ABW approaches

ABW is reliant on flexible working spaces that allow employees to choose a place / space that will match the activity they plan to carry out.  An ABW approach might incorporate a number of enablers such as wireless technology, mobile hardware (notebooks, iPads and more) and a paperless existence to be fully integrated and to support a physical environment that promotes flexible work arrangements. These physical changes to the built environment impact on a multitude of areas including work process, cultural expectations, personal preferences, managerial practices, and technology and health1.

Whilst some organisations have introduced fully integrated ABW approaches, they have achieved this via complete office redesign. Given full redesign is not an option for several organisations (footprint and restricted finances), hybrid approaches to ABW are being introduced1.

One thing ABW is not, is a rebrand of ‘Hot Desking’. Hot desking is non-allocated seating in a traditional office environment.

What is driving the ABW approach?

There have been a few centrical forces at play in Australia, that have given rise to more and more organisations integrating an ABW approach. A recent survey of 400 multinational corporations found that two-thirds plan to implement shared-desk workplaces by 20202.

Wireless network capability, combined with mobile hardware such as notebooks, tablets and smart phones, are further enabling organisations to mobilise their office based workers.  Activity Based Work environments can now progress at a rapid rate due to these technological enablers. The growing need for organisations to act responsibly and ensure sustainability, both financially and environmentally, are two other key drivers in the move to ABW.

The other forces at play include creating a workplace that differentiates you amongst your competitors and drives retention and attraction.

Sitting is the new smoking

Arguments for ABW are now also supported by the need to reduce sedentariness in office workers. ‘Sitting is the new smoking’ is the phrase that has been reported widely in the media in recent times3. This comment implies that there are serious health risks associated with a sedentary lifestyle, including sitting at work. In 2008, smoking was responsible for 5 million deaths across the world, whilst inactivity caused 5.3 million deaths7.

The adverse health effects of a sedentary lifestyle include musculoskeletal discomfort, metabolic syndrome and type II diabetes, cardiovascular disease cancer, and mortality. It was previously thought that regular moderate exercise offsets the negative aspects of sitting throughout the day at work, though latest research indicates that this is not true7.

Health risks associated with sitting

There have been recent systematic reviews and meta-analyses that have been published regarding the health risks of sitting. As cited in Comcare’s “Benefits of Movement – Be Upstanding”8, the five main health risks associated with sitting are:

  • Musculoskeletal pain;
  • Metabolic syndrome (this relates to the risk factors for developing diabetes);
  • Cardiovascular disease cancer; and
  • Mortality

Furthermore, one Australian study published in 2009, reported that the office based workforce included in the research spent in excess of 70% of the working day sitting9.

The health risks on standing for extended period of time are widely published however it is important to differentiate between extended standing and alternating between sitting and standing.

According to WorkSafe Victoria, work tasks that require people to sit or stand for periods of