Why ABW (Activity-Based Working) & Millennials Get Along So Well

by Kaitlan Whitteberry on October 6, 2017

It’s almost as though millennials and ABW (activity-based working) were made for each other. They both embrace flexibility when it comes to the workplace, and don’t glamorize the private office. It’s also true that while they may be difficult to adjust to at first, their modern approach to work is being adopted by offices all over the globe. ABW and millennials go together like two peas in a (work)pod. Here’s why together, they’re both going to benefit your office.

What is ABW?

Before diving into why millennials and ABW support each other, here’s ABW and Millennialsa look at exactly what an activity-based office looks like. Activity-based working is a term coined by Erik Veldhoen, a Dutch consultant and author of the 1994 book, The Demise of the Office. Instead of assigned desks or private offices, an activity-based environment includes multiple workstations sprinkled throughout a building. This variety of workstations could include anything from open seating tables, reservable conference rooms, casual lounge spaces, standing desks, private call-booths or breakout tables for small groups. This structure gives employees a multitude of spaces to choose from based on their needs for that particular workday. 

How ABW Supports Employee Empowerment

Everyone is aware that the millennial generation is often criticized for being ‘stubborn’. And while this adjective isn’t entirely false, a more accurate term to describe their seemingly endless campaign for workplace change is the desire for ’empowerment’.

Most millennials grew up in a supportive environment where they were given many choices during their day. Since they were raised during a time of financial security in our economy, they didn’t feel the same pressures baby boomers and generation X experienced to follow a certain path. This group was told they could make their own choices in life based on what they believed was best. Parents of millennials wanted to raise children who weren’t constrained by financial expectations or societal norms. This created a strong sense of individuality, and this group believes how things were previously done might not be the best way to do them now.

ABW the new officeThe same theory can be applied to the modern workplace. An individual may have a to-do list that includes multiple types of work during a traditional day. One minute they’re making phone calls to an event coordinator, and the next they’re writing marketing emails to promote their company’s upcoming conference. The beauty of ABW (activity-based working) is employees can move around based on how their day plays out. If they need a quiet room to write they have that option, or if they prefer the subtle background noise of an open office to make calls, that’s an option too.

Both millennials and ABW are about empowering the individual to make the best choice for them. Not sticking to an old plan just because that’s how it’s always been done. 

The Importance of Employee Engagement

Millennials support the idea that employees should be actively deciding what they need in order to perform their work responsibilities. But this isn’t just a perk for the worker – research suggests that employees who are granted flexibility and freedom to work where and how they want are actually more engaged. 

88% of highly engaged employees report they have great flexibility in their ways of working, depending on the task at hand.”

Since activity-based working empowers employees to make an executive decision in where they work, it seems this choice gives them a opportunity to perform at a higher level compared to employees who are told when and where they must go about their day. Since employees aren’t confined to one desk, studies show they get up much more frequently by switching workstations, which creates healthy breaks every few hours and increases concentration when they are working.

What About Open Offices?

Often confused, activity-based working and open offices aren’t quite the same. A benefit to ABW versus the completely open environment, that so many offices have adopted, is its flexibility to meet the needs of multiple departments. While a design team may flourish in an open space, your HR team might struggle to have private conversations with employees because they have no dedicated place to hold them. ABW fixes this issue by not assuming all employees want the same type of workspace. This shows employees you’re trying to understand and meet their needs, which in turn makes them more engaged with the work that they do. They feel supported and cared for, and that produces better results across the board.

Millennials are helping bring to light the importance of employee empowerment and engagement, and activity-based working is the perfect ally in this quest. While their crusade may ruffle a few feathers, it’s important to remember they only have your workplace’s best interest at heart. 


Kaitlan Whitteberry

Kaitlan Whitteberry is a Magna Cum Laude graduate from the University of Missouri's journalism program, and currently focuses on iOFFICE press releases, software updates and related news.

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