Activity based offices to support different ways of working


For some years already modern organisations have set up activity based offices that support different ways of working and enable different encounters in social context, from collaboration to individual work, from formal meetings to informal ad hoc meetings and from team work to focus work. In activity based offices public (= open to all visitors), semi-public (= limited access i.e. only for customers and partners) and private zones (= access only for company internal people) are accurately defined. Activity based offices have a minimum amount of designated desks, that is desks that are assigned to a specific person as opposed to flexible desks, that is desks that can be freely chosen by the employees.

There are certain rules that should be applied in activity based offices and working environments:

  • All areas open to everyone in the company

  • Choosing working space according to activity (i.e. focus, team, project work)

  • Specific spatial and acoustic zones

  • No fixed places or minimum amount of designated desks

  • Silent / semi-silent / interactive working area

  • Shared rules

Changes in ways of working

The most important reason why modern organisations prefer activity based working environments is the simple fact that the ways of working has changed quite much. There has been a move from linear working to networking and from static and stable to flexible working. Moreover, organisations have become more flat and work is being done more and more in teams rather than individually. In addition, meetings have become more spontaneous and communications more unofficial than before and lean management methods have become prevailing. Finally, employees have more independence in choosing when and where to work and mobile and remote working has increased.

Letting go to gain more

From own experience, employees not having their fixed places or own designated desks is usually subject matter, which causes the most anxiety and resistance as most people are used to having their own desks or even own rooms. The fact is that most people doing office work in different expert positions spent only a limited amount of time behind their desks. This means that the occupancy rate of the designated desks is usually quite low. In addition, many times workplaces have far too many and too big meeting rooms. Nowadays, more smaller meetings rooms and spaces for ad hoc meetings are needed. In addition, a modern office space layout should enable serendipitous encounters i.e. through community areas, for different employees to meet and greet and ensure that there are enough social and support spaces, such as relaxing areas, lockers and toilets/showers.

By doing pilots on activity based working before the actual transformation employees quite often come to realise that the activity based office supports their working far more better than being fixed to one place and they are better prepared and more open towards new ways of working when the actual transformation takes place.

More productive and efficient offices

A lot of space and money can be saved by thinking about the office layout more efficiently and based on the activities performed there. However, cost savings should never be the main reason of moving towards activity based working and it should most certainly not be communicated as the main motivator to employees.

The number one reason for an office transformations should be that activity based working supports different kinds of functions, activities and ways of working and the working of different kind of personalities and individuals. This will make the workplace more desirable and working more motivating and fluent, employees more satisfied and happy and eventually, organisations more efficient and productive.

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