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Knowledge What is ABW, a new way of working? Introducing its merits and the necessary initiatives for its implementation

Aiming for the optimization of the office environment. Explaining the key points when adopting ABW at overseas locations.


Following the COVID-19 pandemic, telework, which is not bound by the location of work, has become established in many companies. More recently, attention has been focused on the concept of "ABW" in pursuit of a yet more comfortable working environment.

ABW is a highly flexible way of working, which is expected to lead to increased employee satisfaction, productivity, and creativity. This article explains the concept of ABW, the reasons for its growing attention, its difference from free addressing, and the benefits and necessary initiatives for implementing ABW at overseas locations.

1. What is ABW (Activity Based Working)?

ABW provides an environment where employees can work with self-judgment

ABW (Activity Based Working) is a way of working that enables employees to autonomously design their own work style, with an aim toward increasing motivation and efficiency.

Under the ABW environment, employees can freely choose their place of work, whether it be the office, home, a coworking space, cafe, or somewhere else. For example, if employees want to work undisturbed, they can choose to work in a concentration booth or coworking space. If they want discussions with colleagues, they can choose the open space of the office.

Why ABW is getting attention

The main reason why ABW has been attracting global attention in recent years is the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. The forced shift to teleworking due to the pandemic has accelerated the movement to improve the way of working.

In addition, productivity improvement and workplace environment enhancement have been challenges for companies around the world for some time. ABW is gaining attention as a method to solve these challenges. The flexibility of being able to freely choose one’s place of work is expected to lead to increased satisfaction and productivity.

2. The difference between Free Addressing and ABW

Free addressing is a concept similar to ABW, and more companies are introducing it. But what are the differences between free addressing and ABW?


What is Free Addressing?

Free addressing is a work style where the concept of one's own seat is eliminated within the office, and employees instead work at any available seat.

In the past, it was standard for all employees to commute to the office daily. If all employees gather in the office, it is easier to manage with fixed seating. However, with the spread of teleworking due to the pandemic, not all employees need to commute to the office, which can lead to unused seats and wasted office space. By preparing only the necessary number of seats according to actual use and introducing free addressing, this waste can be lessened.

Introducing free addressing can also lead to increased communication as employees may end up sitting near people from different departments with whom they usually do not converse.

The difference between Free Addressing and ABW

The main difference between free addressing and ABW is the scope they cover. Free addressing involves the use of pre-allocated space within the office, while ABW not only includes the office but also allows employees to choose from locations such as home, cafes, and coworking spaces.

Additionally, the two concepts differ in their approach toward creating an office environment. With free addressing, employees choose their preferred spot from available desks and chairs in the office's free addressing space. ABW also provides desks, chairs, and IT environments, but may also include things like sofas and café spaces to increase motivation and work efficiency.

While free addressing is often implemented to improve the cost-efficiency of the office, ABW is a measure aimed at enhancing employee productivity and motivation.

3. The benefits of adopting ABW

What benefits can companies gain by adopting ABW at overseas locations? Below, we introduce the benefits of adopting ABW.


Improvement in Employee Engagement

The first benefit of ABW is improvement in employee engagement. The greater the freedom and self-discretion, the higher the tendency for employee satisfaction to increase. Being able to choose where to work freely can make it easier to balance work with household chores, childcare, and private life, contributing to work-life balance. Creating a free work environment where employees can act with autonomy is expected to improve employee satisfaction.

Increase in Productivity and Creativity

By adopting ABW and creating environments conducive to concentration and collaboration, an increase in productivity and creativity can be expected.

For those in planning or design jobs, where internal collaboration is crucial, working in a conversation-friendly office can enhance creativity, while for technical professionals like engineers, working in a preferred environment can lead to increased productivity.

Adopting ABW can also have a positive impact on employees' mental well-being. Commuting conditions, such as the length and inconvenience of the journey, vary between countries and cities. Those who feel stressed by long commutes may find relief and increased work efficiency by working from home or a nearby café. For those who thrive on workplace conversations for creativity, working at the office remains as an option.

