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For decades, the American work routine has been modeled after the industrial revolution. The 9-5 schedule and commuting to work in the city are just a few of the remnants from that era.

But the world today is far different. Wi-Fi and 4G have connected us to the Internet 24/7. Messages travel across the globe instantly. And libraries full of data can be stored on the cloud, accessible from anywhere. All these changes combined have fundamentally transformed the nature of business. One such example can be found in the trend of activity-based working.


What is activity-based working?

Activity-based working (ABW) is an office design philosophy and strategy. It encourages workers to choose a work setting according to their work activity. The goal is to provide individuals with greater freedom and control within the workplace.

While a dedicated desk is ideal for writing a report or analyzing a data set, a conference room may be more appropriate for group meetings. As well, a phone booth would be better suited for private phone calls.


The personal benefits of activity-based working

Listed below are just a few of the ways activity-based working can improve your work habits.


Increase in productivity

According to a survey by Dutch researchers Susan Smulders and Denise Clarijs, 70% of participants believed that ABW environments increased their productivity. Two-thirds also stated that their work felt more stimulating. This should not come as too big of a surprise as we have long described the influence of one’s environment on the ability to concentrate. Thus, it makes sense that employees feel more productive when they have the tools they need to get work done.


Greater sense of engagement

Workers given the freedom to choose where they work also have greater control over factors such as noise, technology, and ambiance. This sense of agency may not be an option in more corporate settings, but keep in mind that it can influence employee mood and feeling of purpose within an organization.


Healthier mental and social well-being

Humans were not made to sit in a single spot for an extended period. It’s the same reason why we hate waiting in line or getting stuck in a meeting. Being able to get up, walk across the room, and continue working in a new space can do wonders for our mindset. Sometimes you need other people to talk to, other times you’ll want complete solitude to concentrate on your work. ABW (activity-based working) environments offer you the ability to choose between the two modes.


Organizational benefits of activity-based working


Talent attraction and retention

Today, people care more about an organization’s values and culture. In a 2016 LinkedIn survey of 26,000 users, 74% stated that they want a job where they feel like their work has purpose (and many of them were baby boomers). Companies that work in a coworking or activity-based workplace tend to look more appealing to new hires; they are often perceived as more flexible, social, and purpose-focused.


Change in scenery

Who doesn’t want something different to look at throughout the day? Having a range of unique locations to work from throughout the day can bring some much-needed energy at work. It helps to have access to both quiet places and creative areas as your work requires.


Lower overhead

On top of everything, activity-based working can help companies operate with greater economic efficiency. National Grid, a British utilities company, was able to reduce its operating costs by £8-10M per year (roughly $13M). They reduced their overall space but offered more environments to choose from. As a result, they also benefit from higher worker productivity.


Disadvantages of activity-based working


Busy environments

Since ABW environments are public, they may often feature many people in a single setting. Take a coworking space, for example. On busier days (such as Mondays or Wednesdays), these spaces can bustle with noise and activity. You may want to outfit your office with some acoustic soundproofing panels, if necessary. In situations that require more privacy, you can book a conference room or grab a phone booth to avoid any distractions.


First come, first served

With such a high demand for certain spaces and amenities, space is not always guaranteed. Coworking tables, for example, do not require any reservations but may be all taken up by lunchtime. You can get around this in some cases by using a booking system. Use the one in place for Novel’s conference rooms (done through our mobile app).


How Coworking Fits with Activity-Based Working

If activity-based working were a class, then coworking areas are the classrooms. They allow people to better learn the ABW philosophy and put it into practice within the spaces. For one, there’s never a shortage of rooms, alcoves, and spaces to work in. From private office spaces and dedicated desks to meeting rooms and phone booths, there’s something for every kind of entrepreneur.

For example, Ted is an entrepreneur and owner of a small business within a coworking building. His day may begin by checking emails and taking calls in a private office. At noon, he may have a project check-in with his employees in the conference room. He may end the day by chatting with a client in the coworking space.

Now consider what may happen if Ted worked from home. It would be more challenging to represent himself professionally. He might also struggle to carry out work with the same level of efficiency. Coworking allows him to operate with the freedom and flexibility of a much larger company.

While coworking and ABW are still in their infancy (at least, compared to the traditional work routine), they represent a new frontier in the workplace industry. But on this trajectory, we will no longer need to use cubicles or rely on a 9 to 5 schedule. Soon, small-business entrepreneurs and their team members will have the same power over their work lives as those in major corporations, if not more.