by Rohan Pearce

‘Frictionless’ collaboration with activity-based working

Jun 19, 20133 mins
Technology Industry

Twenty-five per cent of CEOs will be looking at activity-based working (ABW) within two years, according to figures cited by Ed Cortis. And that’s likely to be a positive thing in most workplaces, the head of solution delivery at Bankwest told the Agile Australia conference this morning.

When Bankwest moved into its new headquarters in August last year, consolidating from five buildings to one, ABW wasn’t part of the original plan. But a shift to ABW – scrapping all private offices, bar the CEO’s, and eliminating permanent personal desks for employees – has born fruit for the bank, Cortis said. ABW has increased collaboration, particularly for cross-disciplinary teams, and aided recruitment and employee retention.

In most offices, a third of desks are likely to be completely unoccupied at any one time, Cortis said. “And another third are usually unoccupied,” he said. “I know that because at Bankwest we did a survey over five days, and five times a day somebody would visit a desk with a scanner and report it [as being] in one of three states.”

“Imagine what you could do if you could somehow reclaim that space and use it in other ways,” Cortis said.

“If you’re an accountant you’d probably just bank it. Take the saving and build a smaller building or fit more people in the building

“If you work in a software delivery team you might choose to create more collaborative spaces; you might choose to create a more interesting environment for the teams to work in. And that’s really what ABW is about: It’s about leveraging that space.”

Eliminating offices has freed up room to provide tailor-made spaces ranging from “one-to-one spaces to personal spaces to large collaborative meeting rooms to private areas”.

Along with the ABW-friendly fitout of the building, the transition required ensuring each staff member had a laptop, which can be docked at the standard workstations or taken to collaboration spaces. The bank uses follow-me printing and follow-me IP phones, and has developed internal software tools to help locate co-workers.

The transition has not been without its challenges: Implementing ABW requires a largely paperless office (which offers additional benefits, such as a reduced environmental footprint, reduced storage requirements, and increased security, Cortis said).

In addition there was some friction over the elimination of offices, as they are often viewed as a status symbol, and a certain tendency to ABW zealotry when people remained in the same space for a number of consecutive days or otherwise flouted the ‘rules’ of ABW. A quarter of the budget for the ABW transition was spent on organisational change management, Cortis said.

But teething problems aside, Cortis said the impact of ABW had been massively positive, offering ‘frictionless’ collaboration, as employees could move round as teams, priorities and projects shifted.

“You know the theory that for every action there should be an equal and opposite reaction; for every plus there should be a minus?” Cortis said. “I don’t find that to be the case in activity-based working. It’s cheaper — we don’t need as many floors — my colleagues are more engaged, it’s a nicer place to work, I have more collaborative spaces to work with. Where’s the downside?”