Covid-19 and the concept of ABW = Activity Based Working
Covid-19 is changing the way we work and behave, and the very existence of the office is being rethought. One major manufacturer is switching the majority of its employees to telework, reducing the cost of office rent and commuting, and allocating the extra costs to subsidize employee telework (e.g., home utilities). On the other hand, a major IT company is switching from telework to shift work, encouraging telework while maintaining office space, and maintaining future increases in office space at the current level by combining telework with future increases in personnel. Both are bold shifts in terms of preventing infection.
On the other hand, the introduction of telework in small and medium-sized companies has been slow, with most of them stating that they have not been able to introduce telework because of their own systemic reasons, such as the fact that they have not been able to create a system or that the characteristics of their work do not allow for telework. It may be that the introduction of telework is not possible because of the characteristics of the work, but it may be a bad effect of the Japanese way of working that it is not possible to introduce telework because the system is not created.
The Japanese way of working that became apparent at Covid-19.
Designcafe-Inc. also teleworked from 3/28 to 5/25, 10 days before the state of emergency was declared in the Tokyo metropolitan area (4/8), and from then until 8/31, we worked in shifts (three days a week in shifts). We were fortunate in that some of our teleworkers had been working at Corona Uzum, and we all had access to storage for communication and data sharing, and the nature of the spatial design work made the transition relatively easy.
As a small design firm, if we didn’t eliminate the danger of an invisible “virus” called corona, we would have to temporarily close the company if even one person in the company became ill. The risk of publicity and the risk of publicly shutting down operations, even temporarily, is immense for a small business, and in the worst case scenario, the company will be forced into bankruptcy with or without cash. That’s why we implemented telework and shift work, except for two people who live within walking distance of the company and have a low risk of commuting infection: me and the back office manager (general affairs). In many cases overseas, regardless of the size of the company, shift work and telework is somewhat more prevalent (regardless of whether it’s right or wrong to implement), so it may have been easier to move on to lockdown and other measures.
On the positive side, remote conferencing has become widespread, and the style of new inquiries has shifted from visiting the office to remote meetings, freeing the company from the time constraints of travel. We feel that we have gained citizenship by making it easy for people to contact us even in remote areas and holding meetings remotely as much as possible. This convenience is likely to continue at After Corona.
One challenge is that, because we are unable to provide any real training for new graduates (such as accompanying them to clients and training at construction sites), we mainly conduct training remotely, and it has been difficult to maintain motivation. The new graduates who joined us this year have become “remote natives” as a result of this experience, but the inability to conduct proactive training is a big minus, and there is a lot of stress that cannot be gained from a variety of experiences. In addition, when evaluating individual employees, there are some issues that remain, such as the tendency to focus on visible results, which makes it difficult to evaluate potential results, and the tendency for employees to become subjective, which makes it difficult for horizontal cooperation to go smoothly. I don’t think all the conventional ways of working are negative, but it would be difficult to go back to everything as before, and I felt that it would be difficult to do so without visualizing a system of results, evaluation and mindset that is in line with the new behavioral structure, including the way of working.
We are at a moment in history where we are in the midst of a change in history that has the potential to transform the conventions of how we work, how we communicate with others, and how we deal with technology. Over the past few months, remote working has become widely popular as companies are faced with the need to have employees work in a virtual environment. However, the current state of remote working, where many employees are forced to balance family and work from home, is far from ideal.
Activity Based Working (ABW) is the choice to choose where to work from.
In recent years, ABW (Activity Based Working), a work format born in the Netherlands, has been attracting attention as an ideal office and place to work based on an analysis of the way people work. ABW has the following characteristics that allow people to work without being restricted by time or place.
Rather than working in a workplace based on a hierarchy, organization or team, as has been the case in the past, ABW provides a workplace that is appropriate for each worker’s activities and allows them to use the workplace independently according to their own activities. Based on the findings of Verdehoen, it is categorized into 10 activities. Adapted from ITOKI TOKYO XORK
Specifically, there is no fixed personal space, but rather a variety of workspaces, such as a physical space for professional work or a single person to focus on, a standing desk, or a sofa. Individuals can choose to work in an environment that allows them to perform at their maximum performance, not limited to the in-office location, but also allows them to work remotely or telework at home or in a café. You can work alone (focused & professional work), co-work (solo work, web MTG or phone calls where other members live with you), two-person MTG, co-work or dialogue, three-person or more MTG, idea generation, knowledge sharing, information organization, and even refreshment for a break. We plan and build our workplace in a way that fits with the way we do our work.
I didn’t come back to Tokyo right away from my business trip to Kanazawa before the Bon festival, but I was holed up in a B&B in Mikawa.
The harbor not far from the B&B in Mikawa. I used to take a walk there often to refresh myself in between work.
In my own practice of living in two locations, I have found that if you have a Mac or WiFi as a base, and the necessary systems (web MTG and secure cloud storage), it’s relatively easy to implement. In the case of design, having a large monitor increases work efficiency dramatically, but if you always have a monitor at home, you can concentrate on your design work. Also, if you want to consolidate vague images such as ideas or concept work, you can choose to work in a café in the city or a B&B in the countryside, for example, instead of working in a studio or at home.
Challenges in implementing ABW.
n order to implement ABW in a company or studio unit, it is difficult to do so without a solid foundation for setting and evaluating results, and it is necessary to clear the hurdles unique to Japan, such as consistency with the Labor Standards Law and workers’ compensation, as well as a secure system for information leaks. This must be done with a sense of meaningful participation by each individual while delving into the company’s goals and objectives, and it must be a basic part of the company’s work environment that allows employees to work with peace of mind.
The advantage of an office space is that it does not provide individual seats, which reduces the size of the office space and allows us to provide facilities that suit a variety of working styles. Less office space leads to lower rent, and combined telework leads to lower commuter benefits. The need for colleagues in the workplace to spend time together as a team will continue to be an extremely important part of their work. However, while some teams will become less dependent on the office, some employees will want to continue to work from home on a regular basis.
It’s also important to determine if it’s a good fit with your company’s mindset and way of working, rather than proceeding with ABWs. For example, if you have a high rate of individual seat enrollment (mainly focused work), you can assume that there are cases where a traditional workplace is more convenient for you. Programmers and architectural design, for example, which tend to work collaboratively, have higher hardware specs and systems that are often shared by teams, or are difficult to take out.
We’re going to have to do a step-by-step review before ABW.
The working environment in Japan, as with telework, is heavily influenced by business practices, and even though some departments and divisions can introduce telework, those that require paperwork and stamping will end up having to work in-house, which may lead to discrimination depending on the job. Designcafe-inc. plans to continue to expand its staff, and in the future, we would like to be able to work in a system like ABW (even if it is in stages). Before that, there are many things that need to be resolved, but we are also focusing on another aspect of ABW that became apparent during the Corona Vortex, which allows people to work at a moderate distance without being closely related to each other, and we will continue to study it as we go forward.