Is an activity based working environment effective?

Culture and personality determine the success of the working environment

In recent decades many organisations introduced the concept of an activity based working environment. The Gospel of ‘the new way of working’ was everywhere. Alleged advantages such as more interaction and collaboration, innovation and the increase in efficiency and productivity are however, not always realised. Success is only possible if the workplace concept fits the culture of the organisation and personal characteristics of the employees.

Activity based working

War on talent

In an activity based working environment the employees choose an appropriate facility, such as a concentration area, an open workplace or a meetting room, depending on the type of work they need to do. In recent years the concept has just as often been diminished as praised. It is diminished as only from the cost aspect of the office environment. Now there is a ‘war on talent’ going on, the employee is the only criteria and just looking at efficiency per square meter is no longer key. The relevant question is therefore what makes an activity based working environment as a concept a success and what not.

What makes a activity based working environment succeed and what doesn’t?

Research has been done to better understand what determines the success of the implementation of an activity based working environment. This research has focused on the influence of the organisational culture and the personal characteristics of the employee on the satisfaction with the working environment.

The human being is central

A workplace concept that really works, can be achieved when during the design process not only the activity or work that people do is central, but also the organisational culture and the personal characteristics are being taken into account. These aspects are still very much a blind spot and should be observed, analysed and discussed in collaboration with the organisation. This collaborative process can lead to an appropriate and good working environment. Productivity, satisfaction, effectiveness, but above all, job satisfaction will then follow automatically. That doesn’t lead automatically to an activity based working environment. The outcome could also be that a traditional working environment is the most appropriate. To set the human being central, we need to research the culture of the organisation as a whole and the personal characteristics of each employee as an individual.

The organisational culture 

The culture of an organisation is the collection of norms, values and behaviors that are shared by the members of the organisation and but also in turn has an influence on its members. 

There are 4 of cultures recognised within an organisation:

  1. Family (internal focus, flexible): employees within this culture see themselves as part of a family. Teams are of great importance.
  2. Adhocracy (adaptive, creative and spontanious behavior): employees are able to do adapt quickly. Flexibility and creativity are important and there are temporary teams formed when the situation asks for it.
  3. Hierarchy (internal focus, stable): within this culture everything is structured by established procedures and formal rules. Employees find it important to make things especially good and reliable and with predictable quality.
  4. Market (external focus, stable): this culture is focussed on results, productivity and competitiveness.

Family and adhocracy

There is a clear relationship between the success of an activity based working environment and the dominant culture of an organisation. When employees feel part of a family and like being flexible in working in different teams, an activity based working environment has a good chance of success. In a market focussed culture and in a clear hierarchical organisation, this chance is a lot smaller. The main insights in this field are:

  • In an organisation with a strong family or adhocracy culture, the employees are much easier  satisfied with privacy and comfort. They make more use of the different sort of workplaces. This means that these organisation cultures are more suitable for an activity based working environment with it’s diversity of workplaces and facilities.
  • When a hierarchical or market culture prevails, more attention should be given to privacy and comfort. Lacking this quickly leads to dissatisfaction. When the department responsible for Commercial Interior Design Edinburgh, is working on an environment for organisations with those cultures, it should be taken into account that employees will use a lesser variety of workplaces.
  • People in flexible organisations are easier happy with the aspects of privacy and comfort whilst people in stable organisations will be less easily satisfied.

The personality of employees

The personality of a team-member plays (how could it be otherwise) an important role in many facets of work. A high degree of satisfaction with the work is also determined by a good match between the person and his working environment. That does not sound like news, but in practice working environments are designed to accomodate the organization and it’s working processes. It looks at the function, the departments, the work and the activities of staff members and less to his or her personal preferences.

Put the employee in the center of the design, not just the activities. Personal characteristics rarely play a role in the design of an office environment. That did not happen in the past when we had traditional office concepts such as cubicless and private offices cells and it doesn’t happen now when designing innovative workplace concepts. Everyone gets the same facility: a private office or a workstation in an open plan. An employee can at most add a ‘personal touch’himself. However, it is clear that the personal characteristics of the employees are decisive in the success of a workplace concept. When he or she is introvert or Extrovert, young or old (of mind or age), impulsive or carefull, stable or unstable, open or closed? To a large extent, the organisation runs on to the senses of people (hearing, sight, smell and touch) and movement.

It begins with listening

Satisfaction with the working environment is influenced by personal characteristics of the employees and the organisational culture. The interio design of the working environment should not only be dictated by the objectives of the organisation. A standard office environment a ‘one size fits all’ without having taken the employees into account, often leads to a working environment that cannot meet the requirements. It leads to dissatisfaction, loss of productivity and ultimately inefficiency, perhaps even up to the departure of valuable employees. Designing a working environment starts with a work-place analysis and research of the culture and personalities of the employees. The better the working environment is this connected, the greater the chance of success. It increases the content of the staff and the organisations as a whole, but especially HR-managers and facility managers will benefit.

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