ABW (Activity-Based Working): The Surprising and Overlooked Benefits

by Elizabeth Dukes on March 1, 2018

Here’s a not-so-fun fact: extended periods of inactivity have been shown to increase the risk of heart disease, diabetes and cancer. And absenteeism as the result of chronic diseases can cost a large employer up to $286 per employee per year. This is what happens when an ABW (Activity-Based Working) strategy is absent in the workplace. 

Of course there are many aspects of an employee’s health over which an employer has no control – for example, how they spend their time outside the office. But what organizations can control is the number of options employees have to decrease sedentary behavior during the day.

The Cons of the Traditional Work Environment

In a traditional workplace, employees have a single workspace to which they’re tethered for most of the day. Often the only times they travel away from their desks is to visit a conference room, the break room or the bathroom.

Even if your company has adopted an open concept and employees aren’t physically cut off from each other with cubicle walls, employees can still feel disconnected from their colleagues if everyone stays in their individual bubbles all day. That means in addition to feeling the physical impact of limited movement, they’re also experiencing negative effects on their mental and emotional health due to having less interaction with others.

The Pros of ABW

Unless your office faces the ocean, none of your employees want to have the same view for eight hours a day. The negative impact of traditional office design on employee health and morale has spurred many companies to adopt activity-based working (ABW).

In an activity-based working environment (ABW), no employee is confined to one workspace. Instead, each part of the workplace is dedicated to a specific activity – for example, collaboration sessions, one-on-one conversations, quiet areas for focused work or places to socialize with colleagues.

For businesses that are interested in implementing an employee wellness program but haven’t done so yet due to time or budget constraints, activity-based working is a step in the right direction. Employee wellness programs are certainly helpful in supporting the health of the workforce, but they are opt-in – meaning employees don’t have to participate. In an activity-based working environment, employee participation is essentially required. Not only that, in a 2015 report co-authored by the Wellness Council of America, 66 percent of employees said they wanted their employer to implement practices that build more movement into the work day.

Implementing An ABW Strategy

If you’re considering implementing activity-based working (ABW) at your office, be prepared to face some roadblocks. Expect some resistance from employees. You can overcome this by being upfront and honest about the reasons for the change, sharing frequent updates with employees and asking for feedback along the way. You may also encounter a lack of collaboration among departments and technological hurdles.

Check out our latest blog post to learn more about the hurdles to implementing an activity-based working environment and how to overcome them. But above all, get feedback from your employees. They’re the ones who can tell you the best way to go about implementing a workplace strategy they’ll actually want to adopt.

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.


Elizabeth Dukes

Elizabeth Dukes' pieces highlight the valuable role of the real estate and facility managers play in their organizations. Prior to iOFFICE, Elizabeth was in sales for large facility and office service outsourcing firm.

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