Changing the way offices are designed in terms of space and size can increase productivity and this is a trend that should be embraced by South Africa.

Office size and space has become a growing concern worldwide, with South Africa now realising that just because it has the space, which is comparatively cheap by European standards, it doesn’t mean that it can be wasted.

Space costs money and South African companies are beginning to reconsider the way they work and design their office spaces to ensure not only that they optimise every inch of space they have, but that the space is working smartly and enhancing productivity.

The most effective way to do this, and the majority of new offices in Europe are adopting this, is to use Activity Based Working (ABW). It can be explained as follows: Workers in an activity-based office don’t own a desk, or any space for that matter, and choose what type of workspace to work in on a daily, or even hourly, basis. It is an ownerless environment that allows staff to come and go as they please and to work wherever they wish.

No cellular office? No desk? No ownership? How can this possibly work?

Peter Townshend, managing director of Know More, a division of workplace specialists Giant Leap, says these are questions that are already being answered in practice and that the benefits of ABW go far beyond the cost savings achieved from the reduction in space.

“Activity Based Working just makes sense,” says Peter. “By adopting ABW, we are reducing office sizes by up to 45%. Although we have been programmed to believe that we need a single space that we can call our own, where we do all our work, the reality is that this is hugely inefficient – not just on the building side, but also when it comes to productivity.

“The modern knowledge worker performs a range of activities, from collaborating with colleagues, to focused work, telephone calls and meetings, and each activity can be performed better in a space designed to support it. We need a vastly different space to collaborate than we need for focused work. ABW allows us to provide all the spaces to employees.”

Although Activity Based Working is new in South Africa, the trend has already gathered momentum in Europe and elsewhere, and companies that have adopted this style of working are already seeing the tremendous benefits, which include:
•    Increased collaboration and productivity,
•    Improved wellbeing and engagement, and
•    A dramatic reduction in costs.

“Research shows that desks are occupied only around 52% of the time and a single desk can cost a company around R150 000 a year to run,” says Townshend. “Bearing this in mind and considering the links between mobility and productivity (productivity generally increases with mobility), it makes sense to allow staff to be more flexible and to work from anywhere and at any time. Work follows us wherever we are and offices today need to be designed to reflect this.”
To achieve the benefits of ABW, however, companies need two main things: technology; and a management style that allows it.

“Technology is not as much of an issue as it used to be,” explains Townshend. “Staff must simply be geared up to operate with mobility – they need a laptop and a secure Internet connection. The workspace itself needs Wi-Fi and a telephony solution. A far bigger obstacle is to persuade South Africa’s senior and middle management that the size of their office no longer reflects their status and that the benefits of losing their corner offices far outweigh those of staying in them. South African managers also need to be mature enough to realise that the policing style of management has long past, and that staff require the freedom to work where they want, when they want.”

Looking at the benefits of Activity Based Working, it should be apparent that this is a solution companies who want to optimise their real estate and get the most out of their staff should consider adopting.