As we head towards a return to work (or at least the idea of it for some), it’s easy to see that employee flexibility and autonomy are more important now than ever. And as companies continue trying to strike a balance between remote work and the office, activity-based working (ABW) could emerge as one of the solutions.
In a survey from Steelcase, 88% of highly engaged employees said they valued having the option to choose where and how they work based on the specific work they needed to do. Many businesses are accomplishing this by redesigning their offices to optimize hybrid work models by offering activity-based workspace.
So, what exactly is activity-based work and what are some of the associated benefits? And how can you design your workplace to support more activity-based working?
Activity-Based Work, Defined
Activity-based work (ABW) can be described as a work strategy that allows employees the freedom to choose where they want to work in the workplace dependent on their present needs and motivations by offering a variety of settings for them to do so, combined with an experience that empowers them to use those spaces throughout the workday.
An activity-based workplace differs from a regular office layout in that there is a diverse array of different settings and resources provided for workers to choose from. This helps increase employee productivity and foster engagement, as they can choose an environment that best suits their needs at the present time.
There are 4 elements that go in to making an activity-based workplace the great concept that it is:
- Design: A lot of thought goes into the design of an ABW workspace, as they provide a range of different environments all under one roof. That could mean anything from a single desk in a noise-resistant room to a collaborative space with a whiteboard for the entire team to gather and brainstorm. Some ABW workspaces are extra creative and provide things like phone booths for sensitive calls or themed rooms to foster collaboration.
- Sensory experience: Each space in an ABW work environment should evoke a different type of energy and those cues should be abundantly clear to employees. Whether it’s a high-energy-with-music-on-while-coffee’s-being-poured type of atmosphere, or a lower energy, heads-down type of climate conducive to those ready to quietly focus, the implicit and explicit signals in the ambiance should guide employees to their desired work zone.
- Behavioral reinforcement: For an ABW environment to succeed, employees need to feel empowered to use the different spaces available to them. Leaders should encourage the use of the different work settings to suit their needs and also enforce appropriate behavior standards inherent to each space (e.g. volume levels in quiet spaces).
- Iterative learning: For the activity-based workspace to be advantageous, it’s important for leaders to take the time to learn how they’re performing through qualitative and quantitative feedback. Research and educating should be used to consistently improve the workspace and make it a growing success.
The Benefits of Activity-Based Work Environments
Now that we have a solid understanding of what an activity-based workspace is and what makes a great one, let’s talk about the benefits of integrating this type of system into your office space.
Lower real estate costs
Most organizations face pressure to maximize their real-estate investments by utilizing as much space as possible for employees. By adopting an activity-based working model, companies can transform ANY part of the office into a place for work. In 2008, Microsoft’s Amsterdam office redesigned their office space around activity-based working. The new offices included a communal workspace for staff and visitors, individual workspaces, meeting rooms, and two large auditoriums, along with social areas like a coffee shop, indoor and outdoor dining areas, lounges, and sleep pods. The result? A 30% drop in real-estate costs (along with a 25% productivity gain)!
Better recruitment opportunities
Employees feel a lot more empowered and engaged when they have the gift of choice. In fact, many Generation Y and Z’ers are becoming adamant about workplace flexibility the age of remote and hybrid work. Showcasing an activity-based work model can be a major selling feature for potential recruits, especially if they’re deciding between companies and one provides more flexible work options.
Improved work relationships
Assigned seating means employees end up chatting and collaborating with the same people that are always around them. The ability to shift around different areas means stronger work relationships and a chance for employees to connect with people in other departments for increased knowledge exchange. Offering a diversity of spaces caters to both introverts and extroverts and their unique work styles as well.
Higher employee satisfaction and engagement
Engagement is huge when it comes to getting tasks done efficiently. Having amenities at your employees’ convenience means they’re more likely to be happy at work and therefore more motivated to get work done. According to a recent report by iOffice, nearly 70% of participants claimed that an activity-based working environment increased their productivity, and two-thirds claimed their work was more stimulating.
Improved overall workforce health
When inactivity becomes the norm, disease and other discomforts can manifest. When employees are able to move around and be more engaged and creatively fulfilled throughout their day, their long-term health can be greatly improved. Research suggests that activity-based work environments improve workplace sedentary time and physical activity, eating behaviors, support being physically active in the workplace, and overall workplace satisfaction.
The Relevance of Activity-Based Work Environments to Hybrid Work Environments
It’s clear that activity-based work environments usher a lot of great benefits for both employees and employers. But what does it mean for hybrid work environments? How can the two work together?
Simply put, an activity-based work environment and a hybrid work environment can be a productivity machine when combined. A hybrid environment means employees can choose where they work, whether that be in office or from home. Should employees choose to work in office, an ABW workspace provides them with tons of different options for where they want to work based on their mood and productivity level.
Having the option of an ABW environment could encourage employees to want to come into the office, which helps to improve company culture and efficiency in communication.
How to Repurpose or Redesign Your Workplace to Be Activity-Based
Sure, it might take a bit of effort to repurpose or redesign your workplace to promote activity-based working, but the benefits you’ll reap are definitely worth it! Below are some ideas you can use to take an activity-based approach to your workplace design.
A huddle room can be thought of as a small meeting area meant for either one person or smaller groups. Huddle rooms are usually equipped with useful office technology and provide a space for more intimate collaboration, so the office doesn’t become too noisy.
Small pods throughout the office can be great for open environments that tend to get a bit louder. These pods serve as a small, focused space for an individual employee to quickly retreat to and take phone calls or get in the zone.
This isn’t your typical flight of stairs! Stairs can serve as a unique way to change things up when it comes to working style. Employees can use them to get from point A to point B, but also as a spot to sit down to work, where they place themselves in an opportune area to interact with others.
Cafés and kitchens
The kitchen or café space can be a great space for social interaction, as people use them to grab a bite or fill up at the water cooler. Throw some shared seating in these areas to promote them as interactive spaces and watch employee engagement soar.
Last, but not least, is the addition of a library as an activity-based work setting. We all recognize the library as a quiet, focused space which can help when it comes time to put your head down and get tasks done. A library’s ambiance is perfect for escaping the chaos and offers introverts a respite from the noise that a busier office space can bring.
As the workforce becomes more fluid and extends internationally, workplaces must move and progress with the trends. Activity-based working, when exercised correctly, offers a way for both employees and employers to improve productivity and engagement at work, and showcases how adaptable they can be, which can contribute significantly to your organization’s further success.
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