Agile Working vs Activity-Based Working: What Are the Differences?

agile working vs activity based working blog

As businesses grapple with the current landscape, understanding the difference between agile and activity-based working is becoming more important than ever. 

Activity-based working (ABW) and agile working are two distinct approaches to workplace organisation that provide different benefits. In this post, we’ll explore the differences between the two and discuss how implementing each can help businesses achieve their goals.

The differences between agile working and activity-based working

We often treat agile and activity-based working the same due to their shared principles, such as being people-centric and focused on results. However, while agile working focuses on the individual — looking at how to make work more effective — activity-based working is more concerned with the physical environment, allowing teams to work in the way that best suits them for collaboration. In short, activity-based working is about the workspace, while agile working is about the people.

Related reading: How to Design a Workplace to Support Activity-Based Working

Agile working: anytime, anyplace, anywhere

Agile working is organising work that enables teams to be more flexible and adaptive to changing conditions.

Using a framework that focuses on collaboration, communication, and the efficient use of resources, agile working allows employees to work in the way that suits them best. This creates freedom in the workplace that can lead to greater productivity. Employees can work from the office, home, or any remote location, with flexible hours to optimise creativity and collaboration. 

Agile working is sometimes referred to as “smart working” as it incorporates technology into the workplace.

A common misconception is that agile and flexible/hybrid working are the same. While they share some similarities (both emphasise results and give employees more control over their work-life balance), there are also distinct differences.

Flexible working usually refers to locational flexibility, where employees can work from home, the office, or a combination of both. The policies for flexible working usually centre around when employees should work from home (e.g., one day a week, two days a week). In contrast, hybrid working policies are more malleable and permit employees to work from home or the office, depending on their daily needs.

Agile working is a unique approach to getting work done that focuses on how tasks are completed rather than where tasks are completed. It has four key components: time, role, location, and source. With agile working, employees have more freedom to determine when to work, are more adaptable to different roles, can work from multiple locations, and have the option to work with other teams or on various tasks.

Related reading: What Are the Differences Between Agile, Hybrid & Flexible Working?

Advantages of agile working

1. Increased employee productivity

Agile working offers many advantages, one of which is increased productivity. BPS World’s research has demonstrated that 67% of businesses that have embraced agile policies have seen an increase in employee productivity.

When workers are allowed to manage their workflow, they feel more engaged and motivated to do well since they do the work on their own terms. Additionally, they experience more trust from their employers, leading to a stronger sense of loyalty to the company.

2. Improved employee wellbeing

Another advantage of agile working is increased employee wellbeing. Employees can better maintain a healthy balance between their work and personal lives with more autonomy regarding their working environment. This can lead to lower levels of stress and improved morale.

3. Attracting and retaining talent

In today’s job market, companies need to offer flexible working arrangements to attract and keep the best employees. This is especially true post-pandemic, as an EY survey found that over half of global employees would leave their jobs if they didn’t have that flexibility.  Implementing an agile working policy is key to stay ahead of the competition and secure top talent.

4. Creativity and innovation

Rigid working arrangements can stifle creativity and innovation, as employees feel restricted in their ideas and approaches. Encouraging creativity is essential for any organisation, as you never know where your next ground-breaking idea will come from. By embracing a more agile way of working, you’re creating a space where risk-taking and creative problem-solving can thrive. This can help your business achieve great results.

5. Space management and cost savings

Agile workplace designs can be a great way to make the most of your office space. Flexible and adaptable, they offer a range of cost-saving benefits. For instance, you might decide to downsize the office if many employees work from home most of the time. Or, you could eliminate private offices in favour of open-plan workstations that can be reconfigured as needed. Furthermore, agile working makes it easier to accommodate new employees or downsize if required, saving more money.

The advantages of embracing agile working policies can be amplified by collaboration between employees within and across departments. So, adopting agile work should be a priority if you want to take your business to the next level.

Related reading: The Cloudbooking Handbook to Supporting Employee Well-being and Mental Health

Activity-based working

Activity-based working (ABW) is a way of structuring work based on the activities that need to be completed. It is designed to maximise a team’s efficiency by focusing on the tasks at hand.

