Activity-Based Working (ABW) or agile working is a transformational business strategy that can create organisational benefits in terms of productivity, collaboration, the achievement of strategic objectives and corporate vision, and the wellbeing of employees. But if it isn’t managed with people in mind first and foremost, there is a risk that the benefits of ABW won’t be realised. Transformed Teams Founder, Nina Fountain unpacks what ABW really is and its enablers for success.
The ABW approach to working recognises that people perform different activities throughout their workday and need a variety of settings, technology and culture to carry out tasks effectively. By creating a working environment based on this holistic principle, you create a space that meets the physical and virtual needs of individuals and teams. Most importantly, deploying an ABW approach can develop a culture of connection, inspiration, accountability and trust that empowers individuals, teams and the organisation to perform to their potential.
On an employee level, ABW enables individuals to organise their work productively and enjoyably, in a way that suits what they need to do, who they need to do it with, and when. By creating the optimal environment for each activity, you give employees the freedom to decide how they work to achieve the best results. People respond positively to freedom of choice and ABW provides it.
When creating a workplace, most organisations focus on property and technology. They place employees in the environment they’ve built with little regard for how people will use it. As a result, employees become disengaged and unproductive which often leads to disrespect and annoyance with ‘the system’.
Four key elements make up an ABW environment: individual home bases, multiple vibrant open spaces, quiet areas for concentration and private meeting spaces. However, your ABW environment shouldn’t just lump these options together. You will have a variety of tasks to consider, different types of workers and personalities to factor into your workplace design.
High-concentration work, most of the time
The main reason ABW fails is that not enough research and analysis has been carried out around peoples’ preferences and their critical tasks. Leadership often over-estimates the amount of communication-based work teams are involved in when in reality most of our time working is dedicated to high-concentration tasks.
Open plan spaces are overrated
Vibrant, open spaces may be visually attractive, but they’re not suited to tasks that require focus. If you need spaces for interaction, make dedicated spaces that foster communication and idea-sharing. The essence of ABW is to provide variety and a sufficient quantity of different types of areas, instead of trying to combine numerous functions into one open space.
Pay attention to acoustics
When creating an office design, it’s hard to imagine how a room will sound. But it’s a vital spatial element. If you look at staff satisfaction surveys, acoustics is usually in the top three aspects that staff are dissatisfied with. Which backs the need for open workspaces to be supported with sufficient private and quiet areas. Privacy can be created with plants, bookshelves and furniture. These features also help to deaden the ‘dull roar’ that some open plan workplaces are known for.
Ultimately in a successful ABW strategy, leaders need to understand the nature of the work being done in the building, consider work patterns and give individuals the opportunity to work within their preferences.
ABW is about supporting people to do their job well. Every solution that helps achieve that goal is a worthwhile investment.