Why CRM is Key for Your CRE Team Structure

The following is a guest blog written by Kent Stuart, a Director of Grosvenor Management Consulting. With the core capabilities of CRE and organisational review, Grosvenor offers a distinct combination of best practice organisational design to the unique challenges of a CRE function.

Over the years there has been a lot of change in how organisations manage their Corporate Real Estate (CRE) and how they structure their teams. Despite many significant improvements, we still see a lot of focus on the technical aspects of property including the facilities, design, real estate and project management. And too often, we see little focus on the customers when approaching CRE team structure.

That’s a concern, especially given the increasing demands on CRE to implement workplace strategies that drive workforce productivity, enable collaboration, and improve employee experience. The new demands of the workplace require a CRM-focused model for CRE team structure that addresses relationship management.

Customer Relationship Management or CRM traditionally refers to an approach businesses use to manage a company’s interaction with their customers. CRM tries to analyze data about customers’ history with a company, to improve business relationships with customers, specifically focusing on customer retention, and ultimately to driving strategic growth.

In this article we describe some traditional CRE team structures, along with a new model that can better support client relationship management, which is essential for gaining a seat at the strategic table and implementing the modern workplace.

Traditional CRE team structure models

Client-centered CRE team structure

Why CRM is Key for Your CRE Team Structure | Client centered model

Client-centered team structure

This model comprises multi-skilled, client-based teams for all service delivery requirements, with each team taking responsibility for the needs of an individual line of business (LOB). Teams are supported by centralised shared services and expertise including financial management, risk management and management information system support.

A dedicated team can develop a solid understanding of clients and their unique requirements, and clients may perceive a higher level of service. However, functional expertise of the team is often compromised due to working in silos.

Functional CRE team structure

Why CRM is Key for Your CRE Team Structure | Functional model

Functional team structure

This model comprises functional specialist teams servicing a client base. Like the client-based teams, functional teams are supported by centralised shared services.

In this structure, central specialized teams develop high levels of expertise in their area, often resulting in improved service outcomes. However, when teams are focused on their own area of expertise, they may not prioritise client relationship management or develop an understanding of each client’s unique requirements.

Geographic CRE team structure

Why CRM is Key for Your CRE Team Structure | Geographic structure

Geographic team structure

This model comprises geography-based teams for all service delivery requirements, with each team taking responsibility for their allocated area. Multi-skilled teams are also supported by centralised shared services.

In this model, teams can develop localised relationships and expertise, such as local rental trends and knowledge about subcontracted providers, which can improve service delivery. However, teams may have difficulty achieving a consistent high level of service across all clients in each area. Functional expertise may also be compromised due to separation of teams.

Property type CRE team structure

Why CRM is Key for Your CRE Team Structure | Property type model

Property type team structure

This model comprises teams based on property type for all service delivery requirements. Multi-skilled teams are supported by centralised shared services.

Teams in this structure develop expertise about the property type they support as well as an understanding of their unique requirements, such as maintenance planning. However, like the geographical structure, they may have difficulty achieving a consistent level of service, and separation of teams can compromise functional expertise.

The new CRM-focused CRE team structure that better supports your business

Mixed structure: the emerging CRM-focused CRE team structure model of choice

Why CRM is Key for Your CRE Team Structure | Mixed model

Mixed CRM team structure

This model combines the advantages of the other models, and is emerging as the team structure model of choice for industry service providers. It comprises a centralised team of functional experts in a centre of excellence, and client-based teams who leverage the centralised expertise in the performance of their functions. In recent years, industry providers such as JLL and Cushman & Wakefield have moved towards this mixed model.

Key considerations about the mixed CRE team structure

Like the client-centered model, CRE teams in the mixed model can develop a solid understanding of the groups they serve and their clients often perceive better levels of service as a result. However, this team structure can deliver better actual outcomes (as opposed to perceived service levels) due to the expertise provided by the Center of Excellence.

However, for the mixed team structure to deliver these benefits, relationship management is essential. Companies must embed client service managers on strategy teams within the business units they serve. It is critical for these client service representatives to be intimately involved with strategic decisions that impact property, manage how demand is articulated, and communicate needs effectively in accordance with lead times.

One challenge that can arise with the mixed team structure is what can be perceived as competing interests between client service teams (who are focused on meeting business needs) and Center of Excellence (who are focused on efficiency and compliance with standards). However, these competing drivers can often create a creative tension that results in improved delivery when teams collaborate to find good solutions that meet client needs without compromising standards.

Why relationship management is so critical to a successful workplace strategy

As anyone who manages a complex CRE portfolio will tell you:

“Being able to make long term commitments drives down the cost of real estate.”

However long term commitments require visibility of long term needs, which leads me to the second truism:

“The hardest part of effective portfolio management is being able to accurately forecast business demand.”

Portfolio management is about matching accommodation supply and demand in the most timely and cost effective way possible. Forecasting business demand requires an intimate knowledge of the business, the strategy and how that strategy is likely to impact accommodation demand.


In complex organisations, this means multiple strategies across wide geographies often with a range of property types each having its own specific locational and functional needs.

So if forecasting business demand is important and this requires a detailed and intimate understanding of business strategy, how does the organisational design for a CRE reflect this requirement for knowledge of business strategy? Answer – by having relationship managers whose role is to focus on the needs of the business. This is the strength of the mixed CRE team structure.

Relationship or client managers are responsible for understanding the needs of the internal clients and translating these into CRE deliverables. However, client managers can be much more: they can also be the advocate for CRE inside the client groups. They can be influencers who ensure that all programs and projects of the business consider the CRE requirements as part of the planning stage, not just at implementation.

By establishing trust and developing a detailed understanding of their clients and their business, a CRE client manager can become the trusted advisor on all things CRE. They must speak the language of the business (not CRE jargon) and they must be seen as an important voice at the time when businesses are considering the strategic options and developing their plans.

Relationship management is also key for supporting agile working and employee experience

CRE organizations face increasing demand to improve the experience of employees in the workplace, with the goal of growing productivity as well as attracting and retaining talent. At the same time, they face significant pressure to reduce property costs.


Moving to agile working environments is the strategy that is enabling organizations to do both. However, getting these workplaces right requires a deep understanding of each team and line of business and their space requirements. It also requires a high level of expertise in workplace strategy, change management, and implementing standards and new technology. The mixed CRE team structure provides the right balance of immersion in the business with the operational excellence needed to support modern workplace requirements.

The following matrix model below summarizes an excellent functional team structure for CRE in a complex business environment.

Why CRM is Key for Your CRE Team Structure | Service delivery matrix

Related topics:
Agile Working Benefits: Moving Beyond the Dollars
3 Workplace Strategies for Attracting Top Talent

Treating CRE as a business within a business

A great way to challenge current thinking is to ask, “How would we operate if our CRE function was a separate business? If the payments to landlords and contractors were expenses, and recovered occupancy costs from our internal clients were revenue, how would we change our team structure and our services?”

