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By Sarah Altemus, CCMP | Workplace Strategist | December 12, 2017

How Agile Can Become Part of Your Activity Based Working

BlueCat Networks in Toronto. Photo © Ben Rahn/A-Frame

There is no shortage of buzz around the potential individual and organizational benefits of Activity Based Working (ABW) as a design strategy and engagement and productivity driver.  While it has only become widely recognized as a workplace concept over the past 5 years, it was developed in the late 1970’s and coined as an idiom in Veldhoen + Company’s 1995 milestone book, The Demise of the Office. Another product of the 1970s, Agile, is foundational within software development and is gaining consideration within other industries. At its core, each model (ABW and Agile) aims to efficiently use resources and  promote and preserve the ubiquitous design and business strategy term, agility. For ease of reference, and to make an important distinction, lower case “a” agile is a trait and upper case “A” Agile is a method – with activities that needs to be carefully considered in the workplace experience.

As strategists and designers, it is critical that we expand our understanding of Agile in an effort to consider it as an activity in ABW.   The workplace needs to have built-in flexibility to accommodate future methodologies. Agile, and the related lean concepts it covers, includes frameworks that cannot seamlessly be translated into a virtual environment.

Technology can solve a number of challenges posed by distributed teams – multiple time zones, language barriers, and a spectrum of personalities. However, it can also be problematic (though not impossible) to scale and replicate important routines (e.g. daily stand up meetings, Scrum, and Kanban) for remote team members. The expectations of productivity and efficiency gained from Agile demand real-time active participation.

Photo © Jasper Sanidad.

ABW environments provide a variety of unique spaces and layouts , and empower individuals to choose the setting that best suits their needs throughout the day. Successful implementation of ABW requires significant behavioral and cultural shifts at the employee and organizational level. Unlike the confines of a traditional model, where employees are largely tethered to their desks by technology limitations or HR policies, ABW emphasizes output over process. Similarly, the principles and practices of the Agile approach focus on individuals and interactions over processes and tools.

Build projects around motivated individuals. Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done.

While ABW and Agile offer their own sets of dynamic challenges and benefits for a diverse range of employee activity profiles and team logistics (e.g. collocated or distributed), each strategy requires significant change management efforts to align and optimize technology, people and culture, and operational processes. In a lowercase agile environment (such as ABW), “work becomes an activity rather than a place.” How can ABW promote employee engagement and organizational growth when the activity is Agile?



Sarah Altemus, CCMP

Workplace Strategist

Sarah Altemus, CCMP, is a former Workplace Strategist in IA’s Seattle office. She has a diverse background in the humanities and business process improvement, with experience in communications and change management consulting. For the past 5 years, her focus has been on the individual and organizational impacts of workplace transformation from idea generation to solution implementation.




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