Activity Based Workplace (ABW)



By Charles Villanyi Bokor and Bernard Fiset

Ottawa, Canada




A most profound workplace transformation is taking place. The traditional role of the workplace is transforming and challenging the current way individuals work, even if “… most companies stink at observing how real work gets done and at recognizing what matters to the people doing the work.” [1- Jensen, 2002]. This cannot but have a profound impact on corporations, their managers, their employees and the resulting outcomes, because the output produced is the result of the environment in which employees are put into to work. [1.5- Sinek, 2014] So, corporate leaders must take a new look at the long road ahead and identify emerging workplace design trends that will have to be considered. This is fraught with danger as predicting is difficult, especially when it is about the future.

The current interest of (some) organizations that are considering transforming the workplace, is firstly, to align with the expectations of its employees. Secondly, it is to align with an emerging school of thought that claims that improving the workplace improves people’s health and wellness, and that healthier people perform better. Thirdly, some organizations believe that improving their workplace improves their ability to attract new talent and retain some of their employees who otherwise may leave. Lastly, as the cost of accommodating employees is rising, not managing this cost directly impacts the organizations’ bottom line. So, many are looking to Activity Based Workplace (ABW) to not only improve employees’ work-life balance by increasing their mobility, but also to improve asset performance (some claim by as much as 20-50 %) by making more efficient use of its space.

First referenced, in the late 1970s by the American architect Robert Luchetti, the term ABW was first coined in the books “the Art of Working” and “The Demise of the Office” by Erik Veldhoenm a Dutch consultant, and was first implemented by Interpolis in the Netherlands in the 1990s. Over the past several years, a number of organizations have adopted ABW and now prioritize their employees’ needs by allowing them, within boundaries, to make the office environment into a necessary component of their tool set.

Deloitte’s Bersin report, Predictions for 2015: Redesigning the Organisation for a Rapidly Changing World [2 – Bersin, 2015], includes 10 predictions of the enormous changes underway, including a move to ergonomically adjustable work stations and chairs, height adjustable desks and foot stools, encouraged physical activity, functional kitchens and more access to natural light.  However, simply different does not equate to better. What the changes must first include are deployed systems that can reduce employees’ commute time and allow them to choose when and from where they work, and the replacement of a number of HR generalists with a few senior engaged human resources (HR) business partners. In short, the coming transformation needs both IM/IT and HR as strategic transformation partners.

Today, in part due to the technology we possess, “We’ve reached a point where a physical office is no longer essential for all employees,…” [3 – i-office], one physical office may not be enough. Specifically, millennials, who already represent the majority of the workforce and by 2030 will comprise 75 percent of it (4- U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics), want a variety of commuter options, and physical activities that include mobility throughout the day, health and fitness amenities, ergonomic equipment, natural light, sound-attenuating materials, environmental controls, and social spaces. This may be, in part why the Canadian Government is rolling out ABW and is focusing on employees’ needs and allowing them, within boundaries, to decide on: how to work, where to work, when to work, the tools to use and with whom to collaborate to get the needed and defined work done. If done well, this may contradict a Harvard study published in 2018 [5- Smith, 2019] that shows that open office plans do not support the vision of collaboration and increased employee productivity.


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How to cite this paper: Bokor, C.V. and Fiset, B. (2019). Activity Based Workplace (ABW); PM World Journal, Vol. VIII, Issue IX, October.  Available online at https://pmworldlibrary.net/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/pmwj86-Oct2019-Bokor-Fiset-activity-based-workplace.pdf



About the Authors

Charles Villanyi Bokor

Ottawa, Canada



Charles Villanyi Bokor is a Strategic Management Consultant focused on Leading to Better Decisions. Principal activities include Business Transformation, Problem Project Recovery & Leadership, Strategic Planning. Charles works mostly in Ottawa but has successfully completed assignments in Florida, Wales, Malaysia, Sweden and Australia, and was key-note speaker in Johannesburg South Africa and Victoria BC. Formal education includes an Executive Development and Diploma in Management (McGill), M.Sc. Mathematics (Université de Grenoble, and de Montréal) and B. Sc. Mathematics (Concordia). He was: Program Director of the Corporate Performance Management Program, Sprott, Carleton; Director of IS/IM at Royal Trust; and at Northern Telecom; CMC; CMC Board Member; PMI-OVOC Board Member; Governor of ICCC; is ITIL Certified, ISP and a TBS Independent Project Reviewer. Charles can be contacted at villanyibokor@gmail.com


Bernard Fiset

Ottawa, Canada




Bernard Fiset is President and Principal Consultant at Catalysta Inc.  His Business Transformation consulting practice focuses on strategy, performance and business processes optimization, technology modernization and change management.  His experience includes 20 years leading professional service organizations for a global equipment manufacturer, then consulting with over 15 government departments and agencies.  Bernard completed an engineering degree (Sherbrooke University), then pursued advanced studies in project management (HEC Montreal), and Network Engineering (University of Toronto).  He executed several mandates as a certified Project Management Professional (PMP) and Lean Six Sigma Black Belt.  Bernard is based in Ottawa and worked across Canada and in several US cities.  He has also managed US, European and Australian service delivery partners. Bernard can be contacted at bfiset@catalysta.ca.