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Activity-based work and its implications for the academic work environment

Tuija Muhonen (Centre for Work Life and Evaluation Studies, Faculty of Education and Society, Malmö University, Malmö, Sweden)
Hanne Berthelsen (Centre for Work Life and Evaluation Studies, Faculty of Odontology, Malmö University, Malmö, Sweden)

Journal of Applied Research in Higher Education

ISSN: 2050-7003

Article publication date: 9 September 2020

Issue publication date: 7 June 2021




The aim of the current interview study was to investigate how the university staff and their immediate managers perceived the academic work environment after a transition to activity-based workplaces (ABW).


Interviews were conducted with 11 university lecturers/researchers and 12 academic middle managers, that is, heads of departments or units in a Swedish university.


The qualitative content analysis revealed four central themes indicating how the academic environment had been affected: challenges related to decision-making and implementation of ABW, interpersonal relations and communication, consequences for academic identity and issues related to the physical work environment.

Research limitations/implications

The non-purposive sampling of participants coming from a single university is a limitation of the current study. More studies are needed to deepen the knowledge and to further corroborate the transferability of the findings.

Practical implications

The savings the universities expect to achieve in terms of reduced costs for premises, when introducing ABW, may lead to other kinds of costs, such as jeopardizing employee performance, comfort and well-being. It is therefore important that the academic staff is empowered and involved during the planning and implementation process of new offices.


The study contributes new knowledge concerning implementation of ABW and its consequences for the academic work environment.



This research was supported by a grant from Swedish Research Council for Health, Working Life and Welfare (FORTE). DNR: 2016-07220.


Muhonen, T. and Berthelsen, H. (2021), "Activity-based work and its implications for the academic work environment", Journal of Applied Research in Higher Education, Vol. 13 No. 3, pp. 889-899.



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