Making flexible work, work

What’s the right solution for you?

First published on COMUNiTI, March 2024

As a workplace strategist I often get asked: "What's the best flexible work option: hot-desking, activity-based work or hybrid work?"

The answer isn't straightforward, and what I have learned is that people tend to use the terms interchangeably when they are all very different things.



Hot-desking became popular in the early 2000s when laptops and wireless connectivity meant employees didn’t have to work from a fixed desk.

My verdict: 😕

I am not a fan of hot-desking. No matter how it might be ‘sold’ to employees, hot-desking is really about cramming more people into less space without any added amenities.


Activity-based work (ABW):

ABW and hot-desking often get confused, but they are not the same thing. ABW has surged in popularity in recent years as hand-held devices and cloud-based apps enabled even more work flexibility. Technology aside, ABW is also being fuelled by evolving workplace cultures, changes in employee expectations, and advancements in our understanding of what inspires human performance. ABW sees businesses offering different spaces for different tasks — open spaces for collaboration, quiet libraries for focused work, low-sensory zones for reflection and relaxation, and private soundproof booths for confidential matters or personal calls.

My verdict: 🥳

ABW empowers employees to choose environments that suit their work preferences, which can enhance productivity, creativity, collaboration, wellbeing and employee satisfaction — and there’s a swathe of research that links these outcomes to improved business performance.

💡 My tips for ABW:

  1. Prioritise an ABW awareness program to align everyone on behaviour expectations across different work areas and zones.
  2. It’s also important to ensure that technology is integrated for a seamless plug-and-play experience as employees move through different spaces for different tasks.


Hybrid work:

Unlike hot-desking and ABW, which both require attendance at work locations, hybrid assumes that a portion of work can be done remotely, and effectively becomes another option in the ABW landscape. During the pandemic ‘remote’ was mostly associated with ‘at home’, however in today’s climate, ‘remote’ encompasses far more variety from the local cafe, to working while on holidays overseas. Hybrid work really acknowledges that not all work needs to be done in the office or in person.

My verdict: 🥳

When hybrid work is implemented properly it promotes trust, mutual respect and work-life balance, without taking away from productivity and team effectiveness.

💡 My tips for hybrid work:

  1. To support trust and performance ensure that role responsibilities, communication expectations, and goals and deliverables are clear.
  2. To ensure that culture and team effectiveness remain strong, map out and agree on the rhythms and rituals for when teams come together in person or virtually, and when they are free to work remotely.
  3. It’s really important to get clear on the purpose of coming into the office. For many businesses the purpose of the office these days is for socialisation, collaboration, mentoring and learning — in which case, employees and leaders should coordinate their in-office days so that they can spend time shadowing, mentoring, solving problems, and discussing performance.


Which flexible work solution is right for you?

With studies suggesting that employees are continuing to prioritise flexibility, there’s no doubt that it has become a crucial factor in attracting and retaining talent.

If you're interested in chatting more about my views on workplace flexibility, get in touch!



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