In a luncheon held by Fuji Xerox Australia in Sydney recently, I was privileged to facilitate a discussion between a panel of industry experts who spoke about their experiences in the deployment of activity-based working within their own organisations. Discussions ranged from where to start (by talking to staff about their needs and peers about what they have learned in their own deployments) to how to measure and continually improve the experience. The overwhelming conclusion is that there is not a single “right” way to introduce flexible workspaces and there is not a “one size fits all” but we can all learn from each other.
The panel was made up of professionals from culture and change management practices, architectural and space design as well as information technology. Megan Divett from Puzzle Partners introduced the idea of a “continuum” for activity-based working, whereby organisations can decide on what style of work will get the best productivity and engagement in an organisation, from fixed desks and more flexible meeting spaces to the idea of a fully flexible, non-assigned work space. Some organisations may even have a mix of all styles depending on work functions and personal needs. Greg Stone, Chief Technology Officer at Microsoft spoke about their own experiences in deploying activity-based working. He was remarkably candid about their experiences and learnings and the continual iterations and changes they make to try and meet work style needs. Above all, Greg suggested that management walk the talk and participate in activity-based working if they expect their staff to.
Fuji Xerox Australia is in the process of deploying our current activity-based working environment, a journey started nearly 10 years ago and one that has continued to evolve with every new project. Craig Gibbons, CIO of Fuji Xerox Australia highlighted the way in which technology has improved, enabling more flexible working. A key remaining challenge he noted, is the need for managers to change their style – managing by outcomes rather than time spent in the office. The general consensus amongst the panel was that failures in activity-based working, for instance companies who have implemented extremely strict clean desk policies or mandates regarding hours of face-time at the office, were generally seen as a reflection of poor management and communication rather than a failure of the workspace. Craig discussed Fuji Xerox’s use of guidelines rather than policies, which are used in order to engage rather than mandate people on how to work.
Peter Black, National Design Director at Colliers International, spoke about the need for space and culture to match and for space to be able to adapt with the changing needs of the organisation. He reflected on Collier’s approach to their own activity-based discussions for Colliers, an organisation that accommodates a number of different work styles including engineers, architects and project managers who require larger workspaces and potentially more fixed and “quiet” workspaces. Whilst this may change with technology the space must adapt with these requirements.
We had some great questions from the audience, mainly focusing on cultural changes as this remains the most significant challenge. Since then many of our customers have visited our organisation to talk to our management team. We have learned as much from these interactions as we hope they have learned from us.
What is activity-based working?
Flexible workspaces or Activity-based working is an effective work environment which enables people to work in the way that suits their task at the time – quietly and individually, collaboratively or even remotely.
At its heart, flexible workspaces should encourage productivity, innovation and, if necessary, collaboration. The key enablers include workspace design, technology, process improvement and cultural change.