How do we get from saving on real estate being the main priority to recognizing that diversity and different ways of working absolutely bring out your people’s strengths? The first step is acknowledging that there is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all solution for work environments. That first step will make all the difference.

You don’t want to save on real estate for financial reasons alone, you want your organization to be sustainable as well.

Problems when saving on space.

Many organizations, looking to save space, will get rid of internal walls and squeeze in extra workstations. This results in a large, open office, with cabinets acting as sub-optimal screening between desks. You might save on square meterage, but when it comes to efficiency – not so much!

The New Way of Working

The misunderstood “New Way of Working” manifests as an open floor plan to be used by everyone, regardless of what they are doing. This solution is common and ignores the visual and acoustic values inherent in a workspace. Moreover, this leads to workplaces that look exactly the same everywhere. There is no variation (read: neither support or inspiration), employees can’t choose what kind of environment works best for them at what time. They are sitting at a different desk each day, but it doesn’t add any value to their work week.

A short period after the move to the new way of working, everybody is back in their normal routine. They will have found a permanent “new” desk and, as a result, everything stays exactly the same – only oftentimes worse!

This environment does nothing for your employees, why would they even come to the office? Where they can go to concentrate and work systematically? Where they can hold meetings? There are not fit-for-purpose spaces, and productivity is going down.

Activity Based Working

Activity Based Working (ABW) takes new ways of working to the next level – it is based on analysing what your employees actually do (or desire to do in the future) and adjusting the environment to this. Employees and outcomes come first, not the other way around. Different kinds of people have different needs when it comes to functionality of work environment, and even office ambience. These needs change moment by moment, and according to different tasks. ABW offers people options when it comes to where they sit, even in a smaller space, and this makes them more conscious of where they’re going to sit and what the consequences of their choices are.

Sure, it might mean that the process-based employee needs to walk a little further to go to a meeting or to relax, but the work environment will generally fit like a glove

Conscious choices

When you take on the challenge of choosing a smaller ratio of work settings to people, you are asking people to make the conscious choice from all the available options, including: the different settings in the office; a desk at home; a table in a cafe; being embedded with a client, or enjoying some fresh air in the park etc. But if they’re not making that decision consciously or deliberately, the environment still doesn’t work, despite the different work settings.

You’ll feel resistance largely because this change appears to be taking from your people far more than they are gaining in return. In practice, we hear: “It doesn’t work.” This is because people are not making conscious choices, they are reverting to old habits or looking for easy ways out. It is important to alert and educate your employees to the different options and help them make the right decisions, impressing on them the importance of doing so.

We see people who don’t recognize themselves in their new environment. They don’t feel at home because “everything is everyone’s”, and they have lost co-workers who are now at home or on a different floor. The team lacks movement and falls apart due to a diminishing group cohesion. Once again, productivity goes down.


When managers show trust towards their people, the employee is free to choose their physical work environment with more relevance to their needs for producing the desired outcomes.

With the strategic approach of Activity Based Working you create an environment that offers more variation for one type of employee, and more stability for the other. The modern work environment is a customised work place. One-size-fits nobody! And because the environment matches the activities of the employee, they will find work to be more enjoyable, more efficient and their engagement levels and productivity will often go up resulting in better outcomes.

We help your leaders lead, to make the best out of their new way of working, helping people produce their best outcomes. ABW asks for a different way of leading, Veldhoen + Company guide and facilitate an understanding of what this is using workshops and trainings.

The coercion of a team in one room

Will your organisation have teams who will insist on being together?

Veldhoen + Company researched what happens to such a team, a team that wanted to sit together at all costs. Conversations were often not work related, however, talking was important for the team spirit. The fear to lose their social connection was so strong, the team held tightly to the functional need to stick together and the consequence was a limited choice for others. Individual employees didn’t have the option to work in silence, because there was always someone wanting to talk about last night’s football game.

Team cohesion is important, but in this new environment there is an opportunity to redefine the ways to come together meaningfully so as not to limit the new way of working for all individuals. We have to keep in mind that having a chat and discussing the weekend is not always a bad thing for productivity. It can actually work wonders for it as long as there is trust involved. That’s how you create a sustainable organization.

Municipal officer becomes happy

In our first workshop in a municipality of about one hundred officials, there was a man who was full of resistance. He was the handyman, who, having occupied almost every position in the organisation, knew everything about everything. He was an extrovert and loved adhoc dynamics of his job. But this usually meant his work wouldn’t get done by the end of the day. After our first workshop he immediately complained about a lack of structure, he lost all of his stuff, people couldn’t find him and he couldn’t find people: “You’re turning everything upside down!”

He was convinced that he should always be able to see (and be seen by) everyone. Three weeks later we held the next workshop. The man had understood there was no escape and decided to emerge himself in this new work environment. The change was inevitable, so why not give it a try?

In this experimentation, he discovered that certain areas were very quiet at certain times, which finally gave him the opportunity to get his work done. Going home with an empty mind as a result. He quickly became a convert. We have never seen anyone change form opponent to fan this fast. “If the quality of the workplaces becomes optimal, and we have even more variety, I am ecstatic!”

More effective team

Social connection is important for collaboration and unity of the team. This is the part where employees could and should choose more consciously. For example, the team can start their day on Monday morning with a cup of coffee and a chat about the weekend. After that, the team can concentrate and after an hour and a half get back together again. They will get more stuff done in that hour and a half, than during the entire morning in the old setting.

In addition, everyone has the choice to continue to talk a little longer, for example to help a colleague with private problems, or just to continue working because something has to be done. When the team becomes aware of those options, every member has a choice.

Your employees can create their own ideal workplace and are therefore improving. This gives you the advantage of less costs, more sustainability due to less space and a more effective team.

Do you want to know how to make your team work more efficient in less space? Feel free to contact us!

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