Invariably the answer includes a team of people focused only on the customer, their needs and expectations. That’s because a business without customers is no business at all and CRE function without a customer relationship management is only playing half the game!

Need help determining the best CRE team structure for your business environment? Contact Kent Stuart for an informal chat.

Create an activity based working strategy. Learn how today.


How Do You Measure Knowledge Worker Productivity?

Is your CRE team facing mounting pressure to create workplaces that better support employees and how they want and need to work? As if the demand to reduce property costs was not enough, CRE organizations are increasingly tasked with meeting additional goals like these:

  • Attracting talent in an increasingly competitive climate
  • Supporting employee health and wellbeing
  • Increasing collaboration, seen as the key to driving the innovation companies need to be successful in the knowledge economy
  • Improving knowledge worker productivity, which is essential for improving competitiveness and profitability

Corporations are worried by reports of slowing productivity growth, and rightfully so. That’s why even CRE teams are tasked with doing their part to remediate this growing problem. However, organizations are struggling to figure out how to measure the effectiveness of the work they do to improve knowledge worker productivity in particular.

Why measuring knowledge worker productivity is such an elusive target

Knowledge workers are those who “think for a living,” making productivity challenging to measure. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, measuring employee productivity means calculating “output per hour” of work. This formula is problematic for measuring knowledge worker productivity, because:

  • Outputs are intangible and difficult to define
  • Results are often based on team output rather than individual
  • Companies are not necessarily tracking hours for salaried employees
  • Time spent working is increasingly blurred as a mobile workforce integrates their professional and personal lives

Measuring knowledge worker productivity is situational, since outputs and how to calculate them varies widely across an organization. That makes coming up with broadly applicable KPIs very difficult or even impossible. So how can CRE teams measure the effectiveness of programs designed to influence knowledge worker productivity?

The 6 factors that correlate with knowledge worker productivity

Workplace strategy consulting firm Advanced Workplace Associates (AWA) partnered with the Center for Evidence Based Management to undertake extensive research to address the dilemma of how to measure knowledge worker productivity.

They studied the world’s major academic databases with rigorous, high-quality evidence from peer-reviewed research, and (not surprisingly) came to the conclusion that there is no valid universal measurement that can be applied to knowledge worker productivity. However, they did come up with an interesting and useful alternative: a set of 6 strong correlations that relate to knowledge worker productivity at the team level. That means, when these 6 factors exist within knowledge worker teams, or a workplace in general, there is a high statistical correlation with high levels of productivity.

These factors provide the framework to measure the results of workplace transformations designed to improve knowledge worker productivity: measure the levels of these 6 factors before and after program implementation.

However, there is even more value to be gained from understanding these 6 factors. CRE teams can use them as a guide for designing and implementing better workplaces that help meet other goals, like supporting employee wellbeing and attracting talent.

Here are AWA’s 6 factors that correlate to high levels of knowledge worker productivity, and how CRE can create workplaces to better support them.

Social cohesion

In the knowledge economy, each person is an asset bringing their own particular expertise, experiences and ideas to the table. The sharing of all that knowledge among team members is what drives high levels of output, which translates to commercial success for the firm. Social cohesion is the “glue” that fuses high performing teams and leads to knowledge worker productivity. When people feel comfortable with others and valued within the group, they are happy to share their ideas. And possibly more importantly, they feel more comfortable both sharing and accepting criticism.

So how can workplace design impact social cohesion? Two ways: by implementing agile “neighborhoods” where the right combination of people and teams are co-located, and by provided spaces designed to encouraging mingling and collaboration among these people.

Learn more: Can Office Design Drive Workplace Productivity & Innovation?

Perceived supervisory support

The research shows that employees place a high value on how supported they feel by their supervisors. That support influences not only knowledge worker productivity, but their job satisfaction and retention. Employees expect managers to be available to the team to facilitate discussion and cooperation, set a positive tone, and proactively manage workload issues.

Here’s another area where workplace design can have a great impact on knowledge worker productivity. Agile work environments encourage managers to work alongside their teams, making it easier for them to guide interactions and decisions and facilitate problem resolution.

Learn more: 3 Ways an Open Office Plan Works for Corporate Leaders

Information sharing

Being productive means using the most efficient means possible to achieve results. In an organizational team, achieving high levels of knowledge worker productivity means understanding the resources available and what each person brings to the team. When teams do a good job with information sharing, everyone knows how and from whom to get information and assistance. That cuts down on “reinventing the wheel” every time a problem comes up or information is needed.

Promoting information sharing means breaking down the traditional “knowledge is power” value, which can cause people to keep what they know to themselves for their own use. Instead, teams should promote a culture of “knowledge generosity” by valuing those who freely share their expertise with others.

That goal is much easier to accomplish in an open office setting, where team members can readily witness workers (especially leaders) willingly sharing ideas and information.

Goal clarity

Knowledge worker productivity is highly correlated with workers being emotionally engaged with the work they do. That engagement often comes from teams having a common understanding of the underlying goals behind their work. That understanding helps them to empathize with team and organizational goals, develop a high level of commitment and willingness to go “above and beyond” to help achieve those goals.

It’s essential for the organization as a whole, as well as managers at every level, to clearly communicate goals to team members. At the team level, managers need to be mindful of helping individual workers understand how what they do helps both the team and the company to be successful.

While this is certainly a cultural issue to be addressed with change management programs, workplace can also have an impact. That’s because managers working in a modern “neighborhood” environment have more opportunities to interact with employees and provide clarity about goals.

External outreach

In the words of AWA, this is about getting people out of the “cocoon of their own world and that of their team.” To gather information and generate ideas that improve knowledge worker productivity, people need to expose themselves to more diverse views outside their own team, and even outside the organization. This practice fuels creative thought and more and better ideas.

CRE can have a huge impact on external outreach (and knowledge worker productivity) with workplace design and agile working. When people are no longer assigned to the same seat each day, they are exposed to different people as they move around throughout the week, and even the day, to work in different spaces.

Also, workplaces designed to promote movement for the benefit of employee health can also increase external outreach. For example, when people are encouraged to walk around to use shared services, or take the stairs to the next floor, or walk to a neighboring building, they have more opportunities for conversations and sharing information.

Learn more: The Psychology Behind Modern Office Design & Workforce Wellbeing


Employees want to be able to rely on their colleagues, and knowledge worker productivity depends on it. They want to believe in others’ knowledge and skills, know that the expertise they share will be used responsibly, and trust that others will act in their best interest (or at least not against it). They are much more willing to invest their energy and contribute their best work when they have that trust.

Trust is a problem CRE professionals are intimately familiar with. Getting business teams to provide information, when they are not sure you will use it in their best interest, has always been a challenge. So how do you gain trust? First, build relationships by involving teams in information gathering and regularly asking them about their needs and plans. Secondly, by providing value in the form of reliable information.

That’s why CRE teams need technology in place that provides concrete evidence about how space is being used, and by whom. Presenting this knowledge along with your strategic plans shows your business teams that you understand their needs and have their best interest in mind.

