In Activity Based Working (ABW), people can freely select their work location in the office (although this is not limited to the office). Many companies today are incorporating ABW into their office plan. In Sydney, Australia-based Goodman, a global integrated commercial and industrial property group, is one such company.
It started about four years ago. The Goodman office was a traditional office environment that changed rapidly in line with the growth of its business. This resulted in an unplanned and inefficient office layout that did not provide enough meeting rooms and break out areas for staff.
Group CEO Greg Goodman’s vision was to create a vibrant and flexible new office space incorporating the resources that were lacking in the previous environment, while also allowing for the future growth of the business.
Initially the design for the new floorplan was based on a traditional workspace layout with each employee again allocated their own desk. The proposed solution however did not cater for future expansion, staff collaboration and the flexibility in the physical environment for a variety of work tasks.
The problem: Could ABW respond to the change?
In order to deliver to Goodman’s vision there needed to be an innovative solution, something new. Activity based working or ABW, caught their attention. “At that time, many companies were beginning to incorporate ABW for the first time,” Mr. Wilson says. “We visited some of these companies to get a better understanding of how ABW works and whether this working style would be suited to our organization.
But there was a problem. The companies that had successfully introduced ABW were all larger companies with bigger floor spaces, such as Google and Accenture. By comparison, the new Goodman office would only cover 2,500 square meters. There was no precedent for ABW being used in such a confined space. But by employing ABW, there would be a major change in the employees’ way of working. “With ABW, each day people can choose to work in a variety of different work settings depending on the tasks they need to carry out.” Mr. Wilson says. “So it was a challenge for us to find a way to go from one fixed desk for each person to a situation where no one has their own desk.”
Sydney Office Reception
Total assets under management:A$30.3 billion (2015)
Global Employees:1100 (2015)
Sydney based employees:220
David Wilson, Commercial Development Department General Manager
93 percent of all employees report
being proud of the new office
In December of 2011, after the renovation of the office, the employees were requested to complete a staff survey on their new office. They were asked “Does the new office increase your motivation?” 33 percent strongly agreed, while 46 percent agreed. Responding to the question, “Has your work become more enjoyable because of the change in workspace?” 36 percent strongly agreed, and 43 percent agreed. Finally, another question asked was “Are you proud of the new office?” 40 percent strongly agreed and 53 percent agreed. In summary, the result of the office renovation was a resounding success.
The concerns about the allocated desk issue was easily resolved. “At the time of the office expansion, we prepared 120 desks for 180 employees, or 60 percent of the total workforce,” Mr. Wilson says. Looking at the utilization of the office space, the highest rate used at any one time was 80 percent, whilst the lowest was 40 percent, with a weekly average of 60 percent. Even if all the employees were to come to the office at the same time, the benches and meeting rooms mean that everyone would in fact have a place to sit. The survey results from above shows that the employees were willing to accept a reduction in the number of desks and an increase in the open spaces and different types of furniture settings.
The office today is divided into two zones, one for the Group’s global business activities on one floor, and the other floor for the Australian domestic business. In the past the two groups worked apart, but in recent years there is increased collaboration between the two zones. “The people involved in the domestic business didn’t know much about the global business activities, such as the Japan business,” Mr. Wilson says. “But with activity based working, employees have the opportunity to learn more about other Goodman regional businesses. A full range of IT tools and audio-visual equipment such as laptops, video conferencing, Skype and Wi-Fi availability also allows for greater staff collaboration.”
Careful change management is the key to introducing ABW
Of course, the careful change management that lay behind this office fit-out success must also be mentioned. In Goodman’s previous office, where space was limited, there was a vast amount of paper documents stored on people’s desks and storage cupboards. “When we made the decision to move to ABW, we told employees that their belongings would need to fit into one box the size of their locker,” Mr. Wilson says. “Before moving, we analysed and audited our paper usage and made decisions to minimize paper going forward using scanning, digital file storage and minimal off-site paper storage as required.
In practice, by putting an excellent wireless environment in place, people can be more mobile and bring their laptops to meetings as opposed to carrying paper notebooks. Documents are shown on the projector or LCD screen and can be modified on the fly with the changes being reflected in the source document. The amount of paper consumed within the office was reduced by 60 percent, quite a big achievement when considering the environmental impact.
ABW changed the way of working and how teams communicate
Moving away from a direct line of sight single desk environment to choosing your own work setting every day meant that managers were no longer able to see where their staff were working. This gave staff more responsibility, freedom and empowerment to decide on where and how they worked each day in the office. Employees were trusted to carry out their work in a way that suited them and their team with the result being better communication, collaboration and engagement.
Along with these changes in the work style for existing employees Goodman was attracting new talented employees who were adaptable and could work flexibly and autonomously in the ABW environment. A lower turnover rate was another benefit. Following the successful implementation and adoption of ABW at the Sydney office, Goodman has subsequently also established two satellite offices in the suburbs to work closer to its customers, and is further exploring a contemporary modern work style with a high degree of freedom and choice for its employees.
“I don’t even have my own office,” laughs Group CEO Greg Goodman, noting that since the office renovation the senior executives, managers and employees have successfully adopted the new way of working. This is perhaps the biggest single achievement that ABW has brought to Goodman.
Name of Consultancy for work style (consultant agency):Veldhoen + Company
Name of interior design company:in house, Bates Smart
Name of Architects:Bates Smart
Office space: Since everyone puts their belongings away in their own locker at the end of the day, the office is always well presented.