Is the US ready for ABW? (part 2)

About 1.5 years ago I wrote a blogpost in which I asked myself the question: Is the US ready for ABW? ┬áNow that I have spent 12 months in the US, it’s time to see if i have my initial answer.

US, one market?

Well considered there are three elements to the above question. First of all, it assumes the US as one market. There is the obvious observation that the US is geographically very widespread, culturally varied and therefore it’s impossible to give one answer for the different regions. Considering our presence in New York and our experience working with companies in the North-East I’ll narrow my answer down to this part of the US.

What is ABW?

The second element of the question asks for clarification on what ABW is about. Most readers might know it’s an acronym for Activity Based Working. But over the past 18 months I have read and heard very different interpretations of what people think it is. The term definitely could benefit from a more refined definition so here is my view:

ABW is a way of working in which it is recognised that through the course of any day, people engage in many different activities and that they need different types of work settings to accomodate these activities. This also means giving people the freedom to decide how to work, where to work, when to work, the tools to use and with whom to collaborate to get the best outcomes.

Where we do our activities is less relevant, as long as we align our work with colleagues and create meaning. As a consequence, the office as we know it, will lose certain functions and will facilitate a new set of workers in the future in our journey to more collaboration and innovation.

How to define “ABW ready?”

Third element of the question relates to the word ‘ ready’. How to define when you’re ready for ABW. In my view it boils down to two things: 1) an organisation’s vision, values and ambition; and 2) existing ways of working (of which leadership style is a critical part).
As we have seen from the definition above ABW supports a self-determined workforce. It supports organisations that want to improve collaboration, innovation and attract talent of all ages who value work-life balance.

My answer to the question

So, all-in-all, what is my answer to the question regarding the ABW readiness of North-East of the US? From a very pragmatic point of view, we’re currently working with some interesting clients in New York, New Jersey and Toronto who are excited to develop and implement ABW as their future way of working. So that means a simple yes, the interest is there. They strongly believe in the benefits of ABW for their organisations. My experience suggests that for a long time workplace was not seen as a strategic lever for organisational performance. The interest in technology-start-up scene and the rise of co-working spaces like WeWork and Knotel in New York indicate to me a change in perspective on the topic of workplace as a strategic tool.

More generally, the US labour market is very competitive and showing low levels of unemployment. This has increased the war for talent. As a consequence, I sense a growing focus on employee engagement. Activity Based Working implementations elsewhere (Australia, Europe, Asia) have proven to make work more effective and enjoyable for people. In 9 out of 10 ABW projects we have seen an increase in employee engagement. Why could that not have similar impact for the workforce in the US? People inherently like choice and like to feel empowered. The potential and value it can bring to US organisations is huge because within every organisation there lies a better way to operate. However, it can be hard to know what that might look like and even harder to know how to go about discovering it and making it happen.

Great opportunity for leadership

In my 12 months of experiencing the US I believe people are ready for it. Yet I think that in some organisations the current working culture is not yet supportive of flexibility, choice and empowerment. And here lies a huge opportunity (and in my view a responsibility) for leadership to make this happen. Use your talent as a leader to guide people based on a clear purpose and a set of values and manage your people on outcomes. It’s not only good for all, it’s also more fun.

What do you think?

Let me finish with some personal questions back to you: Wouldn’t you like to skip some of the long commute hours? Don’t you think it can be beneficial to work remotely for 1 or even a few days a week? Don’t you want to feel trusted and managed on the outcomes you deliver?

And yes, for the RE professionals amongst us, when we have this working culture in place we could be way more efficient with our real estate in the central business districts of our cities. But that’s merely a consequence, not the starting point.

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