Activity Based Working Benefits

A few years ago, I wrote about change management saying, “change management is like anchovies: everyone says they hate them, but they make everything taste better.” Anchovies produce umami – that elusive yet yummy taste sensation that occurs when the right elements are combined. When a client recently asked me to explain “what are the benefits of activity-based working?” anchovies came to mind once again. Why? Well because done right – meaning with the right combination of elements – activity based working offers a multitude of benefits to both the organization and the individual.

Could Activity Based Working be the Anchovies of Workplace?

Similar to people who say they hate anchovies – before tasting something delicious with anchovies as its secret ingredient – I think much of the bad rap activity based workspaces get is a result of poorly executed examples of open plan office designs.  Densifying to save money for the organization without giving anything back, or worse, amenities provided at move-in, only to disappear to accommodate growth, is not activity based working.

Good activity based planning is predicated on the proven premise that no one uses 100% of space, 100% of the time. So yes, space (and money can be saved) but it’s not a gross savings. It’s a net savings, based on analysis of both colleague workstyles and real-time usage. And like a fabulous recipe it’s a balancing act: when it’s off it fails to thrill but when it’s right you know it.

For those who need a touch up, click here to learn the definition of Activity Based Working.


Here are a few real-life laudatory remarks from users upon experiencing a well-executed activity-based workplace:

  1. “Clean, well-lit, lots of natural light and great views” –

    Who’d want to return to the soulless environment Conan O’Brien visited at Intel in 2016 (just a few years ago, and surprisingly, too many versions of this still exist!)

  2. “The ability to work wherever you want”

    When workers know they are judged on performance (not just time spent in the office) and are supported with good technology, amazing things can happen. Fun fact: When hurricane Sandy hit in the eastern United States 2012, a Fortune 100 company in NYC experienced record-breaking profits during their fourth quarter even though for several weeks, no one was physically in the firm’s headquarters nor did anyone have access to the data center. Aided by mobile technology and colleagues who understood their remit, the firm was able to maintain business as usual by deploying employees to its regional and global locations. As a result of this learning, the firm eventually eliminated almost 500,000 square feet in mid-town Manhattan, while relocating 250 employees downtown, and at the same time, adding desirable amenities to this newly consolidated location.

  3. “Seems more social. I see more people on a daily basis.”

  4. “The cafe is great to meet people in different LOBs”

    The kind of mobility activity based working affords has its benefits in the office too. Minimally, it offers a change of scenery, a place to concentrate or take a break. But the visibility that an activity based workplace provides can also help advance your career. The advice from management and organizational consultant, Susan M. Heathfield has to say here can’t be acted upon while hiding in your cube.  

  5. “The Starbucks machine honestly makes me come in earlier?”

    Well… not everyone can, or should be, or wants to be Google yet it’s really the little things that mean a lot.” Nothing says ‘we care about you’ more than an employer providing meaningful amenities within the workplace environment.”  

The Transition to an Activity Based Workplace

I promise you, these colleagues did not all begin their transition to activity based working as advocates. More than likely they regarded it as just another disruption to their work routine; just another thing taken away; just another chip away at individualization. And who can blame them? After a dozen or so years of multiple re-stacks, downsizing and/or hot desking with inefficient reservation systems workers have had more than their fair share of being inconvenienced, seemingly for the sole purpose of saving money for the organization.

But the funny thing about proper activity based work is that the reason it works – when it does work – is that the organization has committed to reducing square footage – yes: the benefit to the organization – but not at the expense of providing colleagues with choice.

Over the past few years I’ve had the pleasure and privilege of working with a Fortune 500 firm that’s doing activity based work the right way. They have surely and confidently reaped the activity based working benefits. But transitioning to this kind of work environment – not having a designated space, having to clear belongings when you leave, learning to use new technology – is indeed a learning curve. My job has been to help them through transition by keeping colleagues informed and helping them prepare for the changes to come. (Admittedly, it can be as challenging getting some people to change as it is to get others to appreciate anchovies.) For the toughest customers, there are times when all you can do is say: “try it, you might like it!” and hope they get on board.

Most eventually do. I know this because once they’ve had a chance to settled in, I ask the question: “if you had a chance to go back to what was before, would you?” the unanimous response is “no”. Which is to say that the activity based working benefits are undeniable and when implemented right, will be a sure success. But you must get the recipe right.

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