Activity Based Workspaces Reviewed

by Margie

Does Activity Based Working (ABW) improve health and productivity outcomes? A recent systematic review says no – and yes!

Edmiston Jones stays abreast of current design research to ensure our work is considered and based on sound evidence. News stories abound spruiking the benefits of ABW on productivity, staff retention, office space savings and a plethora of other workplace issues. Much of this “evidence” comes from unreliable sources. Consistent peer-reviewed research is extremely limited. This makes it difficult for organisations considering refurbishment or relocation to assess whether an ABW office design is suitable, will create value and justify the costs involved.

A study published this month took a rigorous approach to confirm that ABW significantly improves staff interaction, communication, control and satisfaction, but found little evidence for positive effects on physical or mental health. The University of Sydney study found only 56 relevant articles which were systematically reviewed and culled. The remaining 17 articles from a range of disciplines were then assessed to compare ABW environments positive or negative outcomes on criteria such as storage, noise, privacy and concentration, as well as health, mental wellbeing, collaboration and interaction.

Results of the review compare positive (blue) and negative (white) outcomes of ABW environments (Engelen et al, 2018, p5).

The consensus is that ABW is good for interaction, work performance and control, but like the open plan office, unfavourable for concentration and privacy. ABW moves beyond open plan offices aiming to support the various activities of office workers by providing spaces designed specifically for those individual activities. (link)

“Workplaces that provide sufficient and well-designed workspaces for quiet/concentrated work seem to perform better, hence it is recommended that a thorough needs assessment takes place before construction or refurbishment to assess the workers’ needs”. (Engelen et al, 2018, p9).

This was the critical takeaway for Edmiston Jones and confirms our position that a collaborative, tailored research process (link) is an essential first step in the success of any office design.

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