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The Quest for the Room of Requirement - Why Some Activity-based Flexible Offices Work While Others Do Not

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Abstract

The overarching purpose of this thesis is to develop further knowledge of the consequences of relocating to Activity-based Flexible Offices (AFOs). As workspace design innovations, AFOs are increasingly implemented in organisations. AFOs comprise a variety of workspaces for employees to choose from depending on their preferences or activities. Workspaces in AFOs are shared, instead of every employee having their own desk. Research results are inconsistent regarding employee satisfaction with AFOs, and research into employees’ appropriation of AFOs and organisations’ processes of adopting AFOs is sparse. In response to these knowledge gaps, the thesis aims to explain why some AFOs work while others do not. The thesis builds on five case studies: (i) three cases with recently implemented AFOs, and (ii) two cases with AFOs implemented at least two years prior to the study. Data collection in all the case studies involved semi-structured interviews with employees and facility managers, observations and collection of secondary data such as process overviews, and layout drawings. For data collection and analysis, a theoretical framework was developed and used consisting of Activity Theory, artefact ecology, as well as theories of innovation adoption and appropriation. The findings show that individuals’ usage of AFOs varies considerably due to personal circumstances and work-related preconditions. Drawing on Activity Theory, three types of matches/mismatches were identified in employees’ activity systems: Employee ↔ AFO, Activity ↔ AFO, and Employee ↔ Activity. Furthermore, individuals’ usage preferences and non-preferences highlighted sub-optimal design features in the AFOs: (a) ambiguity and insufficient communication of rules; (b) undesirable ambient features; (c) exposure to stimuli; (d) difficult to interpret workspaces; and (e) dysfunctionality and insufficiency of the collective instruments. In summary, AFOs work in the absence of mismatches related to individuals’ personal and work-related preconditions and sub-optimal design features. The employees’ processes of appropriating AFOs involved first encounters, exploration, and stable phases, during which various types of adaptations occurred: (i) on an individual level: acquired insights, and behavioural, social and hedonic adaptations, as well as (ii) in the AFO solutions: rule-related, spatial and instrument adaptations. Furthermore, the AFO adoption process in organisations varied considerably. Procedural shortcomings during the planning process led to a limited understanding of AFO users and thus the sub-optimal AFO designs, while shortcomings during the routinising stage involved restrictions on making post-relocation improvements in AFOs and inadequate Occupational Health & Safety management. To conclude, AFOs work provided (i) they match individuals’ personal circumstances and work-related preconditions; (ii) they facilitate flexibility and shared use of spaces through well-designed rules, workspaces and instruments; (iii) individuals’ appropriation processes reach a stable phase where mismatches are resolved and fruitful symbiosis is achieved in their activity systems; and (iv) the organisations’ process of adopting AFOs is successful both during the planning and the post-relocation routinising stages, leading to a collective sense of ownership among employees.
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... These implementations take place amidst larger societal transitions such as the need to mitigate negative environmental impacts of human activities and the built environment (Edenhofer et al., 2014;Altomonte et al., 2015), as well as technological changes such as the prevalence of portable computing devices and cloud services in daily life. However, research on the outcomes and implications of relocating to flexible offices shows challenges in terms of satisfaction with workspaces and perceived performance (Engelen et al., 2019) due to unassigned workstations and lack of privacy (Morrison and Macky, 2017), as well as poor ergonomics and mismatches with employees' needs and preferences (Babapour, 2019a). This highlights that the design of such new and flexible offices is often inadequate due to a limited understanding and anticipation of the needs and preferences of employees as users of these workplaces. ...
... In the case of flexible offices, understanding users' experiences is crucial, as the user preferences and actual usage patterns vary considerably amongst office users (Babapour, 2019a;Cobaleda-Cordero, 2019). Earlier studies on flexible offices operationalise users' behaviour in terms of switching patterns captured by the frequency at which users change workstations (Hoendervanger et al., 2016). ...
