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Beyond WFH – the activity-based workspace model that could boost your business’ productivity

Reward Gateway takes a fresh approach to workspace use, driving engagement and productivity through its activity-based model. As more businesses welcome employees back to the office, Cat Lewis – Reward Gateway’s Head of Global Engagement and Internal Communications – explains how this alternative way could help your business make best use of its space.

In a post-Covid world, businesses are starting to think more deeply about flexible working. Yet, on social media, debate is confined to home or office-based working, or a hybrid of the two. I believe that this represents a missed opportunity to drive additional benefits for employees and firms alike.

In 2016, the lease came up for renewal on one of our London offices. So we seized the chance to re-think our workspace. By exploring how our employees work, their behaviours and habits, we created an activity-based work model to inform our office design. With a detailed change management plan, we empowered our employees to choose from eight work modes. And multiple workspaces to support the work they needed to do. Five years on – and with additional post-Covid insight – I’m here to share what we did and how we did it with you.

Introducing activity-based work modes

It’s easy for senior leaders to make assumptions about how your employees work. But these beliefs might not be right. And when you’re investing money into your workspace with the goal of driving engagement and productivity, incorrect assumptions could be expensive. 

If you want to think about how best to use your office space, I’d recommend taking a bottom-up approach. Talk to your employees to find out about the work they do and the group sizes they typically work in for different tasks. This will give you a complete understanding of the activities associated with every job role. And clarity about the workspaces needed to support them.

This is what we did at Reward Gateway. The research produced eight different work modes each of which handily matched to one of our company values. As the image below shows, we subdivided our eight work modes into the option to work from home or the office:

At Reward Gateway, a new office lease put us in the enviable position of being able to remodel our working environment. We used our work modes to inspire the redesign of our London office to include a range of different spaces. Within the office environment, employees can choose to work from: 

  • The Annex with 18 workstations and desks for individual, focused work
  • Tech-free zones like our Attic, Garden and Library for quiet time or socialising 
  • Small and large meeting rooms for more intimate meetings and bigger groups, collaboration, training and presentations
  • Dens, Study Booths and The Snug for one-on-ones and individual work

With so many different workspaces, employees can move from one place to another. This supports the work they’re doing throughout their office-based days. And employees know when to work from home and the types of activities they can carry out there.

Clarity brings comfort plus a range of other benefits 

Providing clear guidance around the workspaces you have does much more than help your employees succeed in their roles. Being clear about where to work and when delivers other advantages too:

  • Direction gives people permission to work in the place that’s right for their day. This removes any guesswork and associated anxiety about doing so. Which supports people’s mental health and frees them to focus on work priorities.
  • Concerns about presenteeism will reduce. When people know they don’t have to be seen to be trusted, they’ll feel free to work from wherever makes most sense. This boosts productivity.
  • Giving your team the tools to make the right decisions about how and where they work builds trust. Which leads to higher levels of engagement and performance.
  • Manager decision making will reduce with everyone on the same page and employees self-directing. This frees up time and headspace for other priorities.

My key learnings from our rollout

We first implemented our work modes in 2016. Five years on, and with a long spell of home working under our belts, I’ve refreshed our work mode guide to include some additional points:

  • Don’t mention hot-desking – if you decide to take a more flexible approach to desks, avoid the name ‘hot-desking’. This can make people feel that something’s being taken away. Instead, talk about working more flexibly or agile working.
  • Onboard new hires in the building – our onboarding process can be delivered remotely or in person. But we’ve found that face-to-face is best. We recommend that all inductions take place in the office with full, in-person support from the manager.
  • Start small – we’ve taken an iterative approach of continuous improvement to our work modes and workspaces. We’ll invite a small number of employees back into the office post-Covid to ensure our refreshed work modes and spaces support delivery. Then we’ll continue to consult and adapt to meet changing needs.
  • Define good meeting etiquette – online meetings aren’t going to go away, so we asked our employees to tell us what makes a great online meeting. We’ve communicated tips – like ‘make a conscious effort to ensure a balance of voices’ – to help us hold better calls.
  • Change takes time – so allow plenty of it for your managers and employees to adjust to new ways of working. We’re giving our managers four weeks to review our refreshed work modes guide. And we’ll provide employees with a one-pager to help them shape their work days.
  • Measure success – there are two key measures of success for me. The first is when people start using our work mode language. For example, by adding ‘plugged in’ meetings to their diaries. The second is by measuring sentiment. A pre- and post-change survey revealed what was working and what needed to be tweaked for our original rollout. We’ll repeat this survey as people return to the office after the pandemic.

Optimise your workspace

Your office space will likely be an expensive budget item so it’s important to ensure it works for your employees. To make the most of your space you need to truly understand what your employees do and how they work. This will enable you to make the best use of your existing workspace. Or even create alternative spaces to help your teams succeed. Follow this up with long-term change management and you’ll leverage all available spaces ensuring the engagement and productivity needed to help your business thrive.

Discover your business’ work modes by downloading our free activity-based workspace document. 


Picture of Catrin Lewis

Catrin Lewis

Catrin Lewis is Tenzing’s Employee Engagement and Internal Comms Specialist. She runs our network and monthly meet-up for portfolio HR leaders and has advised many of our businesses on internal communications strategy, workplace design and employee engagement. She is a published author, regular conference speaker, and Head of Global Engagement & Comms at the HR Tech business, Reward Gateway, which she has seen through three periods of PE ownership.
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