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What Is Activity-Based Working, and Can It Help Your Office?

Activity-based working environments provide various workspace areas for different tasks and activities. Keep reading to learn more about it.

In a post-pandemic era, we're seeing big changes in work environments, with a shift toward flexibility. One of the many flexible workspace solutions popping up around the business world is activity-based working (ABW).
The idea behind activity-based working is to allow employees to choose a workspace based on what's best for their current activity. This means getting rid of assigned desks and offices. Instead, ABW is all about embracing a more fluid office design and company culture centered around comfort and productivity.
This guide takes a deep dive into activity-based working, from what it is to where it comes from, and how it fits into today's working world. We'll also highlight the benefits of this working style to help you decide if it's right for your business.

About Activity-Based Working

The activity-based working model was first introduced in Erik Veldhoen's 1994 book, "The Demise of the Office." The book isn't about the literal demise of the office but the end of the traditional office as we know it.
Veldhoen suggests that, as employees engage in varied activities each day in modern work settings, employees would benefit from work areas designed with specific tasks in mind instead of fixed individual workstations. The result is a holistic, activity-based workplace with the right culture, technology, and physical office spaces needed to support the employee's many tasks.
Veldhoen writes that large-scale changes to new working methods, like ABW, require careful guidance and execution. And 20 years later, this remains the largest obstacle facing the success of activity-based working programs.
Activity-based working isn't an interior design trend or a simple office environment change — it's a way of working, a strategy, and an office layout all in one.

The Benefits of Activity-Based Working

In 2017, Leesman conducted one of the largest independent statistical analyses into the benefits of activity-based working. Leesman is an international company that analyzes employee experience in the workplace via a functionality and effectiveness score on the Leesman Index.
Leesman's global research study put the activity-based working claims to the test and yielded positive results. While ABW might not be the ultimate cure for today's office problems, it can be an effective workplace design and strategy.
Leesman’s study highlighted the benefits of activity-based working while also exploring potential drawbacks. Here's what they found:
  • Operational benefits: Switching to ABW delivered significant operational benefits for office workers who used the activity-based environments provided.
  • Familiarity: Like most things in life, when employees become more familiar with the areas in an ABW workplace, they can work more effectively in those spaces.
  • Complexity: ABW was designed for employees who engage in multiple types of work each day. Office workers with more complex daily work schedules tend to benefit more from the various settings within an activity-based workspace.
  • Poor adoption: As Veldhoen's book stated in 1994, poor adoption is the biggest issue when implementing the change to an activity-based working model, and it can limit widespread benefits.
Other possible benefits of activity-based working, according to Veldhoen's book, include:
  • Better employee engagement, health, and motivation
  • Employee empowerment and self-determination
  • Improved learning and knowledge transfer
  • More efficient decision-making
  • A flexible physical office that can readily adapt to change


How ABW Fits Into the Future of Work

Veldhoen + Company has been helping companies integrate ABW into their offices for decades, and it continues to spread the word about the ABW working style. And surprisingly, it relates well to today's changing environment.
The pandemic dramatically changed how employees work. Many employees now prefer working remotely at least some of the time and have proven that they can be productive in a home office. Employers that offer flexible work schedules to accommodate this shift are also seeing an increase in employee satisfaction and retention.
Employers benefit from this shift, as it allows workplaces to consider new workplace models and what they stand to gain from them. For example, the hybrid workplace model is a workplace strategy that enables employees to choose how and where they want to work. Hot desking and coworking approaches are also common among today's businesses.
These approaches can help save on real estate costs by allowing businesses to move to smaller offices. When fewer employees work on-site, you can incorporate shared spaces and avoid paying for empty offices.
ABW fits nicely within this new direction, as it works well in diverse, shared workspaces. Each workspace is designed to enable employees to complete their tasks faster, easier, and more efficiently, and most offices feature a variety of options based on their office layout.

Examples of Activity-Based Workstations

In practice, an activity-based workplace is optimized for comfort and productivity. Of course, different tasks call for different things, so you'll see a variety of workstations for activities ranging from impromptu meetings to heads-down work — and everything in between.

Conference Rooms and Learning Zones

Meeting rooms are a must-have in any office, but activity-based environments often do them differently. Many ABW offices feature several conference rooms designed for different activities. These spaces might range from large training-oriented areas with rows of seats to small project rooms with comfortable couches and chairs.
Informal meetings might be held in open areas and lounges throughout the activity-based office. But the ABW office still maintains a dedicated space for formal board meetings, training sessions, and other important events.
In addition to large, seminar-style training spaces, some offices also feature dedicated learning zones. These zones are designed for employees to engage in learning activities like meeting with mentors, attending webinars, and completing training.

Focus Rooms and Individual Work Zones

Activity-based working doesn't eliminate the need for focused work in the office — instead, it creates spaces to make this easier. For example, activity-based workspaces often feature several quiet zones and individual work areas throughout the office to accommodate different levels of focus and collaboration.
In an open office environment without ABW, employees might feel distracted by the noise and commotion throughout the workplace. But this is no longer an issue when you design quiet cubicles, rooms, nooks, and lounges with uninterrupted individual work in mind.
Some offices include phone-booth-style workstations designed to provide a quiet space for quick tasks like making a call or checking on a project. Larger focus rooms and zones can also serve as collaboration zones for small group meetings and projects.

Open Space Lounges and Coffee Shops

Some employees work best in individual workstations, but others thrive in a coffee shop environment. Coffee shops and open space lounges can serve as social and collaboration areas, informal meeting rooms, and quiet zones.
ABW offices may feature multiple lounges, with different accommodations in each. For example, one office might include an open lounge, several small self-serve coffee-shop-style stations, and a dedicated coffee shop serving coffee, tea, and snacks.
Some open space lounges might have more of a workstation feel, too. For example, you might include a few rows of adjustable standing desks or several six-person desks.

Your Office Furniture Matters

Ergonomics and activity-based working go together like chocolate and peanut butter, so we can't end this article without mentioning the importance of good quality, ergonomic office furniture. Ergonomic office furniture is designed to meet the body's needs, improving your employees' comfort and productivity (the same two things ABW focuses on).
As activity-based working includes more shared spaces, it's even more important to furnish workspaces with ergonomic office furniture. Elements like monitor arms, standing desks, and adjustable office chairs allow each shared space to accommodate various work styles, heights, and body types.
Meetings, workstations, focus rooms, and anywhere else you can find desks and office chairs are ideal spots to incorporate good ergonomics. You might even include an ergonomic training course in your learning zone to educate employees on proper posture to get the most out of the ergonomic office furniture.

Ready for a New Office?

If you think activity-based working would be a good fit for your business, it might be time to change. For example, maybe you’re moving to a smaller office to save on real estate costs, changing your existing space, or moving into a bigger building. Whatever the case, ABW can help you bring flexibility, comfort, and productivity into your workplace.
Check out our Design My Office feature for personalized suggestions on ergonomic furniture and accessories for your new office. We'll help you find exactly what you need for your space. You can also contact us to share your vision and get our help bringing it to life.

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