... Earlier studies on flexible offices operationalise users' behaviour in terms of switching patterns captured by the frequency at which users change workstations (Hoendervanger et al., 2016). However, users' behaviour in flexible offices goes beyond switching patterns and includes preferences, choices, interactions or social norms (Babapour, 2019a). In contexts other than office environments, e.g. consumer products or interaction design, qualitative contextual inquiries are recommended to elicit rich user experience data and understand conditions of users' activities in real-world situations (Forlizzi, 2008;Nardi, 1996). ...
Article
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Purpose Drawing on a user-centred design perspective, the purpose of this paper is to (i) provide an overview of three contextual user research methods, namely, spatial walkthroughs, experience curve mapping and card sorting, (ii) exemplify their applications in different case studies and (iii) compare the methods according to their contributions for the study of users’ workplace experiences. Previous workplace studies with qualitative approaches mainly rely on methods such as interviews and observations. Although these methods provide rich data, the understanding of office users, their use situations and finding more fitting workplace designs can benefit from deeper user experience insights. Design/methodology/approach Three methods and their variants were tested in studies of user experience in flexible offices: spatial walkthroughs, experience curve mapping and card sorting. The methods were tested during workshops and interviews in four case studies with a total of 114 participants. Findings Spatial walkthroughs were more immersive and provided the most insights on the actual context with respect to spatial design qualities, while experience curve mapping enabled understanding the temporal aspects of the user experience and card sorting enabled exploring user experiences with respect to predetermined spatial qualities and contextual aspects. Originality/value Spatial walkthroughs, experience curve mapping and card sorting methods have not previously been applied in workplace studies. They facilitate dialogue, participation and user involvement and provide insights for making evidence-based recommendations for designing or redesigning office environments that fit users’ needs and preferences.
... Common themes involve understand ing collective work and tensions and contradictions within and between activity systems. More recently, other areas have also started to acknowledge the theory, for example as a tool for analysing the relationship between users and technical products as a basis for user-oriented product design ( Engelbrektsson, 2004 ;Hiort, 2010 ;Karlsson, 1996 ;Rexfelt, 2008 ), for understanding barriers to, and enablers of, sustainable behaviour ( Renström, 2019 ;Selvefors, 2017 ;Strömberg, 2015 ) and for workplace research, as described in this chapter ( Babapour, 2019a ;Cobaleda-Cordero, 2019 ). ...
... Activity theory has been applied in studies of flexible offices to investigate how well these innovations support employees' work and well being. Several implementations of flexible offices in Sweden were thoroughly examined from an AT standpoint by the authors ( Babapour, 2019a ;Cobaleda-Cordero, Babapour, & Karlsson, 2020 ). This section describes the unique foci of AT, provides arguments for the relevance and benefits of applying AT in workplace studies and outlines how the authors have applied AT in workplace research. ...
... In studying the implications of flexible offices, the authors identified a variety of organisa tional preconditions which influence employees' activity systems, both pre-and post-relocation ( Babapour, 2019a ;Cobaleda-Cordero et al., 2020). Examples include the quality of the physical and psychosocial work environment prior to relocation; the reasons and triggers behind the relocation; the resources available for implementing the office innovation and post-relocation improvements; the degree of employee involvement in decision processes when designing and improving the premises; and ongoing organisational changes. ...
... Att effekterna på arbetsmiljötillfredsställelse och prestation till stor del "beror på" konstateras i avhandlingen från KTH, som omfattar 12 olika företags/organisationers flytt till aktivitetsbaserad miljö, där resultaten sammanfattas med att arbetsmiljötillfredsställelse och upplevd prestation kan öka efter flytt till ABK, men det beror på planeringsfaktorer, utformningsfaktorer, tillämpning av regler och organisatoriska faktorer (Rolfö 2018:1). I en avhandling från Chalmers har det studerats varför det i vissa kontor fungerar bra och andra inte samt hur anställda och organisationer anpassar sig, sina processer och miljön för att kunna trivas och jobba effektivt i flexibla ABK över tid (Babapour 2019). Varför fungerar det i vissa miljöer och andra inte? ...
