Moving used to be a big deal for an established business. Customers were accustomed to seeing a business at a specific address with a familiar phone number. In the 21st century, however, a business is defined by what it does, not where it is. Activity Based Working (ABW) has knocked down cubicle walls and freed employees to work in original ways. As a result, ABW employees in Australia are 16 percent more productive that those still stuck in traditional offices, according to a report by Samsung.
What Does ABW Really Mean?
Instead of defining a job by where it happens or assigning employees to specific workstations in a grid-patterned office, ABW initiatives encourage workers to collaborate within a common work area or take their work with them to a remote location. That could mean telecommuting from home office or going out into the field using a mobile device. For many, it has meant taking advantage of the connectivity, networking opportunities and lower costs provided by a coworking space.
For some companies ABW has simply meant redesigning the layout of the office for a more open environment where people choose what type of environment they need to do their most productive work. For some that's an enclosed space with a door, for others, it is a couch with a mug of coffee at the side table.
Workplace research psychologist Keti Malkoski advised, "An ABW approach is based on appraising performance through work outputs instead of work processes and requires training and support from HR (change in performance appraisal policies and procedures) and IT (change in the mobile capacity of systems and technologies)."
ABW becomes the new normal
In all its many forms, ABW is already supported by a third of Australian businesses and 35% more are looking into adopting ABW in the near future. Within the next two years, the majority of businesses in the nation will be using some form of ABW to keep their employees happier and more engaged.
For the modern worker, ABW offers more flexible schedules, greater self-determination, and better work/life balance. The benefits for employers beyond productivity gains extend to lower fixed costs (for real estate), lower operating costs (by conserving energy), and rapid ROI on ABW investments.
The third stakeholder group that has seen benefits from ABW is the customer base. Samsung’s detailed report found that ABW drives an enhanced customer experience.
- 55% agree staff have better knowledge of customer requirements because of ABW
- 60% agree staff are able to better engage with customers because of ABW
- 59% say ABW enables better customer account management
The report concluded that ABW practices have made collaboration easier, expenses lower and innovation more successful across Australia.
Redefining the Workplace
Over the past 3 years, ABW has become more prevalent in traditional industries like banking, finance and management consulting firms.
A sample of the familiar names that have moved to a more fluid definition of the workplace include:
- PwC, Canberra
- KPMG, Brisbane
- NAB, Adelaide
- CBRE, Sydney
- Bankwest, Perth
Waudi Tahche, GM of people and culture at Cardinia Shire Council, explained why moving to ABW has played such a critical role attracting the right talent to his team. He said, “It all comes back to where society is heading. These days we are seeing kids being groomed to have technology in their hand from a very young age. By the time they get into the workforce, there is going to be technology all around them. A workplace that’s just a traditional working environment is less likely to attract elite talent, so from a talent attraction and retention perspective it makes a lot of sense to go down this path.”
ABW and Mobility
Staying connected while staying mobile is the key to successful implementations of ABW. For 64% of companies surveyed, the number one device that they identified as central to implementing ABW is the smartphone.
Deloitte’s 2017 mobility report found that smartphones are becoming an essential tool for the modern worker and not just in Australia. Of the 67% of global mobile users who use their smartphones at work, 48% are checking email, 47% are making business calls, and 29% manage their calendars on their smartphones.
Those are the most popular activities, but 9% are using their smartphones to jump on the company intranet, 7% are submitting their timesheets and 5% are completing expense reports. The percentages vary considerably based on their work roles and how much time they spend in the field.
Deloitte reported that all of these numbers are rising sharply as smartphone processors are accelerating and apps are becoming more intelligent.
Instead of being a distraction from work, smartphones are replacing laptops as the most versatile and robust tool for getting work done.
ABW is lowering essential business expenses, laying out a more productive environment for workers and a giving customers a better experience. It requires a new approach to worker evaluation by managers and an new tools to enable the mobile workforce.
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