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Office design centered on activity-based working provides ROI benefits through reducing facility costs and increasing worker productivity.
The current transitional state of office design is far from new, as businesses 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 a reduction in office space. Unfortunately, the open office style was far from innovative – it actually 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.
The Path to Activity-Based Working
Open offices were clearly 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. Hoteling 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 individual employee worked best.
Compared to the transition assigned cubicles to hoteling, the change to activity-based working (ABW) is more subtle. 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 kinds of work, including:
- Private, enclosed spaces for focused, individual work
- Collaborative areas 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 many benefits that come from 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 working remotely or traveling frequently, dedicated space for each employee is no longer a necessity. Organizations can reduce real estate needs by basing workspace design on the average number of employees that 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, along with a boost in worker productivity.
- Decreased Operational Expenses – The addition of space comes with additional operational costs. By reducing its workstation requirements, an organization will also reduce spending on energy and equipment, as well as other workplace staples. U.S. Customs and Border Protection implemented a program inspired by their largely mobile workforce that brought significant savings in operating costs as well as improvements in work-life balance for employees.
- Decreased Cost of Change – By their nature, most ABW solutions are more adaptable than traditional office design. Organizations that incorporate 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 are able to 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 a higher level of job satisfaction. It also eliminates the frustration of being assigned to a work area that is counterproductive to the work best. By using Condeco Workspace Occupancy Sensors, Ricoh was able to improve their office design to precisely identify the types of office spaces their employees preferred to use – a win for both the workers and the business. Satisfied employees are not only more productive, but also have more company loyalty, reducing employee turnover rates.
- Attracting Quality Talent – Today’s workforce is beginning to expect more than the traditional cubicle office or even 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
The move to an activity-based working office plan can face some initial hurdles, especially when it comes to achieving full organization buy-in and adoption. Employees who are more office-based or who are accustomed to traditional office design especially may be resistant to the change. However, most concerns related to implementing ABW can be overcome with proper communication and the right implementation plan.
For a smooth transition, every department and team member needs to fully understand the benefits of activity-based working and embrace the change. Clear goals and strategies for implementation of the new office design will prepare teams to take full advantage of its many benefits. In addition, 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 the implementation of activity-based working in the office.
- Open Communication – Discussion and communication are critical to success of an ABW program, including both sharing of 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 chance is successful, as well as where adjustments are needed.
- Consistency – Persistent adoption of activity-based working principles and encouragement of using the various activity-based working will make this new office plan and working style part of the company culture.
The goal of activity-based working is 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 both the individual employees and the organization as a whole enjoys the full benefits and ROI of this latest evolution in office plan design.
The following resources provide more detail about the financial and operational advantages ABW can bring to various types of businesses and organizations:
- Samsung Australia’s Activity-Based Working [Whitepaper]
- The Rise and Rise of ABW: Reshaping the Physical, Virtual and Behavioural Workspace [PDF]
- Why Activity-Based Working is a Better Alternative to Open Office Design [Link]