To continue, please use a supported browser.

Chrome Logo
Firefox Logo
Microsoft Edge

Why it's Time to Switch to Activity-Based Work (and how to get started)

graphic of office space, picture of layout
Thierry Diallo
Published on

In the wake of COVID-19, making workers feel safe and productive is critical for companies. 64% of HR leaders are making employee experience a higher priority once they return to work.

But, as we shift to the new normal, how can companies adopt a more flexible, employee-centric office? Simple: activity-based work.

Activity-based work provides employees with two things they desire: freedom and flexibility. It’s a great long term strategy when thinking about the next version of your workplace.

In this blog post, let’s discover what the workplace model consists of, and how your office can make the switch.

What is activity-based work (ABW)?

Activity-based work (ABW) consists of providing employees with the right spaces for whatever task they want to accomplish. By creating a this type of flexible work environment, you’ll boost office productivity and empower your people.

For example, you can provide employees with a relaxation space to chill and grab a coffee. Or, install soundproof pods where they can have private phone calls without anyone eavesdropping.

An activity-based workplace offers a variety of workspace types to pick from based on the different tasks people need to complete. Robin's office (modeled here) is a great example of an ABW workplace.

The concept started in the early 90s at a dutch design agency called Veldhoen + Company. It places a solid emphasis on creating a culture of connection, inspiration, and maximizing the potential of each employee.

“Activity-based work is using the work environment as an instrument for change in an organization”, says Louis Lhoest, partner at Veldhoen + Company. 

According to the agency’s research, ABW can boost your office satisfaction by 13%. It’s a workplace model already adopted by top companies such as Microsoft and Costa Coffee to maximize their performance.

5 benefits of activity-based work

It’s no surprise that open space offices have such a bad reputation. The distraction in the workplace and lack of privacy can hinder performance and prevent employees from doing their best.

Instead, your office needs a more flexible approach. Here are some of the benefits that come with adopting activity-based work:

Increase in office productivity

Did you know? The average employee loses an average of 86 minutes a day to distractions in an open space environment.

After all, it’s hard to focus when you have no space to work privately. The noise from office gossip and office phone calls sure doesn’t help either.

The result is that tasks that employees could complete in 20 minutes end up taking an hour to get done. That’s no way to work.

By adopting ABW, you can dedicate rooms for specific tasks. You can have one space for brainstorming sessions, another for coffee breaks, and dedicated desks for high-focused work. 

Employees will be able to concentrate and deliver high-quality work. With no distraction stopping them, your office productivity will skyrocket.

Phone booths are often used in an activity-based workplace as a specialized space for private conversations or focus work.

Improved well-being for your employees

There’s more to life than just work and hitting quotas. If you want to retain employees and prevent them from burning out, you can’t neglect their mental health.

An activity-based workplace addresses the needs of your employees and helps you adapt to different personalities. By letting employees decide how they want to work, you give them more freedom and take stress off their back.

For example, some of your employees might be introverted. If you force them to work in an open space, you're not putting them in an environment where they can be their best.

Instead, you can create a set of quiet spaces dedicated solely to work. That way, introverts don’t have to feel under pressure and can get the privacy they want.

Enhanced employee teamwork and collaboration

Another benefit of activity-based working is that it creates the perfect teamwork environment.

Your employees will be able to walk around the office without feeling stuck in one place. It will facilitate the sharing of ideas and improve communication between team members.

Smarter real-estate management

Adopting activity-based working will help your company maximize its office space and make better real estate decisions.

For example, you can save on space by making your employees share desks. If you notice that certain rooms are constantly left unoccupied, you can assign them to better use, such as for meetings or lunch.

As a result, you’ll save money on real-estate costs that you can use for other business activities. For example, when Interpolis made the switch to activity-based work, they were able to reduce their occupancy and overhead costs by 24%.

Easy attraction of quality talent

Lastly, if you’re looking to land top talent in your office, activity-based working is the way to go. 62% of office workers want to work for a company that mixes closed office layout with private workstations available.

Candidates (especially millennials) tend to gravitate towards work environments that foster a sense of belonging and empower their employees. By making your workplace flexible, not only are you more likely to attract new talent, but also keep them in the long-term.

