Modern businesses are always looking for that little something extra. In a busy world defined by increasing competition and demanding markets, how you work as well as your office environment could be the ultimate X factor.
Over the last few decades, we have seen dramatic changes in how people complete tasks, with the layout of office environments more reflective of deeper business structures.
From isolated cubicles and corporate hierarchies to open workspaces and collaboration, the workplace revolution is just getting started.
Office Challenges Eliminated By Activity-Based Working Floor Plans
Open office design plans have taken off, with large tech firms like Google and Apple leading the way. In a concerted effort to engage workers and improve work outcomes, forward-thinking companies have thought outside the box and knocked down walls, sometimes literally.
According to the International Facility Management Association (IFMA), open office design now accounts for 70 percent of offices in the US.
While the move from closed to open office design has been largely heralded, something was definitely lost along the way.
Open workspaces offer great flexibility and communication potential, but they also lead to distractions, lack of focus, and loss of privacy. While these challenges vary considerably depending on the business and industry sector, the following complaints are consistent and getting louder by the day:
- Inability to concentrate - Noise and other distractions are common in any workplace. Whether you work in a quiet research center or a busy call center, everyone is more productive when they're given a chance to focus on the job at hand. Excessive noise can be particularly challenging for some people or some tasks such as bookkeeping or data entry.
- No seclusion - The rise of the open office has seen a sharp decrease in workplace privacy. Rather than liberate the modern worker, lots of people suffer from anxiety and mental fatigue due to a lack of personal space. Co-workers can look over your shoulder, confidentiality is compromised, and sensitive conversations are almost impossible.
- Lack of status - Open offices have led to the increased democratization of the modern workplace. While this is mostly a good thing, especially in some industries, sometimes it simply doesn't work. By treating everyone on the same terms, there is an implied lack of status. This can create problems for senior staff and lead to a lack of incentive for junior staff.
As office design evolves to meet the needs of modern workers, new questions are being asked about the nature of the future workplace.
How can we cater to both extroverted and introverted workers? What lessons can we learn from open office design? What adjustments can be made to the office environment so we don't hurt worker productivity?
What is activity-based working?
Activity-based working (ABW) is a strategy based on specific business activities. In order to improve outcomes, work environments and office spaces are designed around particular projects rather than fixed ideas or hierarchies.
Whether it's informal brainstorming groups, 1-on-1 training sessions, or formal meetings, work comes in all shapes and sizes.
ABW is about spatial and temporal flexibility, with some spaces able to change their function depending on the activity in question.
In many ways, ABW offers the best of both worlds, with the focus and privacy of closed office environments respected amidst the open potential of new work spaces.
If modern office design was a reaction to outdated closed models, then ABW environments are a synthesis of old and new ideas with an eye to the future.
Along with improving operational outcomes, activity-based work design is also a cost-saving endeavor that allows businesses to do more with less. By using the same room for completely different activities, you can minimize floor space and reduce heating and cooling bills.
By combining task-oriented, private spaces with open environments, ABW can avoid many of the problems of the open office.
While the benefits of democratization and collaboration can still be enjoyed through non-assigned seating, additional quiet zones are available if and when needed. Depending on the implementation, status issues can also be addressed with senior staff members rewarded with temporary or permanent access to their own office space.
Office design tips for an activity-based workplace
Designing the perfect ABW environment is about finding the ideal balance between the team and the individual. While individual design elements will change considerably between implementations, the use of mobile office furniture and private spaces is central along with the clever use of interior design and technology.
From the reception area to the kitchen and bathroom spaces, basing design choices around dynamic activities rather than static business structures helps to improve agility and flexibility across an organization.
The success of ABW depends on the right layout and access to the right furniture and infrastructure. Agile and flexible working patterns might seem ad-hoc and natural, but they actually take careful consideration.
From conference tables and mobile chairs to standing desks and private booths, the perfect balance of open and closed spaces is partly down to the furniture you choose.
Zenbooth is the perfect example of modern office furniture in action, with personal booths and meeting size booths offering privacy and focus.
Strategy to implement an activity-based workplace
In order to come up with an office design solution that suits your organization, it's important to understand the critical link between your overall strategy and workplace strategy. Your workplace does not exist in isolation but must support the overall context and ethics of your organization.
For example, a technology company will benefit from deep technology integration throughout the design. Or, an environmentally conscious business is unlikely to thrive in a space that includes unsustainable services or products.
When implementing ABW, it's important to define your principals, create a working set of guidelines, and align all design decisions with the overall goals of your organization.
- Use technology to drive design - The design of ABW environments depends on the clever use of tracking data in order to optimize layouts. By gathering data on people and spaces, you can determine how spaces are currently being used and make improvements.
- Designate office neighborhoods for different types of work - This is the cornerstone of ABW environments, with different spaces created based on intended work patterns. While open offices are typically loud and social throughout, ABW spaces also include quiet areas and private spaces.
- Respect privacy concerns - By listening to and respecting the privacy concerns of workers, you can create a safe space where people feel comfortable to share ideas and manage sensitive information.
- Balance the team with the individual - This is central to ABW design, with communal working and meeting spaces needing to be balanced with private booths and other discrete spaces.
Enjoy the benefits of activity-based working
ABW environments can take practically any form. Most modern organizations are involved with similar work patterns, however, which is partly why the dynamic nature of ABW has proved so successful.
By shifting focus between different spaces depending on the nature of the work at hand, employees can develop more efficient and productive work routines. This can happen on any scale, with some workers moving throughout the day and others changing their work patterns on a weekly or seasonal basis based on the demands of a specific project.
According to a Steelcase report, 88 percent of employees who consider themselves highly engaged have the option to choose where they work.
For example, a quiet group area might be made available for research and reading, with some organizations creating their own library or reading room.
When robust collaboration workspaces or furniture are required for brainstorming or group meetings, dedicate a large area of the office to this need.
Zenbooth specializes in flexible and functional privacy solutions for every occasion. Whether you need a small solo booth in a loud office setting, a quad booth for 2-on-2 meetings, we can help to shape your office and support your organization.
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