07 Nov Activity-based working: A philosophy that’s here to stay
Move over hot-desking. Activity-based working (ABW) is gaining traction among many offices across different industries from finance to healthcare.
What exactly is activity-based working? Firstly, it is not merely a new layout for the office. It is a philosophy, first used by management consulting Dutch company Veldhoen + Company, that is meant to provide employees in a company with the freedom of choice of how, when, and where to work. Many employees perform several complex activities that require different work setting or IT tools, and ABW is a strategy that best supports those needs.
“It is important to note that ABW is not a one-size-fit-all strategy. In fact, it differs by company, region and sometimes by function. For example, companies in the consumer goods industry would probably have different requirements from those in consulting, based on their specific activities” said Veldhoen + Company SEA’s managing director Iolanda Meehan. She added: “A well-thought through ABW concept, a deep understanding of the organizational cultural change opportunities and aligning these to the functional requirements of the space allows employees to work from anywhere with whomever they need to so that they can do their best work”.
Unlike hot-desking and open plan offices, ABW is not just about the real estate and related savings. Culture and behaviour change play a huge role in ensuring that ABW is embraced by a company successfully. For example, senior leadership in a company need to trust employees to make their own decisions when it comes to the best way to complete a task. Meehan says that “trust is at the core of any ABW transformation”. The third crucial element to a successful ABW project is ensuring that employees are equipped with the right IT tools that allow them to collaborate and work flexibility without having to be attached to a particular office spot or paper stack.
Broadly, Veldhoen + Company, which prides itself on being a consultancy focusing on ABW, defined 10 different categories of activities that are most common among the knowledge workers of today:
- Focus-individual high-concentration work
- Process – individual low-focus work
- Call – via phone, skype, etc
- Duo (where two people are working together on a common screen or document)
- Dialogue (where two or three people have a discussion)
- Create – generating new ideas in a group
- Coordinate – group collaboration involving updating each other on progress
- Inform – group collaboration involving training, information
- Relax – re-energising and re-charging oneself
- Technical – specific activities requiring technical settings such as a lab, etc
To successfully implement ABW, companies need to know the behaviours the organization would like to encourage and how they would like to work in the future as well as manage the change effectively. After all, the gains from ABW can prove to be beneficial for the company.
Ms Meehan said that companies that have implemented ABW successfully taking into consideration the 3 pillars (physical environment, behavior transformation and the IT needs) have increased productivity, collaboration, innovation and have seen a high increase in employee engagement – all these being predictors for a company’s success.
Mr Andrew Tan, the managing director of d’Doubles, said that it is important that the company has the right physical environment, which includes furniture, to ensure the successful implementation of ABW. To do so, a company needs to think about what it wants to achieve and how it intends to do so. “It is important that our furniture solutions align with our client’s objectives. After all, it is not just the look and design of a particular piece. Instead, our furniture solutions are part of a more holistic concept to help support the relevant ABW-identified activities, company culture and business,” he said.
This is why d’Doubles have moved to a new, bigger showroom at Tai Seng Avenue (Paya Lebar iPark) that is properly able to showcase their various furniture solutions. “Once our clients tell us about their objectives, and we have a better idea of what our clients want, they are able to visualize some of the workplace settings in our showroom,” said Mr Tan.
For example, d’Doubles carries Markant furniture, which has recently released a new line called Hybrid that focuses largely on supporting some of the activities identified under an ABW project.
As an example, the furniture setting above helps to actively support collaboration and interaction between 2-3 people – so supporting a Duo-type or a Dialogue-type activity that is not confidential in nature. It provides IT support (digital tools like necessary ports/cables) for those who may need to work together with a screen.
Another setting (above) is allowing employees to carry out more touch-down type activities – work that requires lower focus and can be interrupted and that does not take hours to complete.
For a more relaxed area, laCividina’s beautiful Osaka fulfils the objective. It provides an informal environment where employees can let loose,, grab a coffee , read a magazine , etc – this would be a work setting that supports RELAX activities.
Mr Tan said: “Our key objective is to help our client chart the journey to becoming a more productive and efficient organisation. We aim to work with clients, their ABW consultants and their appointed designers, to suggest and integrate inspiring and flexible furniture solutions as part of an ABW environment’. In return, this will promote a conducive, more productive and healthier work environment that leads to improved staff well-being and job satisfaction”.
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