If you have read any articles or heard any conversations on workplace design recently it is likely the term ABW has popped up. Like most buzz words, ABW has come into common usage but with very little explanation as to what it really means.
ABW (Activity Based Working) is based on the premise that most employees do not spend all day, every day, sitting at the same desk, doing the same activity. If you extend the theory behind this, it makes little sense to expect that one static working environment or style can support all types of work-related activity; staff are best supported when they have access to a variety of settings that meet the varying demands of their day, from collaboration to quiet focus and beyond.
ABW recognises that not everyone works the same – workspaces which provide a range of working components best support this approach.
ABW creates an opportunity to carefully consider how the design of a workplace can best align with the needs of the business, and most importantly its people. The reality for many businesses, in particular, larger organisations, is that employee attendance generally sits around 60 – 70%. Taking into account leave, training, travel and meetings, as well as the growing trend towards work from home arrangements and contract work, the requirements for traditional office areas and a static workplace design is decreasing.
In its most extreme, black and white form, an ABW environment would be one where no-one has an allocated desk or office to call their own. Instead, typically each employee would have a locker as their home base and then access to a variety of work settings: from a traditional desk, to collab spaces or team ‘war rooms’, meeting rooms, quiet rooms, breakout or café style settings. By supplying this range of working options, if office attendance ever reaches 100%, there is still a seat for everyone – just not in the traditional sense.
By freeing up space which would have typically been taken up with empty desks, the company and its staff benefit. Resources which would have previously gone into overheads associated with that extra floor space (ie rent, etc.) can now go back into other staff services such as providing multiple quiet rooms instead of personal offices, larger café zones with meeting nooks and various working zones with wireless access.
Businesses benefit when staff can collaborate and connect; whether that’s in a more formal ‘nook’ or a casual Kitchen space, as seen here at Now Careers.
Globally, Australia has one of the higher rates of participation in ABW. Although we probably can’t list all the reasons why, Morphos’ experience and understanding would suggest that our high real estate prices and egalitarian culture are likely to be major influences. When you consider these two concepts in conjunction with the global nature of many businesses (an overseas/international headquarters with a smaller local presence), ABW makes sense.
Full ABW, or Agile working, may not suit all businesses; it is most likely of greater benefit to an organisation with a higher flux of staffing – i.e. high number of contract positions, short term project teams or sales staff who mainly work outside the office. Roles which require specialised equipment, constant access to files and/or privacy, such as accounting or HR roles, are unlikely to find ABW works for them. With an organisation which has a range of these working styles, we’ve found that the best solution is somewhere in the middle.
Travelport features a range of working areas: smaller ‘quiet rooms’ are easily accessible from the main working space and informal meeting areas intersperse traditional workstations.
When we worked with Travelport, the solution we provided was just this: while most staff remained in allocated desks we also reduced the number of offices and created a more agile arrangement for their external sales staff. This freed up space for Quiet Rooms, a generous breakout space, casual meeting or collab zones and sit-to-stand hot desks.
So; is ABW for your business? The answer is probably not black or white, but at Morphos we can certainly find the perfect shade of grey for you.