The rise of activity based working

An interview with Amanda Stanaway

There has been growing interest in activity based working since Macquarie Group opened the doors of One Shelley Street, Sydney in 2009. Amanda Stanaway is a principal at Woods Bagot, a global architecture firm. Her role encompasses strategy and interior design across the commercial, lifestyle and public sectors. Amanda has been instrumental in creating some of the most cutting edge workplaces in Australia – which have delivered real business advantage and positive change. Her projects include Macquarie Group, Shelley Street, Sydney and Brisbane, National Australia Bank 700 Bourke Street, Melbourne, Campus MLC, Sydney and the Royal Randwick Redevelopment in Sydney.

What are the origins of activity based working, and how do you explain the groundswell of activity in corporate Australia?

Activity based working (ABW) is a concept developed by Dutch consulting firm Veldhoen and Company and originally implemented in 1997 for Interpolis in the Netherlands. Macquarie Group’s workplace One Shelley Street, by Woods Bagot, Clive Wilkinson Architects and Veldhoen and Company, was Australia’s first activity based working environment, delivered in 2009. The benefits to business and impact on culture, business performance and engagement in this project have meant that there has been a large amount of interest in and support of this way of working. This has been particularly strong in the banking sector, with Commonwealth Bank and National Australia Bank creating their own unique version of ABW, with companies in the property sector including GPT, JLL, Dexus and CBRE following suit.

For all of the ground swell of supporters and adopters of a new way of working, there are equally the detractors and so it is important to create a solution tailored to each individual business; it should not be a one size fits all solution. Each business is unique and the reason for adopting ABW or any new way of working should be carefully considered and approached in holistic way.

What are the benefits of ABW?

Diversity of space allows people to choose their working environment, allowing them to perform at their best and increasing business efficiencies. Freedom, empowerment and trust are also key outcomes of ABW as is increased interaction and team connection, and a more agile workforce.

Which environments do you think are most suited to ABW?

I believe that the core principles of ABW can be adopted in almost any business. In essence, the core principle of ABW is in the name – activity based working – in other words, the right space for the right activity, or the right space for a specific task. In an office environment this is really responding to the ‘needs of the user’ and the task in a way that open plan cannot.

Are there downsides to ABW or things that organisations need to consider carefully when considering a move to ABW?

ABW has to be carefully implemented and the reasons for implementing it should be business led not property led. ABW requires a commitment to change from leadership, and needs to be holistic, with focus on the physical (the spaces created), the technology, and the cultural and behavioural requirements.

Can you talk us through some examples of ABW that are working really well and explain the benefits they are seeing?

GPT’s implementation of ABW has been very successful but also has been carefully managed.

A post-occupancy evaluation survey conducted 12 months after the opening of the refurbishment found that the office had the highest satisfaction rating among its employees compared to any other office measured in the country. The survey, which was conducted by Arup, assessed temperature, air quality, light and noise,and rated the design, productivity and health within the office environment.

The occupancy evaluation was benchmarked against 55 other Australian office spaces. The employee survey produced results rating the new office:

  • Number one for occupant satisfaction
  • In the top three per cent for its occupant comfort
  • Second highest score for design, and
  • Perceived productivity in the top 10 per cent of Australian offices.

The financial sector appear to be the early adopters, are there other industries moving this way? Can implementations work on a smaller scale?

Businesses in the property sector have been great advocates for the new way of working and have used this to leverage business opportunity. GPT, JLL, CBRE and DEXUS have all moved this way and in each of these cases the implementation are on a small scale (between 1800 and 4000sqm).

Professional services are working towards it as are most of the telcos and technology companies, with Optus and Fujitsu currently in pilot and Telstra working through their own version of a new way of working.

In your experience, have you found that employees have been receptive to moving to ABW?

In all cases, there is a combination of embracing change and resisting change with every group that we have worked with. Most people are generally resistant to change, and it is important that the business driver behind the change is carefully articulated. Throughout our experiences with clients we have learnt that you need to see change as a process, ultimately simplifying the rules and being slightly flexible with the implementation. Not everyone will always be on board.

If not, have you seen any strategies utilised by employers to effectively overcome opposition or resistance from staff?

Change programmes are paramount to the implementation of ABW environments. It is vital to provide people with sufficient training, support, technology and sufficient structure to their personal “outputs”. Key issues can result at management level, with a change of management style and inability to “control” employees.

Can you comment on consideration that is given to ergonomic set up during the design phase of an ABW environment? Do you think that ABW environments are well set up with ergonomic principles in mind?

Ergonomists were originally hesitant when we started talking to them about ABW environments, as it meant lots of people using different workspaces and there was a fear about adjustability. Increasingly as we understand the impact of sitting, the idea of ABW

and using a range of spaces and increasing a person’s movement throughout the work day fits into an ergonomic approach; and therefore ergonomists have been much more supportive and ‘receptive’ to the new way of working.

The ergonomic considerations in an ABW workplace are increased from a typical environment, however the environment relies on self-regulation and ensuring that people make the right choice of space for the right task and for the right period of time. Ergonomic considerations include better monitor set up with monitor arms, better task chairs, height adjustable workstations and increasingly these will be ‘sit to stand’. The health benefits and benefits for people with back issues are beginning to be better documented and communicated.


Konekt are able to conduct a range of ergonomic assessments to suit diverse working environments and individual requirements. We have significant experience in supporting organisations who are transitioning to or maintaining flexi-desking and/or activity based work environments.Konekt’s ergonomic assessments are delivered by Konekt’s team of allied health professionals Australia-wide. The team comprises physiotherapists, occupational therapists and exercise therapists who utilise their comprehensive knowledge of anatomy, postural assessment and ergonomic principles to conduct effective ergonomic services and provide functional ergonomic training.

In environments where employees are likely to move between workspaces frequently, such as those designed with activity based working principles in mind, Konekt’s workstation training programs can be utilised to educate employees on ergonomic principles and provide practical education on how to set up their workspaces to maximise productivity and minimise the risk of injury.

In the past we have provided services to customers transitioning to activity based working where we have had a Konekt consultant present onsite for the entire day. The consultant conducts regular presentations throughout the day so employees can come and learn about how to best set up their workstation. Between presentations the Konekt consultant completes a ‘walk through’ around nominated floors so employees can ask specific questions and have their individual needs met.

For another client, in addition to completing the ergonomic training, we were also asked to collect data about a range of metrics including equipment available and common ergonomic issues raised. Konekt’s Senior Ergonomist then collated this data and used it to complete a detailed report outlining recommendations to support the ongoing transition to flexi-desking, while minimising any ergonomic risks to employees.

If you are interested learning more about these services please contact your local Konekt office to discuss your requirements or request more information.

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