... Nedan sammanfattas ett antal råd som är bra att fundera igenom för den fysiska arbetsmiljön, när verksamheten planerar att flytta till ABK (Arbetsmiljöverket 2018, Rolfö and Bodin Danielsson 2018, Slunga Järvholm, Pettersson-Strömbäck et al. 2018, Toivanen 2018, Babapour 2019  Planera för en lägre täckningsgrad (mer yta per medarbetare), varierande akustiska miljöer och korridorer separerade från arbetsplatserna.  Koncentrationskrävande arbetsuppgifter kräver stillhet. ...
... Ett flexibelt delat användande av arbetsytor förutsätter ett omsorgsfullt arbete avseende såväl kontorsmiljö och hjälpmedel som regler. Förändringsarbetet tar sats redan i planeringsstadiet men behöver fortgå in i den nya miljön med det nya arbetssättet till dess att det blir en integrerad del av vardagen (Babapour 2019). ...
Technical Report
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A literature review on Activity-based working and its impacts on the work environment, health, and productivity. The review is in Swedish. Sammanfattning av aktuell forskning om hur övergången till ett aktivitetsbaserat kontor upplevs utifrån #arbetsmiljö, hälsa och produktivitet.
... This is reported to be due to unassigned workstations and lack of privacy (Morrison and Macky, 2017), and poor ergonomics and mismatches with employees' needs and preferences (e.g. Babapour, 2019a). This highlights that design of such new and flexible offices is often inadequate due to a limited understanding and anticipation of needs and preferences of employees as users of these workplaces. ...
... In the context of offices, user satisfaction have been addressed with respect to a set of factors such as thermal comfort, air quality, or noise control (Minyoung et al., 2019). However, focusing on general satisfaction with these factors does not suffice for understanding users' experiences in flexible offices since use preferences and actual usage patterns vary considerably among office users (Babapour 2019a;Cobaleda-Cordero, 2019). In contexts other than office environments, qualitative contextual inquiries are recommended to elicit rich user experience data and understand conditions of users' activities in actual real-world situations e.g. with regards consumer products or interaction design (Forlizzi, 2008;Nardi, 1996). ...
... The main essence of the outlined methods is Participation and a high degree of user involvement, as they mainly rely on personal experiences, perceptions, affective states, needs, etc. Previous studies on Flexible Offices emphasise on the role of employee participation during the design process (Babapour, 2019a;Rolfö, 2018), but studies on how to ensure and facilitate this process are limited. The methods outlined in this paper facilitate employee involvement both during the design process and for incremental adjustments post-relocation. ...
Conference Paper
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Purpose: The purpose of this paper is to contribute with experiences and reflections on user research methods that we have tested in our studies of users' experiences in office environments. Theory: Previous workplace studies with qualitative data approaches mainly rely on traditional methods such as interviews and observations. Based on user-centered design research, we outline methods that can be used to facilitate understanding the interrelations between users and their surrounding environment. Design: Three methods and their variations were applied in different case studies to facilitate understanding of user experiences in office environments: (i) spatial walkthroughs, (ii) card sorting, and (iii) experience curve mapping. Findings: Spatial walkthroughs were more immersive and provided most insights on the actual context with respect to spatial design qualities. The card sorting enabled exploring user experiences with respect to predetermined aspects. The experience curve mapping enabled understanding the temporal aspects of the user experience. The latter two methods were less immersive and less disruptive in the organisational context than the spatial walkthroughs. The flexibility of these methods allows for tailoring the application depending on the purpose of the workplace studies. We recommend using a combination of these methods to capture a more holistic understanding of user experiences and improving the workspace design to better fit the users. Originality: The outlined methods required user involvement and participation and provided insights for making evidence-based recommendations for designing or redesigning office environments that fit users' needs and preferences. Keywords: User research; Qualitative methods; Workspace design; Office evaluations; User involvement
... This is reported to be due to unassigned workstations and lack of privacy (Morrison and Macky, 2017), and poor ergonomics and mismatches with employees' needs and preferences (e.g. Babapour, 2019a). This highlights that design of such new and flexible offices is often inadequate due to a limited understanding and anticipation of needs and preferences of employees as users of these workplaces. ...
