Inspiration / Knowledge Hub / Activity-Based Working

Is it time for activity based working to adapt? If so, here’s how…

How the new working landscape rebases expectations of furniture solutions

Everything has changed and this should not come as a surprise to anyone, what with “change being the only constant” and all that.

But the change that we have lived through, from a work/career/business standpoint continues to evolve and morph, keeping us on our toes – a degree of uncertainty has become the new norm so to speak. So, just as we became used to the shifts and benefits and challenges that come with activity-based working, Covid got us all thinking about the shifts and challenges to which we must adapt in order to continue benefiting from a system of office furniture that promises us “choice”.

Going back a step or two to pre-pandemic times, activity-based working was touted as a system of furnishing offices or workplaces that accommodate several different but related work style preferences. Smoothly integrated into that notion we had several solutions that quickly identified an office as modern, accepting, free-thinking and brimming with choice.

The choice that made ABW work

Herds of insular siloes, grids of private offices and high-walled cubicles were significantly thinned as words like collaboration, multifunctional and informal became common when rethinking office design. In their place, the last couple of decades presented commercial offices and organisations with the concept of:

  • Open plan workstations
  • Informal meeting spaces
  • Multifunctional spaces
  • Quiet rooms
  • Sit/stand desks
  • Hot desking

That last one, hot desking, came under particular scrutiny during the early days, weeks and months of the pandemic due to heightened awareness of the need for enhanced cleaning protocols. But as reticence to return to the office became reluctance and then resistance to the notion of 37.5 to 40 hours+ per week in the office, activity-based working, along with office design and the furniture solutions that make if functional, are now in need of a deep rethink.

Yes, activity-based working had its issues with the daily pack-up of possessions at days’ end and the sometimes-impersonal nature of the daily ‘wander’ for a choice workspace, but a more pressing cultural question should be asked and answers are required.

How do we evolve activity-based working to accommodate today’s way of working?

Three words: adaptability, choice and attraction. These are also three of the main issues faced by organisations and businesses when working out how much space to use/lease/keep, how many configurations to consider and how to re-introduce a measure of stability/predictability when it comes to in-office occupancy (i.e. do I, the worker, want to do my work from here or over there or at home?).

With various studies and surveys suggesting that some miss the office, some don’t, some will commute, some won’t, the workplace and the furniture that makes it all functional will take on an additional role.

Way back when dinosaurs roamed the office, in-office attendance was mostly mandatory and employees were assigned desks or workstations. All but the chosen few had customised furniture. Now mandatory attendance in many offices has gone the way of the brontosaurus and, as mentioned, desk that allow you to sit or stand, regardless of your height or ergonomic requirements are commonplace. Less common in places of business and various organisations, is the recognition that offices that employ a strategy to make activity-based working work for their people, are far better off.

Unfortunately “choice” was often stymied by availability in the activity-based working setting – availability of that quiet area, enclosed desk space or a seat at that open desk space for easy collaboration with team members. That’s why ‘leaning’ on the experience of a project team with a strategy in mind can encourage broader consideration of:

  • Quantity of quality furniture solutions
  • Layout of options to cater for optimal and safe foot traffic flow
  • Culture, preferences and requirements
  • Core functions and must-haves
  • Aesthetics and branding

Not only will these strategic findings make for a more effective workplace, but they will also help employees and teams feel like the office, in some way, is a far better option for them than working from home. Now, as is becoming the case, many businesses and operations have settled on the ideal occupancy for their space and figured out ways (split schedules, ‘red team, blue team’ rosters) to efficiently use a reduced or resized space. Nevertheless, in this changeable climate, a degree of attraction is important because regardless of the degree of choice afforded employees over work location, the required outcomes remain unchanged. Effective and efficient work outputs – and this is the space that the essence of activity-based working occupies.

With so many ways to enhance the workplace such that furniture solutions and their application benefit the bottom line – guidance, context and experience are clearly an advantage. In saying that, we encourage you to take advantage of our services and skillsets to get activity-based working right for you.

Heather McWhinney is the general manager of ecf & HFA and understands the interplay between office configurations, furniture solutions and commercial outcomes.

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