As I weave my way through the slow moving sidewalk of iPod-drone witches hats, I am forced to hope that I am in time to get a good seat. Your thinking public transport, right? Cause we have all been there….sweaty strangers with prominent, head-height armpits and the joys of lining up for fictional timetables. But nope. We are talking work.

You see, my employer heard somewhere about this thing called Activity Based Working (ABW). And they decided to embrace it, under the guise of “cultural change”. Now, don’t get me wrong, ABW at it’s purest (and IMHO) is a great thing, being simply a modern day approach to working, sort of “Work 2.0″ (and your thinkging “Wait, Web 2.0 turned out so well?”). Still, I am all for it. Honest. Unfortunately, the accountants were allowed to have a say….and ABW as an acronym for what we are now doing at work would be closer to Activity Based Wandering or Activity Based Work-injury.

For those that are unfamiliar with the concept, ABW is based on a lot of statistical analysis that seems to suggest that you only need an 80% desk to employee ratio. This accounts for all the people in meetings, on holiday, and sick. As there isn’t a one to one mapping, you don’t “own” a desk, which reduces desk move costs. And it should be more cost efficient as you don’t need as many desks.  And probably the biggest of the percieved benefits is the ability to structure your seating and your location around the work activity. Pair programming? Go to a double desk. Quiet contemplation? The library. So on and so forth. This gives rise to many and varied work areas, from comfortable private lounge areas to semi-circular collaboration desks. So you give everyone a laptop, a mobile phone, and let them loose.

To ensure that you don’t have to cart all your work materials, books, notes etc home with you every evening (and around the building during the day), you are furnished with a locker. This, coupled with the relaxed and funky interior decoration, provides a fairly unique work environment…think an American high school TV show (90210 perhaps?), with big open plan school rooms.  This is an even closer analogy for upper level management, as you can essentially replace “classes” with “meetings”, in which they will spend the majority of their time either in, travelling to, or hiding from.

And I guess this all works fine, particularly for the more management-oriented workers. The downside is that there are never going to be enough desks when more than the expected 80% of your employees are in the office at the same time.  And even before you get to the magical 80% cutoff, due to the mix of desks (remember, funky choices of furniture) there are never going to be enough ergonomic desks with docking stations and external monitors. So when this subset of the 80% of desks are taken by people who actually would like to avoid RSI (or it’s functionally equivalent acronym), you have to start looking for alternatives that may not be ideal.  If, worse yet, over 80% of people actually want a desk, you are left in a situation where the only space you can find to sit is on the ground, next to the potplant, outside the toilets. Although they have supplied you with a laptop…so this is possible…

I have a hunch (get it?) that the result will be a time delayed horde of corporate Quasimodo clones with physiotherapist bills and class action lawsuites in hand. Perhaps (once the RSI gets me) my next career should be as a lawyer?

Pretty, huh?