With Activity Based Working (ABW) to increase creativity and performance

Activity Based Working, or ABW for short, is currently THE trend in the design of offices and workspaces. It promises more flexibility, autonomy and productivity through a suitable and thoughtful design of the environment. Never heard of it? Not bad, in this article we explain what Activity Based Working is and how to use it to find more creativity and performance.

What is Activity Based Working?

Technological advances mean that the traditional working model of sitting at a fixed desk in an office from 8 to 5 is becoming less and less popular. It is replaced by co-working spaces, cool loft offices with a roof terrace and meeting rooms that can be rented by the hour.

The idea of Activity Based Working is based on the realization that productivity is increased when there is an appealing environment with many choices. Today, we’re used to getting tailored deals, such as Netflix, YouTube, delivery services or travel. Why should this be different in working life?
Here it is particularly important that our environment meets the requirements of the respective task and supports us in its implementation.

Further advantages are the proactive exchange, also between hierarchy levels (these are still strongly present at all). This increases the creativity and productivity of the employees and thus improves the performance. Employee satisfaction and health are also increasing and absences are reduced. Back discomfort decreases, as the changing seating positions and intermediate standing phases are particularly ergonomic. The different character traits are optimally supported, as both extroverted and introverted employees find suitable work zones for them to flourish. All of course big pluses.

Some companies are even pushing this concept to the extreme by building entire worlds of experience and leaving it to employees when and where they want to work. The rooms can also be used for leisure and work hours. This requires a lot of mutual trust and creates a work-life flow in which work and private life increasingly merge into each other.

This, as I said, naturally brings many advantages, but also a few disadvantages should be taken into account:

  • It can be additional stress for employees to find a place in the morning and have to decide again and again during the day where they want to work.
  • Personalisation of one’s own workplace with personal belongings is impossible, which may be difficult for some workers.
  • If you have the offer of ABW, but you cannot use it, because only one work zone is usually suitable for your own task, this leads to greater employee dissatisfaction with the respective employee.

Nevertheless, it is already certain that ABW will play an increasingly important role in the planning of office space in the future, thereby driving the speed of innovation and problem-solving skills of companies.

The 4 elements of Activity Based Working

Design

The design follows the respective function of an element or room. If a certain task requires, for example, rest and concentration, one should have space for it in a relaxation room. This room should be appropriately designed to promote concentration, without distracting elements, but still cozy. For customer appointments that go over lunchtime, you could book a stylish dining room, for example. There should also be extra space for phone calls, e.g. in the form of a modern telephone booth, which offers a retreat and shields the conversation from colleagues.

Experiences for the senses

The effect and use of the respective room should be clear by the design. It should be easy for employees to see which space they use best for their task and whether a room on them is concentrating, relaxing or inspiring. This can be achieved by sensory elements. The scent of coffee, quiet background music and the presence of others invite, for example, to exchange news and information and to hold meetings in a casual way. Complete tranquility, a clean design, a free table and a comfortable chair show the user of the room that tasks that require absolute concentration can be carried out in the best possible way.

Behavioural amplification

The design and sensory information should make the room clear what is expected of the user of the room. This can be peace of mind in the work space, creativity in the stylish meeting room or the joy of communication in the entrance area. Promoting self-initiative and self-determination must also be an entrenched part of the company’s culture in order to give employees the freedom to decide which space best suits their task.

Lifelong learning

A workplace, like its employees, should constantly evolve. The successful implementation of Activity Based Working is based on the acquisition of the mindset from the entire company, both management, middle management and every single employee. Feedback loops should be implemented to learn what works and what doesn’t, and the insights from them should of course be implemented accordingly.

How is Activity Based Working implemented and applied?

Activity Based Working makes sense for many companies, especially for project-related or creative work. This is less useful for the production or operation of machines, i.e. for tasks that require a fixed space. So the first thing you need to know about this is to decide whether your company can implement ABW at all.

Assigned workplaces will be replaced by a freely selectable range of rooms and workplaces. For the rebuilding of an office building, this can be taken into account in the planning from the beginning and can be built accordingly, but even with existing premises, a lot can be achieved with Activity Based Working and restructure accordingly.
A basic requirement is a well and fast functioning Wlan, as well as laptops and mobile phones for every employee.

This makes it possible to no longer be bound to a fixed workplace and to be able to use the various rooms in a targeted manner. First, you should think about which zones are needed at all. These can be rest zones, communication zones, telephone zones and so on. You then specify how much space is needed for this and how it should be divided per room or zone.

Another basic rule is that there are no closed doors. There is, of course, an exception to confidential conversations. Otherwise, however, there should always be an open and welcoming atmosphere in which employees can wander around freely and sit in any room.
Particular attention must be paid to the exposure concept, and each working zone should also be equipped with appropriate and, above all, sufficient light. If the working zones are all in one large room, adequate ventilation must also be provided. Acoustics are also a challenge here, working only with a large room. For these topics, it is definitely worth working with professionals.

Personal items that employees would otherwise store in their permanent workplace can be stored in lockers. In any case, enough of this should be made available.

Conclusion

Whether multinational or start-up: Activity Based Working is becoming more and more popular and already implemented in large numbers. This is not only good for employers, as they can secure a competitive advantage for young talent and expect better performance and creativity from employees. The concept is also very popular with employees, as it offers variety and flexibility and breaks with traditional workplace design. However, ABW is not suitable for every company. So you should carefully weigh up the pros and cons and if you decide to do so, plan the implementation with you thoroughly. Then nothing stands in the way of your success!

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