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ABW : Maximising Employee Engagement and Space Utilisation

Companies aiming to expand are faced with two concerns: the need to hire more employees to handle the increase in work and the need to avail more office space to house more staff. With the market being competitive as it is, such high demand leads to a rise in rental rates, giving businesses one more challenge to overcome.

Enter the design principle of Activity-Based Workplace (ABW). Interior design firms around the world are latching onto this trend, because it allows companies to lower operating costs by simply maximizing the same amount of space to accommodate more workers, according to Paperspace Asia co-founder Sombat Ngamchalermsak.

HOT DESKS VS FIXED DESKS

Sombat,  who has designed offices for global companies such as Google and Airbnb, has long applied ABW to his creations.

He shares, “Sales staff usually work in the office for one to two days a week, meaning that their dedicated desks will not be used for three days per week. If a company has 50 sales staff, there will be up to 50 vacant desks three times a week. “

Offices designed using the ABW concept usually consist of about 60% fixed desks assigned to specific employees, with the remaining 40% made up of hot desks available for everyone to use. Similarly, Sombat divides office space into several zones reflecting the types of activity usually conducted in a company.

In addition to solving space constraints, ABW can help build organisational cohesion.

“In the past, people would normally sit at their assigned desks, but with the desk rotation policy everyone has opportunities to meet and collaborate with other teams,” Sombat said. “This design concept allows people of different departments who usually don’t work together to meet and have more interactions.”

NO MORE OFFICES?

Despite the trend of working from home and working off-site, Sombat believes that offices will still be relevant in the future but adjusted to better suit the digital age.

“Offices will become smaller in size but will be better equipped to optimize employee performance and increase work efficiency among employees,” he shared. “This will  result in bigger growth for businesses.”

Some companies might not even need to have their own offices, relying instead on co-working spaces for employees to meet, interact, and exchange ideas, Sombat says.

READYING FOR THE FUTURE

In Thailand, ABW has resonated among leading companies, some of which have already gone ahead and adopted this concept to their office designs. One of them is top marketing agency Mindshare Thailand, whose leadership wanted to renovate their office in readiness for future workstyles while ensuring they do not deviate too far from the original workspace arrangement.

“In an age where industries are driven by information and technology, the company needs to adjust its office space to accommodate the current volume of work while providing for future growth,” says Mindshare Thailand managing director Pathamawan Sathaporn.

Mindshare’s office was designed 10 years ago, a period when workstyles differed quite a lot from today. Pathamawan is convinced that Mindshare employees need an environment that facilitates agility and flexibility to achieve the best possible business outcomes.

“Our employees are workers in a digital age with no boundaries, one that requires fast-paced work ethic and teamwork,” he says. “The question we asked ourselves is this: ‘What kind of workplace can help foster their creativity, ensure the delivery of best results to customersand aid employee retention and recruitment?’”

AGILITY IS A SKILL

At a time when information can create competitive advantages in business, collaboration among employees assumes an even more important role. This was the thinking behind Paperspace Asia’s “Agile” concept, which it implemented to full effect in Mindshare’s office redesign.

The “Agile” office space aims to reduce formalities and disrupt employee hierarchy, leading to  better interactions within a team and between different teams. This led to inter-office sharing and learning, especially from experts within each team, allowing Mindspace’s work to be even more fast-paced.

“Every design we make starts with an analysis of employee behaviour, their daily routines, and the goal of the corporate executives who want more interactions between and among departments,” shared Sombat.

WORTH IT

For the new office space to be worth the effort, it must be able to accommodate more people without renting more space and must lead to the corporate culture being significantly improved.

In an attempt to battle cramped workstations and office layouts no longer suitable for new workstyles, Sombat crafts smaller workstation designs in line with the digital age that also integrates well with technology solutions.

In the past, companies had to have large desks for storing a lot of documents. Now, only office-based functions such as finance, accounting, and HR get such fixed desks. Employees who do not need to work at a desk all day (e.g. those in marketing and sales) can be given various types of spaces to work in, such as Hot Desks, Phone Booths, and Meeting Pods. Similar to co-working spaces, the ABW concept allows staff to flexibly choose space types as needed at different times of the day.

“The central hall at Mindspace was its most predominant area but it had been underutilised,” according to Sombat.

“We at Paperspace used design to solve this issue by improving the hall’s functionality, aesthetics, lighting, and atmosphere to boost employee collaboration. We created the right functional areas that are practical and more inviting to use, including meeting areas, a coffee corner, break-out spaces, and an exercise room that can be easily converted to a formal or informal meeting room.”

ONE OF THE BEST

Pathamawan noted that the office renovation was well received by Mindshare staff for improving interdepartmental interaction and providing more flexible working conditions. He credited the design for breaking down walls among employees and making everyone feel part of a big family, something that will translate to better productivity outcomes for the benefit of Mindshare’s clients,

“We also got great feedback from executives abroad saying Mindshare Thailand is one of the best Mindshare offices from around the world,” Pathamawan added.

Article adapted from
ABW’ Modern office trends Focus on participation & utility. Bangkok Biz News, 2019, October 23.

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