Updated: Dec 4, 2019
The office – a space where you and I spend at least one-third or more of our day in. And if you work in an office of today, you are more than likely to be working in an open-plan office that practices activity based working, also called “hot-desking”.
So what is activity based working?
Activity based working (ABW) has been around since the early 90s and was first set into action in The Netherlands. It is a concept that works on the premise that no employee ‘owns’ or has an assigned workstation. Instead, there is a wide open space with a variety of activity areas. Employees are encouraged to physically locate themselves where it is most suitable for them to complete their work e.g. learning, focusing, collaborating and socializing. Companies move to ABW to reduce property costs and enable precious office space to be used flexibly.
However, there is an industry wide debate around the pros and cons of ABW.
Proponents of ABW say that it is a model to create a dynamic working environment, encourage networking, having a chance encounter with a colleague, sparking new conversations and ideas that could get more business for the company.
On the other hand, opponents of ABW say that it is highly unproductive because one can spend some crucial minutes of the day doing mundane tasks like finding a desk, unpacking their laptop, adjusting the screens, the chair – when all this time could be spent on doing some actual work. It can also disrupt focus as there are chances of getting dragged into unplanned office banter, like someone’s holiday plans, someone’s movie story and before you know, you have lost 30 minutes of your day and FOCUS.
However, surviving ABW is not as difficult as it seems. I’ll offer you a few tried and tested hacks that will help you ace ABW.
1. Rely on some good old human behavior
Because every morning it sets itself into action. No matter what the rules around ABW, remember that humans are a creature of habit and they unknowingly leave a pattern behind. Get a sense of the people – identify the settlers and the vagrants. Settlers usually arrive first, choose their preferred desks, and by repeating their choice over time, establish a desk or zone as ‘their’ space. The vagrants, on the other hand, display behavior of not sticking to the same zone, same people, and often move around. This will give you a sense of how people move around daily. Identify patterns of the chatty collaborative zones (usually close to the kitchen, hubs, and coffee machine) and the quiet focus zones (usually the peripheries of the office, near the windows).
2. Second – know your day
Look at your calendar in advance, maybe before logging off for the day. What sort of activities do you have on your schedule? Is it meetings, collaboration, requires bouncing off ideas with people or is it focus oriented like working on a document, presentation that requires deep focus. Now based on the information you have regarding the office space and people, you can control your destiny.
More collaboration based – sit in a warm chatty zone. More focus based working – find a seat in the quiet zone (maybe ask a settler to reserve one for you!)
And if your day is a mix of both, maybe move around.
3. Take help of technology
Headphones – the most magical devices ever invented. You can use normal headphones or noise cancelling ones. Wear them, turn on some focus music and see your productivity kick off. I have noticed that having head phones on, somehow sends a signal to people that you are doing something really important and people think twice before interrupting you. That way you are not made part of a random chat that did not necessarily need your input. Of course, you can always take them off if you want to engage – but at least you are in control of the interruption.
You can also try using the light cube or LED status lights – a light cube that you can place at the top of your monitor to signal if you are available, busy, away or in a do not disturb mode. People generally respect the lights.
So there you go, you have now hacked hot-desking. After all, in a life time you may spend around 92,000 hours in the office – you might as well make those hours count! Be in full control of how you want your day to be.
Thank you for reading.