Activity-Based Working: Definitions & Primer

In today’s rapidly evolving work landscape, traditional office setups are being challenged by new ways of working that prioritize flexibility, collaboration and employee empowerment. One approach that has gained significant traction is activity-based working (ABW). ABW is a dynamic work model that encourages employees to choose the most suitable space and tools for their specific tastes, tasks or activities, rather than being confined to assigned desks or cubicles.

By adopting ABW, organizations can create an environment that fosters agility, adaptability and employee well-being, ultimately leading to increased innovation and business success.

To understand the benefits of ABW, we’ll give you some context and explore the benefits of agile work, flexible work, hybrid work, activity-based work, workspace hoteling and hotdesking to provide you with a comprehensive understanding of the advantages they offer in today’s dynamic work environment.

Agile work, flexible work, hybrid work and activity-based workplaces are changing the way employees collaborate.

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In short, agile work is about the overall work experience and methodology – a top-level philosophy that encompasses all of these other terms and practices. Flexible work is about when people work. Hybrid work is about where people work, and activity-based working, workspace hoteling and hotdesking focus on how people use physical space.

Agile Work

Agile work is a embraces a dynamic and flexible approach to work that emphasizes adaptability, responsiveness and collaboration. It involves breaking down projects into smaller, manageable tasks and encourages cross-functional teams to collaborate closely. This allows for iterative and incremental progress, which can be measured along the way.

There are several variations of what’s called the Agile Methodology, which is based on iterative models of project management. This means teams have opportunities to reflect on what’s happened so far, with an eye to identifying what has worked well, and which areas could use improvement or streamlining in the future. This way, they aren’t constantly reinventing the wheel on each new project; they learn from previous work, and allow lessons learned to inform future decisions and ways of task completion. Agile work promotes continuous learning and improvement, enabling organizations to quickly respond to changing market demands.

There’s something called the Agile Manifesto, which focuses on four core values and 12 principles. This was invented by a group of 17 software developers back in 2001, but has since been adapted to just about any kind of project.

The values, called the 4 Pillars of Agile, are:

  1. Individuals over processes and tools – collaboration and teamwork are more important than independent work or doing things according to fixed sets of rules.
  2. A working end-product over comprehensive documentation – the end goal (product, process, etc.) should work and work well, and this takes priority over things like documentation, which can come later.
  3. Customer collaboration over contract negotiation – customers (or users) should guide where the project’s end result goes, so customer collaboration is more important than things like contracts.
  4. Responding to change over following a plan – flexibility is key, especially in a quickly changing environment, so the team should be able to shift strategies and workflows as needed without throwing the entire project into chaos.

The 12 Pillars of Agile are:

  1. Satisfy customers through early, continuous improvement and delivery.
  2. Welcome changing requirements, even late in the project.
  3. Deliver value frequently.
  4. Break the silos of your projects.
  5. Build projects around motivated individuals.
  6. The most effective way to communicate is face-to-face.
  7. A working end-product is the primary measure of progress.
  8. Maintain a sustainable working pace.
  9. Continuous excellence enhances agility.
  10. Simplicity is essential.
  11. Self-organizing teams generate the most value.
  12. Regularly reflect and adjust your way of work to boost effectiveness.

Agile work methodologies, such as Scrum or Kanban, promote:

  1. Enhanced Collaboration and Communication: Agile work thrives on effective collaboration and communication among team members. In an ABW environment, where employees have the freedom to choose their workspaces based on activities, agile teams can easily co-locate and work together. This proximity fosters real-time collaboration, knowledge sharing and problem-solving, resulting in faster decision-making and improved productivity.
  2. Increased Adaptability and Innovation: The flexibility offered by ABW aligns perfectly with the iterative nature of agile work. By allowing individuals to choose workspaces that suit their tasks, teams can quickly adapt their physical environment to support specific project needs. This adaptability promotes innovation, as employees can experiment, iterate and test ideas more effectively, leading to faster product development cycles and improved quality.
  3. Improved Employee Satisfaction and Engagement: Agile work empowers employees by giving them more autonomy and ownership over their work. ABW takes this empowerment a step further by providing employees with the freedom to personalize their work experience. When individuals have control over where, when and how they work, they experience higher job satisfaction and engagement. This increased satisfaction translates into higher levels of productivity, creativity and overall employee well-being.

