Activity Based Working vs. Hot Desking vs. Agile Working in Kent and London Workspaces

We have no doubt you’ll have heard of Activity Based Working (ABW) which we’ve talked about in previous articles e.g. Kent and London Office Refurbishment Trends – Impact on Health, Well-Being and Productivity and Kent and London Office Design. Hot desking is also a fairly common term that’s used across various businesses and industries. However you may not have heard of the term Agile Workspace or Agile Working approach. This is a term being used more and more within business circles.

In this article we will be looking at these three different ways of working, their pros and cons and how they impact on office space.

Activity Based Working

ABW which is where a business looks at its work processes and then designs its office space (often open plan) to best meet the work process requirements i.e. instead of employees having a fixed seat or space in the office they are free to move around. In fact mobility is encouraged.

In ABW workplace spaces are set out to support the task (different settings for different tasks) including standard meeting rooms, quiet rooms, break out areas or collaboration areas. By staying mobile staff are able to be flexible in where they work allowing them to move to the best space or setup for a specific task. ABW is not the same as hot-desking or desk-sharing solutions. It’s a way of providing employees with areas that are specifically designed to support different workplace activities.

Many businesses that use ABW have seen increases in productivity as staff find it easier to complete their work when they have a choice of where in the office they are located and the space is specifically tailored to the task. Research has shown that ABW improves employee satisfaction thereby increasing productivity. A few of the many examples of where ABW has made a positive improvement to businesses are:

  • National Grid which saw an 8% increase in overall productivity after moving to an ABW environment.
  • In the report titled Engagement and the Global Workplace [PDF] Steelcase partnered with global research firm Ipsos and carried out research to measure employee engagement and workplace satisfaction. The report involved 12,480 participants in companies in17 countries. It showed that employees who were allowed to choose where they worked within the office were more engaged with their work resulting in an increase in their productivity.
  • Office solutions company Itoki Corp based in Japan carried out an employee survey in 2017 having moved to ABW and found 84 percent of workers reported improved productivity, compared with 76 percent in 2014, when the new office had just opened.
  • A study in the Netherlands in 2015 with 5300 participants looked at ABW over a period of 5 years. This study showed that ABW improved employee well being. 64% of respondents stated they had more energy and 69% felt more productive.

ABW Pros and Cons

ABW brings with it a number of benefits including the ability for staff to choose where they work within the office space, reported increases in productivity and as ABW encourages staff to be mobile it also means they are more physically active throughout the work day thereby improving their health. ABW has also been shown to reduce operating costs in terms of space and furniture required.

ABW isn’t for everyone or every business. Every business is different and work processes or tasks may not benefit in the same way. It’s therefore important to look at how your business works and determine if an ABW approach is right for you. Moving to an ABW environment also requires a culture shift which some companies and employees might find hard to adapt to.

Hot Desking

Hot desking is used across many businesses and is the practice of having unassigned desks within the workspace. It allows multiple employees to use a single workstation or desk at different times or on a rota system, rather than giving each member of staff their own desk.

This works well in companies where employees are not always in the office and may work from home or other company offices. In this type of situation it’s clearly better not to tie up desks and space if an employee is unlikely to be in the office for periods of time. Hot desking allows the office space to be used more efficiently.

When hot desking was first introduced it was seen as a controversial way of working. It has now been around for a number of years and a number of companies have seen the benefits of using it:

  • Lego took the decision to move away from “designated desks” as a new way of working to “encourage collaboration and chance encounters that can spark new ideas and opportunities.” Lego divided their office space into flexible work zones, doing away with departments. The zones had no assigned desks (and no manager’s offices). Instead staff choose to work in whatever setting best supports the task or work that they are doing and allows them to work with others thereby increasing collaboration.
  • The Citigroup bank made the switch to hot desking in 2015 reportedly to “boost communication and employee energy and save costs.” Even CEO Michael Corbat gave up his office.
  • Microsoft found hot desking worked well for them. They found hot desking increased creativity and fostered collaboration. Alongside its undesignated desks Microsoft also offers informal meeting rooms, benches where teams can gather, enclosed and non-enclosed comfy seating areas etc.

Hot Desking Pros and Cons

It’s clearly more cost effective to reduce the number of desks and space a company takes up by having fewer empty desks. Hot desking helps to foster increased interaction and collaboration between employees however some staff find it hard to transition to an environment where they do not have a designated desk.

A study by the University of Wolverhamption found that hot desking can lead to employees feeling less valued and more stressed. When the office is busy it can lead to issues of finding a desk or worst case scenario finding that all desks are taken unless some kind of “booking” system is in place.

Agile Working

Agile Working enables staff to work from anywhere e.g. in the office, from another office, from home or on the move. Paul Allsopp, the managing director of business consultancy The Agile Organisation says Agile Working is: “the ability to focus on performance, not mere presenteeism, to create trust-based relationships, not hierarchies, to embrace innovation rather than bureaucracy, and to value people than property.”

Many companies believe that giving staff the freedom to work from wherever best suits their needs and the work they have to complete helps increase productivity. It can also be seen as an employee benefit and gives some businesses a competitive advantage when it comes to retaining and attracting new staff.

According to a report by Lancaster University’s Work Foundation, Productivity, Technology and Working Anywhere [PDF] 70 percent of UK offices will be agile by the year 2020.

Agile Working is being used in some companies:

  • Around 25% of Dell’s staff work remotely. The company is aiming to double that share to 50% by 2020. Dell believes remote working has led to higher retention and productivity and reported real estate savings of about $12 million per year.
  • Unilever is a leader in agile working [PDF]. Unilever’s working practices state: work anytime and anywhere as long as business needs are met, performance is determined by results, not ‘time and attendance’ and interestingly managers are assessed on how well they support staff who are “Agile Working”.
  • Mindtools a company who are here to “help you to learn essential management, leadership, and personal effectiveness skills” have instigated a “Results-Only Work Environment” a concept developed by Cali Ressler and Jody Thompson, which melds well with Agile Working. Rather than measuring an employee’s working hours, Mindtools look purely at performance and results.

Agile Working Pros and Cons

Agile Working allows for a greater flexibility in where staff work. It has been shown to increase job satisfaction resulting in higher productivity as well as acting as a competitive advantage when it comes to retaining and attracting new staff.

Like the other changes to working practice Agile Working requires a culture shift and can be difficult for some staff to adapt to. It also requires a robust technology and IT infrastructure to allow remote working while maintaining staff accountability.

The Right Setup for your Kent or London Workspace?

How do you know which is the best office design for your Kent or London business? It could be one or none of the above. That’s why it’s important to work with an office refurbishment company who have the expertise to understand your business requirements and help you plan your office refurbishment to ensure you have the right design/layout to ensure you get the best return on your investment.

Contact JBH Refurbishments on 0333 207 0339 or via our contact form.

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