The Benefits Of Activity-Based Working

It’s a feature at offices everywhere: vacant meeting rooms, unused desks and empty breakout rooms. In fact, award-winning furniture design company, , Herman Miller, reported 60% of workstations, 77% of private offices, and 50% of conference rooms go unused.

The good news is businesses have found a way to use their office spaces better while saving cash and boosting productivity. In 2015, 28 percent of Australian organisations took part in activity based working. And with the costs of office real estate rising, it’s not surprising that more and more companies use agile working styles to attract and retain talent, reduce costs and improve productivity.

Activity based working (ABW) is different to hot desking, which removes fixed workstations and allows people a choice of any desk or working location. While hot desking forms part of it, ABW at its core, is also about allowing people to locate themselves in settings relevant to the task they are doing, and includes removing private offices for senior leadership. ABW offers quiet areas for workers who need to focus, collaborative work spaces for cross-functional project teams and open spaces for creative workers.

Is it worth the investment?

Activity based working can add value when efficiently introduced. ABW is reported to reduce the amount of office space required by up to 30 per cent, and research on Australian organisations shows that an ABW employee is 16 percent more productive. The same study also found 25 percent of companies saw a return on investment within 12 months of introducing ABW. Other benefits include better collaboration, reduced office costs, more knowledge sharing and innovation.

An initial investment into ABW is required into items such as; lockers for personal items, enabling technologies - cloud computing and there is a reliance on mobile devices, larger spaces and open layouts.

Who’s doing it well?

Companies like NAB, ANZ, Commonwealth Bank, and Westpac lead the way in creating modern spaces with non-assigned seating.

Fluid working environments are also a feature at some of the most significant technology firms. Sales-force, for example, is looking at providing open lounge spaces on the top floor of their new offices where employees can work communally and enjoy the views while sipping coffee.

Will it work for my business?

Successfully introducing ABW is less about the cash and more about addressing clear objectives and a focused change management process in place.


  • The size of your business: ABW works well with larger workforces. It’s worth checking if your office space can accommodate open areas and new technology. For older buildings, the cost of refurbishing might not make ABW a viable choice.

  • Reasons for implementation: The best ABW results come when cost is not the primary driver for change. Engagement is also key to a positive ABW roll-out. So, engage all your employees when planning and find out what technologies and spaces are most beneficial to them.

  • The impact on workplace culture: Sharing desks can, in some instances, lead to distrust, marginalisation and decreased commitment to the business, so invest in training your Managers to successfully lead flexible teams. Communication is also vital. Check in regularly with staff to help them cope with the change. More importantly, help your workforce understand that performance is measured by output and not desk time.

Activity based working has its merits, yet it takes commitment, consideration and communication to deliver the benefits.