Activity-Based Working 101: A Complete Guide to Set Up People for Success

As employees prepare to get back to the office in person, Nancy no longer wants to spend the entire day alone at the front office. Harry wants to spend an hour with colleagues brainstorming on ideas while lounging on a couch before he retreats to library silence to get his tasks done.

What about Mary? She’s looking for a home away from home, a working environment that gives her a holistic, I don’t miss my home, experience. With more than half of your employees ready to quit their jobs if they lack flexibility, there’s no better time for a change.

Welcome to activity-based working, a workplace design where teams leverage workplaces based on their needs.

What Is Activity-Based Working?

An activity-based working environment is a human-centric workplace that works in tandem with every office space to create an experience that empowers every employee according to their individual needs.

Think of the three employees we’ve named above: Nancy was spending a lot of time by herself at the front office, but from the onset of the pandemic, she realizes that she wants some time to interact with her colleagues, get to know them better.

Harry is an extrovert that is equally dedicated to his work. Therefore, spending the whole day at his desk by himself might make him productive for a few hours. What does he need to cater to his waning concentration for maximum productivity throughout the day? 

Each of these employees has different needs, but they work in the same office. The idea of activity-based working is to design the office workspace to provide spaces where each employee can meet these needs on-demand.

In addition, the setting works if the employees are empowered to take advantage of these spaces without compromising their work efficiency and productivity. That means creating an adaptable, professional, flexible, and autonomous environment, but it also requires a change in mindset throughout the organization.

Where Activity-based Working Started

The concept started in 1980 with Robert Luchetti, an American architect studying the workplace and looking for different ways to design a workplace setting to enhance efficiency. Robert determined that an office with different workplace environments created specifically for different workday activities would increase productivity.

The idea was to create multiple settings with different physical and technical characteristics. These settings would then be grouped to support the different performance metrics. Robert determined these settings to include small, large, private, open, and the team shared spaces.

Additionally, the spaces were supposed to provide the flexibility needed to move furniture and people from one setting to the other without disrupting the entire office and with the help of technology.

In 1990, Robert worked with Interpolis, the Dutch Insurance company, to create the first activity-based working space. Interpolis got rid of the assigned desk model in favor of a flexible environment that maximizes its square footage. One vital factor Interpolis implemented with this change was the shift towards a complete autonomous working environment for employees, who could now choose when, where, and for how long they wanted to work.

Interpolis employees no longer had to deal with the pressure of clocking in and out on time. They also didn’t have to spend the whole day cooped up on one desk for the entire day “As long as the work gets done.”

Why Activity-Based Working?

The most effective leaders and managers trust their subordinates and employees in today’s working environment. Additionally, workspaces are no longer viewed as static spaces where people merely sit and work. Workspaces are now part of the entire holistic working environment, which greatly impacts employees.

Think about your home for a minute. When you get back home from work, which part of the house do you look forward to seeing the most? Why? Whether consciously or unconsciously, that bathtub, living room couch, tree in the yard, or king-sized bed gives you some sense of comfort or relaxation.

But it’s not just one object in the room; it’s everything in it, how the items are spaced, their colors, and arrangement. Everything comes together to make you feel relaxed. Well, you can give your employees the same impact if you create the right setting in your office spaces.

Once you learn how to set up office neighborhoods that create synergy, you:

  • Increase the productivity of your employees because you give them the flexibility they desire, especially concerning their preferred working environments
  • Improve employee satisfaction. Providing spaces where employees are more productive and efficient makes it easier to complete their tasks. This increases their workday satisfaction.
  • Reduce your real estate costs. One primary aspect of activity-based working is its ability to utilize space. For instance, Interpolis reduced its office space from two to one building after adopting an activity-based working environment. As such, your office kitchen can be turned into an effective workspace.

What Makes An Activity-Based Working Space?

