There are many definitions of activity-based work. In this article I want to share how we designed our workplace at UClarity and how our approach works for us.
Is activity-based working suitable for all organisations?
There is no universal model for activity-based work. Companies and organisations have chosen different methods and ingredients to find an approach which suits them best. Activity-based work has had many different names over the years and has been called everything from “here” work, mobile workplaces, to distance working and the definition has evolved as organisations find their own solutions. What is usually most crucial is that the approach is adapted to the tasks to be performed, in combination with the best possible physical and digital workplace. Activity-based work is not necessarily suitable for everyone within the organisation. It is obviously difficult for a bus driver or carpenter to work from home. However, some tasks can be performed regardless of location, such as administration and time reporting.
How do we work at UClarity and how have we designed an approach and a workplace which suits us?
At UClarity it all started with a well-developed vision, values and strategy to find the best combination of physical work, digital tools and attitudes which can support an approach where employees are committed, motivated and effective. Perhaps most crucial for the success of activity-based work is an organisational culture which is built on trust, participation and joint responsibility. At UClarity we are constantly working to be better and find smarter working methods and digital tools. I have worked activity-based for several years and I now find it difficult to imagine any other way of working. Information technology has made it possible for us to work and collaborate digitally, regardless of time, place and space.
It is still common for organisations to want employees to work in a specific place at specific times. This probably means that these organisations spend a considerable amount of money on office space which is under-used. For many of us nowadays, it does not really matter when or where we work, which has made it possible for us to create a better and healthier balance between work and personal life.
At UClarity we choose where, when and how we will work on the tasks we face. If I need an informal meeting with a colleague what might work best is to go for a walk followed by a coffee at a local café. If I need to sit undisturbed in a conversation with a customer I go into one of our meeting rooms which are adapted for digital meetings. If I am working on a customer project, I would prefer to be at the customer’s workplace if possible. Where I sit, stand or walk depends on the task I am doing at that time. Work is not a place, it is something I do.
How does activity-based working affect me as an employee?
I have much more flexibility in my work. However, capitalizing best on the benefits which flexibility brings, also requires individual responsibility. I have no manager who checks when I come in or when I go home for the day. It is up to me to have regular updates and meetings with my manager, my colleagues and my customers, to carry out the assignment. Working in this way also requires a good digital workplace and knowledge of how to manage digital tools in the smartest and most effective way. A digital calendar, digital conferencing services as well as digital notes are essential for me as an employee to be able to work activity-based. It is also important that my colleagues and customers can see when I’m available in order to create a good climate for collaboration, just as it is to know when I am busy so that distractions can be reduced.
What activity-based work is not for us at UClarity?
It does not mean that we work as much or as little as we want. I still have a 40-hour working week. However, I choose myself how best to use the time in line with assignments I am involved in. This also makes it easier to plan my personal life. Nor does it mean that I am just working from home. I have to be flexible when choosing which place to work from based on the tasks to done.
Activity-based work for us at UClarity does not mean expensive designer rooms with seating and furniture which has no function. Each location or piece of furniture at the office is carefully chosen in line with various work situations we usually find ourselves in.
Just because we have chosen to work activity-based, does not mean that we advocate this approach for all organisations and all employees. When introducing activity-based work, we always look first at the needs of the organisation and their employees. At that point the physical and the digital workplace can be adapted for an approach which best suits them. An example of this is customer who started a project with us with the intention of introducing activity-based work. However in the end they chose to introduce office mobility (i.e. that employees can choose work space, but only within the office) instead of activity-based work. No solution is wrong. What is important is that it meets the needs of the business.
The main benefit of activity-based working for me as an employee is definitely the HR aspect. It gives me a better balance between my work and personal life. Certainly the individual responsibility involved is sometimes challenging, but it also provides a sense of ownership which results in a greater commitment to the company. I have previously worked in offices with fixed workplaces where there is limited exchange between colleagues and departments. Activity- based working at UClarity means that I meet more people who all contribute in their way to a more pleasant and efficient working environment and a healthier working life.
To me it is just a bonus in my working life that I work for a company which helps organisations to adapt their physical and the digital workplace to enable activity-based work.