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"First-line managers determine the success of the transition to an activity-based office"


“Activity-based offices make for a completely different way of working and require leaders who can involve and prepare employees for the transition; otherwise, these new offices are often a negative experience,” says Eva Bergsten, researcher in occupational health at University of Gävle.

Aktivitetsbaserat kontor Trafikverket i Gävle Foto: Emmely Hornborg

Aktivitetsbaserat kontor Trafikverket i Gävle Foto: Emmely Hornborg

In the activity-based office, employees have no fixed, assigned workspaces. Instead, the idea is that employees should choose their workplace according to the task at hand. Different zones are common in these offices; there are often calm and quiet zones, as well as zones for social interaction and meetings.

The researchers in Gävle followed 1,000 employees when the Swedish Transport Administration in Gävle and Gothenburg switched to activity-based offices. The reason for making this transition was that the Transport Administration experienced a low occupancy rate in their offices after organisational changes that had made work flexible, involving a lot of teleworking.

Eva Bergsten

Eva Bergsten

“The flexible work arrangements enabled them to see new opportunities to stimulate employees and support new ways of working to increase collaboration between employees”, Eva Bergsten says.

Lessons learned from previous moves

Research from four previous moves to activity-based offices revealed a fair amount of staff dissatisfaction due to poorer communication, a weaker sense of community and a perceived reduced output.

For this reason, a project group was set up to prepare staff, not only for the move to a different physical office, but for a different way of working.

“First-line managers must be on board”

The preparations included workshops in which staff could ask questions and gain information to understand what it would be like to work in an activity-based office, information sessions where managers and executives explained the purpose and goals of working in the new way, inspirational talks, and lectures on ergonomics.

“The more activities the employees took part in, the more positive they were and the more productive they felt afterwards,” Eva Bergsten says.

The researchers in Gävle saw that leadership was important. A committed and creative first-line manager who believed in the new way of working made the employees feel more positive.

“It is vital to start with putting in a lot of work to get the first-line managers on board, as they largely determine whether the employees in turn will get on board or not.”

Incentives needed to bring staff to the office

The experience of the pandemic, Eva Bergsten explains, has made many organisations realise that working remotely works well. In this new situation, activity-based offices can become a way to increase staff interaction and collaboration.

“Now, we may need incentives to come to the office, so employers need to start thinking about how to create attractive environments that actually bring people into the offices," Eva Bergsten says.


Text: Douglas Öhrbom


Eva Bergsten, researcher in occupational health at University of Gävle
Phone: 026-648189
E-mail: Eva.Bergsten@hig.se

Published by: Douglas Öhrbom Page responsible: Anders Munck Updated: 2022-01-31
Högskolan i Gävle
Box 801 76 GÄVLE
026-64 85 00 (växel)