How an activity-based office can boost company culture

By Anders Bohlinder, - Employee experienceInsight

The workplace as we used to know it has fundamentally changed. For good.

It’s not about the 9-5 grind anymore. Where people once craved stability, they now need flexibility to be their most productive and effective selves.  Where a dedicated office space with a desktop computer was once enough to enable them to do their job, they now need the ability to work anywhere, any time and on any device.

Yet many office environments don’t currently support that.

And it isn’t just the workplace that’s evolving. The makeup of the workforce that fills it is shifting too. More people are opting for contract work than ever before – whether by choice or necessity. And you’ve got to create the right environment for them. One that inspires creativity, collaboration, and ultimately enjoyment.

This isn’t rocket science. Companies like Facebook and Google have been arranging their offices in this way for years – building them in a way that reflects the needs of the modern employee. Places to which people want to come and do their very best work.

Sure, those organizations have more budget than most to play with. But it’s the small things that can make all the difference.

It’s about being clever with the space you’ve already got. And the way you do that is simple: arrange your office not by teams, but by tasks.

The activity-based office is nothing particularly new, but today it is more relevant than ever for the reasons I’ve outlined above. And the impact seemingly small tweaks can have on wider company culture is enormous.

When the war on talent shows no signs of slowing and companies are under increasing pressure to save on costs, few can afford to stay stuck in their old ways.

How an activity-based office works

It’s simple: arrange the workplace so your location is dependent on the activities you’re carrying out. If you need to be collaborative you can go to an open space with your team and hash out new ideas. But if you need a quiet place to concentrate you can find it.

Not a completely new idea in itself, as I said, but today we have the technology to make it a workable option for any enterprise.

And the benefits of doing so are clear:

By encouraging people to move around the office based on their needs, you increase the chance of them coming into contact with people they wouldn’t necessarily meet if they were sat at the same desk in the same part of the building every day.

And when the chances of spontaneous meetings and ideas increase, you end up with a much more dynamic and energetic workplace that fosters creativity and ultimately makes it easier for employees to innovate.

How does it impact company culture?

A company’s culture is effectively determined by the attitudes and behaviors of its staff. Those attitudes and behaviors largely depend on the experiences your employees have on a day-to-day basis, and those experiences are mostly determined by the technology, processes and environment the management team puts in place.

That environment must support the needs of employees first and foremost, and by its very nature the activities-based workplace does that.  It fulfils the needs of every employee rather than those it happens to suit. It adapts to your tasks rather than expecting you to adapt your tasks to it.

Somebody who needs calm and focus to be creative, for example, will thrive more in a quiet space. So why force them into a noisy, open-plan space?

By giving them that choice, you’re not only enabling them to create their own optimal working conditions but also making them feel empowered.

With our own activity-based office environment, FABO, we’ve taken things one step further – making people more productive and effective by giving them greater control over the way they use the building every day.

Workers can book meeting rooms or extend existing bookings, see the status of all meeting rooms close by, find their nearest printer, or even track down colleagues or available seats around the office – all via digital displays on the walls or an app on their smartphone.

By removing barriers like this, you free up more of your employees’ time to work on productive tasks instead of being caught up in admin. This is likely to make them feel less pressurized and better able to do their best work, which will ultimately have a positive knock-on effect on company culture.

The results so far

Workplace culture – isn’t that something for HR to worry about? Far from it. Research suggests a positive workplace culture strongly correlates with business performance.

In fact, a study by the Great Place to Work Institute found that the 100 best companies to work for enjoy significantly higher stock market return than those outside the top 100.

Our own experience certainly seems to reflect that research.

We transformed our Sydney office to make it completely agile. People can sit wherever they want. They’re free to move around. We have big open-plan spaces or more intimate areas for one-to-one meetings. And all of it is supported and enabled by technology.

As a result we’ve found many more people actually want to come to the office, and it has been named one of the top 10 best office spaces in the world.

And having deployed an activity-based environment in our Swedish office back in 2015, which has since become the first fully working version of FABO, we’ve also seen some huge results there. Employee engagement is up an incredible 30%.

This adds to the story we’ve already been seeing in recent years: that IT is no longer simply about providing technology and solving problems – it’s now a business-critical function that plays an important role in driving the direction of the whole organization.

Most importantly, though, it means our employees are now better able to collaborate and innovate and free to do their best work in a way that suits them.

Read more about FABO to find out how an activity-based office could improve your workplace.

Sign up to our regular newsletter and get all the latest articles straight to your inbox

Our newsletter contains some of the latest content and includes a recap of the top posts you might have missed as well as a peek at what's coming up before it's published.