How will activity-based working alter facilities managers’ role?

by FM Media
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How activity-based working will alter facilities managers’ role is explained by LUC KAMPERMAN and SHEILA ZAUTSEN from Veldhoen + Company.

Until recently, employees always had their own individual workspace in a workplace. A different environment is now required, however, due to technological advancements that enable employees to work any time, any place. Activity-based working (ABW) recognises that, through the course of any day, people engage in many different activities and need different types of work settings and technology to accommodate these activities, both inside and outside the office.
Generally speaking, fixed workplaces are now used less than 50 percent of the time, signifying a huge waste, not only in terms of square metres and sustainability, but also in operating costs. Breaking with the convention of individualised workspaces provides huge opportunities.

What impact does ABW have on the role of facilities management? What will it mean for facilities management if we truly can work anywhere and anytime and it’s not about bricks and mortar anymore?
Introducing ABW is beneficial in terms of housing staff efficiently, but doing it well is complicated and challenging. Facilities management has a central, crucial role within ABW. Based on our experience in the Netherlands and Australia, facilities management organisations need to organise themselves differently in an ABW context.
Facilities managers within an ABW environment are required to monitor and support the different work activities. Rather than just facilitating people working individually behind a desk and a series of enclosed meeting spaces, the following activities need to be supported:

  • informal and ad hoc collaboration
  • knowledge and information sharing
  • mobility (within and outside the office)
  • client interaction, and
  • (ad hoc) project work.

The role and competences of facilities management should change from a provider of classical facilities management services to a proactive ‘facilitator of activities’ and facilities managers must make some choices according to the standard of facility products and services. These choices include:

  • reaction (you ask, we run) versus proactive action (we offer you)
  • self-service versus serviced
  • standardisation versus customisation of the workplace
  • invisible services versus visible services
  • place-dependent versus place-independent services, and
  • time-dependent versus time-independent services.

If facilities management focuses on the ambition and desired culture of an organisation, services will be more appropriate, the environment will be more suitable and optimal support will be offered to its processes and activities. As a result, employees will be more satisfied, the marketing and branding of the organisation will rise and customers will be attracted. In addition, the facilities management team’s professionalism will be boosted, with it gaining a face within the organisation and being given recognition.
ABW requires facilities management organisations to development new and different competences and facility staff to develop new skillsets. Facilities managers need to take note of the challenges of cultural changes, embrace technological developments and alter their perspectives on housing people.


  • Building utilisation and access control: For example, security passes and access measurements, and knowing which parts of the building are highly occupied or not.
  • Maintenance: For example, cleaning will become more frequent as people don’t ‘own’ a desk, and when it comes to repairing desks and IT tools, people may not feel responsible for reporting issues, instead just picking a spot that works.
  • Helpdesk: IT and facilities management should be less anonymous and should have a helpdesk to enable speedy support.
  • Hospitality: For example, the addition of reception/concierge/client meeting areas and catering. How can the ABW experience be broadened to include visitors and clients?
  • Mail: For example, electronic mail distribution by scanning at the front door and document management systems to support paper independence.
  • Paper storage: For example, managing paper workflow, reducing filing cabinets, introducing (personal) lockers, and reducing printing and introducing follow-me printing.

Besides the physical environment (the variety of workspaces that support different activities) and the virtual environment (the technology that supports working anywhere anytime), the most critical environment concerning ABW is the behavioural environment.
The behavioural environment comprises our collective attitudes and behaviours. To get this right, we need to balance freedom of choice and deep trust with clear set boundaries and accountabilities. Increasing levels of trust and freedom without boundaries and accountability will not result in anarchy; rather people will still desire direction and leadership. People and teams need to be guided to understand the changes in the informal structures and the impact on team connectedness.
The implementation of ABW has an impact on the perception of team. Leaders need to rethink how they can maintain the team cohesion without necessarily sitting together all the time. While it may be beneficial to blur team boundaries to encourage cross-collaboration based on informal networks, having no formal structures is not efficient either. The implementation of ABW needs to suit the organisation – its culture, maturity and market forces, as well as its objectives and vision.
ABW projects’ primary focus should be the behavioural elements and the change strategy. This starts at the top – leaders need to have a clear vision and direction for their organisation, and managers need to be leaders. In reality, staff are relatively comfortable with the transition; it’s the middle managers who struggle.
A combination of motivation (‘I want’) and skills (‘I have the ability’) is vital for success. Organisations that have been able to change people’s thinking along with the change in the workplace’s fitout have improved employee engagement significantly. Behaviours have changed to reflect what the organisation needs, productivity has increased and these organisations have become more attractive to potential employees.

Luc Kamperman is a partner at Veldhoen + Company. As lead consultant, he has worked with Macquarie, CBA, Bankwest, Medibank and PwC in their transitions to a new way of working.

Sheila Zautsen is a senior workplace strategist and has worked with numerous clients in the Netherlands and Belgium, among which are Goodman, Rabobank and various schools.

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