... In the context of offices, user satisfaction have been addressed with respect to a set of factors such as thermal comfort, air quality, or noise control (Minyoung et al., 2019). However, focusing on general satisfaction with these factors does not suffice for understanding users' experiences in flexible offices since use preferences and actual usage patterns vary considerably among office users (Babapour 2019a;Cobaleda-Cordero, 2019). In contexts other than office environments, qualitative contextual inquiries are recommended to elicit rich user experience data and understand conditions of users' activities in actual real-world situations e.g. with regards consumer products or interaction design (Forlizzi, 2008;Nardi, 1996). ...
... The main essence of the outlined methods is Participation and a high degree of user involvement, as they mainly rely on personal experiences, perceptions, affective states, needs, etc. Previous studies on Flexible Offices emphasise on the role of employee participation during the design process (Babapour, 2019a;Rolfö, 2018), but studies on how to ensure and facilitate this process are limited. The methods outlined in this paper facilitate employee involvement both during the design process and for incremental adjustments post-relocation. ...
Conference Paper
Full-text available
Purpose: Opposed to underlying assumptions of ABW offices, previous empirical studies ascertained a tendency that employees do not frequently switch between different activity settings. Even though ABW is more and more becoming the default office concept, employees’ switching behaviour has not been investigated in depth. This study aims to understand employees’ switching behaviour by determining reasons to switch and not to switch and various influencing factors of switching behaviour. Theory: Switching behaviour is defined as switching between different places within an office building with work-related, preference-based and/or social purpose, including breaks. Switching behaviour is divided into mandatory and voluntary switching. Mandatory switching is switching due to scheduled activities (meetings) as well as switching due to confidentiality issues. Voluntary switching refers to discretionary switching that may be motivated by a perceived mismatch between either activity or preference, and environment. According to previous research, dissatisfaction with environment can cause switching between different settings in an ABW office. Design/methodology/approach: A questionnaire study was conducted across Switzerland and Belgium, and 124 employees from various organizations and departments participated in the questionnaire. Frequency analyses were conducted to determine reasons (not) to switch, and multinomial logistic regression analyses were performed to identify influencing factors of switching frequency. Findings: Findings show that the majority of the respondents switch multiple times a day, which runs counter to the previous research. In addition, the study revealed clear evidence that mandatory switching frequency is independent of various factors suggested in this study. This indicates that the distinction of mandatory and voluntary switching is valid. Furthermore, privacy, acoustics, distraction, proximity to team/colleagues were ascertained as reasons to switch, and place preference/attachment, proximity to team were determined as reasons not to switch. Originality / Value: Overall, this study contributed to understanding switching behaviour better by defining, distinguishing switching behaviour, and identifying reasons (not) to switch and influencing factors of switching frequency. These findings can provide more knowledge of switching behaviour to workplace or facility management practitioners so that they can understand their employees’ needs and behaviour better and integrate this into workplace concepts and design.
... This issue is typically ignored in quantitative relocation studies (Blok et al., 2009;Meijer et al., 2009;Haapakangas et al., 2018), even though the perception of change management has been shown to contribute to employee outcomes when moving to an ABO (Bull and Brown, 2012;Brunia et al., 2016;Bergsten et al., 2021;Rolfö, 2018;Wijk et al., 2020). For example, the perceived meaningfulness of the office redesign (Wijk et al., 2020), sufficient information regarding the change (Brunia et al., 2016;Rolfö, 2018;Babapour, 2019) and the quality of communication (Bull and Brown, 2012) have been associated with environmental satisfaction after relocation to an ABO. To understand the outcomes of the change, it is essential to evaluate what was done in the process itself and to understand the experiences and perceptions during the change events (Nielsen and Randal, 2013). ...
