Organisations across Australia have been moving to “activity-based workplaces” where staff don’t have pre-allocated desks and instead move between meeting rooms, desks and casual settings depending on the task at hand.
As with Commonwealth Bank Place and NAB’s new 700 Bourke Street office building, activity-based workplaces (ABW) typically aim to boost collaboration, productivity and flexibility while reducing costs.
But the increasing popularity of the ABW model has led some, like NAB’s project manager Roger Macmorran, to shun the label, arguing that less-savvy organisations are misrepresenting ABW as an off-the-shelf product rather than a large-scale cultural change.
Tony Armstrong, who was part of the Commonwealth Bank’s change management team and now works as a strategy consultant at real estate services company CBRE, agrees that ABW projects aren’t quite as simple as they seem.
From his column in CBRE’s latest newsletter, here are 5 common pitfalls of activity-based workplaces:
1. Primary focus on cost saving
If businesses focus too heavily on cutting costs, they may neglect to install diverse work settings like private workspaces, meeting rooms and casual settings. That’s essentially hot-desking, not activity-based working.
The workplace ends up being ‘cheap and nasty’. Employees feel under-valued and elite talent opts to work for other organisations that provide better working conditions.
2. Lack of quiet spaces
Although ABW is known for its benefits in relation to collaboration, a pure ABW workplace must equally value quiet spaces for individual work.
If there is a lack of quiet spaces, people may feel disgruntled that they can’t complete their work and will not be in the mood for any kind of collaboration.
3. Project team rolls off
At the conclusion of ABW projects, the project team usually rolls off and leaves the workplace in a ‘law of the jungle’ scenario.
A neglected ABW workplace soon has people reverting to old habits and jeopardising the efficiency and allure of ABW.
4. Ownership of work settings
People tend to assume unofficial ownership of work settings by sitting in exactly the same spots on a daily basis, so others avoid sitting in those spaces.
It therefore becomes increasingly difficult to find available work settings.
Organisations sometimes formally allocate fixed locations to certain people amidst agile colleagues – this process can be a ‘slippery slope’ which gradually results in more people adopting fixed locations.
5. Lack of maintenance
If one person sits down at a broken monitor, they will waste 15 minutes there before moving on to another work setting. This process will be repeated many times every day, resulting in wasted time.
Broken work settings are an issue for productivity, especially in an activity-based workplace. It is essential to provide a simple and convenient way to report faults and have them repaired quickly.
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