To do activity-based work effectively, the office setup is designed to provide employees with the right environment to obtain maximum productivity. It is based on the idea that different activities require different environments. 

ABW is more than just providing flexible working options for employees; it’s about creating an entirely new workplace experience. At its core, ABW is about encouraging team collaboration and empowering individuals to explore their own productive working methods. 

Unlike agile working, which is mainly concerned with individual workloads, ABW is about creating a new and innovative workplace and culture. Employees are invited to move freely between different workspaces and discover the ones they work best in. But to make this strategy successful, employers must put significant trust in their workforce.

However, crafting the perfect work environment involves more than just furniture and decor. You need to create an atmosphere that encourages productivity and creativity by paying attention to lighting, acoustics, scent, and temperature.

For instance, you can use softer lighting for areas where employees need to concentrate and brighter lighting for collaborative spaces. Studies have also revealed that offices that are either too warm or too cold can negatively impact employee productivity, so ensure the temperature is comfortable for everyone.

To ensure that employees adhere to the intended use of each workspace, you should implement behavioural reinforcement systems. For example, you could put in place a booking system for meeting rooms and set aside specific areas for socialising that are off-limits during certain times of the day. This way, employees will be more likely to stick to the intended purpose of each space.

To ensure your ABW workplace continues to be effective, you need to have a learning process in place. This should involve regularly gathering employee feedback and using it to make changes.

For instance, you can adjust your office’s layout if certain areas are underutilised. Or, if employees have difficulty locating specific settings, you can add more signage to guide them.

Related reading: How to Support Work-Life Balance for Employees: The Ultimate Cloudbooking Guide

Advantages of activity-based working

1. Increased productivity and collaboration

A study by Veldhoen + Company found that businesses that implemented activity-based working saw a 13% increase in individual productivity and an 8% growth in team productivity. Providing employees with the ability to move to different work settings according to their tasks promotes more efficient use of office space. Plus, it encourages interaction and teamwork, creating a sense of belonging and motivation among employees.

2. Employees feel trusted and valued

ABW can also increase employee motivation and morale by giving them a greater say in managing their workplace. Allowing them to take control of their work environment can make them feel empowered, trusted, and valued. Such feelings can lead to better engagement, commitment, and a stronger employer-employee relationship.

3. Greater communication between employees

ABW also facilitates better communication and knowledge exchange among employees since they’re more likely to contact each other throughout the day. When employees can conveniently interact and share insights, it can result in improved decision-making and a more unified work environment.

Related reading: The Ultimate Guide to Employee Burnout: Early Signs, Driving Factors and Prevention Tips

Disadvantages of activity-based working

1. It requires big changes

Introducing ABW in an organisation can be challenging and requires thoughtful planning to ensure success. Without a plan to guide the transition, employees may be more resistant to the change, or it might not work out as expected. It’s essential to have a detailed strategy for implementing ABW before making any changes.

2. It’s frustrating if not implemented well

An ill-executed ABW system can be a source of dissatisfaction. For instance, if there aren’t enough spaces for employees to use or the office layout isn’t well thought out, it can be hard for employees to find what they need.

Additionally, if not enough consideration is given to people’s work styles, they may not get the most out of the new system. For example, if there are too many brainstorming rooms but not enough quiet zones, employees might find it difficult to concentrate on their tasks.

3. It can be hard to find your colleagues

ABW has its advantages, such as increased communication and knowledge exchange, but it can also prove challenging to locate colleagues. Without a system in place and the variety of work settings available, it’s often hard to determine where someone is supposed to be. As a result, you may waste precious time looking for someone who isn’t in their designated spot. This is where a desk-booking system is vital.

Agile vs activity-based working — who wins?

So, agile vs activity-based working — which should your business implement? Why not both? The great thing about these two work organisation styles is that they complement each other perfectly because they share many of the same principles. You can allow your employees to work flexibly, focusing on the task at hand wherever they are located. They can also make the most of a space designed for every task when they are in the office. 

Thinking of embracing ABW or agile working in your organisation? Cloudbooking’s desk booking tools and smart office solutions can make your transition smoother. Our tools can help your business with just a few clicks. Contact us now for a no-obligation product demo.

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