Learn more:
Property Team: How To Drive Space Utilization Planning Conversations Managing Workplace Utilization

When you’ve gained the trust of the business teams you support, you improve more than the productivity of the CRE team. It becomes faster and easier to implement workplace transformation strategies like agile working, which serve to reduce property costs, improve workplace culture, attract talent, and boost knowledge worker productivity and your company’s bottom line.

Download a guide to managing workplace utilization today.

Case Study

Suncorp Case Study

Executive Summary


  •  $95 billion in assets
  • Top 25 ASX listed company
  • 15,000 employees
  • 450 users
  • 650 sites employees
  • Streamlined moves
  • Moved to a flexible environment
  • Saved over $30M per annum


Suncorp saw the potential for large reductions in real-estate costs, but required accurate data to implement a proactive property strategy. The implementation of Serraview’s Workplace Management system provided them with a single portal that accurately displayed all of their property data, and track flexible work spaces with higher capacity than traditional models of one seat per person. This combination enabled Suncorp to accurately identify underused spaces, increase occupancy by 40%, and stretch their overall portfolio capacity, and ultimately deploy a more productive and modern workplace for their people.

Suncorp can now easily share property information amongst multiple departments and service providers. This provides the system with live knowledge of vacancies, locations and costs providing the organisation with a true 360-degree view of employee occupancy.

Buy-in to property strategy has improved immensely, as executives are now confident that decisions are based on accurate forecasts. Suncorp’s ROI on the Serraview solution has been rapid, and is borne out by improvements in portfolio performance. 

“The real success story for Suncorp has been the ability to manage and optimise our portfolio, allowing us to move to a flexible work environment which has significantly reduced annual costs. Serraview’s powerful graphical representations have handed proactive engagement back to the business and increased executive buy-in. We can now clearly identify vacant work points and see how long these vacancies have existed.” – Chris Sutcliffe, Executive Manager Workplace Delivery 

Client Overview

Suncorp Group comprises leading general insurance, banking, life insurance, superannuation and investment brands in Australia and New Zealand. The Group has over 15,000 employees and interfaces with nine million customers. It is a Top 25 ASX listed company with over $95 billion in assets.

Suncorp has five core businesses: Personal Insurance; Commercial Insurance; Vero New Zealand; Suncorp Bank and Suncorp Life. Corporate and shared services divisions support all of these businesses.

Suncorp’s business strategy is to realise the marketing benefits of a portfolio of leading brands at the same time as the economy of scale benefits associated with operating a single group structure. Suncorp are the largest general insurance group in Australia and the second largest in New Zealand. Suncorp Bank is Australia’s leading regional bank. Suncorp Life specialises in life insurance, and also operates leading superannuation and investment business.

“We are now confident doing large moves. Previously, moving 700 people in one move without Serraview would have been logistically monumental.” – Chris Sutcliffe 

Business Challenges

With more than 15,000 employees, 650 buildings and widespread use of traditional systems such as paper plans and Excel spreadsheets, Suncorp faced significant challenges managing their property portfolio.

Their issues included:

The lack of a single, accurate view of occupancy – caused by isolated silos of data and manual processes.

Tedious strategic planning – manual spreadsheets lacked links between people, workstations, and vacancies. Planning was slow and reworking often had unforseen impacts on other data sets.

Limited executive buy-in – no automated tools existed to facilitate proactive strategy, causing difficulties in clearly demonstrating strategy to management. 


Suncorp saw Serraview’s solution as a compelling proposition, due to its ability to enhance strategy and increase the bottom line.

The three main benefits achieved so far are:

  • A single portal – providing a full understanding of the portfolio. The solution provides powerful visual representations of occupancy data, enabling effective communication with the business.
  • Potential for enormous savings – increased visibility of occupancy, along with clarity of vacancy and moving costs, allows Suncorp to make better use of space.
  • Improved strategic planning – thanks to access to accurate and timely data. The system is now well positioned to facilitate complex utilisation decisions. 

“The Serraview team has the attitude that nothing is too hard and is keen to learn from clients. Serraview works collaboratively with Suncorp and with a shared purpose – to get feedback, build functionality, and achieve innovation.”

Derived Value

Suncorp has enjoyed significant financial savings and operational benefits as a result of implementing Serraview’s solution. 

These include:

Significant property savings – The Serraview solution has provided Suncorp with enterprisewide visibility of vacancies and underutilised work points. The portal includes automated accuracy controls. Suncorp was able to leverage existing space to optimise the financial performance of their portfolio.

A streamlined move process – Suncorp needed to streamline their moves and complete them in less time to reduce costs.

Improved strategic planning and executive buy-in – Suncorp’s National Restack Consolidation project involves a continual review of their three major geographical areas in order to constantly optimise their portfolio.

“With Serraview, it’s quick and simple to restack and monitor the portfolio. We often link strategy with leasing for early exit, or sublet unused space. We are now able to look at what decision is best for the business, rather than waiting for a lease to expire.”

More accurate chargeback – Suncorp found it beneficial to incorporate both corporate and retail bank sites into the Serraview system. This facilitated accurate chargeback based on business unit allocations. Business units are now motivated to hand back their underutilised space, creating an opportunity for more savings.

A cost reduction of $90M due to the move to a flexible environment –  By eliminating wasted space and increasing capacity, Suncorp was able to save $30M a year over a three year period, equivalent to a 30% reduction of total costs. Suncorp now uses Serraview to operate with a ratio of 8 desks to 10 flexible staff in flexible working environments. With 1,200 people currently operating in flexible environments, major savings have been realized by moving from 80% to 120% occupancy. 

Moving Forward

Suncorp has a productive engagement model with Serraview. Over the past 12 months, developments in new tools and innovations have been key to maximising Suncorp’s utilisation & performance. 

Case Study

Federal Government Department Case Study

Executive Summary

  • 20,000+ staff
  • Streamlined Processes
  • Simplified PRODAC compliance
  • Transparent & empowered space planning
  • Detailed audit tracking
  • CFO support
  • Smaller footprint & efficiency dividends with 0 loss of headcount

Serraview’s tools have enabled this large government department to implement significant efficiencies in line with the Australian Government’s Property Data Collection (PRODAC) requirements, move to a smaller footprint and deliver meaningful efficiency dividends without an impact on headcount. In the process this has increased the property team’s capability, responsiveness and profile.

The department recognised the need for a centralised portal for their workplace information.

Specifically, they wanted to provide improved management and visibility of their accommodation data and processes, transparency over service requests, reduce the risk of information loss, and support the relocation process.

Serraview’s proactive and personalised service led to an impressive implementation. In consultation with the agency, they pinpointed key requirements and rapidly produced appropriate solutions.

Streamlined processes have improved the turnaround times for property requests.

Records management has been transformed, and the system now provides Australia-wide visibility of outstanding and delayed action items. This has greatly reduced complaints and revealed hidden issues. Furthermore, Serraview’s move planning tools have enabled the department to effectively plan relocations and consolidations. These combined factors have saved the department a significant amount of time and money.

