Designers, architects and the bean counters are still the ones driving the move to activity-based working. Whilst the rhetoric is often on increasing collaboration and moving the human experience forward, this is seldom the primary driver.
Most organisations use the opportunity of an office move to bring in an activity-based working environment, in which case cost of real estate can be reduced by as much as 30%. However, for those that make the move to activity-based working within their exisiting building, the costs are steep, and often dictate the slow pace of roll-out.
If savings in rent is the primary goal, beware. Any savings will soon be forgotten if you harm your employee value proposition (EVP).
Out of 575 workplaces surveyed by Leesman, only 4% had moved to activity-based working. Within that 4%, only 16% were actually in non-allocated open plan seating.
Numerous studies reveal that in activity-based working environments, absenteeism increases, at the same time productivity decreases. For those that are suited to the new environment, satisfaction and productivity gains sky rocket. But as this is such a small group within any organisation, the overall net result is poor.
Activity-based working acknowledges we’re all different and treats people as adults who can make decisions as to where and how they work best. One person may need quiet and solitude to put together a document; another is best off working in a dynamic environment with multiple stimuli to carry out the same task.
The most success is gained from those organisations that provide a 1:1 ratio of desks to people, and allow people a fixed position. Simultaneous to a static base, these organisations encourage people to move around and to start to experiment with, and experience new ways of working.
The technology can only support the existing organisation culture and working practices; if a flexible, collaborative workforce is in play, then this is a good start.
In an activity-based working environment, managers can no longer tightly control where employees work. Therefore, implementing ABW requires an increase in trust in staff compared to traditional command and control models of management. Moving forward, it is important to recruit for cultural fit. Failure to recruit leaders that are more interested in outcomes than time behind the desk, will see a rapid degradation of the activity-based working environment.