Workplace wellbeing and productivity can be enhanced by adopting Activity Based Working (ABW), where office space is designed around specific employee tasks.

ABW empowers staff by giving them a choice over how, when and where they work, ending the traditional approach of allocating individuals their own individual offices or desks.

Reducing the number of fixed workstations can have a real impact on a company’s spending and also on staff performance

“This is about stopping at the threshold of the workplace environment and thinking: ‘What am I doing today?’ and ‘What do I need to get my job done?’” says Nic Pryke, Design Director at office design company, Oktra. “Do I need somewhere quiet to work, a room for a meeting or a space to work collaboratively with others?”

He says staff that need these fixed workstations or assigned desks, because of their specific role, should still be allocated one, but that the more flexible workplace style will still benefit most staff, whatever their seniority.

Estimating that there are more than 10m office workers in the UK, Nic says different companies will, of course, have their own requirements when creating an ABW environment that suits their unique requirements.

Luckily, there are some general areas that every organisation should create to effectively implement ABW:


Spaces and furniture for different tasks


Workplaces should support innovation and brainstorming, boost collaboration and provide somewhere for quiet working. There should also be areas for confidential meetings socialising, and somewhere to rest and refresh with food and drink.

“Most ABW solutions are based around the furniture you use, and need, the most” says Nic. “It allows for more informal seating and vibrant colours in some areas, boost innovative thinking and people’s moods. However, this is a serious approach to working and not about turning an office into a playground.”

Adopting an ABW approach with these features can even reduce negative office politics and boost morale. Clever ABW can also improve workplace sustainability and reduce carbon footprint by cutting electricity and water costs.


A Law firm's success


A strong example of ABW in action is City law firm, Wedlake Bell. The fim moved to an ABW approach when they relocated to London’s Queen Victoria Street.

At Wedlake Bell, the new office makes the most of natural light and existing architecture


The Wedlake Bell office was previously split across six floors and the partners recognised a need to improve communication, potentially through new ways of working.

"Partners wanted to improve communication."

A more open-plan environment incorporated private booths, and installing conferencing technology allowed lawyers to take part in meetings from the office, their client’s site or even from their own homes. Consequently, this ABW strategy improved communications greatly.

Changing the office layout meant there was also room for conference areas housing up to 150 people, 15 meeting suites and a terrace.

“We made more use of natural light and the building’s architecture and incorporated a neutral and professional colour palette into the furniture, fabrics and floor finishes. We added bold colours derived from Wedlake Bell’s branding,” says Nic.

With office space becoming increasingly expensive in London, the firm calculated that moving to an open-plan office layout would actually mean each fee earner required 20% less space compared to a traditional cellular structure.

Changing the office's layout meant there was room for a conference area and 15 meeting suites


Advice for implementing ABW


Organisations must not rush into adopting ABW and should seek professional advice on what will work for their business and for their staff. This is because “people want different things at work; you have introverts and extroverts, for instance, who will use office space in various ways. This is also about changing the business culture, so you must be sure that your employees will embrace the change.”

Nic’s advice is to consult staff using an online survey to canvas everyone’s views, and workshops should be held with senior and middle management. The ideal situation is if managers understand the benefits of ABW, then they will communicate this value to their teams, and facilitate a successful transition.

“Senior executives often have reservations about moving to open-plan or encouraging too much remote working,” says Nic. “They need to see how giving up fixed desks means they can win back office space, save money and create a more interesting and collaborative working environment. This is about using workplace design to change employee behaviour and company results.”

"Extroverts and introverts will use office space differently."

Employees can worry about the disruption and lack of privacy when working in an open-plan setting and have concerns that certain areas will become overcrowded on particular days. Technology is helping to solve some of the problems, for example mobile apps which enable spaces to be booked in advance.

According to Nic, a modern office that embraces ABW will therefore help to retain talented people and encourage the best graduates to join businesses when they can be flexible in deciding where, and how, to work.

“More companies in big cities are realising that ABW is the direction to move because rents are so high. They are looking for solutions and thinking harder about how they can get more out of their existing office space” he says. “Reducing the number of fixed workstations and inspiring employees in this way can have a real impact on a company’s bottom line, staff wellbeing and performance.”


Learn more:

London's leading Office Design company. We believe in creating spaces that inspire, motivate & stimulate productivity through innovative solutions. If you’d like more information about finding, designing and building workplaces, get in touch with Nic Pryke, Design Director at Oktra. Telephone: 020 7553 95000.

For more information on the Wedlake Bell case, contact Martin Arnold.