Taking an Activity-Based Approach to Workplace Design? Read This First

There’s a lot more to designing your office than choosing a color scheme and whether you prefer the dark wood or glossy white furniture trend.

In order to ensure your workplace is somewhere that promotes maximum efficiency and productivity, you must carefully consider layout and functionality, as well the interior feel.

Activity-based working (ABW) will be one of the hottest trends in office design in 2020. Companies that create their offices in this way find that they can maximize their use of available space and provide a better working experience for their employees.

So what exactly is an activity-based office and how do you implement it in your own workplace?

Activity-Based Workplace Design Basics

ABW is a shift away from the cubicle-based and open plan workspaces we’ve become used to.

ABW offers flexible workplace design, taking the best parts of collaborative open plan working and combining them with quiet spaces for private meetings and focused work.

Rather than assigning each employee their own desk or office, companies taking an activity-based approach provide a flexible workplace with a variety of different zones suited to varying activities.

Individuals and groups can choose to focus in the space that best fits the task they’re working on. From collaborative group projects and impromptu informal meetings to private telephone calls and solo focused assignments.

The Benefits of Working in an Activity-Based Office

There are several benefits to designing your workspace on an activity-based model.

Increased productivity is one of the most commonly cited. As your office beings to employ collaborative workspace furniture, employees are better able to move around and work physically close together when they need to.

Informal meeting areas mean that unplanned gatherings are more common, which take less time and are often more effective than traditional planned meetings.

This improved collaboration also leads to knowledge transfer and learning between employees. Better relationships are formed between individuals and departments.

Privacy booths and quiet workspaces also improve concentration so that solo workers can be more productive. Over 70% of workers agree that having these available improves performance.

Activity-based workplaces are also more cost-effective than traditional models of office design. 

With private office layouts and portable meeting pods, more people can be accommodated in a small workplace.

Adding office pods like Zenbooth to an open plan space is a more affordable way for most businesses to provide private space for concentration and privacy than remodeling to add traditional offices, which cost around $65 to $125 per square foot to install.

Zenbooths are also a more flexible option than remodeling – just like other pieces of office furniture, you can move them around to adjust the space as needed. They can be dissembled and moved to a new location when the office lease is up.

Improve Employee Health With ABW Design

ABW is a healthier option for employees ­– both mentally and physically. Research by the Queensland University of Technology has shown that traditional open plan offices cause stress symptoms in over 90% of employees who work in them. 

Privacy booths and breakout spaces where employees can retreat and get a break from the noise and distractions of communal workspaces can significantly reduce these anxiety inducing elements.

In addition, providing a flexible space where workers have more autonomy over where they choose to work can improve employee engagement and workplace satisfaction. 

88% of highly engaged employees said they had free choice over where to work, compared with only 14% of highly disengaged employees.

As ABW means more walking around between different zones, it also helps to lessen the health concerns that come from sedentary working at a desk all day.

A four-week study of employees moving into an activity-based workplace showed that workers reduced the time they spent sitting and increased the time they spent walking and standing.

Examples of Successful Activity-Based Workplaces

If you’re not quite fully sold on the idea yet, or you’re looking for inspiration and ideas for your own office renovation, it can be helpful to look at some real-world examples of companies that have embraced the activity-based office.

Microsoft’s Amsterdam Headquarters

Microsoft’s 17,000-sq ft. workspace in Amsterdam accommodates 1,000 people. The biggest challenge for ABW experts Veldhoen + Company in designing the space was creating an inviting agile work environment without dedicated individual desks.

The office was designed with two outdoor meeting pavilions and a communal area from reception to the first floor, which allows employees and visitors to interact and work together.

There are benches provided for informal meetings, concentration booths individual tasks, coffee points to double up as social and meeting spaces, and more traditional conference rooms. A ceiling runner guides people between the different work zones.

Lyft's Office

Image source: https://www.instagram.com/p/Bxbn696l4jS/

Lyft is well known for embracing the activity-based approach to office designs at all of its 45 offices across the US, including at its self-driving division in Palo Alto, pictured above.

The transportation company stays true to its brand value of innovation with modern playground-like spaces for informal meetings and socializing. The company is committed to providing workplaces that are welcoming but also have an element of surprise.

Lyft employees don’t have private offices or desks; instead, they work at communal desks in open areas and retreat into Zenbooth office pods when they need privacy or an escape from the distractions of an open office.


Canadian telecommunications company Telus wanted to benefit from ABW when they designed their new office space in Toronto.

The aim was to provide a mixture of collaboration spaces, private meeting rooms, and quiet areas for work. The office is designed around business units with people serving the same clients working close together. This helps the office be more efficient and productive.

A post-occupancy survey of employees showed significant improvements in the perception of the availability of private space for concentrated work, unscheduled meeting space, and zones that promote creativity.

Tips for Implementing Activity-Based Design at Your Company

Standard open plan workspaces can usually be adapted to an activity-based design with minimal investment. However, before you start designing your new workspace, it’s wise to survey your employees to discover their challenges with your current office layout and to ask them to make suggestions for its improvement.

You should also make sure you have a full picture of all the individual tasks that each employee may take on in their role. This will enable you to design suitable work spaces.

Plan Your Work Zones

Ditch the idea of giving every employee their own desk. Instead, plan your office around different spaces and zones designed for regular tasks.

For most businesses this means providing a mixture of modular conference rooms, designated privacy areas for telephone calls and solo work, and multi-use social zones for relaxing, socializing, and informal meetings.

Provide Privacy Booths

Provide quiet and secluded options for work and escape from distractions. This is a central key to the ABW approach.

Zenbooths are specifically designed for workplaces using ABW. The booths have a small footprint and can be easily installed in any available office space. They’re fully self-contained and include ventilation and built-in electrical and USB outlets.

The sleek and minimal modern design means that they slot effortlessly into any area without looking out of place.

Provide Plenty of Power Points

Ensure that every work area has plenty of electrical outlets within easy reach so your employees aren’t forced to move in search of power, which can interrupt their concentration during focused work.

Dedicated charging zones for laptops and mobile devices where they can be left on lunch breaks or when employees are away from their computer is another option to consider.

Make Your Workplace Welcoming

One of the downsides of ABW is that by removing individual desks, you also run the risk of making your workplace less attractive to employees. Storage for personal items can be a challenge without the standard desk drawers.

Make sure each employee has a space to call their own by providing lockers for their belongings, and larger shared team storage for other items. When it comes to storage solutions, think mobile and flexible.

Design your workspaces to be comfortable and inviting. Be sure to provide plenty of social areas, soft seating, and places to relax, as well as traditional desks.

Let your employees know that they’re free to work wherever they are most comfortable and able to be productive. Doing so will ensure your ABW office design is fully maximized. 


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