Designing for the work at hand

Many organizations are moving toward activity based work (ABW), designed to enable employees the ability to move around the workplace based on their schedule and specific needs. Our X Factor methodology addresses ABW and helps our clients transform outdated, traditional paradigms - with typical 9-5 hours and assigned seating - into a modern, flexible workplace. This new way of working assumes mutual trust, and allows employees to work anywhere, anytime – within specified parameters. Transforming the traditional workplace to an activity-based workplace requires a change in mindset. ABW challenges company leaders to ask: “What do people, regardless of their job title and expertise, need?” Then, they need to empower people to use whichever spaces they see fit for as long as they need. To get to that point, many companies need to make a cultural shift and tackle several core elements:

Dynamic design fosters X Factor workplace agility


Rigid hierarchy

Hierarchical, linear and siloed

  • Hardwire, analogue computers
  • Linear process based on 9 to 5 workstyle
  • Hierarchical, inputs command & control
  • Paper dependant emails, email technology issues, formal meetings
  • Assigned seating
  • Structure guides workspace


Agile & flexible campus

Networked, integrated, collaborative and agile

  • Networked, integrated, collaborative and agile
  • Ecosystem approach to workstyle
  • Outputs trust
  • Face-to-face technology = invisible enabler
  • Constant collaboration multiple dimensions
  • Digital and wireless
  • Work anywhere, anytime

01. Design

Avison Young suggests harnessing the power of DWE in the workplace by designing a variety of space types under one roof1, otherwise known as the “kit of parts.” The design maximizes flexibility and ease for employees to use space based on their specific requirements. For instance: if one should need a space for heads-down work, one can easily secure a desk in an office, workstation or library where it is understood that quiet is required. If an employee needs to host a client meeting in a large conference room2, they can book one for their group instantly. Alternately, if a team simply wants a quick opportunity to collaborate, they can readily find technology-enabled collaborative pods nearby. Whatever the activity, there’s a corresponding space type, ready and waiting and easy to secure with minimal administrative effort. This ease of use is critical for DWE adoption and long-term success.

02. Sensory experience

ABW spaces need to provide employees with explicit and implicit cues about how to use a space. Whether they need to access high- or low-energy space on a task-by-task basis, employees should be able to easily gauge which space is right for them in the moment3. Take, for instance, the kitchen: as a high energy space, you expect the energizing smell of freshly brewed coffee, the sound of music playing over the speakers, and the buzz of others mingling in the space. All of these elements collectively draw people for activated collaboration. Other spaces, like libraries, are quiet from the moment you walk in, providing you with enough mental space to focus on your next pitch deck or design project. In this way, Avison Young recommends that clients establish thoughtfully different space elements to provide behavioral cues to ensure clarity and mutual respect in the workplace.

03. Behavioural reinforcement

With optimal ABW design and sensory cues, people are aware of space expectations: being quiet in the study, using phone booths for calls, bringing personal belongings with them to allow others use of a space, and feeling empowered by their teams and leaders to use the space as it suits them. No amount of free coffee will encourage a team to have a meeting in the kitchen if their leaders frown on them being away from their desks.

04. Iterative learning

Employees are truly empowered to adopt a new work style such as ABW when company leaders fully embrace the change in mindset, combined with the design, behaviors, and programming of an ever-evolving workplace. When leaders are committed to creating a feedback loop through qualitative and quantitative data, and implementing those findings to improve the workspace, they’re helping to ensure their DWE space will be a success.

Explore the X Factor


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