First Oz survey of Activity Based Working

by FM Media
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Activity Based Working

The first Australian survey of Activity Based Working (ABW) and technology within the workplace has just been undertaken.

ABW is a workplace strategy that has been a buzz-phrase in corporate real estate for more than two years. Instead of employees being assigned permanent workspaces, they are allowed to choose appropriate workspaces for the various tasks they undertake throughout the day; e.g. enclosed ‘quiet rooms’ for individual tasks and open-plan workstations for collaborative working.

It’s been suggested that the concept was developed in 1997 by Dutch consulting firm Veldhoen and Company for the insurance company Interpolis. However, the LA advertising agency TBWA Chiat/Day trialled a similar strategy without success in 1993.

Despite this, various such laissez-faire office arrangements have grown in popularity in advertising agencies (for example, since 1996 employees at the UK agency Mother have worked around a vast table for part of their day), and especially in banking and other industries where there are large roving staff populations of short-term contractors or field staff who only occasionally visit the office etc.

Aside from reducing office space needs, proponents of ABW argue that it facilitates collaboration, personal accountability and flexibility.

The survey

The new survey of ABW was undertaken by interior fitout company Amicus Interiors, in collaboration with Microsoft. Over 200 respondents from small businesses throughout Australia took part with 24 percent of respondents having 10 or fewer employees.

Most respondents stated they worked in a combination of office and open plan spaces (55 percent), with over 35 percent of respondents undertaking their last office fitout under a year ago. Despite recent renovations, only seven percent of those surveyed worked in an ABW space. Key reasons for its lack of implementation were stated as budgetary, IT limitations and staff not wanting such an environment.

The changing role of technology in the workplace and the introduction of services such as the cloud, social collaboration technologies and integrated communication systems have also been at the forefront of the adoption of ABW.

“Technology is rapidly changing and businesses are adopting strategies where staff have the flexibility to work out of the office and from a number of devices. These changes are core to ABW; however, small businesses are struggling with the costs of implementing such technologies and also changing workers’ attitudes towards ABW,” says Andrew Holder, CEO of Amicus Interiors.


A huge majority of 178 respondents indicated that they would be interested in adopting new technologies if they were to make the switch to ABW, with over 44 percent of respondents wanting to move to cloud-based services. Moving to centralised document management solutions and integrated communication systems came in at 40 percent and 39 percent respectively, as organisations become aware of the benefits of new systems and the impact they can have on productivity.

Switching to these technologies can be difficult for small businesses due to costs and implementation challenges. Over 50 percent of those surveyed still used desktop and locally-based services, which resulted in over 70 percent of desks in the office being used daily. Businesses would have to significantly change the fitout of offices, as well as encourage workers to embrace the new technology, in order for it to be successfully implemented and used.

The survey indicated workers are reluctant to accept new technology and ABW, with 37 respondents noting that the current workplace culture was too difficult to change, an issue among both small and large businesses.

Over 32 percent of those surveyed were aware that staff wanted to keep their own desks and belongings, making it difficult to justify why they should switch to an ABW workplace and put funds towards new technologies.

Share your view. Visit the FM Linkedin Group discussion thread on activity based and open plan layouts.

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