Australian Government Standards 

The Australian Government’s PRODAC data collection and reporting requirements were established in 2009 to help agencies identify better practices, progressively improve the management and use of office space and inform whole-of-government property policy.

Apart from providing leasing information, the standard requires agencies to manually conduct an audit of workpoint utilisation based on its common definitions on an annual basis. 

“The process efficiencies and improved utilisation we have achieved reflect our more sophisticated approach to workplace management. We can now facilitate constructive conversations and take a more strategic approach to property management and change planning.” – Director of Property 

Business Challenges

With over 20,000 employees, 550 property requests a year (involving over 4,800 people) and a whole-of-government mandate to deliver a minimum 4% efficiency dividend in FY 2013, this government department needed better ways to manage high business-as-usual workpoint changes, reduce manual administrative tasks and significantly reduce workplace costs.

To begin, there was an urgent need to replace ad-hoc manual processes with more automated methods integrated with IT systems. Priorities were to automate processes, enhance the audit trail, improve records management, and introduce change reporting to track accommodation space metrics and analytics – all to streamline existing processes, freeing the property team to focus on delivering strategic benefits.

Space allocation changes were previously undertaken using A3 paper floor plans and highlighter pens. The agency needed a way to efficiently collaborate with stakeholders all over the country and proactively plan move scenarios, consolidate their portfolio and in doing so move to
a smaller footprint, delivering on the required cost savings (efficiency dividends).

Solutions, Service & Information

Serraview’s Professional Services Team were keen to understand the business. They were transparent and proactively engaged during implementation. Serraview’s software solution placed the necessary portfolio information at the agency’s fingertips, via a clear, user friendly interface.

Key benefits included:

  • Increased efficiency, due to the automation of manual processes
  • Clear, national visibility of work
  • Transparent records management
  • Centralised information on service requests and approvals
  • Reduced risk of information loss; and
  • Enhanced space management and planning

“Serraview’s service is hands on, fast and innovative. Serraview develop and customise their tools to include innovations that assist us to meet our needs. For example, Serraview were very helpful during implementation in assisting the agency to overcome challenges around government security compliance.” – Director of Property

Derived Value

The department enjoys significant operational benefits as a result of implementing Serraview’s solution.

These include:

The CFO was impressed with the capability of the system and set a deadline for the property team to implement the service request module.

Electronic Audit Tracking – The agency now has a formalised property management process which is integrated with their IT systems. This creates a proper audit trail and provides the traceability required for Financial Management. 

“Internal and external auditors look at Financial Management – including the review of processes and data that must be retained to present at their request. Serraview’s tool provides us with much of this required data.” – Business Analyst Strategy and Reporting Team

Simplified PRODAC Reporting – Users have been delighted that data collection and reporting has been simplified and streamlined with Serraview’s tools.

“We were previously manually producing a PRODAC report, required for compliance – this involved collating around 60 spreadsheets. We will do this with the click of a button in the future. This is a huge time saving.” – Business Analyst Strategy and Reporting Team

Workplace Space Planning is Efficient and Transparent – Move planning is now far more efficient. The Serraview tool allows drag and drop, virtual restacking and removes guesswork and reactivity from substantial moves.

Improved Property Department Reputation – With greater efficiencies and better space utilisation, the property team manage more professionally. This has facilitated improved conversations around strategic property management and move planning.

Consolidation and Efficiency Dividends – The Serraview solution has helped the agency to achieve increased occupancy density, move to a smaller footprint and deliver significant efficiency dividends. 

Moving Forward 

The agency is currently looking at additional Serraview modules to further improve their efficiency. In particular, the BOS move module is of interest to reduce the ongoing need for spread sheets and arduous data collection during relocations. 


11 Active Design Ideas to Improve Wellbeing in the Workplace

Would you agree that these are some of the top challenges large corporations face today?

  • Attracting skilled knowledge workers
  • Declining productivity due to workforce health problems
  • The skyrocketing cost of providing healthcare benefits

These challenges are motivating companies to address wellbeing in the workplace with wellness programs and even workplace design.

Recent CBRE research presented at the CoreNet Global Summit revealed that more than half of surveyed companies already provided programs to address workforce health, and 91% expect to increase health and wellness programs in the years to come. Many are turning to active design guidelines to improve health and wellbeing in the workplace.

Active design is a philosophy that was originally developed to improve public health by building city infrastructures to encourage more activity. However, active design is becoming a global movement that is also driving the design of the modern workplace.

Why companies are investing in active design for the workplace

According to research by the non-profit Center for Active Design, American workers spend upwards of 1700 hours at their workplaces each year. Not surprisingly, those spaces can have a tremendous impact on their health. Workers often spend more than half their waking hours sitting in a vehicle during commute time and sitting at a computer the rest of the workday. The lack of movement has resulted in skyrocketing rates of obesity and diseases like diabetes. That’s why sitting is being called “the new smoking” by health experts.

Not only does this health crisis reduce workers’ quality of life, but it costs their employers in increased absenteeism and lower productivity, as well as rising heathcare expenses.


Active design solutions address these issues by incorporating environmental changes, policies and programs into the workplace that encourage employees to move more throughout the workday.

As an added bonus, these strategies can also help companies with another critical problem: the so-called “war for talent” that has companies vying for highly skilled knowledge workers. The millennial generation in particular are placing a high value on a well-designed workplace in choosing their employer. They expect their workplace to support their lifestyle, and are drawn to companies that demonstrate an interest and commitment to their wellbeing.

If your company is looking for ways to support health and wellbeing in the workplace, here are some proven ideas put forth by the City of New York in their Active Design Guidelines.


Active design ideas to get people moving in your workplace

1. Design your space to encourage walking

The idea behind this active design strategy is to give people a reason to walk around your workplace. Shared spaces such as team collaboration lounges, food service locations, and even printer/copier rooms should be placed within a pleasant walking distance of individual workspaces. Typically that means giving them a central location rather than tucking them away in a corner. Removing trash cans from individuals desks also encourages people to walk to place trash in the communal bin.

2. Include strategically-located staircases

Grand, open staircases are the hottest design feature in modern offices today. And that’s not only because it looks cool. Staircases that are highly visible and easily accessible (sometimes centrally located in the main lobby, within the main office space to connect floors, or even near the kitchen) encourage workers to use them instead of elevators. One of the most effective active design strategies is to design spaces so that stairs are the primary means of travel between up to 4 floors.

There’s also another benefit of incorporating everyday stairs into your active design workplace strategy. In an emergency, workers may be safer in environments with integrated stairs since safe exit paths are not tucked away behind closed doors.

3. Include integrated vertical circulation system in high rises

Even in a high-rise building, a combination of staircases and elevators can encourage more movement. One strategy is the use of skip-stop elevators that stop only on designated floor. Workers can be encouraged to use centrally-located staircases within workspaces to get to adjacent floors. Additional accessibility to elevators can be provided for mobility challenged employees.

This active design strategy can also cut elevator maintenance expenses and reduce the wait time for employees when they do need to use the elevator. And it has the added benefit of encouraging collaboration between people on adjacent floors.