By embracing agile work, organizations can harness the power of collaboration, adaptability and employee engagement, resulting in improved project outcomes and a competitive edge in today’s fast-paced business landscape.

Flexible Work

Flexible work refers to a work arrangement that allows employees to have control over when, where and how they work. It recognizes that individuals have unique needs and preferences regarding their work schedule, location and work-life balance. Flexible work options can include alternative schedules, remote work, compressed workweeks and part-time arrangements, among others.

Flexible work results in:

  1. Improved Work-Life Balance: Flexible work options empower employees to better manage their personal and professional commitments. By having the freedom to choose when and where they work, individuals can align their work hours with their personal needs, leading to improved work-life balance. This balance reduces stress levels, enhances overall well-being and boosts employee retention.
  2. Enhanced Productivity and Focus: Different tasks require different environments for optimal productivity. With flexible work options, employees can select the most suitable workspace within an ABW setting based on the nature of their work. Whether it’s a quiet space for deep focus or a collaborative area for brainstorming sessions, providing employees with the freedom to choose their workspace enhances their ability to concentrate, resulting in increased productivity. This is equally true for allowing employees to determine when they work.
  3. Reduced Commuting and Associated Costs: Flexible work arrangements, including remote work, significantly reduce or eliminate the daily commute for employees. This not only saves valuable time but also reduces transportation costs and environmental impact. By allowing employees to work from home or choose alternative work locations, organizations can promote sustainability and contribute to a greener future.

Offering flexible work options paired with an ABW environment creates a win-win situation where both employees and the organization reap the benefits.

Hybrid Work

Hybrid work is a work model that combines both remote work and on-site work. It provides employees with the flexibility to split their time between working remotely and working in a physical office or other designated workspaces. Hybrid work recognizes that certain tasks or activities may be better suited for remote work, while others may require in-person collaboration or access to specific resources.

  1. Increased Employee Autonomy and Empowerment: Hybrid work empowers employees to make choices that best suit their work style and preferences. They have the autonomy to decide when and where they work, optimizing their productivity and well-being. This increased sense of control over their work fosters motivation, engagement and a stronger sense of ownership.
  2. Greater Talent Attraction and Retention: Offering hybrid work options can be a compelling factor for attracting and retaining top talent. Many employees value the flexibility and work-life balance that hybrid work provides. By embracing hybrid work, organizations can position themselves as progressive and adaptable employers, appealing to a broader talent pool and enhancing employee loyalty.
  3. Cost Savings for Organizations: Hybrid work can lead to significant cost savings for organizations. By allowing employees to work remotely part of the time, organizations can reduce their office space requirements, leading to lower real estate and operational costs. Additionally, hybrid work can result in improved retention rates, reducing recruitment and training expenses associated with high turnover.

By implementing hybrid work and an ABW environment, organizations can leverage the best of both worlds – providing employees with the flexibility they desire while maintaining opportunities for in-person collaboration and fostering a sense of belonging within the organization.


Activity-based work (ABW) emphasizes providing employees with a range of workspaces and tools to choose from based on whatever activities they need to perform. Rather than being tied to assigned desks, employees have the freedom to select spaces that best suit their current tasks, whether it’s a quiet area for focused work, a collaborative zone for brainstorming or a meeting room for team discussions. ABW recognizes that different activities require different environments and supports employees in optimizing their productivity and engagement.

  1. Optimized Space Utilization: ABW maximizes the utilization of office space by eliminating the need for fixed assigned desks for every employee. Instead, workspaces are designed to accommodate a variety of activities and can be utilized by different individuals at different times. This flexibility in space usage promotes efficiency, reduces wasted space and allows organizations to make better use of their real estate.
  2. Support for Diverse Work Styles and Preferences: ABW acknowledges that every employee has unique work preferences and styles, and caters to these individual differences by offering a range of workspaces and settings. Whether someone prefers a quiet corner to focus or a collaborative area to interact, ABW provides options that support different work styles. This inclusivity fosters employee satisfaction, engagement and a sense of belonging within the organization.
  3. Encourages Collaboration and Cross-Functional Interactions: ABW promotes spontaneous collaboration and cross-functional interactions. Because employees have the flexibility to choose their workspaces, they are more likely to come into contact with colleagues from different teams or departments. This serendipitous interaction leads to knowledge sharing, idea generation and increased cross-pollination of skills and expertise, enhancing innovation and teamwork.