In a nutshell, an activity-based working environment has excellently designed spaces, signage, and technology. Still, you must have these four elements to call your workplace an activity-based working environment:

The Right Design

Designing an activity-based working environment means creating different spaces under one roof. For instance, you need a quiet space where people can get work done without interruptions, another space where you can host teams or client meetings, and a lunch booth where you can eat or have snacks and coffee as you chitchat with your colleagues. Each of these spaces should be designed to meet the needs of your employees.

The Right Stimulation

You want an office setting that tells your employees “Welcome Back To Work” like a warm hug from a loved one. This means putting cues within your activity spaces to help employees navigate the different sections with ease.

That way, if they want some quiet time, they know exactly where to go seamlessly and on-demand. You want to include elements that make every employee feel comfortable in their preferred space of work at a moment’s notice. This also helps your employees learn how to use your designed spaces effectively.


What is the point of designing a beautifully spaced activity-based working environment if your employees are not mindful of how to use them to fruition? For instance, no employee should make noise in the silent room.

Instead, they should understand that this is the space you take when you want to work in total silence. Every employee, in this case, automatically puts their phones on silent when in the silent space. Remember the Interpolis motto, “As long as the work gets done.” The key here is trust and autonomy. Trust your team members to get the job done well in their way.

Learning And Development

While the concept has been around since 1990, it is fairly new among many employees and employers. Keep this in mind as you transition from your traditional way of working to an entirely activity-based working environment.

This is going to be a learning experience for everyone in the office. But with the data and information gathered using technology, you can use the insights to learn and develop everyone’s mindset and behavior, just as much as you keep developing your workplace design. The goal is to learn, adjust, and grow until success.

In a word, this shift means thinking thoroughly about the daily behavior of your employees and using this information to create a working environment that provides productivity and satisfaction at minimal costs. As such, aim to build settings that meet your employees’ personal and professional needs. Go beyond offering cafeterias and kitchens by turning these spaces into productive areas for work.


Don’t Underestimate Anything in an Activity-based Working Environment

Your furniture is an active item in your activity-based working environment because it allows you to accommodate the needs of your employees. An excellent example is an open space built to accommodate a lounge area, standing tables, a communal table, and a phone booth.

Each setting requires a unique set of furniture to meet their primary purpose, even though they all share the same open room. Your signage is also crucial because it advances the behavioral cues of your employees, thus, ensuring every activity setting is used for the right reason.

Signs set the right expectation, which, in turn, help maximize the amenities in a workplace and the employee experience. You must monitor the utilization of your workspace using technology and people. For example, monitor how employees use each setting and record this information.

You can use this data to change your activity-based work settings to fit your employee needs better. A good example would be adding signage to make navigation straightforward from one setting to another.

Examples Of An Activity Based Working Environment

Workspaces For Individuals

Instead of the traditional individual desk working model, an activity-based working environment offers numerous individual work settings that focus on one person’s privacy through shared desk spaces, individual carrels, or a single focus room. These spaces meet the needs of individual employees.

Open Lounges Or Collaborative Spaces

This is an activity set designed to encourage teamwork and collaboration amid comfort. A collaborative space can be in an enclosed room with a whiteboard and furniture you can move or an open space with seating arrangements in a circle. Lounges are specially made to offer a mix of comfort and productivity, making them the perfect spaces for employees to chitchat, work individually, collaborate, or relax.

Project Rooms

These are quiet rooms and meeting rooms where no noise or minimal noise is allowed. Meeting rooms are especially important in an organization because of their versatility. But with a project room, you can make it small for a few people with video conferencing tools and a whiteboard.

Café Area

Café areas are also open café workspaces based on designing and choosing furniture. For instance, you can include a small lounge in your café area, tallboy tables for quick meetings, or banquette seating options.

Private Rooms And Phone Booths

Private rooms work best for meetings or HR–employee meet-ups, while phone booths provide a space where employees can take calls privately and quietly.

The Shift to Activity-based Working Starts With The Mind

As a leader, your focus should be on employee needs. Once you know your employees’ needs, empower them and trust them to deliver. This starts with a change in mindset, especially because the traditional work culture demands a rigid workplace environment.