4. Provide active furniture

Take a walk around a modern workplace, and you’ll probably see sit-stand workstations, treadmill desks, and possibly even cycling workstations (in all honesty I’ve never seen one, but apparently they are out there!). Workers of all ages are realizing that working does not necessarily require sitting. Phone calls, answering emails, and even other types of focus work can be accomplished while getting exercise at the same time.

While workers may not always want to take the time to do a yoga class or work out at the gym during the workday, these active furniture options let them build a little more activity into their day.

5. Include dedicated & convertible exercise spaces

That being said, many workers can benefit from taking an exercise break at a strategic point in their workday, whether at lunchtime or to combat a mid-afternoon energy slump.

Dedicated exercise spaces, such as yoga rooms, running tracks and even swimming pools, allow them to do so without leaving the office. Don’t forget to provide outdoor space for exercise whenever possible, including bike and pedestrian paths. Some tech companies with large campuses even provide bikes for people to travel between buildings.

More tips to get employees to use your active design features

Have you tried to implement health and wellbeing programs in the past, and then wondered why workers were not taking advantage of them? The “if you build it, they will come” strategy is not enough to change behavior. Take the following strategies into account as you create and implement your active design plan.

6. Understand workplace utilization patterns

Successfully incorporating active design requires a deep understanding of the utilization patterns in your workplace. You can’t place stairs and collaboration spaces in a central, high-traffic location unless you understand how people prefer to use space and can analyze patterns.

Utilization tracking technology, such as occupancy and lighting sensors, card readers and network technology give you the reliable data you need to design your workplace around actual usage by your business teams.

Learn more about how to track space utilization with this informative guide: Managing Workplace Utilization.

7. Location is key

According to the Active Design Guidelines, people are more likely to use staircases located within 25 feet of your entrance and encountered before they get to the elevator. However, locating stairs near the elevator is a good thing: people tired of waiting for the elevator will opt to use the stairs.

The same can be said about locating other active design features like exercise spaces: make them available within principal paths of travel.

8. Make active design features visible and attractive

Using grand, architectural staircases can be preferable to squeezing into a crowded elevator. Use glass enclosures for visibility, as well as appealing colors, materials and finishes that reflect the company’s brand and design aesthetic. Incorporating artwork, greenery and even outdoor views can go a long way to increasing use of a staircase by employees.

The same goes for your outdoor paths and walking spaces: make them beautiful and people will want to spend time using them.

9. Build in collaboration spaces

Make your staircases and active design spaces into hubs for collaboration and social activity. Install comfortable lounges on staircase landings to encourage people to stop for a chat.

10. Promote them!

Help your employees decide to take the stairs instead of the elevator. Put up strategic signs by the elevators reminding people to use the stairs. According to the Active Design Guidelines, this simple practice can up stair use by up to 50%.

Some tips for signs:

  • Remember to include multi-lingual messages
  • Use large, easy to read fonts
  • Include motivators like the number of calories burned by taking the stairs or time saved waiting for the elevator

11. Remove barriers

Get rid of the barriers that keep people from using your active design spaces. For example:

  • If you must use staircases with doors because they also must serve as fire doors, don’t limit access by requiring an access code or card swipe.
  • Wondering why people aren’t using the treadmill desks or taking yoga? Providing locker rooms with showers can make a world of difference for employees.
  • Encourage people to bike to work and around your campus by providing bike racks, ideally on the ground floor of the building.

Learn more about work space design and wellbeing in the workplace:
Wellness Implications of the Activity Based Workspace
Workforce Health: Is Your Workplace Helping or Hurting?

Download your guide to best practices in the modern workplace today.


The Psychology Behind Modern Office Design & Workforce Well-Being

People seek out environments (including work situations) that satisfy their basic human needs. That’s a principle behind research conducted by the Interdisciplinary Center for Healthy Workplaces at the University of California, Berkeley. So if your organization is committed to attracting and retaining talent, increasing collaboration and growing productivity, it pays to address employees’ psychological needs (as well as physical ones) in the workplace. That’s why companies are implementing modern office design and workplace strategy to improve overall workforce well-being and employee experience.

In this article, we’ll explain 7 psychological drivers (identified by the Healthy Workplaces Model) that influence workplace behavior, and provide examples of ways these needs can be addressed by modern office design and other workplace strategies.

7 Well-being needs to address with modern office design & workplace strategy

The following are 7 psychological needs that drive employee behavior and well-being in the workplace, with examples of how modern office design can meet those needs.


One reason employees are unhappy with the open office plan is lack of privacy. That’s because everyone wants privacy at some point during their workday, whether it’s to make a private phone call or to eliminate distraction and improve concentration. A modern office design that includes activity based work (ABW) spaces can address that need by providing quiet and private spaces for focus work, phone booths for private phone conversations, and small meeting rooms for small-group private talks.


According to recent research by CBRE, one of the things employees want most when it comes to their work environment is choice. That means more than flexible hours and the ability to work from home. It also means choice in their work environment. Surprisingly, it’s not only millennials that want and expect this flexibility: older generations are jumping on the bandwagon when it comes to expectations for modern office design. Activity-based work environments provide the flexibility workers want in choosing the type of space to work in based on what they need to accomplish.

Companies moving to these new strategies should be aware that they must also address the cultural shifts that are needed to support flexibility in the workplace. For example, managers need to clearly give employees permission to move around during the day, as well as model the desired behaviors themselves.



In an economic climate where rapidly accelerating change is a given, people need the comfort of being in control of their environment. When you’re implementing a modern office design with agile working for the first time, employees are probably worried about losing the predictability of their familiar desk and cubicle. That’s why it’s important to provide tools like wayfinding systems that give control and predictability back to the workforce. A kiosk or mobile app that helps them easily find the perfect space to work, locate a coworker, or find their way around an unfamiliar campus eases those concerns.

Watch this video to learn more about modern wayfinding tools: How Wayfinding Technology Can Shape Employee Experience.

To provide predictability for employees in an agile environment, you must be sure you create the right people-to-seat ratios and the right mix of spaces. There’s a science to that process as well, and it starts by implementing technology that helps you track how people are using space. Here’s a useful resource to help you sort through the utilization tracking technology options and figure out which ones you need to drive your modern office design: Managing Workplace Utilization.


All employees, regardless of their place within the organization, want to be treated equitably. That’s especially true of millennials who may feel stifled by a corporate hierarchy. Traditional workplaces emphasize the differences between workers, with the allocation of square footage and window offices indicating power and status. In a modern office design without assigned seating, status is no longer attached to workspace, which encourages more interaction between people at different levels.


Certainly workers expect physical comfort solutions in the modern office design, such as ergonomic furniture, good lighting and a properly functioning HVAC system. But features that improve emotional comfort and wellbeing are the strategies that are really attracting employees and enabling them to be productive and creative. Including green spaces, letting in natural light, and providing inspiring views are office design strategies that are making a big impact.