... These publications show that there is no general model for a successful workplace change, as the model would have to fit the context, goals and individual needs (Finch, 2012;Bodin Danielsson et al., 2015). As regard ABOs, several researchers have highlighted the need to identify and investigate relevant change management issues (Gerdenitsch et al., 2017;Rolfö, 2018;Wijk et al., 2020;Bergsten et al., 2021;Babapour, 2019). ...
Article
Purpose The purpose of this case study is to investigate how the personnel in an organization experienced the process of change when moving from private offices to an activity-based office (ABO) and how their perceptions of change were associated with changes in their satisfaction with the work environment a year after relocation. Design/methodology/approach A comparative pre-post study design and mixed methods were used. Survey data was obtained from 154 employees before the relocation and 146 after the relocation. The data on the 105 employees who responded to both surveys were statistically analyzed. Representatives of different units were interviewed ( n = 17) and documentary material was analyzed as complementary material. Findings The personnel’s criticisms concerned the reasons for the change, their opportunities to influence the office design and the extent to which their views were taken into account. Environmental satisfaction decreased after moving to the ABO. The personnel’s ratings of the workplace change process before the relocation were associated with the later change in environmental satisfaction. Based on logistic regression, the degree of agreement with management’s reasons for the change was the strongest predictor of the change in environmental satisfaction. Practical implications Organizations that move from private offices to an ABO should invest in high-quality change management and simultaneously develop both work and facilities. Special attention should be paid to clarifying the rationale for the change to the employees and to providing them with opportunities to influence during the change. Organizations should continue to monitor user experiences and evaluate the effects of the change after the office redesign and should take corrective action as needed. Originality/value This empirical case study is unique as it combined qualitative and quantitative methods and investigated the process of relocation and its outcomes in a one-year follow-up. This approach captured the importance of managing change and assessing the long-term effects of office redesign when moving from private offices to an ABO.
... However, moderators that may explain ambiguous results concerning satisfaction (or lack of it) with ABW in relation to, for example, leadership [20] and task requirements [2] have received less attention. Moreover, evaluations of the implementation process and related factors of importance for satisfaction with ABW among employees and the organization are rare [21][22][23]. ...
... However, reach, in terms of recruitment effectiveness, was less effective, as was indicated by the low levels of employee participation in the process and in the different program activities for both offices. This is in agreement with other studies indicating limited involvement in the process to be critical for a successful implementation [6,21,23]. The interviewees who had attended the program activities thought they should be mandatory and that employees would have prioritized participation if they had been better informed about the activities. ...
Article
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Activity-based workplaces (ABW) have been implemented in many organizations to offer office flexibility and decrease facility costs. Evaluations of the ABW implementation process are rare. The study aimed to examine the ABW relocation process of two offices in a Swedish governmental agency and to explore factors that influence the implementation process and satisfaction with it. Qualitative or quantitative data were collected on process variables (context, recruitment, reach, dose delivered, dose received, satisfaction), barriers and facilitators to the process were explored in focus group interviews, and immediate outcomes (perceived knowledge, understanding office rules, satisfying information and support) were measured by questionnaire before and after the relocation. The evaluation showed that recruitment was unsatisfactory and reach insufficient—and participation in activities was thus low for both offices. However, intended changes improved. Unclear aims of ABW, lack of manager support and, lack of communication were some of the reported barriers to participation, while a well-planned process, work groups, and program activities were facilitators. Thus, to increase satisfaction with the relocation, our results suggest that recruitment should be thoroughly planned, taking these factors into account to increase participation. This knowledge may be useful for planning and designing successful ABW relocations and evaluations.
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