How effectively does a workplace support people and their activities? Does a workplace help employees reach their targets? These matters are studied by world-leading workplace research company, Leesman, and the company’s Development Director, Peggie Rothe, attended Martela’s first Workplace Academy breakfast seminar at the beginning of May.

For many years now, Leesman has been measuring the functionality of workplaces in almost 70 different countries, and has received over 260,000 responses from employees in more than 2,000 offices. Based on its data the company has created the Leesman index (Lmi), which is an independent study of the functionality of a workplace. Leesman published its latest report, The rise and rise of Activity Based Working, at the start of the year. It is not easy to translate this title into Finnish, even for Peggie Rothe, who grew up in Finland and speaks fluent Finnish.
“In Finland, activity-based offices are often spoken about, but this only refers to the space. It is the activity that takes place inside the space that is more relevant,” says Rothe.

And that is what Rothe came to talk about. How does Activity Based Working (ABW) support employees’ productivity? And why is the transformation of a workplace into to an activity-based office not always successful?
“ABW is much more than getting new desks. The spaces are not the important thing, but the way they are used,” says Rothe.

Making changes to the workplace is not enough on its own

In its latest report, Leesman surveyed the productivity of people working in ABW environments and that of a control group. The results were rather surprising: In the ABW group, productivity agreement was lower than that of even the control group. However, there was considerable variation within the ABW group. The researchers wanted to know why this was the case.

“We started looking at the employees’ way of working. We found out that only a small share used the ABW environment in the way that it was intended. The majority worked mainly at a single workstation,” says Rothe.
“Thus, only the workplace had been changed, not the way of working.”

In the organisations that utilised the transformation to an ABW environment properly, productivity and efficiency were high.

“The more that an employee uses different workstations, the more they feel that the workspace supports their productivity,” says Rothe, explaining the conclusions of the survey.
Failure to properly adopt the right way of working suited to the environment is a significant problem, which limits the benefits of ABW for the organisation.

So why is it that not everyone is able to change their way of working?

“Many know how they should be using the spaces, but they don’t necessarily know why. Another common reason is an individual factor that prevents an employee from adopting the new way of working,” says Rothe.

In Leesman’s survey, over half of the respondents felt that something was preventing them from utilising the ABW environment and adopting the new way of working. For some, it was the design of the workplace and for some it was the technology. Some felt that the workplace culture did not encourage flexible working and others did not receive enough guidance during the transition.

“It is possible that even one such obstacle is enough to make someone stick with their old way of working,” says Rothe.

Young people stayed in one place

Neither Leesman nor Peggie Rothe are saying that everyone should keep moving from one workstation to another.
“If you have just one definite task, there is no need for huge variation in the types of workstations. The more varied activities you have in a working day, the more beneficial it is to change your work environment and find the kind of space that supports exactly what you are doing at that moment. On average, an employee has about 10 different activities,” says Rothe.

You might think that young employees would be able to embrace the ABW way of working without a problem. But this is not exactly the case.
Leesman’s survey shows that the under 25s spend the most time in one place and have difficulty adopting the mobile way of working. According to Rothe, this is nothing to do with age, but the fact that the young people are at the beginning of their careers and work tasks are not usually very varied at this stage.

“The employees whose work is most varied and mobile benefit most from ABW – and vice versa. These employees suffer the most if they are unable to work flexibly in a well-designed ABW environment,” says Rothe.

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