Eve Waldron of Cambridge-based Eve Waldron Design on activity-based working - is your office designed for it?
Activity-based working (ABW) has emerged as one of the fastest growing design trends.
It is a people and task-centric model which addresses the problems and criticisms of open-plan office design.
Businesses are enlisting the help of commercial interior designers to help design their offices to include more choice of workplace design to suit task and work style.
Today’s workforce expects options.
Leading organisations incorporate a variety of spaces that support the various needs and preferences of employees.
Key to activity-based working is the belief that employees should not have a single assigned workstation.
Instead, businesses work with office space planning experts to create a number of different work areas, which each enable a certain kind of activity to take place.
For example, there may be areas for concentrated work, areas for collaborative work, areas for meetings, and areas for socialising and ‘accidental exchanges of ideas’.
Everyone needs access to private space to support concentration and focused work and, surprisingly, most offices do not provide enough.
A balance of spaces for concentration and collaboration ensures the work people are doing is catered for.
But what good are options if they don’t suit your mobility profile or activity, or if you’re not trained or encouraged to use them – or worse, the physical infrastructure doesn’t support this?
To incorporate ABW effectively requires internal analysis and skilled designers to implement it correctly for each organisation’s make-up.
Incorporating the right spaces should be paired with empowering staff to make that choice.
People thrive when you untether them from one type of space and allow them to choose the best place or setting that’s most conducive to the task at hand.
Choice and flexibility are especially important when catering to a distributed workforce that’s often flowing in and out of multiple work locations (eg home, office, client site).
An example of an office revolutionised by activity-based working is Microsoft’s Netherlands’ base in Amsterdam.
As part of the design, the company did away with private offices, ensuring all employees are equal.
It provides a variety of different workspaces and meeting rooms, as well as a coffee shop area, and allows employees to move around freely.
As a result, the company has reduced real estate costs by 30 per cent and claims to have boosted productivity.
Workplace transformation is growing.
A piece of research carried out by CBRE found that 86 per cent of organisations were reinventing or adapting their workplace standards last year.
But is ABW right for all organisations – or can training and organisational approach affect its effectiveness?
1. Activity-based working can deliver significant operational benefits for those employees who use the environments provided for them.
2. The more an employee uses multiple work locations within the workplace, the more they report that the space enables them to work more effectively.
3. The more complex an employee’s daily work profile, the more beneficial it is for them to work in a mobile way that utilises multiple settings.
4. Poor adoption of appropriate behaviour in activity-based workplaces is a significant problem that limits widespread organisational benefits.
The best ABW environments deliver valuable employee satisfaction and workplace pride gains on many key workplace activities.
At the same time, you need to ensure that the infrastructure and technology is in place to allow people to move, without compromising the quality of their work.
When executed well, the benefits far outweigh the minor losses, but need to be matched to organisational style, and objectives.
Coupling this with a more efficient space-saving floor plan which reduces real estate costs often makes great business sense.