It will not be easy to watch your employees chatting in the lounge area at 10 am when you are worried about targets and responsibilities. Nonetheless, if you can accommodate remote employees, you can accommodate an activity-based working environment.

You also need to invest in IT and training to get the entire organization on this new culture. Grow with agility, flexibility, and your employees in mind. Enhancing your efficiency and productivity through an activity-based working environment will increase your bottom line.

5 Reasons Why Office Neighborhoods Are The Key To Better Workplace Experience

“Great things in business are never done by one person. They’re done by a team of people.” So said Steve Jobs back in 2008. But Covid and lockdown life have seriously curtailed teamwork, the beating heart of business. So let’s take a look at how office neighborhoods can help your employees work together again when they’re back in the workplace.

While Zoom, MS Teams and Google Meet have helped enormously with remote working, you still can’t beat the buzz of a face-to-face project kick-off meeting or the thrill of a team working side by side to deliver a big win.

A hybrid working model, where employees divide time between the office and home, is the way forward. You get the best of both worlds: the flexibility of remote working without sacrificing that real-life connection. People still use the office, but only when they need to work face-to-face with colleagues. However, fewer hours in the workplace mean less opportunity for the water-cooler chats and chance encounters that fuel camaraderie in a team.

The office therefore needs to become a more dynamic and flexible environment that makes collaboration easy and accommodates employees’ and teams’ different rhythms – and that’s where office neighborhoods come in.

What is office neighborhood seating?

At first glance, an office neighborhood workspace looks like an open-plan office. But there’s more to it than meets the eye. Office neighborhood seating is a way of organizing your workplace so that people who need to work with each other or have similar needs sit together. It has dedicated areas for different groups – or communities – of employees. Each one typically has 30 to 60 people in it.

By seating a community together, you can make sure they’ve got access to the people and amenities they need to get the most out of their time in the office. These agile neighborhoods can be based on a variety of needs:

  • Functions – group people in the same department together, such as marketing or sales.
  • Projects – bring employees across different departments together to work on a specific project.
  • Activity based working – if certain activities across your organization demand certain working conditions, set up neighborhoods as activity-based for quiet work, collaboration or technical work.
  • Amenities – perhaps a community of employees needs access to certain equipment or amenities, such as breakout rooms, printers or double monitors. Add them to a neighborhood that has these features.

How does neighborhood seating work with hoteling or hot desking?

Office neighborhood seating is usually organized in zones, using either hot desking or desk hoteling.

With hot desking, employees don’t have a permanent desk but choose from a pool of available desks on a first-come, first-served basis each time they come into the office.

Desk hoteling takes things to the next level. Employees pre-book a desk and check-in when they arrive. Desks can be booked by the hour, day, or week. A team can book specific desks at the same time each week, or for the duration of a project they’re all working on.

Hot desking is simpler, but desk hoteling gives employees the benefit of being able to book a spot in advance, potentially a regular, long standing reservation, and so knowing where they’ll be sitting and with whom. It also gives office managers full control over how a workspace is used and a wealth of desk usage data.

Beyond the open plan office: Benefits of the office neighborhood

Collaboration, productivity, efficiency and flexibility. When it’s done well, the office neighborhood approach can form the bedrock of a high performing business.

1. Encourage more collaboration

Sitting together deepens relationships and encourages communication between employees. With well-designed communities, collaboration happens naturally.

Incorporating desk hoteling into office neighborhoods means teamwork can flourish across the whole community. Employees can sit with their own team whenever they come into the office or for the duration of a project, mix it up and work alongside different people in different office neighborhoods if they choose to.

2. Productivity

Did you know? It takes an average of 23 minutes to recover focus after a disturbance, so a 5-minute interruption can end up costing half an hour’s work.

Office neighborhoods ensure employees have the amenities and equipment they need to do their best work. Each team or community gets a space tailored to its own set of needs, allowing them to thrive and avoid needless interruptions to run around the office getting the right equipment – so employees can focus on delivering their best work.

