Many assumptions that give Activity Based Working (ABW) a bad rap are floating around. Yet, ABW is a workplace philosophy that has thrived as a powerful framework since the '90s, and in this article, we intend to bust the myths that suggest otherwise. With re-education about what it means to embrace ABW, we help create a personal definition that works well for the organisation and teams we support.
It's not true that flexible workplaces expect people to change desks every hour or remove colleagues from each other. The list of these types of assumptions is long and usually amusing, but for the sake of brevity, we've chosen to explore the three most common ABW misconceptions:
- ABW is all about funky aesthetics
- Less walls lead to increased team collaboration
- Changing the space will change work habits
ABW IS ALL ABOUT
When people first hear about ABW, images of colourful beanbags, ping-pong tables, and exercise balls as chairs may come to mind. It's fair to associate ABW with cutting-edge office design like Google's.
As a visual society, people focus a lot on the tangible aspects of ABW. It's what they see first, and it's easier to understand the impact of the cultural nuances. While aesthetics can enhance creative thinking, furniture shouldn't be the starting point of any ABW journey.
Activity Based Working is a change catalyst for cultural transformation. Companies that are the most successful in ABW leverage and develop their workplace strategy based on the company's vision for the future. They have a clearly defined purpose of why the company is changing how it works. Some common reasons might be to:
- Break down team silos
- Attract top talent
- Enhance collaboration
- Foster entrepreneurship across the organisation
Successful leaders who adopt ABW have a vision to share, not just a ping-pong table.
LESS WALLS LEAD TO
INCREASED TEAM COLLABORATION
A transition to Activity Based Working is often driven by organisations that want to invite more collaboration and connection.
There's a desire to replace vertical hierarchies with flat structures that link traditional roles through inter-functional teams. Nevertheless, organisations often think that simply knocking down the walls that separate people from each other will "get people working together"— nothing is further from the truth.
Good working relationships require extra considerations; they do not simply result from good feelings, team spirit, or hard work. As traditional boundaries are minimised, recognising differences in authority, talent, and perspectives becomes more crucial and complex. Successful companies invest in their people when creating changes toward a new way of working.
A successful new way of working requires organisations to develop new and different attitudes, competencies and skillsets. A combination of attitude ('I want') and skills ('I have the ability') is vital for success.
Ultimately, investing in team spirit is essential. Leaders need to consider why it benefits them for their team to connect and how they can practically support it. Only then will the benefits of creating horizontal networks and inter-functional teams be realised rather than just having fewer walls.
CHANGING THE SPACE WILL
CHANGE WORK HABITS
Changing a team's work style takes time.
Breaking ritual working patterns can be challenging since most people have worked similarly for years. The biggest mistake I've seen companies make is thinking that ABW will magically create these habits that their people will adapt to automatically.
Vedlhoen + Company guides organisations along the journey and creates ownership and buy-in at every level. We do this by building and sharing the organisation's unique story so that everyone feels aligned with the transitioning workplace's goals.
Awareness and desire for the change needs to be explored with each individual. A first step can be asking these two questions:
- "What does the new way of working mean for me?"
- "Why would I want to work in this new way?"
The physical space will support this, but for ABW to be truly effective, it requires individual reflection.
Change is never easy
Change can be difficult to navigate when it involves shifting dynamics and forming new habits within the workplace. Add in a healthy dose of incorrect assumptions, and it can lead to chaos. Our goal at Veldhoen + Company is to bust the myths, misconceptions, and misunderstandings surrounding Activity Based Working (ABW).
With the appropriate guidance and support, we know ABW can transform entire organisations into empowered, effective, and collaborative teams within a flexible framework.
Only through a solid change approach and having a clear, defined purpose for changing work habits will people be inspired by the opportunity that ABW brings forward.