Activity-based working (ABW) is often mentioned in conjunction with cost savings. Executed well, this workplace design typology—wherein employees forego dedicated seats in favor of moving between different areas suited to particular tasks—can indeed save organizations money on real estate and office furnishings. However, ABW’s biggest benefits don’t show up on the bottom line as quickly or succinctly as those line items. They are subtler, broader, and longer-term. They’re the human-side results of properly executed ABW: its ability to foster employee wellness—mentally, physically, and socially.
ABW is better at this than other office typologies (the sea of cubicles, for one, or rows of trading desks) in part because it more closely emulates the natural environment: the place our species grew up. For example, an activity-based layout requires employees to walk from place to place many times throughout the day—something our forbears clearly did more than almost any of us do now. (While the currently touted goal of taking 10,000—or even 15,000—steps a day is laudable, our ancestors could easily have been logging 50,000 as they roamed the earth!) ABW workplaces, with their inherently biophilic characteristics, also often incorporate plant life, natural light, and fresh air into their schemes. As the simple act of walking in a forest has been shown to reduce stress hormones and blood pressure and help regulate glucose levels, we can see another way in which ABW designs help fulfill one of architecture’s most pressing current goals: to make buildings less like the indoors and more like the outdoors.
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