This blog will talk about the different underlying principles that exist between ABW and other ways of working. If you would prefer to read about the physical characteristics that differentiate ABW, Hotdesking and Open Plan, you can read have a look at our FAQs on our website.
Activity Based Working, Hotdesking and Open Plan are very different approaches to workplace strategy. And while Hotdesking and Open Plan have had their time in the limelight, ABW has been hard at work behind the scenes. Though ABW has been around for 30 years, it is still referred to as a contemporary approach to workplace strategy. This is because the underlying principle of ABW doesn’t age or change over time, it is and always has been about: providing people with a variety of work settings that encourage freedom of choice and mobility to work whenever, however and with whomever they need. This underlying principle means that ABW takes resources and vision to implement, and results in a significant, often transformational, impact to the way of working.
How to distinguish Hotdesking and Open Plan from ABW?
If we take a look at the characteristics and application of Hotdesking and Open Plan strategies, we can find some key ways to distinguish them from Activity Based Working. To do this, we might play a game of 20 Questions to find out which workplace strategy is which, and the first question we might ask is: ‘is the primary aim of this way of working to fit more people into the same space?’
If so, we might be talking about Hotdesking. Generally, Hotdesking exists in organisations for only a few particular desks to accommodate for external visitors, or teams that spend very little time in the office. There are, however, some organisations that allocate assigned desks only for some, and everyone else is sharing the remaining workpoints. Where the Hotdesking concept falls down is that it asks those involved to give up ownership of their desk but doesn’t offer anything in return. Work still occurs and is supported in the same way as it always has been, really. The small increase in mobility comes at the cost of personalisation and stability. The key question of ‘how do we work in a way that suits us?’ often isn’t even asked!
Is the aim of this way of working to increase collaboration?
If we continue playing our game of 20 Questions, one of our questions might be: ‘is the aim of this way of working to increase collaboration?’
Open Plan aims to impact the way of working by providing colleagues with easier access to one another and thus promoting increased communication and collaboration. The caveat, however, is that these benefits are only realised if there is alignment with the organisational values, the nature of the work and the preferences of individuals. As a result, Open Plan can involve a change to the way work gets done but, more often than not, does not generate the impact that is envisioned. Many organisations fall into the trap of implementing workplace trends like Open Plan without digging deep into the issues and the opportunities that their workplace can impact. It should come as no surprise, then, to hear that some research on Open Plan offices shows that people often find it difficult to concentrate and often collaborate less (Ross, Ressia and Sander, 2017).
The space and cost efficiencies that organisations eagerly calculate can come at the cost of productivity, privacy, and flexibility.
The real take-away
The real take-away here is that both of these workplace strategies exclude a fuller exploration of how the workplace can best support people in how they work.
If we were on our last 20 Questions question, we might ask: ‘is the workplace strategy fully defined and owned by the organisation?’.
While there are some similarities between ABW and Hotdesking (unassigned worksettings) and ABW and Open Plan (no [or few] 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 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.
Enabling specific business strategies
The number and design of these settings is not something that Veldhoen + Company believes should be dictated to an organisation: we believe that organisations are able determine not only the types of settings that they need, but also their etiquettes, culture, and leadership styles, with the ultimate aim of supporting staff and enabling specific business strategies. Common strategic objectives that we see ABW involved in include increasing collaboration and innovation; reducing paper use; allowing greater employee flexibility; and fostering a greater sense of pride and community. ABW’s process of vision-setting, consultation and holism creates an opportunity to shape the workplace strategy to specifically facilitate any or all of these objectives.
And this is the primary differentiator between ABW, Hotdesking and Open Plan; ABW necessarily involves exploration into the issues and opportunities that the workplace could bring. The aim is then to create a cohesive approach to the way of working, which is developed from the ground up and the top down, ensuring sustainability, consistency, shared understanding, and individual and organisational investment. We know it’s a big ask, but the results speak for themselves.