5 Ways Activity-Based Workplace Design Impacts Contract Furniture

70% of participants in a study say an activity-based workplace design environment increases their productivity, and two-thirds feel their work is more stimulating (Kinnarps).

Over 60% in a survey say they have more energy in an activity-based working environment (Kinnarps).

Almost 80% of employees say their productivity is influenced by whether or not they have access to a quiet room where they can focus (Skanska and JLL).

In our blog “4 Ways the Evolution of Office Space Inspired Contract Furniture”, we discussed the history of the office landscape and how it factors in today’s workplace, asking the question…why can’t both open and private spaces co-exist?  The answer is in Activity-Based Workplace (ABW) design. As you know, ABW is typically designed for productivity, collaboration, and flexibility. All this while minimizing cost and maximizing real estate.

When collaborative and intimate workspaces collide, the beauty of an activity-based environment is created. In fact, ABW is an agile office space, designed for anything that may come up during the course of the day.

Time for a meeting? Gather in a huddle room. Need some one-on-one time with a co-worker to discuss a project? An office pod is perfect. Feel like socializing and craving engagement? Break out or lounge environments with no barriers are ideal.

The point is, no matter what the task, the undertaking, or the venture, there’s a space for that in an activity-based workspace.

Designing an office space based on employee behavior, such as the ABW concept, creates demand for contract furniture based on that behavior.

Below are 5 ways the activity-based working movement has impacted the contract furniture industry, how to transform your space, what to avoid, and examples of who got it right.

1. Break the Habit

As creatures of habit, we tend to gravitate towards the same thing day after day. Sitting in the same desk or chair. Eating the same thing for lunch. Playing the same song over and over. We become compliant with our own surroundings.

The Activity-Based Workplace design makes us move from ownership of any given area towards membership of that area. Meaning, by creating a non-possessive and diverse environment, you break the “habit” and promote participation. Suddenly the environment becomes enterprising and productivity soars.

In order to achieve this spirit, elaborate and attractive furniture doesn’t always mean it’s practical for activity-based workspace design. Transforming your workplace from open or dare we say, traditional cubicles, to ABW should be a well-thought-out initiative.

Consider formal meeting space, impromptu meeting space, quiet areas, focal points, and hot desks.

It’s about giving employees choice and the ability to adapt their diverse activities to an office design that speaks to their mobile environment.

81 percent of employees at businesses that use ABW say the company culture supports mobility and flexibility (Leesman).


2. Cost

Remember the days of Enron and WorldCom? After they crashed and burned, the SEC investigated off-balance sheet transactions and noticed there were loopholes…i.e.: operating leases. According to investors, accounting treatment for operating leases makes it difficult to obtain an accurate amount of a company’s real debt.

It only takes 2 billion-dollar companies and an epic scandal to ruin it for everyone else. Therefore, beginning this year for public companies and next year for private, new lease accounting standards will be implemented. This means companies will be required to add furniture and office leases as assets and liabilities.

Even with the new accounting standards, an activity-based workspace helps companies make the most of their office because they’re sharing environments such as desks; making it less square footage per employee compared to traditional offices. All these extra zones allow companies to create flexible environments that not only teams enjoy working in but have ample room for larger furniture like collaborative sofas, seating pods, and community tables.


community table

Custom Community Table by Venue Industries

3. Make Every Space Work

Maximizing your workspace means it should be carefully thought-out, taking into consideration how much of the environment is actually being used, opposed to how much you think is being used. Most offices utilize only about 42% of space during the day and venture away from desks to somewhere else 18% of the time, according to a global network of experts at AECOM Time Utilisation Survey.

Since every office is different, and every organization has unique needs, therefore, it’s almost impossible to pinpoint how much space you need unless you work with your employees and consult with an expert for how your needs can be maximized. Although one thing everyone – from experts to employees – can agree on, is that providing various office settings will ignite a productive and positive work ecosystem. And that is what activity-based workplace design is all about.

Some questions to ask yourself and your team before implementing ABW and deciding on what direction fits best…

  • What part of the office is used most?
  • What parts are used the least?
  • What features (tech or otherwise) are necessary?
  • Should you invest more in office equipment?
  • Do you really need a ginormous conference room, or can you downsize and use the extra space for seating pods or booths?
  • How many employees are full-time, part-time, freelancers, work remotely, in-office, etc…? 
  • Which employees use their desk 80-90% and how many use it 20-50% of the time? Perhaps fewer desks and more space for a lounge would make better sense? Or will “hoteling” desks work for your team?

It’s estimated by Accruent who provides commercial real estate advisory services in their blog “Modern Office Space Optimization to Improve the Employee Experience” that one desk can cost a company between $8K and $10K yearly. Answering these questions and using analytics will allow you to blend an Agile/activity-based workspace into a flexible design, enabling you to pay for only what you need for a mix of vibrant environments.

custom booth

Custom booths by Venue Industries (Photo: Studio M, Inc)

4. Furniture and Elements of Activity-Based Workplace 

Now that the hard work of mapping out the floorplan based on your team’s needs is completed, it’s time to select the contract furniture that will achieve the ideal space…or a.k.a., the fun part.

