Activity Based Working

Why the CBA has adopted activity based working

Hot desking is a term most people are aware of and refers to a system where employees in an organisation share desks. Hot desking may be motivated by cost or space constraints and relies on the fact that at any one time a number of employees may be out of the workplace due to external commitments.

Activity based working is the evolutionary next step to hot desking and uses the founding principle of hot desking (i.e., employees do not have a fixed workspace) to improve collaboration and communication and remove barriers to innovation such as rigid hierarchies and offices.

In the ideal activity based working scenario employees would have almost complete freedom as to when and where they work, the goal being to increase collaboration and productivity by reducing the obstacles to innovation between colleagues in a workplace.

In a workplace which has adopted activity based working there are no fixed workstations and no offices. The workplace may be divided into areas where designated activities might take place and there is likely to be a number of meeting and break out rooms, for brainstorming sessions, impromptu meetings and other collaborative activities.

Employees have no fixed abode and may change location depending on the type of work they are doing at the time, the different departments involved in the project or the deadline. Mobile technology such as laptops, tablet computers and smart phones and WiFi connections to printers, network connections and so on have greatly increased the portability of employees and have made it much easier for workplaces to implement this more fluid style of working.

A key component in the success of introducing an activity based working model is a comprehensive training program to explain to employees the motivations and potential advantages to changing the existing system.

Training should be provided to both employees on how to successfully use the new arrangements and managers on how to manage staff under the new system of working.

Managers who are accustomed to keeping an eye on their employees during the day will need to be trained to trust employees and to measure the success of the style or working on performance, outcomes and staff retention.

The Commonwealth Bank

CBA has been one of Australia’s earliest adopters of activity based working after a five year strategy which has seen the bank reduce its footprint in the Sydney CBD from 13 buildings to three.

The bank’s new premises in Darling Quarter in Sydney houses more than 6200 staff across 56000 square metres of flexible working space, which was specifically designed to enable the bank to implement activity based working.

CBA’s chief financial officer David Craig says activity-based working offers an innovative, sustainable and creative way of working:

“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,” Mr Craig said.

“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 them like never before.”

Mr Craig says the bank is implementing rigorous training and technology improvements to ensure the introduction of activity based working is successful.

“We have introduced amazing innovation and technology across all levels of the group and activity-based working is bringing our staff on this journey. We are transforming the way our people work by bringing flexibility and cutting edge technology to support the work environment.”

In the CBA’s Darling Quarters office teams are assigned a primary working space called a ‘home zone’ of 70-100 people. The home zones include lockers for storing personal items, open break out rooms, collaboration spaces and meeting areas

Employees can choose to work in their home zone or another part of the building including a library (where mobiles are forbidden), the in house café or a work booth. Workstations throughout the building contact a laptop dock, a keyboard and a screen as well as a wireless headset, to make it easy for employees to plug in and start working.

Mr Craig says the bank successfully conducted an 18 month trial of activity based working in another city location and the new style of working delivered benefits for both the company and its customers.

“Activity-based working promotes transparency, accessibility, flexibility and efficiency within our teams which will deliver benefits for customers,” Mr Craig said.

CBA Chief Information Officer Michael Harte agrees saying the technology harnessed for activity-based working delivers returns for the organisation, staff and customers.

“The scale of Commonwealth Bank Place is significant, in that we have delivered the largest activity-based working environment in the world.”

“Our staff will only need to carry a lap-top. We are removing paper dependence that will see a significant reduction in paper usage. This is about introducing a sustainable way of living into a sustainable work environment,” Mr Harte said.

David Craig says employees have adjusted well to the new style of working and would not revert back to the old model. Speaking to the Australian Financial Review Mr Craig said almost 80 per cent of employees were inspired by their new environment and two thirds said they felt more productive. In addition, almost 90 per cent said they had reduced the amount of paper they used, while those who said it was not a challenge to operate with less paper doubled to nearly 80 per cent.

1. CBA CFO David Craig

This Better Workplace Bulletin was First Published in October 2012