3. More efficient office space management

Hot desking or desk hoteling require fewer desks because employees don’t need their own permanent workstation – that means real estate costs can be trimmed or spaces reconfigured for other purposes.

If you manage your office neighborhoods with desk booking software like Kadence, you’ll have a wealth of desk usage data at your fingertips. You’ll not only be able to see who’s using each desk, when and for how long in real time, but also where people and teams have made recurring bookings over the coming months.

With a bird’s eye view of actual occupancy data combined with future booking Kadences, you’ll be able to generate better forecasts of demand and plan your seating accordingly, or even set up an ‘overspill neighborhood’ to cope with those days when the office gets busier than usual.

4. Flexible office neighborhoods that put people first

If Covid has taught us anything, it’s the importance of adaptability. Office neighborhoods are fluid. Shift modular furniture around, experiment with layouts or add extra meeting spaces without impacting the rest of the office.

For example, design an office neighborhood workspace for a creative team to get their creative juices flowing, an open area for relaxation or desks facing each other for easier communication.

Use data to understand how your people are using the spaces – what works and what doesn’t. Identify trends and patterns to improve or reconfigure different workspaces that best support your people and their needs.

5. A happy and engaged team

Who doesn’t want happy and engaged employees? They’re more productive and loyal, and their positive attitude will have a ripple effect across the company.

According to research by Steelcase, the more people like the environment they work in, the more engaged they tend to be. Office neighborhoods let you craft spaces that are perfectly in tune with the needs of your people to improve employee experience.

Effective desk booking software should do the heavy lifting for you – making it easy for employees to find and book the right spaces they need. For example, a solution like Kadence can offer smart suggestions on the best available spaces to book near your teammates for collaboration, with the right equipment you need.

Kadence Smart Suggestions

How do you set up and manage an office neighborhood?

Your first job when setting up an office neighborhood workspace is to find out what’s needed – and Covid means what’s needed could look very different to before.

Ask your employees what their dream workplace looks like – a simple survey is an easy way to canvas opinion across your organization. What amenities would make them look forward to coming into the office? Who do they need to sit near? What facilities and equipment do they rely on?

If you already use hot desking or desk hoteling and you’ve got desk usage data, go through it with a fine-toothed comb. Are particular areas of your office more popular at certain times of day? Do particular teams favor a certain part of the office? Survey results will help you decide the types of neighborhoods that will work best, the layout and size of each neighborhood and what relaxation and social spaces to factor in.

Manage safe and efficient neighborhoods

Without a space management system in place, managing office neighborhoods can be a big headache. The idea of dynamic workspaces and shared desks may well be off-putting or cause anxiety about health and safety. But supported by the right technology, office neighborhoods can be even safer than traditional office setups.

A effective desk booking software allows your employees to reserve desk space in advance and check in when they arrive. The software also gives you control over where people sit. You can assign people to a certain neighborhood, edit seating plans to visualize capacity or set alerts when specific areas are at capacity, combined with usage data to help you plan your spaces in line with how people are using them with the amenities just where people need them.

Kadence hybrid working software neighborhoods

Teamwork in your hybrid workplace

As Steve Jobs alluded to, a business without teamwork will struggle to achieve great things. And that’s the biggest benefit of office neighborhoods – they’ll help you reinvigorate and nurture collaboration across your organization.

Desk scheduling software is not table stakes for this new era of flexible working, but it does help employees feel safe and offers a great workplace experience when they come to the office. It also gives you tools to manage seating and layouts, so you’re able to create an agile work environment that puts people first and helps them do their best work.

If you’re a business leader, I’m sure you have a million things on your to-do list when it comes to working through your productivity and community-building goals this year. Office neighborhoods could be the key to unlocking the health of your community in a post-pandemic working world — and how it’s that tidy little hack you’ve been on the lookout for.

Hybrid work is here to stay, and the more we come up with ways to capitalize on the endless flexibility it affords us, the more we can foster stronger, happier, and more productive teams than ever before.

Let us help you create a better experience for your teams, have a chat with our hybrid expert team to discover how.