Below are 5 general activity-based working office areas and what furniture works best for each space.  

Meeting in 5: Meeting Room

Pretty much no matter the office, there’s bound to be a designated meeting room. This room should be equipped with tech, including phones, Wi-Fi, monitor, and something as fancy as a SMARTboard or as basic as a whiteboard. Depending on the size of your office, it should hold from 5 to 20 people with a conference table and depending on the length of meetings, comfortable chairs.

High Tech: Technology and Resources

Not only is tech important in a conference room, but it should be considered thoughtfully throughout an activity-based workplace design. Where will printers go? Where will supplies be available? Do you have enough outlets and charging stations? How many collaboration boards will you need and where will you place them? How about monitors and other AV equipment?

collaborative seating

Assemble Seating Collection

Share it: Shared Workspace Areas

Although open office floorplans may have a bad rap, don’t brush them off so quickly. They still have a purpose and can easily be integrated into ABW. Use that open environment as a shared space. Select collaborative furniture that allows seating configurations so they’re simple to arrange in a variety of positions and settings. Include cool ottomans, community tables, swivel arms with task tables, benches, casters or a swivel base, comfortable sofas, console tables, and don’t forget power options. Make this area spacious enough for teams to gather when discussing group projects but useful enough for individuals who either work remotely or freelance and only make it into the office a few times a week. The idea is to create a space that’s agile for diverse groups and people, promoting engagement.

Quiet, Please: Quiet and Private Spaces

These areas are for what the name implies…projects or tasks which require focus and concentration. Quiet spaces should be positioned away from open or shared environments so that trickling noise doesn’t create interruptions. Use seating pods and enclosed booth seating for privacy and quiet.

Just Lounging: Break-out and Lounge Areas

Similar to the collaborative space but not to be confused with it is the break-out or lounge area. This space should have comfortable furniture such as upholstered sofas, armchairs, banquettes, ottomans, and coffee tables. It’s meant for people to chill, converse, and unwind in a casual atmosphere. This environment can double as a collaborative area for colleagues to gather when brainstorming, hold a last-minute meeting or also be a waiting area for guests.

Excellent employee experience doesn’t happen accidentally—it is the result of an approach that puts the employee and their role in the organisation at the centre of leadership attention. ~ Leesman’s “The World’s Best Workplaces 2018” Insight Report

5. Don’t Try This

Every company and office space are singular to their culture and size, so obviously what may work for one company may not work for the other.

Before you begin mapping out all the great spaces you’ll create for your team with the activity-based workplace design, consider some “Don’ts” before you “Do”:

Don’t select the first activity-based workspace model you read, hear, or see. There are several ABW concepts, so be sure to explore all options before you decide.

Don’t make the commitment to go ABW alone. Speak about the pros and cons with your team to make sure they understand what is ABW and how it will affect their workspace. If you have a very large team or don’t feel comfortable talking about the topic, consider inviting a consultant to provide a causal presentation and answer questions. This way, everyone feels they’re included in the decision-making process.

Don’t lose sight of creating a better work environment that will lead to increase productivity and all-around efficiency just because a few people are not on board and may not see the bigger picture. Those naysayers will witness improved organization, sustainability, and overall effective space and will go from thinking this was a horrible idea to thinking it was the best idea you’ve ever had. And for those who don’t, unfortunately, you can’t please everyone all the time.

Don’t cut corners. Let’s face it, every business has some kind of budget when it comes to optimizing office space. Therefore, you should be mindful of the costs to transition from cubicles or a totally open floorplan to activity-based workspace design. You should also keep in mind to deliver what you promised your team. Meaning, if you’re too focused on cost rather than function, you’re bound to drop the ball on the ABW model. To change the dynamic of your office environment, you’ll need to go all the way.

Who got Activity-Based Workplace design right?

By now you’re thinking…sure this all sounds great and I’m ready to jump into an ABW design, but do you have examples to show me of other companies who have successfully adapted their space to the activity-based workspace model? Glad you asked.

5 companies around the world we think nailed activity-based workplace design.

activity-based workspace design

Microsoft | Amsterdam, Netherlands (Photo: OfficeSnapshots)


activity-based workspace design

Unispace | Melbourne, Australia (Photo: Unispace)


activity-based workspace design

Gerson Lehrman Group | Austin, Texas (Photo: Dezzen)


activity-based workspace design

ENECO | Rotterdam, Netherlands (Photo: Inhabitat)


activity-based workspace design

UNILEVER | Schaffhausen, Switzerland (Photo: Urbanpeek)

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