Tiffany Raethel, Senior Organisational Development Consultant at Bendigo and Adelaide Bank revealed to a future that works how Activity Based Working (ABW) has led to greater employee autonomy and choice in their landmark Adelaide office.
Bendigo and Adelaide Bank, is one of Australia’s largest banks with 7,200 staff in its workforce and $71 billion of assets under management. In 2014, the Bank consolidated offices across five locations into one main Adelaide office for more than 1,100 employees. The new building has since been hailed for its innovative design oriented around Activity Based Working (ABW), a system of working that gives employees the freedom to choose how and where they work based on the type of task they have at hand.
Tiffany Raethel has stewarded ABW for the last three years and has seen first-hand the benefits that have come from greater employee autonomy over working environments.
“Working flexibly allows our people to not only choose the right work space for the task at hand, but also allows them to engage and collaborate with others in a way that is effective,” she said.
ABW is founded on the idea that different tasks are suited to different environments. The modern-day office is typically compromised of areas for meetings and individual desks, however Bendigo and Adelaide Bank’s workplace provides a variety of task-oriented spaces including quiet enclosed booths for concentration, formal and informal meeting spaces for collaboration and a choice of indoor and outdoor spaces due to wide-reaching internet connectivity and portable devices.
Employees, including the Executive Team, start their day by collecting their laptops and personal items from lockers – which is part of Bendigo and Adelaide Bank’s Clean Desk Policy. Employees leave a clean desk after each work day, enabling a fresh start the next day, and has assisted in de-cluttering and reducing paper waste.
Large project tables are situated around the workplace for informal team meetings and “touchdown desks” are designed for short-term work, such as reading emails in between meetings.
Ms Raethel says this approach is focused on flexibility – for example, some employees still prefer working at a traditional desk, however they always have a choice to do otherwise.
“This is not one size fits all – employees pick and choose how they would like to work depending on what they are feeling at the time or in some cases even depending on the weather,” she said.
“The crux of it is individuals have that opportunity to choose based on what they need at that time.”
This increased level of autonomy has in turn fostered greater trust, encouraged collaboration and improved business processes.
Demonstrating greater trust, employees at Bendigo and Adelaide Bank’s Adelaide office are measured on their outcomes not their visibility.
“Everyone has measured goals and tasks, and teams touch base regularly with their leaders but they do not necessarily have to be in eyesight,” said Ms Raethel.
Without fixed desks, members of different teams find it easier to collaborate without feeling isolated, members of support areas like Human Resources or Finance can sit with other departments on days needed, but also with their own department.
“Previously, support staff would sit with an outside department then correspond remotely or have meetings as they needed, but this often left them feeling disjointed from their own peers and network. This way they have the best of both environments,” said Ms Raethel.
The open-plan workplace has also increased efficient communication with senior staff who have become more accessible. Employees are able to easily catch them on the floor to have a quick conversation, helping to eliminate the need to book meetings, sometimes weeks in advance. Employees are then able to progress through their work quicker, making business easier and faster.
Employee feedback has been positive – internal surveys conducted within a year of the move found 60 per cent of employees feel ABW works well for them whilst 69 per cent of line managers said they produce their best ideas working somewhere other than an individual workstation.
“As employees have become more familiar with this way of working, the general sentiment that you hear around the office is that people love this kind of environment, which is almost homely. Most people have said they couldn’t return to the old way of working,” she said.
Ms Raethel said leadership has been key to success, especially as long-term employees are generally accustomed to a certain way of working and as such take longer to adjust.
“If you don’t have your leaders supporting and abiding by the new program, then nobody else will – everyone has to be on the same even footing,” she said.
Ms Raethel says due to the success of the Adelaide office transition to ABW, employees based in Sydney have also moved to a similar environment earlier this year, with the lessons from the Adelaide project overlaid with improvements.
“From an organisational perspective, it certainly has advantages in key performance areas and we will continue to use this model as we look at new projects.”
DID YOU KNOW?
Encouraging employee autonomy and active engagement is the first step in a future that works’ six step guide to build a culture of purpose and meaning. (Delivering Purpose and Meaning).