Activity-based working

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Activity-based working (ABW) is an organisational strategic framework that recognises that people perform different activities in their day-to-day work, and therefore need a variety of work settings supported by the right technology and culture to carry out these activities effectively. Based on activity, individuals, teams, and the organisation are empowered to achieve their full potential by developing a culture of connection, inspiration, accountability, and trust. On a personal level, Activity Based Working also enables each person to organise their work activities a way that best suits what they need to do, and who they need to do it with, promoting productivity and engagement at work.[1] Although not normally implemented as a cost-saving business strategy, it can produce efficiencies and cost savings through more effective collaboration and team work. Inspiring spaces that evolve from an activity-based approach are designed to create opportunities for a variety of workplace activities, ranging from intense focus work to collaborative settings, as well as areas for impromptu or more formal meetings.

Studies suggest that ABW (counter-intuitively) reduces face-to-face interactions, and increases email traffic significantly.[2] Yet when we drill down further into these articles, we discover that these misunderstandings come rather from mistaking Activity Based Working as simply the application of a certain office layout. However, Activity Based Working, is a framework that encompasses a holistic way of working that goes beyond the physical office space, incorporating the technological platforms and tools as well as the digital and cultural environments that support work activities - with an ultimate goal of encouraging individuals to flourish, teams to connect, and organisations to thrive.[3]


The first known reference to an activity-based analysis of office work modes was by American architect Robert Luchetti in the late 1970s.[4] He co-invented the now widely accepted concept of the office as a series of "activity settings" in 1983. In an activity settings-based environment, multiple settings are provided which have different technical and physical attributes assembled to support the variety of performance "modes" that take place in a work environment.

The term "Activity Based Working" was first coined in the book the Art of Working by Erik Veldhoen, a Dutch consultant with Veldhoen + Company, and author of the book The Demise of the Office.[5] Activity Based Working was first implemented by Interpolis by Veldhoen + Company in the nineties in the Netherlands. Interpolis is one of largest insurance companies in the Netherlands. The company gained wide recognition with its advertising campaign "Interpolis. Crystal clear", which was adopted from their vision and brought to life in their new way of working.

The activity-based office[edit]

The activity‐based office concept is said to increase productivity through the stimulation of interaction and communication while retaining employee satisfaction and reducing the accommodation costs. Although some research has gone into understanding the added value, there is still a need for sound data on the relationship between office design, its intentions and the actual use after implementation.[6][7]

The concept of activity-based workplace has been implemented in organisations as a solution to improve office space efficiency. However, the question of whether or not office workers' comfort or productivity are compromised in the pursuit of space efficiency has not been fully investigated. There are obstacles and issues of concern when practicing the activity-based office concept. A study carried out in activity-based workplace settings reports that employees without an assigned desk complain of desk shortages, difficulty finding colleagues which limits immediate collaboration, wasted time finding and setting up a workstation, and limited ability to adjust or personalise workstations to meet individual ergonomic needs.[8] Another study suggest the impact of office design on occupants' satisfaction, perceived productivity and health, pointing towards reduced time workers spent seated in ABW offices[9]

The most recent study released in 2020 by Veldhoen + Company, the founders of Activity Based Working, was the biggest global research project on Activity Based Working.[10] The research set out to understand the measurable impact of Activity Based Working and the drivers of success in Activity Based Working transitions. The research project was started in July 2019, and was impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. The report included 32,369 responses spanning 11 countries, and explored questions used in Leesman Index surveys[11] providing valuable context to understanding office workers’ behaviour - with the opportunity to explore what factors would be most important as organisations transition to a post-pandemic return to the office. The data tells us not only what type of workplace to return to, but also how to do so.[12]

Activity-based offices of the future[edit]

To create a successful work environment, it is important to have insight into the demands and behaviours of the employees using this environment.[13] Recently there has also been a move towards understanding interior design features underpinning occupants' higher satisfaction results in ABW, open-plan offices[14]

However, the three fundamental pillars that support a new way of working continue to be the same - the (1) behavioural, (2) virtual and (3) physical work environments, which can be linked to the working processes of human resources, IT and facility management in the work environment. Access to new technologies and analysis methods such as Organisational Network Analysis and other workplace metrics will continue to shape the future of leaders ability to understand and plan for the future of their organisations.[15]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Kamperman, Luc (2020). "What is Activity Based Working?". Veldhoen + Company.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  2. ^ "Open offices can lead to closed minds | The Economist". The Economist.
  3. ^ Mapes, Una (2020). "Veldhoen + Company on COVID-19 and The New Future of Work". Veldhoen + Company.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  4. ^ UCL (2020-08-04). "Opinion: Covid will force us to reimagine the office. Let's get it right this time". UCL News. Retrieved 2023-04-10.
  5. ^ "Cozy in Your Cubicle? An Office Design Alternative May Improve Efficiency". Bloomberg. September 19, 2014.
  6. ^ Rianne Appel‐Meulenbroek; Peter Groenen; Ingrid Janssen (May 31, 2011). "An end‐user's perspective on activity‐based office concepts" (PDF). Journal of Corporate Real Estate. 13 (2): 122–135. doi:10.1108/14630011111136830.
  7. ^ Veldhoen, Erik (2004). The Art of Working. Academic Service. ISBN 9789052614915 – via Google Books.
  8. ^ Kim J.; Candido C.; Thomas L.; de Dear R. (July 1, 2016). "Desk ownership in the workplace: The effect of non-territorial working on employee workplace satisfaction, perceived productivity and health". Building and Environment. 103 (Supplement C): 203–214. doi:10.1016/j.buildenv.2016.04.015.
  9. ^ Candido C.; Thomas L.; Haddad S.; Zhang F.; Mackey M.; Ye W. (April 3, 2019). "Designing activity-based workspaces: satisfaction, productivity and physical activity". Building, Research and Information. 47 (3): 275–289. doi:10.1080/09613218.2018.1476372. S2CID 116531452.
  10. ^ Chen, Zoe (2020). "The Impact of Activity Based Working". Veldhoen + Company.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  11. ^ Tree, Indigo. "Measuring your employee experience". Leesman. Retrieved 2023-04-10.
  12. ^ Yu, Robbie (2020). "The Impact of Activity Based Working. A research on measurable outcomes and key differentiators". Veldhoen + Company.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  13. ^ Oseland, N. (November 20, 2009). "The impact of psychological needs on office design". Journal of Corporate Real Estate. 11 (4): 244–254. doi:10.1108/14630010911006738.
  14. ^ Candido C.; Thomas L.; Haddad S.; Zhang F.; Mackey M.; Ye W. (April 3, 2019). "Designing activity-based workspaces: satisfaction, productivity and physical activity". Building, Research and Information. 47 (3): 275–289. doi:10.1080/09613218.2018.1476372. S2CID 116531452.
  15. ^ Kearney, Jo (2019-12-20). "A Critical Analysis of the Applications and Limitations of Organizational Network Analysis in the Workplace to Drive Organizational Change". Rochester, NY. doi:10.2139/ssrn.3564195. S2CID 219382474. SSRN 3564195. {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)