Seven tips for succeeding with activity-based working

Activity-based working is basically about change management – and to change the management, not only the behaviour of the staff. “Trust is central to the concept. Let go of control and details and manage on performance and clear expectations”, says Ylva Pålsson of Swedish workplace consultant firm My Workspaces.

Expert interviews Office

Two years ago, Ylva Pålsson started My Workspaces together with her ex-colleague Malin Pansell. They had both been engaged in a gigantic activity-based working project and on-going process at the headquarters of Ikea in Malmö, Sweden.

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Malin Pansell and Ylva Pålsson guide organisations to implement activity-based working. Before becoming consultants, they developed and implemented the concept for Swedish furnishing giant Ikea. Photo: Lars Wirtén.

“We were both part of developing the whole concept of Ikeas activity-based offices and the way Ikea is working with it on a daily basis”, says Malin Pansell.

Ylva Pålsson was responsible for applying the concept when Ikea refurbished its IT-office in Helsingborg with 1 700 employees and consultants. It succeeded and she moved on to be responsible for managing and developing the activity-based working at the headquarters in Malmö.

“We also supported parallel projects in many other countries. They used our concept in all from interior design to change management and the IT infrastructure”, Malin Pansell explains.

Why do you want activity-based working?

Being engaged in activity-based working was the most stimulating and exciting task they both had had so far in their careers. They wanted new projects and challenges and started My Workspaces in 2018. With their experiences from the Swedish, global furnishing giant, they now want to guide other organisations to take the right steps and not least, know why they should convert to activity-based working.

“First of all, do not use activity-based working as an excuse to cut facility costs. To succeed you must integrate it with the overall business objectives”, Ylva Pålsson states.

“As we see it, these projects should be owned by human resources and be supported by the facility and IT functions. It’s from an ambition to change behaviours and reach business objectives this should be run. It must permeate all the aspects of the business. It includes even the recruiting process”, Malin Pansell says.

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The concept must be adapted to the organisation and its activities. This is not a one-size-fit-all solution.

The three legs of activity-based working

Malin Pansell underlines what she sees as the most important question and the starting point: Why do you want to work according to an activity-based concept? What strategies and objectives are to be met, and how do you achieve them? Probably by collaborating more and better, being more productive and creative and by having healthy employees that enjoy their work. But remember one thing.

“The concept must be adapted to the organisation and its activities. This is not a one-size-fit-all solution”, Ylva Pålsson says.

When interviewing Malin and Ylva, it soon becomes clear that they do not discuss interior design solutions in detail when it comes to activity-based working. There are architects for this, experts in their field. Malin and Ylva focuses on three legs, each as important:

  • The human environment, in terms of leadership, culture and behaviour.
  • The physical environment, from a strict functional perspective (what functions, not how they are achieved).
  • The digital environment and support, such as laptops, digital documentation and communication tools.

Time for workshops

All three legs are intertwined and critical for a successful activity-based office. But it all starts with changing the culture and behaviour. For this reason, the management must be involved and committed from the very beginning. The next step is to involve all employees. And when Ylva and Malin says all, they mean all.

“This is the big challenge. It is important to have several workshops, where people can discuss all issues they can come to think about. You really need to assign much time for this. People must first get the chance to ask and discuss common issues like where they will put their jackets, if there will be free parking options, where they will have coffee breaks and so on. You must first go through this kind of issues before you can start discussing increased collaboration”, says Malin Pansell.

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Activity-based working means a lot of freedom for the employees. Managers must lead from a distance, based on trust and performance. It is central that the employees feel that they are seen and confirmed.

Management by trust

Once the management has decided on an activity-based concept, there are no alternatives for anyone. Focus should be on what tools are required for each and everyone, not whether or not you should work according to the concept. Everyone must know why the change is launched – not least the middle managers.

“Activity-based working means a lot of freedom for the employees. Managers must lead from a distance, based on trust and performance. It is central that the employees feel that they are seen and confirmed. Managing an activity-based team is demanding. The managers must do their job”, Ylva Pålsson states.

“Set an example. Move from surveying row of desks to build communication structures in the cloud. You don’t have to see your people to manage”, Malin Pansell assure.

“And don’t be at the office every day, and definitely not at the same desk. If you do that, you will never get the employees to move around and work agile. Control is not a good quality for an activity-based team. Let go of that.”

 

Text: Lars Wirtén

 

Malin and Ylva’s seven tips for succeeding with activity-based working:

  1. Start with the top management. Be clear on why you want the change and what objectives you want to achieve.
  2. Involve all employees. Make workshops and seminars mandatory.
  3. Support mid management. Be sure they all understand why the change is implemented and how they should lead their teams.
  4. Find out facts on how people work. Spend a lot of time observing and measuring before launching.
  5. Make sure all three legs of the concept are steady and ready to go: the human, the physical and the digital leg.
  6. Activity-based working is about change management – not to freshen up an office or cut facility costs. Even though you will achieve that as well.
  7. Find your way of activity-based working. There is no one-size-fit-for-all.