workplace satisfaction after companies transitioned to activity-based working.

Employees are more productive, both individually and collectively

In that same survey, the consultancy firm found that activity-based working also increases individual productivity by 13% and team productivity by 8%.

What are important considerations for activity-based workplaces today?

Activity-based workplaces require you to rethink how to best create office plans. At the same time, safety concerns associated with the pandemic require additional considerations. Here are three essential steps you need to take to implement activity-based workplace design today.

Reconfigure office spaces

Ideal activity-based office designs should be tailored to increase efficiency, inspire collaboration, and enhance the overall atmosphere within your workplace. Gathering and processing feedback from your employees can help you to create a space that works for everyone. You’ll also need to consider the CDC’s guidelines for physical distancing and reconfigure your office space accordingly. That includes reducing occupancy in smaller spaces. Conference rooms designed for six people may only be able to accommodate three.

Create more efficient cleaning schedules

Because employees will be moving around your office more frequently, you need furniture that’s easy to clean and sanitize. Consider purchasing furniture with antimicrobial surfaces. And to make cleaning as efficient as possible, use sensors to monitor daily occupancy. Your maintenance team can print daily reports so they’ll know where to clean.

One overlooked benefit of activity-based working is that there’s less clutter, since employees are less likely to keep personal belongings on shared desks. Just make sure you provide adequate storage space for them to bring the essentials.

Implement seating and occupancy management

Using daily occupancy reports, you can determine which areas of the office get the most traffic. To better manage seating, consider implementing desk booking software which makes all seats reservable. Alternatively, you can also use sensors to monitor peak and average occupancy rates to better understand how employees are making use of the office.

How can you successfully implement activity-based working?

Many employees are resisting office returns and are expecting increased flexibility from their employers. Consider the following to implement activity-based working (ABW) successfully.

Get employees on board

Before you begin to implement activity-based working, you need to get your employees’ feedback on this new model. Talk to them about the benefits of activity-based working including more shared space, better collaboration, increased flexibility, and more. To maintain transparency, set clear expectations with a remote work policy.

Invest in an employee experience app

One of the biggest complaints about activity-based office design is that it can make it difficult for employees to find their colleagues and find a place to sit. Make it easy for employees to find colleagues, reserve rooms, and request services with an employee experience app. This reduces unnecessary emails and keeps your hybrid workforce more connected.

Ask for feedback and remain flexible

Managing your post-pandemic workplace can bring added complexity to your role as a manager or business owner. Sometimes, you might make mistakes as you develop your activity-based working model. Continue to ask for feedback both formally, through surveys and company meetings, and informally, through instant messaging and conversations. Remain flexible and be ready to adapt.

Ultimately, activity-based working helps businesses remain productive and keeps employees satisfied – which all contribute to your company’s overall success. Looking for more ways to improve your employee experience in the new hybrid workplace?

Check out this report by Verdantix.


James McDonald

James McDonald is a sports enthusiast, brother in Christ and once swam in a tank with the infamous TV sharks.

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