Activity Based Working (ABW) is a philosophy that underpins the way that people operate and are supported in the workplace. The ABW philosophy aims to empower individuals, encourage collaboration and support the many different ways that people engage in their work.
ABW as an approach does not simply promise a new, sleek workspace and upgraded ICT. While these are two very important aspects of ABW, they facilitate a way of working which, in an ABW environment, is all about flexibility, mobility, choice and efficiency.
Veldhoen + Company identifies 4 goals which can be achieved by implementing ABW:
1. Staff that are supported to work in the way they feel best suits them
ABW’s central focus is to generate the environment that will best support staff to work in a way that particularly suits them. ABW aims to do this by providing freedom of choice in the workspace so that all staff have access to a variety of supportive spaces that they can choose from. Crucially, staff need to also feel empowered to choose the setting that will best support the activities they are undertaking.
People work in different ways and people’s roles necessitate different activities occurring to varying degrees. ABW aims to support all of these differences by providing a variety of settings that, for example, allow the introvert to spend time out of sight and singularly focussed. In the same workspace, there will also be spaces provided for the extrovert who gets energy from being around people to be easily accessible to others.
In all cases, the types of settings, their quantity and ratio are all in service of supporting staff in their work, and as such should be determined based on input from an organisation’s people, themselves. ABW promotes a tailor-made solution for an organisation’s unique challenges.
2. Organisational change to focus on collaboration
More and more, we see organisations beginning to understand that they have not allocated enough organisational energy in bringing people together to achieve a common goal. And the concept of “work” is fast becoming a broader concept that doesn’t simply refer to “the amount of time one spends at their desk”. Workspaces need to offer a balance between the efficiency of focussed, individual work and the value that can arise when multiple people apply their different perspectives to a single issue. This balance can be even harder to arrive at when the workspace only provides three different layouts of the same meeting room in which small creative brainstorms, large training sessions, team meetings and everyday updates are to take place.
Through providing a process which specifically aims to identify and implement a way of working that is aligned to the organisational values, vision and mission; ABW naturally arrives at a place of organisational efficiency and balance by creating a space that best supports all staff, and all their “work” activities.
3. Creating organisational change at every level
A change to the way of working can be a powerful lever for change within an organisation. ABW seeks to engage all levels of an organisation to arrive at a way of working that fully supports staff, managers, executives and the organisation, as a whole. Activity Based Working places high value on engaging directly with all staff and understanding where pain-points and opportunities lie so that people can be personally involved and engaged in the change. This isn’t just left up to the C-Suite!
Through this engagement, staff can feel that they contribute to the process and everyone is able to interact with one another with the goal of creating a better workplace. What results is a more conscious, open to change, feedback oriented workforce who are able to connect to one another as individuals because they have been on a journey to define the way of working together.
4. Efficiently using floorspace and minimising costs
The focus of ABW on flexibility and mobility means that the entire workspace is at the disposal of staff and it is up to them to choose how they wish to engage. In order to confidently do this, ABW aims to create a workspace where the number of desks and collaborative spaces have been carefully calculated to support all staff to complete the activities that they need, when they need, whilst still achieving space and cost efficiencies.
While Activity Based Working does not allocate each person a specific desk, the number of seats available within the workspace is up to one and a half times the number of staff. This approach reflects the fact that it is never the case that every single staff member can be found completing Individual Work at a single desk, but that people are often in meetings, informally collaborating with one another, or not in the office at all.
So what is Activity Based Working (ABW)?
ABW is a catalyst for organisations to rethink the way they work; it recognises that people perform different activities and need a variety of work settings, the right technology, and a trusting and collaborative culture. And while the cost and space savings are nice, what’s really important is an organisational culture built on trust, empowerment and a shared sense of responsibility. And that’s ABW.