Connecting with others is a basic human need that is better met with modern office design than with traditional office settings. That’s because modern agile work spaces encourage not only interaction within small teams, but between people who otherwise might never have a chance to connect. When people sit in a different spot each day, or even move around several times a day when working on different types of tasks, they have opportunities to interact, learn from and share with more people.


Of course, everyone needs to be physically safe to be productive, but employees need to feel emotionally safe in their work environment as well. Modern office design features that promote strong teams also help employees to develop those feelings of safety. Agile working “neighborhoods” as well as spaces that encourage team interaction help to build strong and cohesive team relationships where workers feel comfortable sharing ideas, expressing opinions and offering feedback.

Why modern office design must address employee well-being

It’s important to understand exactly what companies and their employees stand to gain when workplaces are designed to meet the basic human needs of employees. It turns out, implementing modern office design strategies along with wellbeing initiatives are in everyone’s best interest.

What employees gain:

  • Better health due to modern office design that encourages movement and even promotes better sleep.
  • Lower stress with addition of green spaces, outdoor views, and more flexibility to use space to help accomplish tasks.
  • Increased job satisfaction when they have the ability to choose how, when and where and with whom they work.

What’s in it for corporations:

  • Winning the war for talent. According to CBRE, 71% of workers are willing to give up other benefits to get a well-designed workplace.
  • Increasing collaboration and innovation. Modern office design encourages interaction among and between teams with fewer walls and comfortable collaboration spaces. That interaction helps drive the innovation companies need to remain competitive in the knowledge economy.
  • Encouraging intergenerational mentoring. Cool, modern office design can attract mobile workers back into the office and get them working together. That means talented millennials gain the opportunity to learn from more experienced mentors.
  • Increasing productivity. When workers are physically and mentally healthy, absenteeism is reduced. And, modern office design better supports workers in accomplishing daily tasks, which also improves productivity.
  • Cutting property costs. Modern workplaces using an agile working strategy can accommodate more people with much less space, which can allow companies to reduce portfolio size and reduce CRE expenditure by millions year over year.

Learn more: Can Office Design Drive Workplace Productivity & Innovation?

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Smart Building Technology: HVAC & Sensors

This blog post shares strategies and advice for implementing smart HVAC technology from Michael Rosone, Vice President of Service Sales & Marketing for Arista Air Conditioning, New York City’s leading provider of HVACR services.

Why are companies investing in technology for smart buildings? The obvious draw is the significant cost reductions that can be achieved: on energy consumption, on operating expenses, and even on the cost of space itself. Yet there are other compelling reasons that smart HVAC, sensors and other smart buildings technology give companies a competitive edge:

  • Reduced operating expenses allow companies to invest more in revenue producing initiatives, such as development of products and services
  • Savings can be re-invested in workplace transformation programs that can help attract talent, improve collaboration, and drive new ideas and innovation
  • Greater control over building systems, as well as the intelligence needed to make better facilities management strategic decisions

BONUS: you can even use smart buildings technology to improve employee experience.

Download Now: Best Practices for the Modern Workplace Environment

Wondering where to start? Read on to learn about smart HVAC and space optimization technology designed to modernize your workplace while also cutting facilities expenses.

Why smart HVAC is so smart

Smart HVAC technology reduces energy costs, lessens the workload on facilities staff, and provides better comfort conditions for employees. But what exactly is smart HVAC and how does it work?

Like other types of smart building technology, smart HVAC uses sensors that integrate with your building automation system. These sensors collect data about the conditions throughout your building. Other specialized HVAC equipment provides the ability to fine-tune temperature, humidity, and air flow in various zones (based on data from the sensors) to optimize comfort while reducing energy consumption.

Here are some of the components:

Thermal sensors
Strategically-placed thermal sensors can detect the differences in conditions in each zone of your space. For example, a crowded conference room can get warm in a hurry, while an open office area with high ceilings can get chilly (since warm air rises and people are closer to the floor). A smart HVAC system uses that data to adjust to changing conditions throughout the day or week.

CO2 sensors
According to a recent study by Harvard School of Public Health, high CO2 levels in a building can have a direct negative impact on thinking and decision making. CO2 sensors can detect the levels of CO2 gas in a space, which can increase to undesirable levels as occupancy increases. When the threshold is reached, a smart HVAC system can increase levels of fresh air supplied to the space. This technology can have a significant impact on workforce wellbeing.

Occupancy sensors
Occupancy sensors are useful for office environments (like most) that don’t have uniform usage all the time. Increasingly mobile workers are leaving desks and conference rooms empty as much as 50 to 60 percent of the time. Meanwhile, you’re heating and cooling space for people who are not there.

Occupancy sensors detect the presence of people (typically by detecting motion) currently using individual spaces within an office. That data can be used to adjust temperatures based on real-time utilization, saving you money on energy consumption.

While your HVAC system consumes anywhere from 40 to 70 percent of your building’s energy usage, electricity for lighting is also a huge expense. That figure can be 25 percent or more. In addition to controlling a smart HVAC system, occupancy sensors also control lighting to further reduce lighting costs.

Light sensors
Today’s modern office spaces are being designed to let in more natural light. However, the variation in daylight from morning until evening, and from one part of the building to another, can wreak havoc on the operation of your HVAC system. As a result, sunny spaces wind up too hot while areas with less natural light can become too cold.

The answer? Sensors that detect ambient light in a space and adjust both your smart HVAC and your lighting accordingly.

Demand Controlled Ventilation (DCV)
This smart HVAC technology that lets you fine tune building conditions based on input from occupancy sensors. When utilization levels drop below design-based occupancy rates, this specialized ventilation equipment reduces your outdoor air intake which decreases energy usage.

Variable speed fans
Traditional HVAC fan motors run at only a single speed: full blast. Variable speed motors can adjust fan speeds to appropriate levels based on occupancy levels or current conditions. Variable frequency drive kits can also be installed to retrofit existing single-speed fans.

VRF systems
If you are renovating or building out a new, modern office space, VRF technology is the latest and greatest in heating and cooling comfort. Here are some of the reasons these new systems are becoming the smart HVAC choice for modern office spaces:

  • The efficient design means they use considerably less energy
  • Quiet operation is ideal for an office environment
  • The system is designed for zoned operation, resulting in consistent comfort with no hot or cold spots
  • Modern controls for easier operation by facilities staff

Here’s more about smart HVAC technology:
High Rise HVAC: New Technology Saves Space & Energy
The Ultimate Guide to NYC Light Commercial Air Conditioning

Smart buildings technology helps you make smart decisions about space

We probably don’t need to tell you that your office space is under-utilized. Take a walk around your building and the fact becomes obvious: half or more of your workspace sits empty at any given time.

So you’re not only wasting money heating and cooling a space that no one is using, you’re wasting a lot more money paying for that space. That’s what’s driving so many companies to move to “agile” work spaces with a non-assigned seating model.