How to implement activity-based work in your office

Now that you know the benefits of activity-based working, you may be asking yourself:

“That sounds great and all...but how do I actually start adopting activity-based work for my own office?

Creating an activity-based office for the first time can be a bumpy road. Fortunately, Robin has got you covered. Here are some of our best tips for getting started with activity-based work as a newbie:

Get all of your technology ready

To thrive in an activity-based environment, you must provide employees with the technology they need for success.

To cover the basics, make sure that you equip the office with high-speed wifi and audio-visual technology. Consider adding universal docking stations so employees can work from any shared desk.

To really help you adapt to activity-based working strategy shine, investing in office management software also goes a long way. 

For example, At Robin, our platform comes with everything you need to maximize your space, manage desks between employees, and create a flexible environment.

We even have an app on both mobile and desktop that employees so employees can book desks, spaces, phone booths, huddle zones, and so on the fly. And with interactive maps around the office, it's easy to navigate the space too.

Get everyone in the office involved

You can’t create an activity-based workplace without the help of your employees. Make sure that everyone on your team is involved in the new change and that no one is left behind.

Doing your homework beforehand on employees’ expectations makes it easier to create the ideal office. For your research, set up a meeting and learn as much as you can about your team members.

Some of the most vital questions to ask include:

  • What’s the biggest distraction stopping them from being productive? 
  • How often do they spend time at a designated desk? How often are they in meetings?
  • What departments or teams do they tend to work with most?
  • How often do they come into the physical office? 
  • What technology would make their life easier?

Make sure the executives are on board

As you plan to transform your office, don’t forget about getting the approval of all the executives. They must be early adopters of ABW before you can proceed.

To convince them to make the switch, take the time to clarify the benefits to them. Discuss how it’s going to reduce real estate costs, improve employee productivity, and create a better company culture.

The executives want what’s best for the company. If you persuade them to make the switch to ABW, they’ll be more than happy to help.

Weigh-in the costs for your new activity-based workplace

Next, you’ll have to determine the costs that come from making the change.

For example, think about how much you’ll be spending on new furniture for the new rooms. You’ll also have to hire people to move out the old existing furniture you don’t plan to use anymore.

Technology is also going to be a cost to consider. You may have to upgrade some of your existing stack so your office can adapt to the new needs of an activity-based workplace.

Review your office etiquette

Activity-based work means a complete change in how you’re used to working. You have to take a look at your previous office etiquette and make some changes.

Outline a new roadmap that companies must follow to make the new office environment work. For example, write down rules on making noise in the workplace, different assigned locations, and how employees will share desks.

You also need to define if employees are expected to be in the office at certain times or can follow a more flexible working routine.

Tools and resources for implementing activity-based work

Interested in learning more about adopting activity-based work for your office? Here’s a compilation of tools and resources to help you out in your journey:

An interview with the founders of activity-based work, Veldhoen + Company

If you want to dive deeper into activity-based working, look no further than our blog interview with Veldhoen + Company. Founded in 1989 in the Netherlands, the brand was the first to coin the term.

You’ll learn everything from the company’s beginnings, their philosophies around activity-based work, and the process it goes through to design the best offices possible.

A guide to hot-desking etiquette

Activity-based work comes with new rules on how to manage and book desks in the office. Without the proper policy on desk sharing, your ABW strategy will be tough to get off the ground.

The truth behind what really makes activity-based working a success

Deciding to change how you’ve always worked is a challenging thing to do. It’s even harder when your team members don't believe in activity-based work’s effectiveness.

The truth is that making your workplace more flexible delivers great results — that is, if you’re doing it right. This blog post from Veldhoen + Company outlines the key ingredients to making activity-based working a success. 

Adopting the activity-based model is an excellent workplace strategy. With the right design, policies, and technology, you’ll be able to not only meet your employees’ needs but also boost your company’s performance. When done right, it’s a win-win for everyone.

Two people walking and talking in an office

featured report

The Science Behind In‑Person Productivity at the Office

Does your office collaboration need a reboot?

Find out if your workplace strategy is a hit or a miss.

office map
an employee headshotan employee headshotan employee headshotan employee headshot
Does your office collaboration need a reboot?

Find out if your workplace strategy is a hit or a miss.

office map
an employee headshotan employee headshotan employee headshotan employee headshot