It's fair to assume that the 2020coronavirus pandemic will change how we work forever as it places more emphasison the physical, viral and mental health of us all. As a result, offices havebeen looking at ways to support wellness, without it harming productivity. Onegreat way to achieve this is by adopting the practice of activity-basedworking.

ABW is an old principle, but it has startedto trend again because it offers a large degree of agility; allowing people totake ownership of how they work and where. Perfect for those who want tocombine office and home working in the ‘new normal’.

What is activity-based working?

Put simply, activity-based is aworking style that recognises that people perform different activities in theirday-to-to work, and therefore they will needa variety of work settings supported by the right culture and technology tocarry out these activities effectively.

While the concept is a natural fit fortoday's technology and 'on-demand' culture, it was first (officially) startedby Robert Luchetti, an American architect, who by 1983 had co-invented the ideaof creating 'activity settings' for a variety of office tasks.

While the ideadidn't take off in the US at the time, it was adopted and developed incountries such as Australia, Sweden, Denmark and the Netherlands.

Indeed, it was a Dutch consultant, ErikVeldhoen who coined the term ‘activity-based working’ in his book TheArt of Working. He would work withInterpolis, one of the largest insurance companies in the Netherlands toimplement ABW throughout their offices. After understanding the flexibility andfreedom it gave their employees, Interpolis got rid of their fixed desks andencouraged managers to give their teams complete autonomy to choose when andwhere they worked, and for how long.

It was a success – but how does it supportan office exactly?

How can an office design support activity-based working?

Today’s activity-based office designs mix existing and emerginghardware to create flexible workplaces, designed specifically to enhance workperformance or ambience. To provide an example; Wi-Fi, laptops and mobiledevices allow employees to move around and access everything they need from theserver wherever they need to. This flexibility can provide the business withideas on the different ways they can 'zone' their office; providing quietspaces for solo working, a massive roundtable for people to collaborate, andeverything else in between.

Healthand wellbeing can be catered for too; and not just through the rolling out ofsanitation stations or desk screens. Gyms, kitchens and relaxation areas can beincluded in the zoned office spaces to give people somewhere to take a breakfrom their desk to recharge or keep fit.

Evenbefore the pandemic shone a light on wellness in work, many firms included adedicated breakout room in their office designs. These can be fitted out with anything fromsoft furnishings, televisions, games…anything that can help hardworkingemployees to refocus their minds.

There is no end to thetypes of zones that a workplace can have – but they need to be clear anddistinct from one another. So how can this be achieved?

How can ABW be achieved?

ABW isn't just about zoning up the workplace, adding desks in one area and soft furnishings in the other. For a successful activity-based working office to exist, it must draw upon four distinct elements; design, sensory experience, behaviour and top-down learning.

1. Design. The zoning of the workplace; what types of spaces do you need in your workplace? Do you need different types of workspaces? Private rooms to host meetings? Booths for quiet working or to host an informal meeting?

Whatever the activity, there should be a corresponding space type to host it.

2. Sensory experience. Activity-based working spaces need to provide employees with explicit and implicit cues on how to use a space. Whether they need to access a space to expend high or low energy for the type of work they're doing, they should be able to easily evaluate which type of space is right for them in the moment.

A good example of this is a kitchen; on walking in, the smell of coffee, the hearing of music and the sight of people chatting may lead them into joining for a conversation about work or life in general (low energy working). On the other hand, rooms or areas that have been given over for private working should be kept quiet and singular; this helps to provide the focus one needs to get an important task done as quickly as possible (high energy working). It just needs good planning to ensure that these different environments can all have a unique effect their people.

3. Behaviour. With design and sensory cues optimised, the space itself works best when people are aware of what's expected of them. Whether that's being quiet in the private working areas or bright and chatty in the communal areas.

With them having free choice of where and when to work, they won't feel pressured into being somewhere they don't feel comfortable in – they will know which area is best for them at that moment and crucially, what's expected of them once they're there.

This can only help to further boost the work they produce, as well as their overall mood.

4. Top-down learning. People are truly empowered to adopt a new working style when thecompany’s leaders fully embrace the change too. When leaders are committed toencouraging ABW from the top, this will generate a feedback loop that willcreate the mindset needed for everyone to get on board. It’s never assimple as ‘building it and they will come’, it never is – it’s leading byexample, showing people the benefits of a philosophy that leads to learning andeventually, a successful change.

If you would like to learn more about activity-based workingand how it can be applied to your own workplace, why not consider getting intouch with the office design experts here at Oaktree Interiors?

Create your office interiors for the future, with Oaktree

For over three decades, theOaktree team have been designing and building trendy workplaces that harnessthe individual abilities of employees. To help you envisage your ideal workplace design. weoperate a completely FREEno-obligation workplace consultancy that evaluates all your requirements, seeing howthey’re possibly hindered by the current set up,
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