Driving the Post-Covid ABW Workplace

The New Hybrid Model

“Work from home (WFH)” is not going away for many sectors of the workforce. The past 12 months of forced WFH have been the proving ground for one of the greatest workplace transformations in modern history. Workers have finally been able to stress test the mobile technologies developed to facilitate remote collaboration and the outcome is encouraging.

An amass of surveys aimed at documenting the change in productivity as workers took their jobs home has illustrated that, not only are workers maintaining their work ethic, in many cases productivity has seen an increase. “The shift in positive attitudes toward remote work is evident: 83% of employers now say the shift to remote work has been successful for their company, compared to 73% in our June 2020 survey” states PWC on how productivity has fared mid-pandemic. This doesn’t come as a surprise to many familiar with the matter. The influx of collaborative technology has been grooming a new generation of workers that do not require being tethered to their desk or even workplace.

Won’t businesses force employees to show up in a post-pandemic world? Mercer, an HR company, recently concluded that 1 in 3 companies will see 50% or more of their workforce remain in remote positions due to the effectiveness of their WFH policy. While some businesses do in fact plan to corral their workers back into the office, many see it differently. When it comes to priorities for companies, their workers and associated productivity rarely fall far from the top. Given the results of the year of WFH, workers now have more ammo to push for the option to work from home in a post-pandemic world, and decision-makers have more data to back up their decisions.

So what happens when workers have an option to come into the office or stay at home? While this concept sounds foreign, it’s not new. A stroll through any modern workplace pre-pandemic would quickly illustrate this scenario. Many workers within an organization, whose mobility is not restricted by physical assets —e.g. equipment or physical documents—work freely throughout the workplace, using space that best fits their needs. Sometimes that space isn’t even in the office. Historically referred to as activity-based-working, or ABW, workers adjust their physical requirements based on their work requirements. Don’t need 6’ of private desk space? Work from a cafe or bench seat. Need privacy and silence? Work from a phone booth. This flexibility has helped workers easily transition to the WFH model. The ABW model is now simply extending itself to include areas outside the perimeter of the workplace or campus and is forming what some refer to as a hybrid model— working from both the workplace and home.

Support for ABW

Having workers stay home a few days if it means they’re productive and happy is simple—their home office is on them—but what happens to the workplace? A reduction in anticipated space utilization for a large office requires change from the top down. Everything from the macro concepts of reducing overall real estate footprints to microscale changes of new types of worksettings is on the table. Beyond the larger requirement of right-sizing a real estate portfolio, one of the most drastic shifts to occur when transitioning to ABW is managing newly shared workplace assets, such as desks and collaborative areas.

By means of introducing new fit-outs and new technology, real estate and facility strategists are leading the charge in organizing the support structure required to operate a more transient work environment. A difficult task at hand is to quantify how the new spaces are actually used and to give that data to its users in real-time to help with the workplace experience. Technology, like CoWorkr occupancy sensors for offices, are helping organizations make utilization decisions based on high resolution and real-time occupancy data.