Why Activity Based Working isn’t for everybody

We are creatures of habit. When something works we tend to persevere with it and we live by the “if it ain’t broken, don’t fix it” rule. As creatures of habit, we tend to fall into our comfort zone and find it challenging to sometimes break out of it.

The dynamic of our lives at work can change at the click of a finger; whether its a meeting you’ve suddenly been called into or being asked to step in for an absent colleague – there are factors beyond our control which impact our lives at work. For the most part though, when we go to work we usually have a routine. We order a coffee at 10am from the same coffee shop because the barista knows exactly how much chocolate you like sprinkled on your cappuccino.  We surround ourselves in familiar environments around our personal workspaces and have our own system of doing things. Which means when something outside routine is thrown into the mix most people don’t handle the change very well.

 InSite recently delivered a fitout in Melbourne for a global travel agency - the open plan was predominantly in a hot desk configuration.

InSite recently delivered a fitout in Melbourne for a global travel agency – the open plan was predominantly in a hot desk configuration.

The introduction of Activity Based Working (ABW) challenged the very notion of being in your comfort zone. For some time now, ABW has been the latest trend in office fitout and, why not? It reduces fitout costs, maximises space, encourages collaboration and promotes equality in the workplace. ABW genuinely fosters the “one team” culture and embraces technology. The list of benefits are so long and ABW took hold in such a way that even some Legal firms took the plunge and changed their working style**

ABW has been such a success that we are frequently asked to design an office with flexible working as the major driver but we challenge the idea and ask, “Is it really for you?” Quite simply – ABW is not for everybody. You might save on fitout costs and have a beautifully designed office, but it doesn’t work for certain businesses and could actually have an adverse affect on staff – which affects productivity. That’s not to say we recommend reverting to the old fashioned way of designing workspaces with a bank of offices taking up the best views and workstations huddled together in the middle – instead we’re suggesting clients embrace a “quasi-ABW” culture. Just because it’s the latest trend doesn’t mean it’s best suited for you.

We are exploring intelligent ways to incorporate ABW into our recent fitouts by researching current design trends and utilising technology to still reduce fitout costs and deliver flexible, co-working workspaces with a balance of ABW and private zones. In fact, two of our recent refurbishment projects – for clients in completely different industries (one in property and the other in IT / Cloud Computing) we challenged the notion of a pure ABW style workplace by asking some pertinent questions around staff satisfaction and retention, manager / staff relationships, understanding employee roles and finally, camaraderie in the workplace when staff are often absent from the office for long periods. The end result? Modern fitouts for offices which do in fact meet the ABW criteria (the 80/20 staff rule) – yet these clients decided to adopt a quasi- ABW approach. 6 months on and we’re finding the philosophy has worked and their staff couldn’t be happier with the results.


There is no doubt that ABW has revolutionised workplace design and the concept is here to stay. For many businesses it is probably the best way of working knowing the evolution requires a degree of change management. Before you make a decision on changing your working style and get caught up in the latest trend, perhaps ask yourself – is it really for me and will it really work for my business?

** King and Wood Mallesons changed their workplace with an ABW style fitout

InSite Commercial Interiors

If you would like to discuss your upcoming project with InSite Commercial Interiors please contact us on enq@insiteci.com.au, 08 6240 7500 or visit us at Oxford Street Mt Hawthorn.