Is Activity Based Working The Answer To Office Productivity?


Designing and building offices that keep staff happy, focused and productive has become one of the great challenges of the real estate industry.

One of the most exciting solutions to the challenge that has emerged in recent years is the concept of Activity Based Working (ABW).

ABW is built on the idea that you design your office in such a way, that it supports work activities optimally, rather than drawing a boundary around its user’s personal spaces where everyone sits at a more or less uniform desk with all facilities and gear (screen, computer, phone, stapler, sticky notes, etc) in one place.

A more traditional office that facilitates every imaginable task in one physical place (your own personalised desk), will not offer a suitable environment for concentrating on any one task at the time. You’re always distracted at least a bit by all the things you could do at your desk. So you cannot fully single task. And people are most productive when they work on a 

single or support task.

In practice, it means that an ABW space fosters a variety of office environments, that are all supporting different activities, performed by its residents in their work. In an average ABW office, that would be a mix of team desks, quiet concentration rooms, telephone booths and a meeting room. More advanced ABW offices may also offer stand up meeting tables, a brainstorm area, multi media rooms, a lounge area and stand up working stations.

The concept evolved from research that showed attendance at a traditional desk is on average about 50% at peak hours, which means on any given day an office desk is only being used half the time during office hours.

Microsoft's Sydney Office at Ryde has been designed with ABW principles in mind[/caption]

Benefits of Activity Based Working

  • employees concentrate better
  • employees are more productive
  • employees are more active and less sedentary during the work day
  • people are more likely to collaborate and share ideas and skills
  • people are more mindful of your tasks, activities and productivity
  • people enjoy working more

Microsoft’s headquarters in Shiphol, Netherlands is regarded as one of the first, and still the best, examples of ABW.

When the building was completed and the environment was occupied in 2008 Microsoft became one of the first organisations globally to adopt new more flexible work methods that included activity based working (ABW).

It's all about choice

London-based design firm Morgan Lovell believes ABW is all about giving employees a choice about how, when and where they work. the company has created a step by step guide to evaluating and implementing activity based working.

"In the office, that means a choice of work settings, each designed for different types of tasks. Outside the office it enables staff to work anywhere, from home to an airport lounge," the company said.

The benefits of Activity Based Working are wide reaching. In capital cities such as central London, the cost of a desk per person per annum is somewhere between £12,000 and £14,000.

So reducing the number of fixed workstations can have a real impact on a company’s bottom line. And for employees, more flexibility means a better work / life balance, job satisfaction and reduced sick time.

To deliver activity based working, they recommend following a Discover, Define, Design and Deliver approach. By taking it step by step, and breaking everything down into easily manageable stages, not only will your journey to Activity Based Working run smoothly, you’ll also create a working environment that’s flexible and efficient and where staff can flourish.

A report by Jones Lang Lasalle showed ABW is not a one-size-fits-all solution.

"There are degrees of ABW to be applied to different organisational styles, different teams and different geographies," the report said.

"Careful consideration needs to be taken as to what style of ABW program will best fit your organisation, business strategy and objectives, the work itself the company undertakes and the culture you want to foster."Consideration should be given to scalability, the degree of flexibility desired in your real estate strategy, the demographics of your talent pool and of course, location.

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