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How Activity-Based Work Benefits Business and Employees

office workers at a shared table
Katie Cavanaugh
Published on

As the woes of the open office continue to plague the modern workforce, employees are turning towards a common source of relief: coffee. Well, more specifically, the coffee shop.

Coffee shops epitomize an “activity-based work” environment or a workplace spatially organized by the type of work a person is doing. Your neighborhood Starbucks, for example, likely provides a variety of spaces to work from: soft seating to relax with a book or a colleague for a casual conversation, long tables for collaborative work, corner high tops for more heads-down, productive work. All this while allowing the opportunity for a quick break: insert perfectly decorated latte here.

Beyond the immediate experiential benefits, the “coffee shop model,” a perfect display of activity-based working in action, offers benefits that don’t always meet the eye like real estate cost reduction, improved employee performance and increased retention.  

1. Real estate consolidation and cost reduction

Agility-based work can reduce real estate costs
Maximize space usage through activity-based work

Companies are under pressure to get maximum use out of every space in order to achieve the highest ROI. Whether it’s a large company occupying multiple floors or a smaller organization pressured to design the ideal space, an activity-based work environment provides both with an avenue for cost reduction, especially as headcount increases.

Starting in 2019 for public companies (2020 for private), accounting standards will require companies to list office and furniture leases as assets and liabilities on their financial statements. This will essentially make leases appear as a larger financial burden to companies in terms of their overall performance, making office space optimization an even bigger priority for facilities and real estate teams.

Why? In the past, companies were able to choose whether they listed leases there or as an “off balance sheet” operating expense in the footnotes. Thanks to accounting scandals like Enron and Worldcom in the early 2000s, the SEC and international equivalents realized this gray area wasn’t providing investors with an accurate picture.

Luckily, with an activity-based work and shared desk strategy, offices can make the most of their space by having employees share desks and the alternative spaces amongst them. This also follows the natural trend of less space per employee. Eliminating untouched desks means companies can cut costs on wasted space and replace it with amenities or flex spaces that employees can actually benefit from, like couches and lounge chairs for reading.

Another real estate trend to consider is the trend to shift to urban areas for recruiting purposes, but with that comes added costs. One way to reduce these costs is to create an in-office rotation system that reduces the amount of space the company needs to lease.

2. Better employee performance

Employees with greater flexibility are generally more productive as a result of being happier with their jobs, according to Harvard Business Review. Collaboration tends to increase in an activity-based work environment, as well, with the fluid nature of shared seating and unassigned desks. Employees in different departments become exposed to one another more often, thereby surfacing opportunities for knowledge sharing that wouldn’t surface in a fixed setting.

For remote employees, shared desking is especially important so those people have options on who they sit near. If someone’s in town working on a specific project, they’ll want to reserve a desk by the employees they’ll be meeting with most during their stay. For non-remote employees, shared desking allows for greater access to the people they don’t normally interact with. With desk reservation software, anyone can go into a floor plan and quickly see where Jim from Colorado is sitting for the week.

As the desire for flexible work options spreads, companies can spend less time worrying about employees slacking off while they’re away from an assigned desk, thanks to collaborative technology like Slack and Google Drive, for example. In fact, three out of five workers say they don’t need to be in the office in order to be productive.

3. Recruitment and retention

activity-based work space great for employee retention
Boost employee retention with agile work spaces

If you’re looking to attract talent, millennials (more than half the workforce), favor flexible work when considering new jobs. More generally, 62% of U.S. office workers would want their next job to have more closed office layout with a mix of private or semi-private work stations available to them.

With the majority of the workforce seeking relief from the open office, it’s crucial to consider what space you’re providing your new talent. Research by Deloitte suggests that flexible working can improve retention rates by as much as 100%, as well as employee engagement.

With activity-based working principles applied in an office, employees have access to more spaces, tools, and people. The physical setup creates a more lively, collaborative environment with a sense of equality across roles.

A 2:00 PM iced coffee run may save you from a mid-afternoon snooze and give you a much-needed break from a noisy, disorganized workplace. The only issue is if you’d rather pull up your laptop and hunker down at Starbucks instead of returning to your office to work.

The good news is the productive coffee shop buzz is completely attainable in an open office setting. Workplaces designed with activity-based working in mind not only combat the typical pains of an open office but can even help with broader challenges from real estate costs to retention.

To learn more about activity-based working benefits (and how to get started) check our full guide here.

Two people walking and talking in an office

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