A significant number of large organisations in both the corporate and government sectors in Australia and around the world have either successfully implemented or are currently implementing Activity Based Working (ABW). And why wouldn’t they? The potential benefits to reduce cost, increase productivity and underpin culture are possible from a sound ABW initiative.
However, implementing ABW isn’t a cookie cut approach as specifics can be quite unique to each company, even geography and its desired culture. Objectives generally vary, but they can include:
- Increased staff collaboration, productivity and efficiency
- Agility & flexibility in where and how an employee chooses to work
- Reduction in power, paper usage, real estate costs
- Improved work environment and job satisfaction
- Freedom and choice for staff
- Breaking down silos
- Modern work environment and practices
- Employer of choice
So ABW is a transformational opportunity to bring together the 3 basic fundamentals of the physical environment (the space), technology to support mobility and the behaviours of people in the space. Of the 3 it can be the behaviours of people which are often the hardest to get right. In saying that, feedback is generally positive ie. The UXC Enabling the Future Workplace report found that 75% of employees who had experienced ABW said they felt more positive about working for their company, more than 95% would not go back to old ways of working and 66% believe they are more effective in their roles.
While the physical environment and technology to support an ABW workplace are important, I believe ABW is a state of mind as well as the behaviours independent of location. ABW isn't where you work, it’s how you work, it's about how you lead rather than where you manage. This is an important distinction for ABW to be successful.
Let’s face it implementing an ABW initiative is a project and not all projects are delivered on time and within budget. And sometimes corners are cut on projects to meet the time and cost constraints. Think of any project and if user training is the last component then it’s probably at the greatest risk of being reduced if the project is under the pump. In the 17 years I spent implementing large IT business systems I don’t recall anyone saying “we overtrained our people”.
Naturally when an ABW project is challenged for time and budget it’s usually the people training piece that gets reduced to the bare minimum. So while the visual space and even the technology provide the “WOW” factor, the piece underpinning in making it really work are the people.
But even an ABW initiative that hasn’t delivered all objectives is hard to spot visually because the space looks so impressive. To determine the level of transformation the trick is to look under the covers at how people are working.
Eight questions to ask are:
- Have protocols been established for how collaborative spaces, meeting rooms, private call areas etc will be used? Are the protocols followed?
- Has productivity remained the same, increased or decreased?
- Have leaders adapted to how they lead their teams in the new environment?
- Have staff moved to paperless to support mobility? Are there defined storage and retrieval protocols to follow?
- Do staff have a filing structure for their lockers? (what to keep, how to store for easy retrieval etc)
- Are people hogging or avoiding particular territories or spaces?
- Is technology supporting easy plug and play?
- Are silos reducing?
If you’re unable to answer yes to all 8 questions, then it’s not a lost cause as solutions are sometimes quite easy to implement. The difference is that for some organisations ABW delivered everything and more the 1st time around. Whereas, there are other organisations who could really benefit from refining the people component of ABW to maximise the transformation opportunity available with flexible work.
Maybe it’s time to help staff with working more effectively and in turn leverage the ABW environment.