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A review of research in activity-based working over the last ten years: lessons for the post-COVID workplace

Samin Marzban (The University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Australia)
Christhina Candido (The University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Australia)
Martin Mackey (The University of Sydney, Sydney, Australia)
Lina Engelen (The University of Sydney, Sydney, Australia)
Fan Zhang (Griffith University, Brisbane, Australia)
Dian Tjondronegoro (Griffith University, Brisbane, Australia)

Journal of Facilities Management

ISSN: 1472-5967

Article publication date: 4 January 2022

Issue publication date: 20 June 2023




The purpose of this paper is to map and describe findings from research conducted in workspaces designed to support activity-based working (ABW) over the past 10 years (2010–2020) with a view of informing post-COVID workplaces of the positive and negative attributes of ABW.


Scopus was used as the search engine for this review. Papers which reported findings related to ABW and performed field study in ABW workspaces with adult occupants were included. Out of the 442 initial papers, 40 papers were included following iterative title and abstract and full text review process and consideration of inclusion and exclusion criteria. These papers were divided into three groupings (organizational, human and physical environment) based on their major focus. Positive and negative effects of ABW environments on occupants are discussed within these three topics in consideration of the implications for the post-COVID workplace.


Although the included studies were inclined to be either more positive (i.e. interior design) or negative (i.e. indoor environmental quality, productivity, distraction and privacy) in relation to various attributes of ABW, no single effect of ABW environments on occupants was in full agreement between the studies. The shortcomings of ABW environments are more related to how this way of working is implemented and how occupants use it, rather than the concept itself. A partial uptake of ABW leads to occupants’ dissatisfaction, lower productivity and lower well-being, while a holistic approach increases the chance of success. It is hypothesised that many currently reported negative aspects of the ABW concept might diminish overtime as ABW evolves and as new challenges arise. A continuous post-occupancy evaluation after relocation to an ABW-supportive environment can inform the organization about the changing needs and preference of the occupants; hence, the organization can tailor the ABW solution to the arising needs. The inter-connection between the three key ABW pillars (organizational, human and physical environment) is crucial to the success of this concept specifically in the context of the post-COVID-19 workplace.


This paper highlights the key shortcomings and limitations of studies produced over the past decade and identifies keys gaps in the current body of literature. It provides a new insight on how findings related to open-plan offices designed to support ABW can be categorized on the three big heading of organizational, physical and human-related aspects, and further investigates the positive and negatives outcomes reported on ABW under these headings. It also discusses how the findings arising from this literature review can inform the post-COVID workplace.



This research was funded by the Australian Government through the Australian Research Council's Discovery Projects funding scheme (project DP190100705).


Marzban, S., Candido, C., Mackey, M., Engelen, L., Zhang, F. and Tjondronegoro, D. (2023), "A review of research in activity-based working over the last ten years: lessons for the post-COVID workplace", Journal of Facilities Management, Vol. 21 No. 3, pp. 313-333.



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