Office Design

Activity-based workspace design examples and best practices

Brina Martens
July 22nd, 2021

When properly implemented, activity-based workspace design offers companies and employees a pleasant and productive work environment. 

Activity-based workspace design models (activity-based workspaces can also be referred to as “ABW”) are particularly well suited for hybrid offices and the future of work. But whatever model an organization chooses—from agile working to flexible work spaces and everything in between—activity-based workspace design offers fresh and exciting opportunities.

In this article, we highlight activity-based workspace design examples that demonstrate how this practice can best be used for agile, flexible and hybrid work, as well as for office neighborhoods. 

Activity-based workspace design is coming

The activity-based workspace or workplace (ABW, also know as activity-based working) is one that moves away from traditional assigned seating and empowers employees. This is done by giving them the necessary tools and spaces to direct their own work.

With ABW design, organizations create office space that matches the type of work (ie.: the activity). This usually means open office spaces for collaboration and impromptu meetings, quiet spaces for focused work, private spaces or phone booths for private calls, and creative spaces designed to foster impromptu and informal interactions. In the modern office, office workers are no longer tethering themselves to one stationary, assigned desk. Instead, they are able to let their task help determine how (and where) they complete it. 

Because of this, ABW dovetails nicely with hybrid work. Hybrid allows and encourages employees to work in a variety of places—in the office, in their living room, in the coffee shop, or on the road. We often hear that the ‘future of work is hybrid’; but to make hybrid do-able and meaningfully productive, the future of workplace design will also be activity-based. 

To make them most effective, activity-based workspace design models are often used in hybrid workplaces as part of office neighborhoods. This can be the best way to support every team member with the seating they need. Office neighborhoods further optimize ABW by organizing team members with similar duties, co-workers, or departments into communities and office layouts with shared spaces.  

When following ABW best practices, office neighborhoods can boost productivity and collaboration, save space and increase employee happiness.

activity-based workspace

Activity-based workspace design models

ABW holds many promises, but if not designed and implemented properly, it can actually have a negative effect on employee experience. This is the exact opposite of its intended goal.  

Therefore, organizations should follow activity-based workspace design best practices, which usually fall under four design models:

1. Agile working complements ABW design

Agile working is part of an employee-centered way of work that focuses on how work is done, not where it is done. For example, agile working environments empower employees to decide when, where, and how they work. This lets them them optimize their work life and office environment as they feel most productive. This in turn can help improve the employee experience and overall employee satisfaction.

So agile working helps ensure that activity-based workspace design is actively utilized on a day-to-day basis, leading to greater employee productivity and satisfaction.  

2. Flexible work spaces support a variety of workplace models

Flexible work spaces typically refer to any non-traditional or unorthodox workspace design. This can certainly include agile and activity-based workspaces, as well as coworking and open spaces and offices with more flexible, shorter-term corporate real estate leases. 

Hot desking and hoteling are tools that support such flexibility

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3. ABW accommodates hybrid and shift work

As discussed, the hybrid workspace blends remote and in-office working, making it an ideal model to accommodate ABW. 

Similarly, working in shifts, where employees are in rotating groups, can also benefit from the ABW model.

In both of these ways of work, where multiple employees are sharing a space but at different times, it usually makes a lot more sense to have shared desk arrangements and an open, flexible office environment. 

4. Office neighborhoods offer a great seating model

Like we’ve mentioned, activity-based workspace design offers many great benefits. But improper implementation can lead to messy results like poor employee buy-in or too much noise and distraction around individual work spaces. That’s why organizations often use design models like office neighborhoods to help address these issues. 

By grouping employees and work areas based on their personalities, job functions, work styles, different tasks, and more, office neighborhoods can help leverage the activity-based office. Coupling this with office neighborhood reporting software that lets companies track when and how desks are being used, office neighborhoods can be continually optimized to ensure activity-based work is benefiting everyone. 

abw office

Activity-based workspace design examples

Many of today’s top companies are embracing ABW as part of their office design and work environment. By adopting this style of office design, they offer examples of best practices for the ABW office. Here are several organizations leading the charge:

Microsoft NL

Microsoft’s Amsterdam, Netherlands office, called Microsoft NL, is an excellent  example of a new ABW office. Working with the Veldhoen + Company, the design of this five-floor building improves work/life balance for its employees. It also uses technology to improve productivity. 

