The ROI-Boosting Benefits of Activity-Based Working

The ROI-Boosting Benefits of Activity-Based Working

The current transitional state of office design is familiar, as business leaders have always sought to optimize employee productivity while reducing space and operational expenses. Led by “innovative” startups in the 1990s, the business world embraced open office designs that promised spontaneous collaboration and reduced office space. Unfortunately, the open office style was far from innovative – it dates back to the open design of the Larkin Administration Building in 1908 – and studies have shown that its lack of privacy is detrimental to employee productivity, job satisfaction, and health. That is where activity-based working can assist.

The Path to Activity-Based Working

Open offices were not the perfect solution to balancing cost efficiency and employee success. One of the next trends to make its way through office plan design was hoteling, also known as hot desking. Hot desking eliminated the real estate costs associated with having an assigned workspace for each employee with a smaller set of identical workspaces or desks reserved on an “as-needed” basis. For the most part, hoteling was still paired with an open-office design – and the one-size-fits-all approach was not conducive to all the ways each employee worked best.

The change to activity-based working (ABW) is more subtle than transitioning from assigned cubicles to hoteling. While the concept of reservable work areas remains the same, activity-based working expands employee options to a range of working areas designed to optimize different activities, including:

  • Private, enclosed spaces for focused, individual work
  • Collaboration spaces designed for small-team projects
  • Larger, creative spaces for group brainstorming sessions

Naturally, there is a cost associated with the transition to an office design based on the principles of activity-based working. Yet, for many organizations, the benefits of an ABW approach far outweigh the expenses of making that change.

ABW’s Bottom-Line Benefits

There are two main areas in which the activity-based working format can benefit an organization: reducing facility-based expenses and increasing employee success. While one is more of an indirect financial gain, both factors contribute to the positive ROI of activity-based working.

Reducing Facility-Based Expenses

  • Decreased Space Requirements – With an increasing percentage of employees doing remote work or traveling frequently, dedicated space for each employee is no longer necessary. Organizations can reduce real estate needs by using an activity-based working floor plan based on the average number of employees who regularly work on-site rather than the entire team. AT&T’s transition to a more innovative office plan brought them a reported annual savings of $15 million in real estate costs and a boost in worker productivity.
  • Decreased Operational Expenses – The addition of space comes with additional operational costs. By reducing workstation requirements, an organization will also reduce spending on energy, equipment, and other workplace staples. U.S. Customs and Border Protection implemented a program inspired by their predominantly mobile workforce that brought significant savings in operating costs and improved employee work-life balance.
  • Decreased Cost of Change – Most ABW solutions are more adaptable than traditional office design. Organizations incorporating mobile furniture into their activity-based working plan can easily modify their floor plan for changing employee and business needs.

Increasing Employee Success

  • Increased Productivity – It is only logical that workspace solutions optimized for specific types of work will allow employees to be more effective in their various roles and tasks—productivity increases when workers can choose the work area that best fits their immediate needs. A recent study of workspaces in Australia found a 16% increase in productivity from activity-based workers compared to their non-ABW counterparts.
  • Improved Morale – Allowing employees to select the type of workspace they use gives them more control over their work environment, leading to higher job satisfaction. It also eliminates the frustration of being assigned to a work area that is counterproductive to the work best. Using Condeco Workspace Occupancy Sensors, Ricoh improved their office design to precisely identify the types of office spaces their employees preferred– a win for both the workers and the business. Satisfied employees are more productive and have more company loyalty, reducing employee turnover rates.
  • Attracting Quality Talent – Today’s workforce is beginning to expect more than the traditional cubicle or open office as their destined work environment. By embracing the evolution of the office with activity-based working, employers have a valuable selling point for attracting high-quality, innovative talent from millennials and young parents to more experienced generations of workers.

Making the Transition to Activity-Based Working

Moving to an activity-based working office plan can face some initial hurdles, especially when achieving full organization buy-in and adoption. Employees who are more office-based or accustomed to traditional office design may resist the change. However, most concerns about implementing ABW can be overcome with proper communication and the right implementation plan.

Every department and team member must fully understand the benefits of activity-based working and embrace the change for a smooth transition. Clear goals and strategies for implementing the new activity-based working floor plan will prepare teams to take full advantage of its many benefits.

Apart from enjoying the activity-based working benefits that an ABW office design offers, the following practices will help ensure a smooth transition to activity-based working:

  • ABW Facilitators – These employees will be responsible for planning, understanding, and providing direction on implementing activity-based office work.
  • Open Communication – Discussion and communication are critical to the success of an ABW program, including both sharing activity-based working plans and processes and listening to employee feedback needs.
  • Measurement of Results – With specific goals in place before the transition to ABW, measurement and analysis will show where the change is successful and adjustments are needed.
  • Consistency – Persistent adoption of ABW principles and encouragement of using the various activity-based working spaces will make this new office plan and working style part of the company culture.


ABW aims to support employees by fitting their work environments to their work while reducing business costs. An organized plan for communication and implementation of ABW will ensure that the individual employees and the organization enjoy the full benefits and ROI of this latest evolution in office plan design.


What is activity-based working (ABW)?

Activity-based working (ABW) is a concept of a flexible workspace design that encourages employers to build workspaces that allow employees to work in different spaces to complete different tasks.
The ABW workplace design allows employees to work in various parts of the office based on the activity at hand.

A company that adopts an activity-based workplace design uses a purposefully designed activity-based working floor plan that characterizes the working requirements of the company’s employees.

How does activity-based working differ from traditional office setups?

Activity-based working (ABW) differs from traditional office setups because it uses design and cultural concepts not found in traditional office setups.

These include:

  • Workspace Diversity: Offices with an activity-based workplace design and ABW principles promote a diverse work setting.
  • Equal Ownership and Sharing: Offices that adopt an ABW office design allow every employee to access any part of the office and use it as they see fit.
  • Individualistic and Flexible Working Lifestyle: Activity-based working is more than just a design choice; it is an integral part of the lifestyle and culture of a company.

What are the benefits of activity-based working?

Some of the activity-based working benefits that come with adopting the ABW workplace design and culture include:

  1. Reducing facility-based expenses for companies:
    1. Decreased real estate requirements
    2. Decreased operational expenses
    3. Decreased cost of change
  2. Increasing employee success rate:
    1. Increased productivity for employees
    2. Improved morale among employees
    3. Attracting quality talent in both young and experienced prospects