The Quest for the Room of Requirement - Why Some Activity-based Flexible Offices Work While Others Do Not
Doctoral thesis, 2019
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.
Activity-based working (ABW)
Appropriation and adoption of innovations
Occupational Health & Safety (OHS)
Maral Babapour Chafi
Chalmers, Industrial and Materials Science, Design and Human Factors
Appropriation of an Activity-based Flexible Office in Daily Work
Nordic Journal of Working Life Studies,; Vol. 8(2018)p. 71-94
Policies in Activity-based Flexible Offices -‘I am sloppy with clean-desking. We don’t really know the rules.’
Ergonomics,; Vol. 62(2019)p. 1-20
Babapour, M., Harder, M., & Bodin Danielsson, C. (under review). Users’ workspace preferences in Activity-based Flexible Offices – lessons learned from two case studies. Submitted to Applied Ergonomics.
Babapour, M. (under review). Co-adapting with Office Alterations – Resolving Mismatches between Employees’ Work and Activity-based Flexible Offices. Submitted to Theoretical Issues in Ergonomics Science.
From fading novelty effects to emergent appreciation of Activity-based Flexible Offices: Comparing the individual, organisational and spatial adaptations in two case organisations
Applied Ergonomics,; Vol. 81(2019)
The findings show that AFOs are not inherently good or bad types of offices. Their design should match individual employees’ needs. First, the desk-sharing rule should be clearly specified and communicated. Second, the workspaces should be designed to match both the activities of the employees and their preferences for wellbeing and enjoyment. Third, collective instruments such as keyboards, mouses and office chairs should be designed for multiple users so that it is easier to switch workstations. Finally, the processes of moving to AFOs and making adjustments after the move are central. When employees do not have individual workstations, time and effort are required for collective customisation of AFOs to create joint ownership of the workspace.
Production Engineering, Human Work Science and Ergonomics
Information Systemes, Social aspects
Environmental Health and Occupational Health
Areas of Advance
Building Futures (2010-2018)
Doktorsavhandlingar vid Chalmers tekniska högskola. Ny serie: 4576
Virtual Development Laboratory (VDL), Chalmers Tvärgata 4 - 6, Göteborg
Opponent: Assistant Professor Rianne Appel-Meulenbroek, Department of Architecture, Building and Planning at Eindhoven University of Technology, The Netherlands.