Activity-Based Working: Have You Considered Everything?


Published by Kathryn Anda, PEPworldwide on 28 June, 2013

The physical ‘office’ model as the primary vehicle for the ‘workplace’ is being challenged by the more flexible and social model of ‘Activity-based working’ (ABW)

Envisage an office job: do you see cubicles? Tired grey carpet under fluorescent light? The odd thirsty maidenhair fern or dusty peace lily? And of course, the workers themselves, sworn to their desks, those precious pieces of commercial real estate, typing away. Day in and day out.

Luckily, times are changing and the historic concept of the physical ‘office’ model as the primary vehicle for the ‘workplace’ is being challenged by the more flexible and social model of ‘Activity-based working’ (ABW).

Are you thinking of changing your physical office environment, perhaps making the move to ‘hot desks’ or an activity-based working approach? Most people give thought to the technology, infrastructure and physical landscape, but often neglect to consider the effect it will have on the people. We’ll help you better understand how to support your people through the transition for best results, but first, let’s explore further exactly what activity-based working is.

Physical headquarters may indeed still house the corporation and any infrastructure assets, but the concept of employees remaining ‘desk-bound’ from 9 to 5 has become outdated. In many pioneering businesses where an ABW framework is already entrenched, the old way has been firmly relegated to the past. In Australia, recent research indicates that one in three organisations are implementing or planning to implement flexible ways of working, including ABW (Colliers International Office Tenant Survey 2012).

There is a compelling cost-based case for this challenge to the norm, as well as the more holistic and efficiency-based benefits. Commercial real estate, especially in large urban centres, is pricey (up to £14,000 per person per desk per annum in London). Activity-based working offers a more pragmatic solution than offering each employee their own ‘square-metre’ allocation. The increases in efficiency gained in the adoption of this method also suggest a boost to a business’s bottom line as well as the comforting reduction in overheads through less space, power, paper etc.

A further challenge to the norm is the increasing popularity of remote working (supported under the umbrella of ABW). Whether it covers employees who are able to work from home one or two days a week, or businesses hiring good people from alternative towns/cities/countries who may seldom set foot inside any ‘official’ physical office, this has been supported, in part, by the ever-increasing use of smart technologies that allow ease of low/no-cost communication and high speed internet for office network access.

In the UK, an estimated 10 million people commute to their offices every day – and spend an average of 1 hour and 20 minutes each day doing so. Commuting patterns in New Zealand are also under increasing scrutiny due to growing public and government interests in sustainability, as well as a general awareness of and concern for urban growth, especially in Auckland.

The ABW philosophy is great for the development of more regional centres and takes the pressure off urban sprawl. It also offers opportunities for well-qualified employees who may traditionally have had to commute or apply for alternative (read: closer) positions. The arrangement offers flexibility and job satisfaction for the employee and the company gains a skilled worker who may have more reliable tenure prospects.

For ABW to be successful, team ownership of communal areas is emphasised over individual ownership of a single workstation. You may be familiar with the term ‘hot-desk’. Hot-desking describes a switch to more flexible workplaces and a reduction in the number of desks and offices required. If not pitched correctly under the broader team-oriented philosophy of ABW, it can smack of cost cuts that take away from the employee rather than focus on the many benefits to both parties. Supporting employees with the behavioural changes to embrace the ABW revolution is imperative to the successful implementation of the model – and the productivity and efficiency improvements that go with it. And that’s where PEPworldwide comes in.

Ultimately, activity-based working creates an energised and connected environment consisting of hot-desks, ‘hubs’ for smaller groups and individuals, collaborative areas for meetings and brainstorming and distinct sections tailored to specific activities. It removes any existing ‘silos’, fosters collaboration and enhances job satisfaction with its focus on employee choice and flexibility.

This combination of communal areas and hot-desks promotes synergy among colleagues under the right conditions and can nurture professional and social relationships. This encouragement of a cohesive ‘network’ of people, technology and culture in the workplace brings with it a sense of belonging and structure that perhaps may not have been possible under a more traditional layout. As well as the obvious physical office transformation that will inevitably accompany an ABW transition, it is also an important time to review the existing environment in its entirety as well as reviewing various office processes, with the idea of removing anything that is unnecessary. As a part of this, it is important to review best practice principles for the use of electronic tools, optimising network storage and filing practices, as well as implementing practical email processes. 

A third party, such as PEPworldwide, can offer the most objective and practical approach to this task.

PEPworldwide can support the transition to an activity-based working model in a number of key ways:

  • Building a new working culture and team agreements to get teams working harmoniously
  • Proactively involving staff in the change process to help them feel valued
  • Establishing new workflow processes and behaviours for the new working environment
  • Reducing distractions and interruptions
  • Increasing productivity and allowing employees to save time, which can then be used on key, high priority activities
  • Maximising the use of mobile tools and technology
  • Supporting staff to move towards a paperless environment
  • Assisting the implementation of flexible working practices quickly and efficiently
  • Utilising PEP principles for storage and easy retrieval of information
  • Fostering an environment that supports collaboration.

People will be doing the right things, in less time and with less effort, in a sustainable and measurable way that can be easily evaluated. On average, staff will gain two hours, per person, per day to use for high priority activities.

activity based working, hot desking, working remotely


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