These agile work environments are designed to provide the right number of work points based on actual utilization patterns. Instead of assigning each person to a cubicle or desk, each team is assigned to a “neighborhood” and people choose a spot to work each day. Or even better, move around throughout the day to task-specific spaces like meeting rooms, quiet desks for focus work, or collaboration spaces. That means no more wasted space: you can reduce the size of your office space, or avoid taking on additional space you don’t need.

What does all this have to do with smart buildings technology? Here’s the part you might not know: the same sensor technology that can power your smart HVAC and lighting systems can also be used to design and manage these cost-effective modern office spaces.

Occupancy sensors and other types of utilization tracking technology provide intelligence about how your space is actually being used in real time. That data helps you make the best possible use of your space, which can save millions.

Tracking utilization data allows companies to accurately pin-point which parts of their property portfolio are working for them, and address problem areas. For example, a recent study at one of our large financial clients found booked meeting rooms are only used 42% of the time. This smart buildings technology provides concrete, indisputable data to support decisions to consolidate footprint or move to modern agile work spaces that are significantly more efficient and provide a better employee experience.

Learn more about utilization tracking technology: Managing Workplace Utilization.

Don’t underestimate the value of employee experience

Another challenge facing modern business is attracting and retaining top talent, especially from the millennial generation. Younger workers are placing a high value on their workplace experience when choosing an employer: according to research by CBRE, 71% would give up other perks for a comfortable and well-designed workplace.

That’s another important reason (beyond the cost savings) why companies are choosing to invest in modern, agile office spaces. The dollars saved on space and FM costs can be reinvested in the workplace to provide a better experience for employees; with more daylight, comfortable furnishings, better food options, wellness programs and tools that enable employee efficiency.

Wayfinding systems are an example of smart buildings technology that improve employee experience while also increasing productivity and collaboration. Workers can stop at a kiosk or use a smartphone app to quickly find a space to work, locate a colleague, or find their way around an unfamiliar building.

You might be surprised to learn that wayfinding tools are powered by the same sensors and utilization tracking technology described above.

Learn more: Wayfinding Apps Help Employees Work Smarter & Faster

For smart corporations, there’s no question that investing in smart buildings technology, especially sensors and smart HVAC systems, is an important step toward reducing costs and optimizing the workplace.

Download your guide to managing workplace utilization today.


3 Ways an Open Office Plan Works for Corporate Leaders

Just about every large corporation is transitioning from traditional office space to more modern spaces featuring an open office plan with an agile working strategy. That’s because companies are all facing the same issues with office space:

  • An increasingly mobile workforce means as much as 60% of traditional office space sits empty every day. Everyone wants to make better use of all that wasted space.
  • A need to control rising property costs.
  • A desire to increase collaboration among workers to generate ideas and boost innovation.

Moving to a more modern, open office plan can be an important step toward achieving these goals. Open offices with agile working can reduce space requirements and costs, as well as creating an atmosphere where people naturally communicate and share ideas. However, some of the concerns about the open office concept include a lack of privacy and distracted employees.

How do you get the benefits of the open office plan while minimizing the pain points? Read on to learn about best practices that go a long way toward improving employee satisfaction and productivity. Also, we’ll reveal how the open office plan can benefit senior leaders in unexpected ways.

Tips for improving satisfaction & productivity in an open office plan

1. Enhance the open office plan with ABW

For many companies, the answer is adding Activity-Based Working (ABW) features to the open office concept. That means providing spaces designed for a specific activity, such enclosed “phone booths” for private phone calls, comfortable lounges for team brainstorming, and quiet areas for concentration.

These modern spaces combine the best features of the open office plan with task-oriented spaces. The well-designed ABW workspace improves the open office concept since it also provides the equally important spaces for quiet and focus in addition to spaces for collaboration.

When ABW is combined with a non-assigned seating model (also known as agile or flexible working), many of the problems associated with the open office plan are eliminated. That’s because people can choose where to sit based on the work they need to do at any given time.

Learn more: Why ABW Is A Better Alternative to Open Office Design

Even if you’re not quite ready to go full-on with ABW and agile working, you can begin with small steps in the right direction. Adding breakout spaces and quiet areas can improve productivity and employee satisfaction with the open office plan.


2. Embrace flexibility

Keeping employees happy and productive in an open office plan may require shifting your corporate culture. Giving people the flexibility to work off-site when needed can mitigate problems with distraction in the open office. However, that shift must be fully supported by corporate leaders.

“The leaders of the organisation must live and breathe flexibility,” according to CRE expert Roland Chua. “Their practice of flexible working arrangements must be highly visible, consistent, and regular. This will drive the culture of flexibility into the organisation and infiltrate into the mindsets of each individual.”

It’s also essential that flexible work policies be fully documented as an expected way of working, rather than a right or a privilege. In this environment, workers feel trusted and appreciated, and much more willing and able to give their very best performance.

Learn more: 5 Ways to Get Management Buy-In for Flexible Working Arrangements

3. Adopt technology that supports your workforce and your future needs

Moving to more modern office spaces and ways of working may seem like a daunting task. As you plan your journey to the workplace of the future, it’s imperative to put technology in place that helps you better understand space requirements and enables you to implement more efficient and productive modern spaces. You also need tools that support employees in these new spaces. Here are the essential components:

Workplace management technology that supports agile working
In the open office plan of the future, you’ll be setting up shared neighborhoods for each team or a group of teams to share. That means you need space management software that doesn’t require you to assign a person to each seat. Instead, you need the ability to assign teams to a neighborhood.

Scenario planning
Today’s business environment is changing faster than ever before, and property teams need to be ready to support those changes. Scenario planning tools allow you to turn on a dime by easily modeling changes, making smart decisions, and quickly implementing new plans.

Utilization technology
To support an agile environment, you need to provide the right mix of different space types in each area, as well as the right ratios of people to seats for each team. That means you must track real-time space utilization using smart building technology like badge readers, occupancy sensors, beacons and more.


There is no one technology that will capture all the data you need to get a true picture of space utilization. That’s why most companies choose to implement a combination of smart building technology. To make the best use of that data for driving space decisions, look for a workplace management system that integrates multiple data sources to give you a complete picture of your space usage.

Learn more about utilization technology options with this informative resource: Managing Workplace Utilization.

In an agile work environment, you don’t want employees having difficulty finding a place to work each day. Wayfinding tools allow workers to quickly find space based on the type of work they need to do, or to choose a space near people they need to work with. They might also choose to work in a particular area of the building due to comfort issues, such as proximity to amenities or a window. With the right tool, they can find the perfect space in seconds, right from their smartphone.

BONUS: The open office plan also benefits senior executives

One question that always comes up with moving to the open office concept and ABW is: where will the senior execs sit? Should they transition to collaborative working along with their teams or must they stay in isolated offices?

Although people accustomed to private offices may resist at first, there are a whole host of valuable benefits to working alongside the team in an open office plan. Here are just a few:

1. Tuning in to people’s concerns

When leaders sit alongside their teams in an open office plan, they hear more of what everyone’s talking about. That includes both the good and the bad, which leaders don’t always get to hear behind closed doors.

