If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, Google has spawned many admirers with Activity Based Working entering the mainstream. But in this game imitation is not the answer; for ABW to work it’s got to be a fit-out fit for your workplace.
The business world is evolving rapidly and you don’t want to be left behind. Your decision to implement an Activity Based Working (ABW) office design has the potential to boost your profitability and future-proof your business – but only if it’s done properly. Elements from Google’s offices randomly slapped together with no thought for your company’s unique needs will result in disaster. ABW needs to be tailor-made to suit the company, and requires careful implementation to transition all staff positively into this promised land.
Like any major project, ABW starts with careful and extensive planning. ABW is not something you can tackle alone and requires a full change management solution. First enlist a consultant who can navigate you through from conception to completion. They will evaluate your business and processes, unravelling how your people work and formulating a strategy unique to you. The whole project may take around 24 months but can be implemented over a longer period to accommodate your budget and training needs. By transforming one or two sections at a time you can alleviate the strain on staff to adapt to their new surrounds and way of working.
Remaining open and upfront about why you are changing and what you hope to achieve will make the transition easier for everyone, giving them a sense of ownership and reducing the negativity often caused by workplace transformation programs. Engage staff in the process, encouraging feedback, addressing concerns openly and honestly, and demonstrating the benefits and opportunities. Australians can be territorial and disinclined to sacrifice an assigned desk without a fair trade-off, so it is important to educate and excite them about your innovative design and what’s in it for them. With time and clear communication most people can be steered towards embracing the change.
ABW requires a shift in thinking and a change of habits. Your people will need to be trained to adopt this unconventional style of working and any new technology you implement to make it work. Don’t wait until the refurbishment is complete to start this. Leaders must learn how to manage and trust people no longer situated in their direct line of vision. Workers need to create new behaviours around personal belongings by using lockers to store items, and with work collateral by becoming more digital and less paper-based. Develop etiquettes for working in the new environment, like clean desk guidelines and no camping at a particular desk. Assigning a home-base for teams with their lockers and pigeonholes gives them an anchor point to meet and start their day. Introduce weekly team meetings at your home-base to keep members connected and accustomed to checking in regularly.
ABW is effectively a remote style of working, so all staff will require mobile technology. This is a good opportunity to upgrade your technology, providing staff with the most versatile, mobile and compatible laptops, tablets, smartphones, and telephony headsets. As well as equipping each staff member, your office will need to be fitted out with appropriate furniture, technology, facilities, and lockers. This is the perfect time to introduce innovations like standing desks and ergonomic seating. Customisable furniture will allow you to coordinate and adapt to suit your needs. Use colour and creative dividers to segment different regions, and add abstract artworks, comfy lounges and recreational activities for personality and relaxation. Choose elements that express your brand identity without being too clinical if you’re a more traditional workplace.
To make this shift as seamless as possible in a larger organisation it is important to test it with a pilot program. Select a combination of people to trial the new format and use their feedback to refine the rest of the rollout. Get it right before moving all staff in to avoid unnecessary stress and bad impressions. Other companies have moved staff in waves rather than all at once, assigning teams to set regions initially before decentralising. Incentivise people to adopt the new model and reward changed behaviours, this way you will quickly discourage anyone who seems to settle into one spot.
Don’t look back! As with any big change the transition to Activity Based Working will meet resistance, with naysayers fighting to return to old habits. But persist and lead by example. With your ABW consultant’s expertise you will develop a solution tailored to your business and your people that will improve their experience and maximise their potential. Remember, you are designing spaces for real people that need to support their wellbeing as well as the tasks they perform now and into the future.