The result: no assigned offices or desks, a mix of office zones, and meeting spaces and open and enclosed spaces that all act as a ‘catalyst’ for transparency and connection. 

Honey

Honey is a successful startup in the digital space that took a strategic, employee-focused approach to making its headquarters more conducive to productivity. According to Franci Aquino, Honey’s Director of Workplace & Employee Experience from 2018-2020, “one size does not fit all” when it comes to building a great workspace. For Honey, this meant working with employees and founders, spending considerable time in the discovery and immersion stage, and fully customizing a new space and work environment. 

“It’s not as much about being unique as it is about thoughtfully considering all the work style options of all our employees,” says Aquino. “That means quiet and heads-down work zones to open collaborative settings. We want our employees to have those open plan spaces where they can communicate and collaborate with other employees freely.”

honey

Pixar

Finally, when Steve Jobs came on as CEO of Pixar in the late 1990s, their office quickly became a model for collaborative work environments. Jobs quickly saw the problem with their original work environment. It siloed employees from the three main departments—computer scientists, animators, and executives—in three different buildings. By bringing all employees together into one office, the new office design allowed for the spontaneous collaboration that helped make Pixar famous. 

As these activity-based workplace design examples show, today’s top companies and organizations are using best practices to create flexible, collaborative spaces. This helps to ensure that they are keeping employees happy and engaged. These best practices typically include involving employees in the strategy and experimentation stages. In addition, they involve focusing on using technology and interior design to create more collaborative spaces. 

LinkedIn’s Workplace Lab

LinkedIn’s Workplace Lab in Sunnyvale, California is another unique and flexible space designed with employee experience at the forefront. Focusing on a human-centered design, this work setting was created by first testing and experimenting with new designs, to provide insights and help save money, time and headaches. 

Former LinkedIn Experimentation Program Manager Lilli Zinaman, helped develop the Workplace Lab. According to Zinaman, “we test everything from small improvements to entirely new concepts on how to use space. Whether a hypothesis is supported or not, it opens the door for so many more questions to be asked. We don’t fear change, we embrace it—I think that really makes the space what it is.” 

As such, the Workplace Lab empowers employees, and it embodies LinkedIn’s commitment to change, connectivity and experimentation. 

LinkedIn

British Columbia Ministry of Finance

The Ministry of Finance Tax Audition Department for the Government of British Columbia took the opportunity presented by a move to reimagine their workplace strategy. Given that many of their workers spent more time working out of office than in, moving to shared desks made sense. In their new office, desks are open workspaces with access to natural light and views. The office design also incorporates meeting rooms, conference rooms, quiet areas, privacy rooms, and enclosed spaces. 

Interesting to note, this office maintained a small number of assigned traditional desks. This is to accommodate workers with special needs or who do primarily in-office work. The department chose this incremental approach to ABW to increase employee buy-in. 

Uber

Uber has taken a unique approach to office neighborhoods. They’re using smaller neighborhoods to plan their headquarters, all with access to collaborative support and community spaces. It’s just one example of leading brands implementing office neighborhoods effectively

abw workspace

The future of workspace design is ABW

There’s no doubt activity-based workspace design will be a mainstay for years to come. But it’s not yet a given that these workspaces will create their desired outcomes. That’s why organizations need to ensure they are employing best practices. This way, they can create dynamic and effective work environments that benefit everyone. 

OfficeSpace gives you everything you need to implement an activity-based workspace—an innovative platform, an intuitive experience, and an invested team. Reach out to get a personalized demo. 

Photos: Slidebean, Dan Gold, Honey, LinkedIn, myHQ Workspaces