2. Becoming more approachable

When executives are tucked away in the corner office, staff often don’t feel comfortable approaching them with questions or ideas. In an open office plan, employees get to interact with leadership on a more personal level. That familiarity and opportunity creates an open atmosphere that can result in more work getting done.

3. Joining the conversation

This is the true value of collaboration: not just listening, but participating in the ad-hoc conversations going on in the open office plan. Senior leaders are not only more aware of what’s going on, they can more readily offer guidance and weigh in when appropriate.

Download a guide to creating an activity based workplace today.


Wellness Implications of the Activity-Based Workspace

The following is a guest post written by Melissa Marsh and Rachel Smith of PLASTARC, a social research, workplace innovation, and real estate strategy firm dedicated to shifting the metrics associated with workplace from ‘square feet and inches’, to ‘occupant satisfaction and performance.’

As the proliferation of fitness trackers, meditation apps, and mindfulness training courses attest to, the preoccupation with employee wellbeing is now decidedly mainstream. Expectations in the workplace have changed accordingly, as employees increasingly hold wellbeing—a composite of physical, emotional, and mental states—as an undisputed right, and one that should be supported by the workplace.

Not surprisingly, this shift has run parallel to an increasing awareness of alarmingly upward trends in chronic diseases. These have been attributed, at least in part, to the increase in sedentary behavior ushered in by reliance on auto transport, the continued engineering of homes, public spaces and schools to require the least amount of physical exertion possible, and the high number of hours the average person spends on the computer and in front of the TV.

The traditional workplace—where desk-bound workers sit for hours on end (an activity now hailed as “the new smoking”)—has also been fingered as a culprit, and thus a prime site for both inquiry and intervention. In line with employee expectations, and no doubt reflective of employers’ desired alleviation of health insurance costs, workplaces have responded through strategies like biophilic design, implementation of active design guidelines, and providing activity-based workspace.

But how does an environment suited to both productivity and employee wellbeing—a state understandably associated with relaxation and comfort—work? In the carefully conceived activity-based workspace, the latter can give way to the former.

The activity-based workspace, wherein employees forego dedicated seats in favor of diverse activity areas suited for different tasks, is one typology where this is especially evident. And as workspace technologies make activity-based working increasingly practicable, it is primed to be widely implemented by employers concerned with a healthy, happy workforce. At present, its greatest obstacle is conventional company culture.


Outlined below are some key principles of activity-based workspace that contribute to its success in improving employee wellbeing.

The Activity-Based Workspace (ABW) Can Be Comfy For Everyone

Flexibility is the hallmark of the activity-based workspace; here, employees are able to choose workspace suited to their moods and personalities. While the traditional workplace is built as one-size-fits-all, the workforce is inevitably a tapestry of varying personalities, associations, and habits, meaning workers will respond to the same environment in different ways.

In the workplace this is significant in regards to both productivity and happiness—some individuals require peace and quiet for activities like reading, writing, and analysis, while others find the stimulation of adjacent activity valuable to such work. The freedom to choose or alter one’s environment, offered through activity-based workspace elements such as manipulable furnishings, flexibility of work location and schedule, and technologies that extend control, has been linked to feelings of agency. This is particularly crucial for sustaining mental health in what can often be stressful and anxiety-rich spaces.

Flexibility and employee agency were some of the principles that encouraged software company Mozilla to choose an activity-based workspace for their Toronto office. As an organization placing high value on employee freedom and corporate transparency, Mozilla sought to empower “a more productive and fulfilled open-source community,” allowing people to be where they feel they are most effective, without top-down seating and space allocation. The activity-based workspace’s “zones,” including a research library with low ambient noise and a music-filled coffee shop ideal for phone calls and staff breaks, all offer employees of varying moods, persuasions and preferences a space that suits them.

Areas in the activity-based workspace dedicated to specific tasks, particularly those allowing employees to screen out external stimuli as needed, are also useful for encouraging focused concentration as opposed to incessant task switching. While the status quo mode of working for many, the latter has been associated with feeling overwhelmed and cognitively exhausted, making areas for deep focus, in supplement to those for collaboration, vital to a healthy and happy workplace.

Movement is Embedded in the Activity-Based Workspace

Regular physical movement is built into the script of the activity-based workspace. By nature of its distributed arrangement, it aligns with active design recommendations for constructing environments that nudge occupants towards health promoting choices by requiring employees to travel frequently between activity areas. As such, the activity-based workspace can not only offer employees improved physical fitness, but also stimulate cognition and brain function: according to studies in neuropsychiatry, when the body starts moving almost all regions of the brain “light up,” making for improved creativity and problem-solving.

The push towards regular, though not strenuous, movement in the workplace will prove particularly critical in the coming years, as the demographic of workers 55 and older moves to comprise a projected 20% by 2020 (versus 13% in 2000). These workers have higher rates of chronic health issues like diabetes and depression, which benefit from increased physical movement throughout the day.

Current research maintains that while the popular target of 10,000 steps is likely out of reach for your average American, and particularly those already suffering from poor health, more steps are better than less. Ultimately, experts say, “you want to spend as little time not moving as possible within reason.” While the non-activity-based workspace can still successfully implement active design strategies like the open and highly visible staircase, the activity-based workspace contains tacit and unavoidable catalysts for exertion that all employees, regardless of age or ability, can benefit from.

Related article: Workforce Health: Is Your Workplace Helping or Hurting?

ABW Fosters Diverse Connections

Task routes encouraging improved physical and mental fitness also encourage valuable social interaction and communication amongst workers. Traditional corporate work environments tend to cluster workers by department, meaning the expertise, perspectives and backgrounds of adjacent workers can often be homogenous.

In the activity-based workspace offering freedom of movement and unassigned workspace, diverse individuals find themselves engaging one another with much higher frequency, allowing for the type of interdisciplinary and cultural cross-pollination that has proven to increase risk-taking and innovation, and ultimately drive business. Additionally, increasing familiarity between a higher percentage of co-workers also heightens the sense of communal and social responsibility within the workplace, making for increased emotional comfort.

PLASTARC’s study of a trading floor environment bore out the value of increasing interaction in the workplace through distributed and open work spaces. Building on previous research supporting the effective use of sight lines and circulation routes to promote bonds between teams, PLASTARC’s study of occupant behavior and satisfaction on a trading floor identified the need to foster a freer flow of ideas and access to more individuals within the organization. PLASTARC proposed that building in multiple paths of interaction in the workspace would allow for more casual, unscripted engagements between employees, and stressed the importance of weaving together spaces that promoted collaboration while allowing for quieter and more focused work when it was called for.

For organizations placing high value on employee wellness and wellbeing, whether seeking reduced healthcare costs, absenteeism and turnover, or merely seeking to boost morale, activity-based working offers a strategy for improving employee wellbeing on multiple levels, without the implementation of external or opt-in employee wellness programs. And as empirical data continues to diminish doubt about the wellness benefits of the activity-based workspace, the hurdle of corporate culture will likely fall away, as well.

Download creating an activity based working strategy today.