Activity-based working, where employees are not assigned a particular workstation but instead can choose from a variety of different places to work within the office, is fast becoming the norm for many modern offices. This is due to the concept’s multiple benefits,+ which include:
- Enhancing employee wellbeing and satisfaction
- Increased motivation
- The ability to accommodate a large workforce without expanding offices
- Increased flexibility to encourage collaboration and conversations
In order to implement a successful transition to activity-based working, businesses need to get the basics right and one of these is installing the correct office furniture.
How activity-based working (ABW) differs from hotdesking
Hotdesking simply refers to the same workstation being used by multiple employees at different times of the day or week.
ABW takes this further by offering different styles of work areas to employees depending on the task they need to complete. Typical ABW areas may include private booths, collaborative areas, areas to relax and play, as well as traditional desks and chairs.
The key difference between the two is that ABW is designed to enhance the experience your employees have whilst at work by giving employees a choice of where and how they work. Another advantage of AWB over hotdesking is that the variety of workspace on offer can help to reduce wasted space from empty desks.
Choosing the right furniture for successful activity-based working
Furniture used in an activity-based working office needs to be flexible to accommodate the changing needs of your employees throughout the day. The basics you should consider investing in are:
- Traditional workstations – this might seem counterintuitive to an activity-based office, however, there are times when employees will want to work at a desk and chair to complete certain tasks. Invest in robust office chairs and desks as they will get a lot of use from multiple different people.
- Furniture that offers quiet spaces to work – this could be dedicated booths where people can take phone calls or have private one-to-ones or something as simple as high backed acoustic seats to help minimise noise transfer.
- Collaborative furniture – soft seating areas can be used for team collaborations or informal meetings with clients, depending on what employees need them for throughout the day. Technology can be integrated into these areas to make setting up for meetings hassle-free.
Collaborative areas can also include large tables that allow employees work on offline ideas together. If the furniture can be agile enough to be moved and reconfigured then this will give employees ultimate flexibility when arranging how they want to work.
- Conference furniture – this will still have a place in your office if you’re used to having formal meetings with clients, more prescribed collaboration sessions and traditional board meetings. Choose conference tables with integrated power modules and screens to enable meetings to take place instantly.
- Furniture for social spaces in the office – benches, cafeteria style tables and chairs, sofas, high tables and bar stools can all be used to create social spaces that encourage people to eat, meet and relax together.
Ensuring the furniture is light enough to be moved and can be mixed and matched will give employees the power to use the areas how they want to. This is what the designers at Dale Office Interiors specified for Visualsoft’s office refit, using furniture from social space specialists Frövi to give Visualsoft’s employees ultimate control over their workspace layout.
Other types of furniture to facilitate activity-based working
- Stacking chairs – these can be used for impromptu meetings, to seat visitors or for when employees need extra chairs for collaborative projects.
- Lockable storage space – if employees don’t have a dedicated workstation then they will need somewhere to keep their personal belongings, and lockers are an ideal solution.
- Writable walls – whether it’s a whiteboard, blackboard, glass wall or any wall, employees will benefit from having somewhere to share ideas in collaborative areas or for somewhere to brainstorm in more private areas.
- Places and equipment for play – playing games in the workplace can increase productivity and reduce stress, and they also offer the ideal opportunity for team building. Play at work can range from video games and board games to table tennis, table football or air hockey, placed in a room dedicated to play or integrated into the main area of the office.
- Plants and natural features – though technically not furniture, introducing nature into the office can have a positive impact on employees. Something as simple as positioning a work area next to a natural view could increase positivity and reduce stress. In one study, scientists introduced one plant per square metre in a particularly sparsely decorated office and “employee performance on memory retention and other basic tests improved substantially”.
Integrating power and technology into office furniture
Activity-based working relies on appropriate power and technology to be installed for the concept to work. Even basic changes to how you currently work will likely mean changes to your existing power and technology set up. As part of the switch to activity-based working, consider the following:
- Reliable Wi-Fi coverage is vital across your workspace, as activity-based working encourages employees to move away from traditional networked computers and instead use laptops, mobiles and tablets in a range of different areas. Reliable Wi-Fi is particularly important for people who don’t work in the office regularly, as they will need to be able to connect instantly to avoid downtime by constantly reconnecting when they are working in the office.
- Laptops and tablets will need to be accessed by staff and there should be ample power sockets for employees to charge these wherever they are in the office, to avoid being tethered in position while their equipment charges. Even better, fit wireless charging pads throughout the workplace to enable employees to charge without the hassle of wires.
- Furniture with integrated power modules allows employees to plug in where they’re sat and can be integrated into desks, tables and chairs; for example, the Power Cube from Knoll is a coffee table that acts as a digital charging hub.
- Remote workers are likely to become more and more common as you switch to activity-based working and people choose to work in places other than the office. It’s important that they still feel part of the team and that you eliminate any downtime spent trying to get remote workers into meetings. It maybe that you need to update your telephony system to include video conferencing facilities so employees can either easily jump on Skype or a more bespoke phone and video conferencing service.
