Activity-based working

Activity-based working (ABW) is a cost-saving business strategy that provides people with a choice of settings for a variety of workplace activities. Besides the offices with a fixed setting (everyone has their own desk), ABW-offices gives the personnel an opportunity to choose a place in the office where it is most suitable for them to complete their work tasks. Spaces are designed to create opportunities for a variety of workplace activities from intense and focused work to impromptu and informal meetings or more formal meetings.

Studies suggest that ABW (counter-intuitively) reduces face-to-face interactions, and increases email traffic significantly.[1]


The first known reference to an activity-based analysis of office work modes was by American architect Robert Luchetti from the late 1970s. He co-invented the now widely accepted concept of the office as a series of "activity settings" in 1983. In an activity settings-based environment, multiple settings are provided which have different technical and physical attributes assembled to support the variety of performance "modes" that take place in a work environment.

The term "activity based working" was first coined in the book the Art of Working by Erik Veldhoen, a Dutch consultant and author of the book The Demise of the Office.[2] ABW was first implemented by Interpolis in the nineties in the Netherlands.

The activity-based office

The activity‐based office concept of the modern office is said to increase productivity through the stimulation of interaction and communication while retaining employee satisfaction and reducing the accommodation costs. Although some research has gone into understanding the added value, there is still a need for sound data on the relationship between office design, its intentions and the actual use after implementation. [3][4]

The concept of activity-based workplace has been implemented in organisations as a solution to improve office space efficiency. However, the question of whether or not office workers' comfort or productivity are compromised in the pursuit of space efficiency has not been fully investigated. There are obstacles and issues of concern when practicing the activity-based office concept. A study carried out in activity-based workplace settings reports that employees without an assigned desk complain of desk shortages, difficulty finding colleagues which limits immediate collaboration, wasted time finding and setting-up a workstation, and limited ability to adjust or personalise workstations to meet individual ergonomic needs. [5] Another study suggest the importance of office design on occupants' satisfaction, perceived productivity and health long with reduced time workers spent seated in ABW offices [6]

Need for a new office

To create a successful work environment, it is important to have insight into the demands and behaviours of the employees using this environment.[7] Recently there has also been a move towards understanding interior design features underpinning occupants' higher satisfaction results in ABW, open-plan offices [8]

There are three pillars that support a new way of working, based on the philosophy of activity-based working. These are the behavioral, virtual and physical environment of work environment, which can be linked to the working processes of human resources, IT and facility management in the work environment.


  2. "Cozy in Your Cubicle? An Office Design Alternative May Improve Efficiency". Bloomberg. September 19, 2014.
  3. Rianne Appel‐Meulenbroek; Peter Groenen; Ingrid Janssen (May 31, 2011). "An end‐user's perspective on activity‐based office concepts". Journal of Corporate Real Estate. 13 (2): 122–135. doi:10.1108/14630011111136830.
  4. Veldhoen, Erik (2004). The Art of Working. Academic Service. ISBN 9789052614915 via Google Books.
  5. Kim J.; Candido C.; Thomas L.; de Dear R. (July 1, 2016). "Desk ownership in the workplace: The effect of non-territorial working on employee workplace satisfaction, perceived productivity and health". Building and Environment. 103 (Supplement C): 203–214. doi:10.1016/j.buildenv.2016.04.015.
  6. Candido C.; Thomas L.; Haddad S.; Zhang F.; Mackey M.; Ye W. (April 3, 2019). "Designing activity-based workspaces: satisfaction, productivity and physical activity". Building, Research and Information. 47 (3): 275–289. doi:10.1080/09613218.2018.1476372.
  7. Oseland, N. (November 20, 2009). "The impact of psychological needs on office design". Journal of Corporate Real Estate. 11 (4): 244–254. doi:10.1108/14630010911006738.
  8. Candido C.; Thomas L.; Haddad S.; Zhang F.; Mackey M.; Ye W. (April 3, 2019). "Designing activity-based workspaces: satisfaction, productivity and physical activity". Building, Research and Information. 47 (3): 275–289. doi:10.1080/09613218.2018.1476372.
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