By embracing activity-based work, organizations can create a workplace that is adaptable, employee-forward and conducive to collaboration. Employees benefit from the ability to choose workspaces that support their tasks, while organizations gain from optimized space utilization, improved employee satisfaction and enhanced collaboration.

Workspace Hoteling

Workspace hoteling is an ABW practice where employees reserve workspaces on-demand, similar to booking hotel rooms for temporary use. It involves a centralized reservation system that allows employees to select and reserve workspaces based on their needs, whether it’s a desk, a meeting room or a collaborative area. Workspace hoteling lets organizations optimize space utilization, accommodate varying work patterns and enhance flexibility for employees.

As with the general idea of an activity-based workplace, employees benefit from increased flexibility that fits their specific needs, as well as the needs of the project or tasks they’re working on. The organization benefits from more efficient use of space and cost savings, since a more dynamic way of using space could also mean fewer spaces are needed, because there’s no need to maintain a fixed ratio of desks to employees.

Reservation systems can also generate valuable data on space utilization patterns, popular workspaces and booking trends. This can provide organizations with actionable insights for space planning and optimization. By analyzing these trends, organizations can make informed decisions regarding workspace design, resource allocation and overall workplace strategy, ensuring that spaces align with employees’ needs and preferences.

Workspace hoteling within an ABW environment empowers employees with flexibility and choice while enabling organizations to make the most efficient use of their spaces. It fosters a more agile and adaptable work environment, reduces real estate costs and provides data-driven insights for future planning.


Hoteling and hotdesking are similar, but hoteling requires workspaces to be reserved in advance whereas hotdesking does not. Hotdesking is when employees don’t have assigned or reserved desks at all, but instead choose an available workspace each day on a first-come, first-served basis. It involves a shared workspace setup where employees can select any unoccupied desk or workspace when they arrive at the office. In some cases, employees can reserve desks on-site, but they do not reserve them in advance like with workspace hoteling.

Hotdesking optimizes space utilization and promotes flexibility. This flexibility can lead to more collaboration and networking, as small groups or sub-teams assemble for a specific task, or part of a task. Employees can be more responsive to changing needs, whether that’s a particular project or other work demands, or client engagements.

Again, the organization may find they no longer need as many desks or spaces as before, which saves multiple costs and allows for scaling the workforce without the need for additional physical space. Leveraging communication technologies, such as instant messaging and video conferencing platforms, can further augment communication and coordination among employees who may be working from different locations or changing workspaces frequently.

By embracing hotdesking as part of ABW, organizations can give employees even more flexibility in when and where they work. It optimizes space utilization, promotes agility and enhances the adoption of modern collaboration technologies.

Shaping the Future of Work

Activity-based working (ABW) is revolutionizing the modern workplace by offering employees greater autonomy, flexibility and choice in how, when and where they work.

ABW, with its emphasis on providing employees with a range of workspaces and tools based on their activities, offers numerous benefits. It promotes collaboration, adaptability and innovation by allowing teams to easily co-locate and work together. The flexibility of ABW enables employees to achieve a better work-life balance, enhance their productivity and focus and reduce commuting and associated costs.

Moreover, ABW aligns perfectly with the evolving needs and preferences of the modern workforce. It acknowledges that different tasks require different environments and work styles, and provides employees with the freedom to personalize their workspaces accordingly. This autonomy leads to higher job satisfaction, engagement and overall employee well-being.

Additionally, embracing workspace hoteling and hotdesking within an ABW framework optimizes space utilization, reduces costs, and fosters collaboration and networking among employees. These practices, combined with advanced collaboration and communication technologies, enable organizations to create a dynamic, agile and efficient work environment while benefiting from significant cost savings and a greater talent pool.

The future of work is evolving rapidly, and embracing ABW is a strategic move for organizations to stay ahead in this changing landscape. By understanding and implementing the benefits of ABW, agile work, flexible work, hybrid work, workspace hoteling and hotdesking, organizations can shape a workplace that is employee-centric, adaptable and future-proof.