Activity-based Workspaces in Asia Pacific

René Hillig
As companies in the Asia Pacific region remain under pressure to make savings and implement transformational change, many look toward new workplace strategies. Are agile workspaces always the answer? Can they suit the needs of all organisations and all employees?

Workplace strategy thinking has traditionally been led by companies originating in Europe and North America, particularly by multinational consulting and technology firms which first explored these principles in the 1980s and 90s.

These multinationals and their advisors have largely been responsible for bringing the activity based-working (ABW) concept to the Asia Pacific region, although many companies who adopted the ABW model in their domestic markets have not yet exported it to all their global operations.

It is vital to align the real estate plan with the organisation’s values, strategic goals, culture and methods of working.

Efficiency is typically one of the drivers, but a focus on reducing square footage and therefore minimising operating costs will often fail if the organisation’s unique culture is not carefully considered. It’s vital to align the real estate plan with the organisation’s values, strategic goals, culture and methods of working.

The model may not export successfully into every region. Here in Asia Pacific, we encounter organisations where the ABW aspirations need modification if it’s to work well. Unfortunately, this is not always discovered at the early stages of a project. Instead, we often see shortcomings becoming apparent only when post-occupancy evaluations (POE) are carried out.

In some cases, the space configuration suits the model but not the occupants. The emphasis is typically on collaborative spaces and team areas, encouraging interaction. Where the office is devoid of quieter areas, however, it may not get the best from people who prefer to do their creative thinking or focused work surrounded by a degree of quiet or privacy. Costly retrofits can be needed if these quieter spaces are not introduced at the outset.

It's essential to consider not only how the organisation’s work is carried out today, but also how they will work in the future and what technologies are required to enable this.

Offices need a diversity of settings, supporting the full range of work practices and behaviours. A hybrid solution, of collaborative and quieter areas, is likely to meet the needs of the greatest number of employees.

Many companies in the region now have employees from four distinct generations, bringing a variety of attitudes, behavioural expectations and ways of working. Again, sensitivity to the needs of each group of people will help to make the spaces work. It’s essential to consider not only how the organisation’s work is carried out today, but also how they will work in the future and what technologies are required to enable this.

So, getting it right from the outset should be the goal and this means engaging with staff as well as management to co-create the space within a structured project framework.

Our specialist Workplace Solutions services operate globally and our client portfolio includes both private and public-sector organisations. We’ve helped clients measure the difference between cost reduction and value erosion, leading a wide variety of ABW, agile working, relocation and change management programmes, supporting clients throughout Asia, the Americas, UK, Europe and Africa.

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