Activity based working is one of the growing trends in workplace design, and a concept that office refurbishment companies are increasingly being asked about. In simple terms, it involves providing workers with a choice of work areas or settings, based on the specific task they are working on, rather than assigning them a single workstation.
According to a recent report from Morgan Lovell, the potential benefits of activity-based working include improved productivity and lower levels of absenteeism. In this article, we explore whether activity-based work arrangements can solve your workplace productivity issues, while also outlining some of the potential pitfalls.
Understanding Activity Based Working
First, it is important to understand precisely what activity-based working is, and what an ABW environment looks like. Essentially, activity-based working is a philosophy based around giving employees choice over how, when and where they work, depending on the nature of the task, their own needs, and their own personal preferences.
An activity based working environment may provide employees with open plan spaces, private spaces, formal settings and more casual environments, and entrust workers with complete freedom to choose the best environment for them, and to move freely between them. It may or may not also include the option to work from home.
There are numerous potential benefits to this. Indeed, Leesman carried out research into ABW and concluded: "The data consistently supported industry claims that ABW provides far greater flexibility in where and how an employee chooses to work – and in so doing, increases staff collaboration, productivity, pride and effectiveness."
It is a widely held view that by providing employees with the freedom and responsibility to choose what is best for them, morale can be improved, workers can more easily avoid distractions, and reduced levels of stress can cut down on absences. However, not all research on the topic has been universally positive.
Potential Problems and Pitfalls
Before taking the decision to switch to an ABW approach and seek out the relevant office interior design services, it is important to also understand some of the potential pitfalls and difficulties that may be encountered along the way. Again, various studies have been able to produce examples of this.
For instance, information compiled by Libby Sander, writing for The Conversation, shows that ABW can create tensions between those who regularly use certain spaces, and those who are unable to. Moreover, in some offices, employees do not actually use their freedom, and instead stick fairly rigidly to one work area.
Meanwhile, the aforementioned research from Leesman found that young people were less likely to adopt more mobile behaviours, as were those with simple daily work activities, which do not actually require such flexibility. This suggests that a 'one size fits all' approach may not deliver the intended benefits in terms of productivity.
"It's naive to think that all people want to perform one activity in one space and then switch to another, all the time," says Jan Gerard Hoendervanger, talking to Ecophon. "We like to consider a space as our home base...so don't put your energy in trying to change that behaviour. This is one of the main pitfalls with ABW."
Keys to Successful ABW Implementation
With both positive and negative evidence associated with activity-based working, it can be difficult to know whether to adopt such a policy. Although office refurbishment companies are seeing a growing number of requests to help companies provide the right kind of environment for ABW, there is also significant scepticism too.
In truth, one of the keys to success with ABW is to understand that it does not suit everyone. If the tasks carried out by your teams are relatively unvaried, it may do more harm than good. It may also be the case that most employees could benefit from ABW, but one or two teams need to have their own assigned workstations.
You should take an evidence-based approach before seeking office interior design services and enacting any major changes. In particular, you need to avoid situations where employees cannot actually work in the area they want to. Use data to find out exactly how much space for each activity type is needed and do not rely on guesswork.
"To create an activity-based workplace design that actually works for your business, you need to understand how each specific group is currently using space," says Jo-Anne Mann, writing for Serraview. "That means taking the time to gather actual utilisation information, for each individual team, over a period of time, minimally 6 to 8 weeks."
Activity based working is becoming increasingly popular, but while there is sufficient evidence highlighting its numerous benefits, including improved productivity, there is also counter evidence showing negatives associated with the concept, and demonstrating that certain types of employee do not actually respond positively to it.
To achieve success, you should evaluate your workforce, consider the type of work they do and ponder whether they actually require flexibility. If so, you need to take a data-driven approach to your office design, focusing on utilisation, so that you can avoid situations where employees cannot find space in their desired work area.
With the right preparation, in the right situations, evidence supports the fact that ABW improves productivity.
Reno Macri is a founder and director of Enigma Visual Solutions, a London based commercial interior designers specialising in office design services, office refurbishment, office interior design & office branding. He enjoys sharing his thoughts on upcoming marketing ideas and design trends.
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