Once upon a time, your workspace defined you. Humble graduates worked elbow-to-elbow doing the grunt work, and the big dogs up top measured their worth in square feet. That, and the scenery out of their office window.
Now, the Activity Based Workplace has killed more than a few dreams of a corner office, leather bound chairs and a decanter of scotch.
A lot of major companies have jumped on the ‘hot desking’ bandwagon — you know, where you can sit wherever you want — in search of greater efficiency and teamwork.
In Australia some big names have adopted the practice: Macquarie Bank, Microsoft, Jones Lang LaSalle, GPT Group Goodman, followed by Commonwealth Bank, Ernst & Young and NAB, to name but a few.
It’s the workplace of the future, the forward thinking that bosses hope will inspire a new generation of results-driven team-players, encouraged by their reformed corporate masters’ efforts to prove that they’re no longer simply clock-watchers, trying to get as many man-hours as possible out of their staff.
Sure, it works for some people; the big-name adopters speak to that. But don’t for one second think that everyone is a fan. Or that your staff want to be able to sit wherever they want.
Maybe it’s too many episodes of Mad Men, but sometimes you just want your own desk.
Read what the expert says at the bottom.
One consultant at a global, top-tier professional services company, who can’t be named, told Business Insider: “It’s actually pretty annoying: It’s like you’re in High School, at the end of the day you pack up your books and papers and go home.
Generally speaking, he said, most young staff at this company “hate” ‘hot desking’.
“There isn’t even enough room [in the cupboards] to hang a spare coat,” he said.
While the idea is to move around a lot to mix-and-mingle with your colleagues, at this company anyway, people just want their own space.
Our source said that while you could sit at anywhere on your floor, most people have their one spot and stick to it. And don’t even try and park yourself at a workstation that a partner has decided to make his or her own.
“You know that you can’t sit at some of the window seats,” he said.
When asked what would happen if someone did, he said: “I don’t know … You just know not do it.”
“Probably, their executive assistant would come up and ask you to move.”
He recalls one stand out incident, when an Executive Assistant decided that she wanted to sit at the floor’s only Bloomberg terminal.
“We asked her really nicely if she could move. It’s the only [Bloomberg] terminal.
“She acted really put out, even though there is a sign saying it’s the only one, and to only sit there if you’re using it.”
As for the idea that ABWs help staff work together, fostering a team environment: “you could always just grab a meeting room in a normal office.”
“When you’re at your desk you’re just working,” so you don’t need everyone around you, he said.
Another source, a professional at a major Australian bank, was a bit more positive, but the ability to roam to building didn’t set her heart on fire.
“It can take 20 minutes to get set up in the morning. Every docking station is slightly different which means by the time you have got everything you need from your locker, got your laptop set up and got your screen and keyboard working you’ve already wasted at least a quarter of an hour.
Another dislike is not something you may have expected.
“Completely aware that this sounds finicky, but it’s true: Everyone gets sick a lot more of the time because germs spread so easily. All you need Is one person to get sick, then by changing desks everyday they act almost like a Typhoid Mary, so colds and flus go around like there’s no tomorrow.”
But it isn’t all bad.
“You get a chance to sit next to people from all kinds of disciplines, and learn about what they do by seeing them work.
“In that respect, I think Activity Based Workplaces is really useful for project-based work as you can physically be with whatever team members you need to work with on a given day, regardless of whether they are from a different discipline as you.
“That, and you never have to sit with people that you don’t get on with.”
What the expert says …
“A lot of what we hear is that while aspects of ABW might be successful, rarely is the ABW philosophy successfully implemented in its entirety, due mainly to the sheer number of variables at play,” Human Capital partner at Deloitte Consulting Pip Dexter told Business Insider.
“To be successful, spaces need to balance the requirements of the dominant working styles of the business with possibly divergent preferences of individuals, and management needs to shift to outcomes focused management in order to give accountability to employees for their own work.
“This latter aspect in particular is a difficult shift to make and maintain,” Dexter said.
“While there is research documenting benefits of ABW, there is also a great deal of evidence to the contrary. For example, productivity is negatively impacted when people are not able to ‘nest’ in their own personal spaces.”
Change management is crucial, Dexter said
“Inertia can be managed by actively involving employees in the ABW implementation process, for example, through two-way communications, piloting of ABW environments, ongoing employee and manager training, a clear ‘branding’ of ABW that links to the employee value proposition, and visible executive alignment and sponsorship by leaders who ‘walk the talk’.”
While it could be tempting to hide from an uncomfortable conversation with your boss, or catch a quick nap in a secluded corner, that’s actually pretty hard to manage. And businesses that care, are kind of missing the point.
“Businesses that are pre-occupied with ‘keeping track’ of staff are actively undermining the success of their ABW program due to the distrust generated by pairing increased freedoms with visible (or perceived) staff monitoring and tracking.”
You can read more about that here.
“To be successful, managers need to fully shift accountability for outcomes to their employees, and not undermine this by monitoring and tracking.
“More practically, hoteling, way-finding and reservation (e.g. check-in) technologies make it relatively easy to find the people you are looking for, wherever they might be working,” Dexter said.