In simple terms, activity-based working or ABW, refers to providing employees with a location choice. This means that employees get to choose a location that is most suitable for them to work from. They do not have a designated workstation, but the workplace has several areas where they can do specific tasks like focusing, socialising, collaborating and learning.

Today’s workplace has been transformed by technologies like laptops and mobile phones. These have made workers more productive by freeing them from their desks. People can work from anywhere due to their ability to access information easily from the cloud.

Business models as we used to know them are also being disrupted today and new approaches geared towards making employees more flexible and productive are needed. Activity-based working is one of these business models that provide workers with options tailored to their needs.

The driving principle behind the activity-based workplace design is that offices should be flexible enough to adapt to the diverse tasks performed by employees. Traditionally, employees were assigned a single workstation. In the activity-based workplace, employees can move around depending on the task at hand. The flexibility is built into the company’s physical office through its culture, spaceplan, workspaces and furniture.

For example, an employee can start her morning with a brainstorming session at the coffee bar, then move to a conference room for a client meeting and then move to a more private workstation to make calls and work tasks that require extra focus.

ABW @ Orchard Newcstle

In this case, she has no fixed desk and can move around freely to the area that provides the best environment for the activity she is handling. All she needs is her mobile phone, a laptop, and a company network.

What exactly does activity-based working bring to the table for both the company and the employees? Let’s see!

6 Undeniable Benefits of Activity-Based Working

  • Improves Collaboration and Communication

In an ABW environment, employees from different departments can easily collaborate on tasks and projects. This increases productivity and output since they are no longer tied to a desk all day.

Team members can seamlessly move around the workspace. In turn, this leads to better communication, easy sharing of ideas and more. This is the perfect setting for innovative ideas to be born.

  • Attracts and Retains Good Talent

Adopting a dynamic workplace helps engage staff, stakeholders, and visitors. You can attract the best talent by providing them with something that others don’t – unparalleled flexibility and freedom. Existing employees are also likely to stay if their workspace meets all their needs both personally and professionally.

  • Boosts Concentration

An activity-based office has workspaces designed for specific tasks. These can include focus group areas, collaborative zones, and quiet places.

Such spaces allow employees to be alone when they need to and to sit comfortably with their colleagues when team work matters the most. Everyone works differently. Some thrive in large crowds, others need to be alone to get their best work done. This is what activity-based working is all about.

  • Increases Productivity

Traditional offices have been designed for desk work and meetings only. But an activity-based workspace will allow employees to choose how they work, when and where. This recognition of the difference that makes every employee important empowers them to be responsible for their work and decide where they want to work from and when.

  • Builds Trust

Employees get a sense of ownership, which makes them build trust in the organisation and vice versa. This ultimately leads to company and brand loyalty.

  • Boosts Flexibility and Sustainability

Letting your employees choose where and when they work can help them balance their personal and work lives, which, in turn, can improve their overall wellbeing.

Activity-based working is the sustainable way to grow. Since it’s better at using office space than the working styles, it will help you save a lot of money on real estate. Plus, it reduces the company’s carbon footprint through cutting down on energy and supplies in the office.

Activity-based working also gives you the flexibility to incorporate custom office furniture. Get an interior design expert to recommend the right furniture to support your new working environment.

Activity based workplace design at Orchard Newcastle

Before you dismiss it as “a new trend that will never catch on”, let us tell you that activity-based working has been around for some time now. And it’s not going anywhere.

A lot of research has been done on this topic. It all proves that it has unlimited benefits for employers and employees alike.

Of course, activity-based working is not without its challenges. They have also been exhaustively researched and documented. Read on to find out how to overcome them.

But first, let’s take a look at some of the most prominent studies.

Research on Activity-Based Working

In a survey of 400 multinational companies, two-thirds of them were open to implementing the shared desk workplace by the year 2020.

Before jumping to it, a lot of companies wanted to learn their employees’ take on the matter.

A recently published study tried to find out if 1000 Australian employees were okay with shared desk environments. Some of the challenges highlighted by the surveyed employees include distractions, increased distrust, negative relationships, uncooperative behavior, and a perceived distrust of supervisors in terms of support.

Another report on hot desking, which shares the activity-based workspace principle, identified challenges like indifference, marginalisation of employees, loss of identity, decreased commitment from organisations, and inattention to co-workers.

However, let’s take a look at the broader picture.

The activity-based workspace design provides different work settings for various activities like private work, meetings, collaborations, creativity, and concentration. The employees are, therefore, expected to make switches between the settings when necessary.

When asked how they feel about a new concept, most people shy away at first. This is why it’s important to test out an office setting before committing to it. Or, better yet, to make the change gradually.

Companies like Facebook and Google are at the forefront of innovation in this field. They adopted activity-based working “before it was cool” and never looked back.


Well, the reasons are numerous.

To begin with, in hot desking, employees share desks or find one when they need it. This caters well especially to employees who work outside the office often. Another plus side of using hot desking is that there are hot-desking apps available to help in the booking of space before arriving at the office.

