18 May 2016

The office of the future

Activity based working is fast becoming the best way to harness an environment of collaboration, teamwork and unity with organisations.

An extract from the article “Working Out” printed in CRN, by Brad Howarth.


“Technology has been a key factor in the success of activity-based working at Brennan IT. The Sydney-headquartered MSP began its migration in 2013 as part of an effort to improve productivity, encouraging sales teams to spend more time with clients and less time in the office.

Assigned desks have been abolished and staff equipped with new Microsoft Surface tablets equipped with video conferencing, presence, instant messaging and voice and other mobile collaboration software. The devices are also used for meeting notes (via Microsoft OneNote) that are fed directly to a SharePoint extranet.

According to head of sales Simon Barlow, the two key applications for his teams are shared online diaries and presence technology through Skype for Business.
“All of our diaries, right across the business, are transparent to each other,” Barlow says. “All I ask them to do is have their diary up-to-date so I can make contact with them.”

Trust and wellbeing
Brennan IT NSW sales manager Steven MacKenzie witnessed first-hand the introduction of activity-based working to his company. He says more important than the technology has been the environment of trust fostered by management.

“We’re saying work is an activity and not a place,” Mackenzie says. “So if you can trust people to produce a work outcome regardless of where they are working from, then you have a sound basis for adopting this as a principle.
“We can be more productive, because we are not involved in travel – and the stress that comes with it has dramatically reduced across the team. Ultimately we see our clients getting the real benefit, because we can become an extension of their workforce.”

This benefit has been borne out in improved customer satisfaction stats and also staff satisfaction results for measures such as wellness, accountability and ambassadorship.
“If we look after people’s health and wellbeing, it is going to be paid back to us in productivity,” MacKenzie says.

The shift has also allowed Brennan to use its office space more efficiently. Barlow says that without activity-based working, the company would have had to take out another floor in Sydney to accommodate everyone.

Showcasing technology
The strong reliance on technology to support activity-based working within Brennan IT has also delivered the opportunity to showcase these technologies and their resulting business benefits. While Barlow says Brennan IT has not created a specific activity-based practice, the company has hosted many delegations to see the concept in action.

While the benefits of activity-based working are real, the potential disruption should not be underestimated. Before the Commonwealth Bank made the switch, it began a change management program 12 months prior to employee relocation and continued with ‘settling in’ activities. The company now has more than 9,000 staff working in an activity-based workplace across a number of buildings. Each team is allocated to a home zone containing lockers, team storage and work settings to suit various work activities.

As with Brennan IT, the shift at the Commonwealth Bank was driven by a desire to increase collaboration, enable mobile connectivity, encourage flexible work practices and leverage new technologies.

“The change strategy enabled our people to work with who they need, whenever they need and wherever they need, to deliver results for our customers quickly,” says the bank’s head of property design and construction, Teri Esra. “We did this by breaking the unnecessary rules and norms of the workplace and empowering people with the trust and technology they need to deliver outstanding results.”

While activity-based working remains in the pioneering stage, Ferguson is certain it will become more common because of the demand from younger workers.
“New generations have come from universities that work this way,” Ferguson says. “And people are becoming more autonomous and more demanding about what they want from the workplace.”

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