Activity-Based Working: Where Smart Workplaces Are Headed

by James McDonald on August 2, 2017

From hot-desking to office hoteling to activity-based working, it seems like there are always new ways to manage office space. We understand it can be difficult to keep up, so to help you better understand the third item on that list – activity based working (ABW) we’ve put together an introduction to this increasingly popular approach to workplace design. 

Discover the basics of ABM, why it’s becoming an integral part of a smart workplace and how your organization can adopt it.

What Is Activity-Based Working?

Activity-based working was coined by Erik Veldhoen in his 1995 book The Demise of the Office. It refers to a workplace strategy where instead of assigning an employee a dedicated workstation where they sit all day, an organization provides its employees with access to a variety of different work areas that are reserved for specific activities — structured meetings, informal pow-wows, personal time, among other uses.

In an ABW environment, employees are invited to complete their tasks in the type of space where they are most comfortable and that best suits their individual needs. Veldhoen argued that when people are given the freedom to choose where they sit, they organize their schedule in a more efficient and effective way based on the type of work they are doing at that moment. Plus, an activity-based workplace is more appealing to both introverts and extroverts since it provides open and closed spaces.

Top Benefits of Activity-Based Working

  • An improved employee experience
  • Higher recruitment
  • Increased retention
  • Increased innovation
  • Employee empowerment
  • Greater autonomy
  • Better health

Adopting an activity-based working(ABW) environment offers advantages for the business and the workforce.

For the former, this approach to office design can lead to …

  • An improved employee experience. ABW promotes a more dynamic workplace where employees are encouraged to stay active throughout the day. It also makes it easier for employees to hold impromptu discussions throughout the day and collaborate with one another since they don’t feel the need to be tied to their desks. 
  • Higher recruitment and retention. A better employee experience means your workforce will feel more satisfied and engaged and thus your turnover rate will be lower. New talent will be more attracted to a business that supports a flexible and employee-centric workplace.
  • Increased innovation. By offering a variety of different spaces, employees aren’t restricted to a single desk or conference room. Instead, they can choose the kind of space that inspires them and fuels their creativity for that day. 

The advantages ABW provides employees are numerous, too. For example …

  • Empowerment. When employees 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.
  • Greater autonomy. If an employee is tethered to their desk, they can begin to feel as if they’re under constant supervision. But in an activity-based working environment, they have more freedom to self-govern without sacrificing accountability.
  • Better health. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), prolonged sedentary behavior has been linked to heart disease, diabetes and cancer. Even getting up and moving around a few minutes can help improve an employee’s health.

How Can I Start Using Activity-Based Working at My Organization?

UK-based workplace consultancy specialists Morgan Lovell recommend taking a gradual four-step approach to implementing activity-based working.

An FM should gather data from their workforce to assist in a seamless transition to ABW. Step 1: Discover

In the discovery phase, your business should collect workplace and workforce data, such as how the space is currently being used. Define your organization’s goals so you know what you want to achieve by implementing activity-based working. Review the corporate culture to determine how big of a change transitioning to ABW will be. Identify any barriers to change and then make a business case for a change.

Step 2: Define

In phase II, set a realistic budget that takes into account the costs of redesign, furniture and technology updates. Be sure to outline any potential policy changes which be necessary once activity-based working is in effect, such as ones related to volume levels or in which spaces it’s acceptable for employees to snack.

Step 3: Design

Evaluate your spatial needs and staff requirements by department, teams and individuals. Calculate the current and future size and capacity of the various spaces, such as workstations, meeting rooms, quiet spaces and collaboration areas. Don’t forget to account for storage requirements since employees no longer will have a desk to keep their belongings. Create concept drawings to visualize the new space, and choose the kinds of furniture you’ll be adding.

Step 4: Deliver

Organize a schedule that had specific deadlines but is also flexible. Factor in holidays, weekends and existing commitments of stakeholders. Prepare for resistance to change from your employees and always keep the lines of communication open. Ask for their feedback so you can determine how best to achieve buy-in.

Keep in mind that implementing activity-based working in your organization represents a major paradigm shift. Many of your employees will be understandably hesitant to this change, which means you must be available to answer their questions, address their concerns and prove the value of the transition. Keeping the workforce actively involved in the process will make the transformation from “me” to “we” a little easier.

Want to learn more about how companies like Sodexo, Genentech and Hershey updated their workplace strategy to meet the needs of a changing workforce? Check out our latest eBook, Building the Workplace of the Future.


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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