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Activity-Based Workplace Design: Why One Size Does Not Fit All

Activity-based workplace design: using
data to drive your transformation

Jo-Ann Mann, Serraview

By Jo-Anne Mann

What are your goals for implementing activity-based workplace design in your company? If you are like most organizations beginning to move to this new way of working, you are certainly looking to reduce your footprint and your property costs. At the same time, you may also be tasked with delivering “destination” workplaces that enable collaboration and innovation, attract talent, boost productivity and improve employee experience.

When companies begin to move toward agile environments and activity-based workplace design, there is often a misconception that you can simply remove 20 percent of the desks from each department. If your goal was only to reduce costs, that might be an acceptable strategy. But given the need to improve the quality of the workplace and employee experience, you need a better way to create work spaces that meet the needs of your teams.

Activity-based workplace design: using data to drive your transformation

When companies begin to transition to agile and ABW spaces, it’s a big shift for employees and you’ll almost certainly experience resistance to the change. And for good reason: people maybe commuting 45 to 60 minutes (or more) to get to the office, and they are worried about traveling all that way and finding no desks available. That’s why it’s absolutely essential that you get the seat-to-people ratios right, and provide the spaces people need to do their jobs. You can’t do that based on assumptions or guesswork.

Related article: Top 3 Challenges of Moving to an Agile Work Environment

To create an activity-based workplace design that actually works for your business, you need to understand how each specific group is currently using space. That means taking the time to gather actual utilization information (for each individual team) over a period of time, minimally 6 to 8 weeks.

 

The reason for this is simple: different groups in your organization have varying needs for space. For example, an accounting group or a call center might have 90 percent of the staff in the office at any given time. However, a sales team might have only 40 percent of the staff sitting at a desk in the office each day. Your teams also use different types of spaces. The sales group might need small private areas for phone calls, and multiple meeting rooms that accommodate 3-4 people. A software development team might work best in a cluster of open workstations or a team table, with a larger conference room for team meetings.

That’s why your activity-based workplace design must include custom “neighborhoods” designed specifically for the tasks your teams need to accomplish on a day to day basis. One or more teams will be assigned to each neighborhood, and you will develop different seat-to-people ratios for each neighborhood. For example, you might aim for a ratio of 12 people to every 10 seats for the accounting neighborhood, but a ratio of 18 people to every 10 seats for the sales group. Each neighborhood will be designed with the types of spaces needed by the teams using it.

So how do you go about collecting the information about how (and how often) people use space? Read on to learn about two ways to get the data you need to develop an effective activity-based workplace design.

Gathering data the manual way

If you don’t have an automated mechanism in place to track space utilization, it’s possible to do so manually with spreadsheets. For a period of at least 6 weeks, you’ll need to record how many people from each team spend time in the office each day. That information will provide the basis of your seat ratios for each team.

Obviously this effort will require the cooperation of many people, especially in a large corporation, and is time consuming to say the least. For one thing, the number crunching alone will take a while and you’ll need to wait for the results. There’s also another limitation: you’re going to have to do extra work to determine which types of spaces people are using. For example: how much time are sales people spending at their desks making calls, versus in conference rooms collaborating with team members or participating in online presentations with prospects?

To get your activity-based workplace design right, you’ll want more granular intelligence that’s easier to produce and keep up to date. Using workplace technology is a much better solution.

Using workplace technology to gather intelligence

Workplace technology is becoming an essential strategic planning tool for developing and managing activity-based workplace design.

Badge readers, lighting sensors, network sensors and Low Energy Bluetooth gather utilization data automatically, enabling you to see which groups are using which types of space and with what frequency. These technologies are getting both simpler and more sophisticated all the time: some can track a specific person to a specific desk, and you can even get light-powered sensors that work without wires or batteries. However, it’s important to know that each type of technology has its strengths and limitations.

In all likelihood, you’ll want to deploy a combination of utilization tracking technologies to gather all the data you need to make decisions about activity-based workplace design.

Learn more about utilization tracking technology from this informative reference guide: Managing Workplace Utilization.

The next challenge is aggregating data from different sources and producing useful reports. For that, you’ll need workplace management software that acts as a central utilization platform, pulling together utilization data from multiple technologies. Instead of waiting for analysts to crunch numbers, you get real-time reports at your fingertips. You can easily roll up or drill down as needed to see the required level of granularity. And you can even view heatmaps that let you see what’s happening up-to-the-minute in a given area.

Armed with this level of intelligence, you can create the right mix of different space types and the right ratios of seats to people for each neighborhood or business unit. What’s more, you can also track the effectiveness over time so you can make adjustments to your activity-based workplace design as your business changes.

Related article: The New Workplace Space Utilization Metrics You Need to Know About

 

Leveraging data to gain buy-in

As we mentioned previously (and you probably already know!) one of the biggest challenges of transforming your workplace to an activity-based workplace design is convincing the business that your plan will work. Resistance to just about any kind of change is a given, and this change is a big one.

Being able to share accurate and detailed information about how each of your teams is using space is a valuable way to gain their trust. People are understandably concerned about having a space to work, and having the right space to accomplish daily tasks. When you can show them indisputable evidence about how many people are really in the office every day, anxiety about sharing space is reduced. Plus, people tend to come along for the ride when you share how much money the company stands to save (and then reinvest back into the business) with your plan. Not to mention the cool new features of the activity-based workplace design that improve employee experience, boost productivity and attract talent.

Over the next few weeks, we’ll address how to overcome obstacles to implementing activity-based workplace design and agile work environments:

  • Overcoming resistance with change management strategies
  • Gaining leadership buy in
  • Improving agile working benefits by reinvesting cost savings in the workplace

Don’t miss it!

Download a guide to creating an activity based working strategy today.

Guide to creating an activity based working strategy

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