Activity-Based Working: The Next Step in Flexible Workspace

Activity-based working
Activity-based working

We’re all familiar with the concept of hot-desking. This refers to a number of desks or workstations being shared by two or more employees, often on a rota or drop-in basis. Activity-based working takes this notion a step further.

The idea is that no-one has their own office or desk – not even managers or senior employees. It flattens the hierarchy and opens up the workspace, placing the emphasis on collaboration and using the latest mobile technology to give people more freedom on how, when and where they work. Employees turn up for work and sit wherever they wish.

The line between hot-desking and activity-based working is about agility. Whereas hot-desking is about reducing desks and workspace, activity-based working is focused on greater performance and productivity. Workers are encouraged to move around in a more fluid environment, collaborate with others and gain inspiration from the change of environment – and even a regular change of neighbour.


There are plenty of pros to this style of working – like hot-desking, space-saving and cost-saving are among the biggest benefits. Sustainability, greater collaboration and productivity are other advantages.

Where activity-based working is concerned, experts claim that it can reduce the amount of required office space by 30%. Rather than letting desks go empty when employees are out on the road, meeting clients, visiting suppliers or even when they’re on holiday, those desks will be utilised by other workers. Where space is a premium, and businesses fork out thousands of pounds in leases per workstation every year, the ability to make that space work harder for less is a natural advantage.

100% Mobile

In particular, the activity-based working concept seems to be taking off in Australia. Here, Microsoft has reportedly moved to a “100 per cent mobile environment”. According to, nobody has an assigned seat and no team has a dedicated area, meaning employees can sit anywhere – from standard desk space to a stool in a café-style bar. “We’re fortunate in that we are a technology company and have access to all the latest devices and services, but really any organisation can do this and there are lots of examples of non-tech companies embracing this approach,” said Marianne Rathje, area portfolio manager for Microsoft.

Technology is certainly key here, as it is with any form of alternative workspace – co-working, hot-desking or otherwise. The so-called “unstructured” arrangement of activity-based working is made possible by mobile devices and cloud computing, but herein lies a challenge. Any sensitive information must be kept secure on roaming devices, and networks and devices must be protected with ample security measures to prevent data or privacy issues.

For tech-savvy companies this is all in a day’s work. But smaller companies may need to invest in additional security measures. In today’s age of being constantly online via numerous devices, this is no bad thing.

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Of course activity-based working isn’t for everyone, or for all offices. Some employees are resistant to change, others like having their own desk, and some roles require close collaboration with others in a team environment. For some companies, it just wouldn’t work – at least not yet.

Activity-based working is certainly one way of introducing greater flexibility into the workplace. Business centres are becoming increasingly aware of mobile workers and co-working spaces, and should be keeping a close eye on the activity-based working model to see how these ideas can benefit their workspace offering.

Have you had any experiences with activity-based working? How do you feel it can benefit the business centre industry?

Image: Microsoft’s activity-based working office in Australia

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