In today's smart offices, hot desking applications such as the app marketed by iOt Space now enables employees to choose and book their desks in advance. This app helps avoid the confusion that could arise in case two people want to sit at the same desk. The apps help one find an available desk and they also navigate you to the desk with no delay, especially if you are visiting the office from out of town.

Office layout showing workspace occupancy

This way, some of the challenges that the studies above found are simply non-existent.

Positive research, however, has shown that employees who have self-contained work processes and who view themselves as independent and mobile thrive in activity-based work environments. They can therefore easily choose a workstation based on their preferences or needs. Another positive is that they can avoid social interaction when they need a quiet space to work from.

Its supporters say that the main reason companies implement activity-based working environments is to attract and retain talent. They also wish to take care of their employees’ sustainability and wellbeing while increasing innovation and collaboration.

Based on the various research findings discussed above, we can conclude that there is no one size fits all solution. ABW and hot desking will increase collaboration, efficiency, and communication but it will come with its own challenges.  

Of course, any challenge can be surmounted. Since every company is unique and has unique needs, you shouldn’t necessarily base your decision on research done on other companies.

You can use such reports as a way to get started. Afterwards, you should consider your own circumstances.

Factors You Should Consider Before Implement Activity Based Working

Think about it this way: the way people work changes throughout their life. It’s only natural that they can accommodate (and even expect) an evolution of their working environment.

During the school years, everyone knew a certain space was dedicated for a certain activity. There was no in-between. For example, the music room for music, the gym for sports and the laboratory for science.

When they got into a university, they had the choice to either get the group work done under a tree, at the café, or in the library. A traditional workspace may therefore not work for them. Organisations have no choice but to embrace these new ways of working if they want to retain and attract new talent.

Before making the change, however, employers have to consider some important factors including:

  • What Are the Reasons for the Change?

Why do you want to implement activity-based working? Are you doing it because everyone else is? Do you feel like your peeps could benefit from more interaction?

Activity-based working encourages collaboration and therefore your business can easily pull a team from different departments in your organization to work on a project if everyone is mobile. Employees are different, and this difference is what makes activity-based working a good model.

Those who require isolation can work at their own stations while those who thrive in a noisy work environment can also do their thing. It encourages responsibility. More importantly, employees are treated as adults who can choose an environment that makes them productive.

Before making the decision, consider your employees. Ask them how they feel about it.

  • Make Sure Your C-Suite Supports the Move

If they do, then they will offer you support and advocate for the chance by leading by example. Otherwise, everything may be doomed from the start.

If your employees see that C-level execs never step foot in the common workspace, they will feel discriminated and treated as less important.

Of course, we all know that C-level execs need privacy. But they also need to be among their team every once in a while, don’t they?

  • Choose the Best Model for Your Team

As previously mentioned, there is no one size fits all when it comes to designing your office. Do a thorough research on the different models available and then choose one that suits your organisation’s needs. Obiously you can ask the workplace consultants here at Amos Beech for help.

  • Take Change Management Seriously

As you invest in this move, make sure your employees are educated on why the move is necessary, the benefits of the move, what will be changing, and why this particular model has been chosen. Use an effective communication plan that will involve different mediums and engage employees at all the levels of the organization.

  • Test Drive before Purchasing

Test whether the change will be effective using a pilot workspace. This is an effective change tool because, from it, you can tell whether the move will benefit the company or not.

The pilot will also be a learning phase that will help you tailor a suitable working model as per your needs. Plus, it will help the employees warm up to the new way of doing things and how it will eventually affect them.

  • Don’t Be Discouraged by Negativity

Change is hard and some of your employees will not be thrilled by it. Learn from them but do not let them bring you down.

  • Recruit the Right People and Rid the Company of Paper

Activity-based working can enable you to manage all your records electronically. This will reduce your carbon footprint and turn you into a more desirable employer and business partner for your clients.

Also, make sure you recruit leaders with skills and expertise in activity-based working so they can help other employees easily adapt to the new move. Safeguard your investment by choosing the right people to handle it.

Final Thoughts

According to a case study by UK’s HR Magazine on Atlas Copco’s introduction of activity-based working at their UK office, the exercise proved to be successful.

The company implemented a cockpit for individuals needing privacy, a larger cabin that allowed for small groups to work together, and an open space furnished with multiple desks. This gave them a digital workspace that can be reconfigured whenever the needs of an employee change. The employees are now more connected and engaged since their working conditions have changed for the better.

Activity-based working benefits may not be felt immediately, but they are broader and long-term. And if they are properly executed, they can foster the wellness of the employees by improving their mental, physical, and social wellbeing.

Got 4 minutes?

Go and watch a really great video! Veldhoen + Company have created a great animation about what Activity Based Working is and what it isn't:

Most important takeaway:

"Whats really needed is a workplace tailored to the actual needs of people.”