Activity Based Working is an opportunity for organisations to better align the way of working with their business strategy, organisational values and workplace culture. In this way, ABW serves as a chance to rethink the way that work contributes to the success of the organisation. ABW directly influences organisations to reduce their physical space requirements, increase flexibility and empowerment of their staff, embrace fit-for-purpose technology, accommodate a changing workforce headcount and work within an appealing, up-to-date workplace that will help to attract and retain talent.
The biggest risk of implementing ABW is not doing it right. Too often organisations see Activity Based Working as a natural progression to a more modern workplace strategy without understanding what is involved and why.
The most common risks that we see associated with ABW implementation include:
- Treating ABW implementation as a refurbishment of the current space
- Not enough resources being allocated to managing the change
- Underestimating the necessity of serviceable ICT in an ABW environment, especially during the implementation period
- The first time that facilities management, IT and HR teams are working together in an integrated way
These risks can result in: budget adjustments, timeline changes, staff unrest, and, ultimately, that the investment into the new way of working has no major impact.
The above risk factors are common places of tension for organisations undergoing large-scale change initiatives that impact the way that their organisation operates. Fortunately, Veldhoen + Company has been a part of this process with hundreds of clients, and we understand how to successfully work with organisations to address these issues as part of their move to a new way of working.
Activity Based Working provides a distinction from traditional ways of working in a number of ways. Firstly, the physical space is designed specifically to accommodate multiple different work settings supporting multiple different activities such as;
- Collaboration supported by open, enclosed and semi-enclosed meeting rooms, project tables and booths.
- Process work supported by process desks, sit-to-stand desks.
- Focus work supported by desks and booths that allow staff to work with increased visual and acoustic privacy.
Secondly, the role that ICT plays is enhanced in an ABW environment. Up-to-date and functionally appropriate ICT is crucial in an ABW workspace to promote mobility and flexibility for all staff.
Lastly, the way that people engage in work will be different. In ABW workplaces, the way people work shifts towards more autonomous, conscious behaviours based on trust and empowerment to create a mobile, productive workforce.
Activity Based Work, Hotdesking and Open Plan are very different approaches to utilising the workspace. Open Plan offices typically don’t offer much variety. They commonly only comprise of one type of individual work setting in an open environment and a minimal selection of collaborative settings in an attempt to increase collaboration. But the reality is that people cannot concentrate in Open Plan offices and often collaborate less. Hotdesking is the same as a traditional environment, but where the low variety of settings are shared among a large group of people. In both these styles of workplaces it is hard to see how staff are being well supported to do their jobs. In fact, these space and cost efficiencies generally come at the cost of productivity, privacy, and flexibility.
While there are some similarities between ABW and Hotdesking (shared work settings) and ABW and Open Plan (no offices, open spaces), ABW differentiates itself in a number of ways that ensure that staff feel that the workplace exists to support them, not the other way around. ABW provides areas for people to work that offer a balanced variety of fit-for-purpose open and closed work settings designed for a common, but particular, functions. For example, there may be open spaces designed to facilitate ease of collaboration and interpersonal interaction and these are balanced against enclosed spaces which support high-focus work, formal meetings or confidential conversations. ABW offers a wide variety of work settings to encourage a level of freedom of choice and mobility to work wherever, whenever and with whomever they need.
ABW enables employees to collaborate through a variety of different settings – either in person or virtually – which means that individuals may sometimes be dispersed from their teams. When adjusting to a new, modern way of working, it is understandable that the way that people used to engage with one another is placed under pressure (or needs to be organised in a different way). Fortunately when staff have the mobility and flexibility to move around the workspace in a way that best suits them, they are more easily able to control their level of productivity by controlling how and when they connect with their colleagues. It is up to the individuals, teams and managers to determine suitable ways to connect and keep each other up to date.
One positive aspect that we hear very often is that increased mobility in the workspace means that people are able to properly meet colleagues that they have only ever emailed before. Connection to one’s team is important, but connection to the wider organisation is one of the biggest social changes that often occurs in an ABW workplace.
- Privacy – The design for the ABW office environment generally includes a range of bookable and non-bookable two-person spaces, single person phone booths, quiet rooms and meeting rooms, many of which offer a high degree of visual and acoustic privacy.
- Paper independence – Many ABW workplaces use a combination of team storage and personal storage in the form of lockers to accommodate their storage needs. The transition to ABW relies on interacting directly with teams to fully understand their work and storage requirements. In this way, ABW environments are able to maintain security through a clean-desk policy, supported by online information management systems, where reduced paper usage reduces office clutter and increases confidentiality and security.
Currently, as with any traditional way of working, there are limitations to the way that staff are supported, and can support themselves, in the way that they work. ABW workspaces aim to provide staff with more choice and support in how they engage with their work. Also, it’s important to note that ABW does not necessarily mean that teams won’t be seated together. ABW sets the conditions for organisations to thrive by providing the flexibility for people to meet new people and forge new personal and professional relationships. In this way, barriers to collaboration are broken down and a stronger sense of organisational unity is developed.