The Quest for the Room of Requirement - Why Some Activity-based Flexible Offices Work While Others Do Not
Doktorsavhandling, 2019

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.

Activity-based working (ABW)

Appropriation and adoption of innovations

Office ergonomics

Activity Theory

Process evaluation

Occupational Health & Safety (OHS)

Workspace design.

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.


Maral Babapour Chafi

Chalmers, Industri- och materialvetenskap, 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

Artikel i vetenskaplig tidskrift

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.

The ‘Room of Requirement’ is a hidden room in Harry Potter’s school that changes according to what people need and wish for. The room takes on many shapes containing different artefacts and is used for various purposes by single or multiple users; it can be everything from a hiding place to a meeting place. Similarly, Activity-based Flexible Offices (AFOs) provide a variety of workspaces for employees to choose from depending on their activities or preferences. In other words, the intention behind implementing AFOs is to make a ‘Room of Requirement’ that is equipped for people depending on what they need. The difference is that AFOs comprise rooms that are already equipped and do not necessarily change to suit whatever the employees need them to be. The work presented in this thesis examines why some AFOs work while others do not, based on five case studies.
 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.


Produktionsteknik, arbetsvetenskap och ergonomi




Systemvetenskap, informationssystem och informatik med samhällsvetenskaplig inriktning

Miljömedicin och yrkesmedicin


Hållbar utveckling


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.

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