Size matters

By on August 20, 2014

In an environmentally aware world, South African companies are realising that just because we have lots of space it doesn’t mean that we need to be wasteful with it.

Space costs money and South African companies are finally beginning to reconsider the way they work and design their office spaces to not only ensure that they optimise every inch of space they have, but to also make sure that the space is working smartly and enhancing productivity.

The most effective way to do this, and the majority of new offices in Europe are adopting this, is to use activity-based working (ABW).

What is ABW? Well, think hot-desking on a grander level. Workers in an activity-based office don’t own a desk, or any space, for that matter, and choose what type of workspace to work at on a daily, or even hourly basis. It is an ownerless environment that allows staff to come and go as they wish and to work wherever they wish.

No cellular office? No desk? No ownership? How can this possibly work?

Peter Townshend, Managing Director, of Know More, a division of workplace specialists, Giant Leap, says these are questions that are already being answered in practice and that the benefits of ABW, go far beyond the cost savings achieved from the reduction in space.

“Activity-based working, just makes sense,” says Townshend. “By adopting ABW, we are reducing office sizes by up to 45 percent. Although we have been programmed to believe that we need a single space that we can call our own, where we do all our work, the reality is that this is hugely inefficient – not just on the building side, but also when it comes to productivity.

“The modern knowledge worker performs a range of activities, from collaborating with colleagues, to focused work, telephone calls and meetings, and each activity can be performed better in a space designed to support it. We need a vastly different space to collaborate than we need for focused work. ABW allows us to provide all the spaces to employees.”

Although Activity Based Working is new in South Africa, the trend has already gathered momentum in Europe and elsewhere and companies that have adopted this style of working are already seeing the tremendous benefits, which include increased collaboration and productivity, improved wellbeing and engagement, and, of course, a dramatic reduce in costs.

“Research shows that desks are occupied only around 52 percent of the time and a single desk can cost a company around R150 000 a year to run,” says Townshend. “Bearing this in mind and considering the links between mobility and productivity (productivity generally increases with mobility), it makes sense to allow staff to be more flexible and to work from anywhere and at any time. Work follows us wherever we are and offices today need to be designed to reflect this.”

To achieve the benefits of ABW, however, companies need two main things: technology, and a management style that allows it.

“Technology is not as much of an issue as it used to be,” explains Townshend. “Staff must simply be geared up to operate with mobility – they need a laptop and a secure Internet connection. The workspace itself obviously needs Wi-Fi and a telephony solution. A far bigger obstacle is to persuade South Africa’s senior and middle management that the size of their office no longer reflects their status and that the benefits of losing their corner offices far outweigh those of staying in them. South African managers also need to be mature enough to realise that the policing style of management has long past, and that staff require the freedom to work where they want, when they want.”

Looking at the benefits of ABW, it should be apparent that this is a solution companies who want to optimize their real estate and get the most out of their staff should consider adopting.

Here are some of the measurable outcomes taken from various case studies on the adoption of Activity Based Working:


  • 71% of staff reported an increase in performance
  • 55% of staff reported being more productive
  • Staff reported they have better access to managers & work colleagues
  • Sick leave decreased from 9% to 2.5%


  • 50% less space reported
  • 33% less construction & equipment costs
  • Ceaning & maintenance costs reduced

Company Culture

  • 90% reported an increase in collaboration
  • A reported increase in camaraderie & collegiality
  • Improved staff satisfaction
  • 93% said they wouldn’t go back to old way of working


  • 50% power saving
  • 50% water saving
  • 36% paper saving

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