- Bio-entry systems make flexible working much easier by enabling employees to access a building without relying on key holders. They work by allowing fingerprint access control and are an extremely secure way to enable access to a building.
Ergonomics for activity-based working
When employees are encouraged to work in areas of the office other than a desk and chair set up for their individual needs, you will need to ensure that the new workspaces are ergonomic to keep employees safe and comfortable.
Activity-based design needs to address the ergonomics of collaborative and social spaces. The following can all help to increase comfort for employees working away from a traditional office desk and chair:
- Integrated power points and wireless charging can stop employees overreaching to access laptops and tablets that are charging.
- Encouraging employees to move more can help prevent them from sitting for too long in one place.
- Fit furniture that has been ergonomically designed in every area of the office including the social spaces.
You can find out more about making ergonomics work in activity-based work environments by reading our in depth page Integrating Ergonomics in Activity-Based Office Design.
To light an activity-based workplace well, you will need to think beyond the usual fluorescent strip lights found in offices and invest in more dynamic lighting suitable for a range of different workspaces. Where possible, utilising natural light is the best way to light an office interior as it can save money on lighting costs and can increase productivity by up to 40% and creativity by 15%.
Lighting control systems help to make the most of the natural light available by supporting natural light levels with artificial lighting, rather than flooding it out. Lighting systems can also make it easy to zone different areas, for example if you need to dim the lights in just one area of the office for a presentation. They can also help to save money by turning on only when people are using areas such as toilets or corridors, thanks to presence detection features.
You can find more tips to help you get the lighting levels right in your office with our feature 5 Tips for Better Office Lighting.
If you need any help in choosing the right furniture for your office to enhance activity-based working, an experienced office design company will be able to go through your options and help you choose what’s best for your needs.
Give the experts at Dale Office Interiors a call today on 0114 233 1115 or contact us here.
FAQs on modern office furniture
What is modern office furniture?
Modern office furniture is designed to meet the varied needs of contemporary offices, meaning it is far removed from the simple ‘desk and chair’ set-up seen in the cubicles of previous decades.
Modern office furniture includes:
- Social furniture that encourages interactions between team members — long tables and benches, sofas and social pods.
- Individual pods for quiet time and privacy — high-backed seats or ‘phone booth’ style seating with acoustic properties, often coming in modular styles so they can be combined for larger gatherings.
- Meeting pods for small gatherings — standalone pods can be put into larger offices to accommodate small meetings or to be used for training rooms.
- Cafe and canteen furniture — bistro seating, diner booths, bars and bar stools are all now commonplace in a modern office.
- Ergonomic desks and chairs — ergonomic workstations ensure your team will be comfortable and safe at work. However, it’s important to note that ergonomics should be considered in every area of the office.
For inspiration, the website Office Snapshots has extensive examples of how modern office furniture is being utilised in offices around the globe in creative and stylish ways.
What’s the best way to arrange office furniture at work?
Using an experienced office design company will help you make the best use of the space you have available in your workplace. As a basic guide, there should be space designated for the following activities:
- Desk work
- Social areas
- Food prep area/kitchen
- Storage space
These areas can be ‘zoned’ using furniture, lighting and décor. Each space should be easily accessible and have enough room to allow people to use the spaces comfortably.
Specialist furniture is available to help you create the desired zones, including acoustic furniture for making phone calls, standalone office pods for private meetings and collaborative furniture.
What is modular office furniture?
Modular office furniture comprises individual pieces of furniture that are fitted together to create a complete workstation. The advantage of this type of furniture is that it can be assembled to fit requirements at individual workstations as well as social areas.
Modular office furniture can usually be customised to fit most office layouts or designs. As well as being easy to install, it is also easy to deconstruct and move.
- Cubicle walls
- Desks that have space for other components to be attached –
- side panels
- Extendable cabinets
- Modular collaborative furniture such as sofas
There are companies that specialise in modular furniture such as Herman Miller and Urban Office. A specialist office design company will help you select the best modular furniture for your office, whether you’re looking to create private work areas, spacious collaborative areas or both.
Should office furniture match?
This is very much down to style. A wholly matching office does have a clean, crisp look. However, it’s not necessary to get hung up making sure every fixture is to the correct specification. Successful office design often follows a theme that is tailored to a company’s brand:
- Vice offices in Toronto — The ultra-cool media company’s offices are furnished with industrial-style office desks, chairs and stools in black metal and dark wood, mixed with plush lounge chairs and steel coffee tables in collaborative areas. Although the furniture doesn’t match identically, it all follows a theme that fits the company’s brand. You can read more about this recent office refit here.
- Google offices London — Google has featured heavily in design magazines in recent years because of its quirky, almost surreal, office designs. The design of its London offices relies heavily on zoning so although the furniture doesn’t match across the office, it fits perfectly with each zone and reflects Google’s brand as a whole. You can view images of the unusually designed office here.
There are no set rules on whether office furniture should match or not but in general, it should adhere to an overall theme either across the office or in each zone.
For more information on any aspect of choosing office furniture for your workspace fit out, speak to the team on 01142331115 or contact us here