by Chloe Herrick

Commonwealth Bank shifts to activity-based work culture, swanky new head office

Sep 21, 20114 mins
Risk Management

The Commonwealth Bank has begun transitioning its workforce culture to a more flexible “activity-based working” style, in line with the company’s move to its expansive new head offices in Sydney’s CBD.

The bank’s CIO, Michael Harte, and chief financial officer, David Craig, hosted a tour of the new offices, which have been designed to accommodate the company’s new work format.

The new head office, which comprises two eight-storey buildings and takes up 52,000 square metres, will house a total of 6200 staff, 3000 of which have been installed to date. The remaining 3200 staff will make the move at a rate of about 250 per week.

“Activity-based working recognises there is a spectrum of work styles and demands and that each day, people will have different activities to complete requiring varying levels of concentration or collaboration,” Craig said.

Slideshow: Take a tour of CBA’s new offices.

“Activity-based working delivers the working environment and tools for staff to choose different work styles to suit their work activities. It is about empowering them and engaging.”

According to Craig, the introduction of technology across all levels of the company has been crucial to support the move to activity-based working.

The 18-month initiative to activity-based working has resulted in the deployment of Apple MacBook Airs for all employees. The notebooks have been equipped with locational software so employees know where they are in the building. Employees also have Bluetooth “softphones” using VoIP functionality in order to make calls from wherever they are in the office. This is facilitated by the wireless network installed throughout the offices.

The plan is to become an almost paperless organisation, Harte said, with workstations fitted with adjustable docking stations and LCD collaborative screens and “smart” boards on hand for presentations. Shared printing points are also located in areas should staff “need” to print something out on paper.

Craig would not comment on the cost of the project but said although the upfront capital costs were higher, the real savings were to be found in staff churn.

“The real saving is in churn, because in a normal environment over a 15 year lease of a building you’re forever finding that one groups growing faster than another and if a different group of people need to come into the building you need to change all the hard wiring and the computer networks, change all sorts of things and that churn cost is extremely expensive,” Craig said.

“In this building there is no churn cost because literally all we have to issue the person with a security pass and a laptop and they’re good to go and sit wherever they like.”

The format of the office is also a crucial element to the bank’s branding, Harte said, amid the constant struggle to attract graduates, specifically with IT skills, to the banking industry.

“We find it difficult, particularly in IT to attract a young vibrant workforce directly out of university, they don’t immediately associate a bank as being an IT career opportunity,” Harte said.

“But once they see we’re doing some large projects and that we’ve got an environment that enables mobility, they’re immediately attracted; they don’t assume that the next IT opportunity is at Google because they’ve seen how the Google people work.

“You no longer have to be tethered to your desk, be in the office all the time or working in a conventional manner, you can pick the space you want to work in and pick the technologies you want to work with and are therefore more productive.”

According to Craig, collaboration between IT and the business was a “no-brainer” as the bank’s executive committee was sold on the idea of activity-based learning immediately.

“They were absolutely on board and it was exactly where they wanted to take the organisation culturally so everybody has been in on [the project],” Craig said.

“There has been an extraordinary collaboration between all areas of the organisation including the property and procurement people who worked with me, the IT people working with Michael and the change people who have come in as well so the three groups have been teaming right from the beginning and brainstorming off each other.”

The bank has also kept up its customer satisfaction ‘40 per cent standard’ across the organisation’s management, with financial incentives attached to customer service performance.

The standard sets that 40 per cent of management’s ‘at risk’ pay — which is also judged on performance indicators such as financial and project delivery — is reliant on reaching specific customer satisfaction targets.

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