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New Way of Working
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Activity-Based Working Advantages and Disadvantages

Do the pros of activity-based working outweigh the cons? This article breaks down the good and bad of this popular workplace trend.
Reem Abouemera
Copy Writer / Content writer

If you've ever managed a team or worked in an office, you're probably familiar with the traditional workplace setup. Each employee has their own assigned space, usually in the form of a cubicle, and they're expected to be there during regular business hours.

These days, however, more and more companies are dropping the traditional workplace model in favor of activity-based working (ABW). You've probably heard of it, but what is it? And more importantly, is it right for your business?

In this article, we'll take a closer look at activity-based working and some of its key advantages and disadvantages. By the end, you should have a better idea of whether or not ABW is a good fit for your company.

What Is Activity-Based Working?

When it comes to the meaning of ABW, it's simply a type of flexible workplace design that does away with assigned desks and instead provides a variety of different work settings for employees to choose from, depending on the task they're working on.

While it seems like a new concept, the truth is that activity-based working has actually been around for quite some time. The term was first coined back more than two decades ago by Erik Veldhoen, a Dutch consultant and author of the book "The Demise of the Office."

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At the time of its conception (1995), offices were typically divided by temporary walls and alcoves, which meant that employees were basically hiding in plain sight. Veldhoen's idea was to create an office space that was adaptive to the diverse needs of employees. For instance, he proposed that there should be areas for quiet work, socializing, and collaboration.

Since then, the activity-based working model has evolved and been adopted by companies all over the world.

Activity-Based Working vs. Agile Ways of Working vs. New Way of Working vs. Flexible/Hybrid Working

When it comes to the workplace, there's no shortage of buzzwords and trends. And if you're not careful, it's easy to get them all mixed up.

For instance, you'll often hear ABW being used interchangeably with agile ways of working. While they're similar, the major difference between them is that agile working focuses on team collaboration, whereas ABW is more about the way work gets done by each individual and focuses on the physical space.

ABW is also sometimes referred to as the new way of working (NWOW) or flexible/hybrid working. Again, while there are some similarities between these terms, the main difference is that NWOW encompasses a much broader range of work styles and approaches, whereas ABW is just one type of workplace model.

Similarly, flexible/hybrid working is mainly about allowing employees to work remotely or from home when needed. So, while ABW can be considered a type of flexible working, not all flexible working arrangements are considered activity-based.

The Elements of Activity-Based Working

For a successful implementation of ABW, four key elements need to be in place:


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First, you need to have a well-designed office space. This means creating a variety of different work settings that cater to the diverse needs of your employees. For instance, you might want to include dedicated spaces for quiet work, team collaboration, socializing, meetings, and so on.

Sensory Experience

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Then, you need to create a sensory experience that's conducive to productivity and creativity. This means paying attention to things like lighting, acoustics, scent, and temperature.

For instance, you want to use softer lighting in areas where employees need to concentrate and brighter lighting in areas that are meant for collaboration. And, you need to ensure the temperature is comfortable for everyone since studies have shown that both too cold and too warm offices can negatively impact employee productivity.

Behavioral Reinforcement

Next, you need to put in place behavioral reinforcement systems that encourage employees to use the different work settings in the way they're intended. For instance, you might want to use a booking system for meeting rooms or have dedicated areas for socializing that are off-limits during certain times of the day.

That way, employees will be more likely to stick to the intended purpose of each space and not use them for activities they're not supposed to.

Iterative Learning

Finally, you need to have a learning process in place to continuously improve the way your ABW workplace is set up. This means regularly collecting feedback from employees and making changes based on their opinions.

For instance, you might find that certain work settings are being underutilized or that employees have difficulty finding specific types of spaces when needed. In that case, you can make changes to the layout of your office or add more signage to help employees find what they're looking for.

The Advantages and Disadvantages of Activity-Based Working

Now that you know more about ABW, it's time to take a closer look at some of the advantages and disadvantages of this type of workplace.

Activity-Based Working Advantages

There are three main advantages of ABW:

Increased Productivity & Employee Collaboration

Research and activity-based working case studies have shown that activity-based working can lead to increased productivity and employee collaboration since it allows for more flexible and efficient use of office space. Because employees can move around to different work settings as needed, they're more likely to find the type of environment best suited for the task at hand.

Additionally, ABW can encourage employees to work together more since it makes it easier for them to run into each other and have impromptu meetings or conversations. And, when employees feel like they're part of a team, they're more likely to be motivated to do their best work.

Employees Feel Empowered, Trusted, and Valued

ABW can also make employees feel empowered, trusted, and valued since it gives them more control over their work environment. When employees feel like they have a say in how their workplace is set up, they're more likely to be engaged and committed to their job.

Furthermore, trust is an important part of any employer-employee relationship. And, when employees feel like their employers trust them to be able to work independently, it can lead to a more positive working relationship.

Greater Communication and Knowledge Exchange Among Employees

Finally, ABW can also promote greater communication and knowledge exchange among employees since they're more likely to come into contact with each other throughout the day. When employees can share ideas and information more easily, it can lead to better decision-making and a more cohesive workplace.

Activity-Based Working Disadvantages

While there are many advantages of ABW, there are also some potential disadvantages that you should be aware of.

It Requires Heavy Change Management

ABW can be a big change for some organizations, requiring heavy change management to be successful. This is because ABW often means changing how employees work, which can be disruptive.

Accordingly, it's important to have a plan for how you'll implement ABW before making any changes. Otherwise, you might find that employees are resistant to the change or that it doesn't work as well as you'd hoped.

There's a Risk of Frustration if Not Implemented Well

Another potential disadvantage of ABW is that it can lead to frustration if it's not implemented well.

For example, if there aren't enough spaces for employees to use or if the office layout isn't well thought out, it can be hard for employees to find what they need. For instance, if there are too many brainstorming rooms but not enough quiet zones, employees might have difficulty finding a place to focus on their work.

Additionally, if not enough consideration is given to people's work styles, some employees may find that they don't have a good fit with the new system.

It Can Make it Hard to Find Colleagues

While ABW does lead to increased communication and knowledge exchange among employees, it can also make it hard to find colleagues when you need them.

Without a system in place and so many different work settings, it's not always clear where people are supposed to be, and it might be hard to figure out where someone is. As a result, you might find yourself wasting time looking for someone who's not in their usual spot.

In Conclusion

The future of work is changing, and activity-based working (ABW) is one of the biggest trends. If you're considering implementing ABW in your organization, it's important to have a plan and consider the potential drawbacks.

On the bright side, desk booking tools like Tribeloo can help with adopting activity-based working by allowing employees to book the workplace they need for their specific activity. That way, you guarantee a streamlined process where your employees can find and book the perfect space for their needs with just a few clicks.

If you're interested in seeing how Tribeloo could work for your organization, request a demo today!


Reem Abouemera

As a content writer who has tried it all when it comes to working models– from the traditional 9-5 in an office to fully working remotely and everything in between. Reem now puts her experience with the various working style into words at Tribeloo, ultimately helping others make more informed decisions about their own work lives.

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