Cost Reduction

Instead of providing individual seats for all employees, as traditionally done, providing for diverse work environments with ABW can lead to cost savings. For instance, if more employees work from home or cafes, it may be possible to reduce office size and rent.

However, ignoring employees' comfort for the sake of cost reduction will not lead to the realization of ABW. The true purpose of ABW is to create an environment where employees are motivated to work. While cost savings can be a result of adopting ABW, it should not be the primary goal.

Talent Acquisition

ABW can also be used as an appeal point for talent recruitment. A comfortable work environment is important to job seekers. Adopting ABW can increase the value of a company and lead to the acquisition of talented individuals who can excel in a global environment.

4. The initiatives needed to implement ABW

The following five initiatives are necessary to implement ABW at overseas locations:


Defining the Purpose of Adopting ABW and Analyzing the Current Situation

It is important to first clarify the purpose of introducing ABW at your company, defining what you want to achieve with the ABW work style.

When setting such a goal, it is necessary to conduct an analysis regarding the current work styles. Find out what kind of office environment is currently provided, where employees are dissatisfied, and what kind of work styles are in demand through interviews, surveys, etc. Depending on the characteristics of the employees and the business, such as whether there is a high demand for remote work among employees who are raising children, or whether employee collaboration is crucial due to the creative nature of the work, the direction to aim for will differ.

Office Layout Consideration

When setting up the ABW work style at overseas locations, the interior layout of your offices is an important element. You need to prepare a variety of work environments that can meet the needs of employees, such as single-person concentration booths, telebooths for video conferencing, sofa seats, and café spaces.

If you have never considered an ABW-style interior layout before, you may not know what facilities are needed. It is worth considering consulting experts and conducting research such as interviewing companies that have already adopted ABW.

Review of Personnel Systems, etc.

A review of your personnel system may also be necessary. For example, currently many companies use timecards for managing work hours at overseas locations, but with the adoption of ABW and employees working from home or cafes, it may be necessary to consider switching to electronic timecards.

For managers, there is also the problem of not knowing where their subordinates are. The invisibility of subordinates' work can make fair evaluations difficult. Measures to facilitate management, such as using IT tools mentioned below, are necessary.

Establishing Corporate Culture

Corporate culture can also become a barrier when introducing ABW. If many employees feel obliged to come to the office and work at a fixed location, or if non-commuting members are undervalued, ABW will not take hold.

Although there is a wider shift from membership-based employment to job-based employment, if your company’s existing corporate culture is conservative, it will likely be necessary to establish a new one. It is also advised to foster a culture that evaluates based on results and work content, rather than on participation.

IT Tools and Network Environment Setup

To introduce ABW at overseas locations, a review of IT aspects is indispensable. Within the office you need to prepare a Wi-Fi environment that enables network connections anywhere, as well as install video conferencing tools, microphones, and speakers for facilitating meetings. In addition, consider setting up a VPN environment to enable work from outside the office. Security becomes more challenging to maintain outside the office, but using technology with strong security features like virtual desktops can provide an effective countermeasure. For communication, consider introducing chat tools and meeting tools that simplify online interactions between headquarters and other locations.

The following advanced solutions have also appeared recently. For an improved office environment, consider using them:

  • Location Management Tools: Visualize how employees are working within the office, leading to improved office utilization and health management.
  • Video Conferencing Tools and Cloud Project Management Tools: Strengthen collaboration between overseas locations as well as between overseas locations and company headquarters by using video conferencing tools and cloud-based project management tools, enabling real-time information sharing and efficient progress on projects.
  • Visualize telework rates, overtime hours, time spent on collaboration, etc.


In this document we introduced an overview of adopting ABW at overseas locations, its benefits, and methods of implementation. KDDI provides efficient ABW environments for overseas locations using IoT & AI technology and high-speed networks. By leveraging smart office technology, it is possible to realize the flexible work style of ABW at your offices while on assignment overseas.

If you are interested in implementing an ABW environment in your overseas office, please download the following white paper for details. It explains how to introduce ABW at overseas offices and about the often-overlooked construction of IT infrastructure.

Please consult a KDDI consultant.