Envisaging the office of the future has always been as much about headspace as it is about floorspace. It doesn’t take a psychologist to work out that many people don’t perform at their best when confined to corridors or cramped rooms, partitioned cubicles or random clusters of desks.
Then there’s the matter of cost, and no-one has ever predicted that office space will become less expensive.
Which makes KPMG’s pilot, activity-based reorganisation of its office space an interesting case study.
How it’s played out at KPMG
In 2012, the professional services giant created in-office ‘neighbourhoods’ for 80 staff in its Sydney building. The staff were allowed to choose from ‘focused’ areas on the rim, comprising desks with high partitions, and more collaborative spaces, with sofas and the like, in the building’s centre. This central zone was an activity hive that people chose to be drawn into or move away from to suit their type of work at any particular time, and their personal style of doing that work.
Eighty-two per cent of participants said the arrangement allowed them to better connect and collaborate with colleagues, and 75 per cent felt their productivity either increased or remained consistent.
The reorganisation also slashed the amount of office space required per person by up to 35 per cent (and paper use by 65 per cent).
By 2017, KPMG will have applied similar activity-based work arrangements to an anticipated 4850 staff in its Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide offices.
“We’ve been able to take the same amount of space in our buildings and yet be much more flexible in creating a variety of workspaces for our people without compromising quality,” says Susan Ferrier (pictured above), KPMG Australia’s national head of people, performance and culture.
Ferrier says the switch will enable KPMG to “house a growing number of people cost-effectively, operate with much greater efficiency and flexibility, and provide a competitive edge to meet the changing needs of our people, clients and communities into the future”.
Rule of thirds
A major HR insight from the pilot was the ‘rule of thirds’: a third of people will almost always work in a collaboration zone; a third will always work in a focus zone; and a third will switch between zones depending on the nature of their work at the time.
“We think this aligns with people’s personalities in general,” says Ferrier. “Some are extroverted, some are introverted and the remainder toggle between the two.”
Although two-thirds of a team or group chose to sit in either the focused or the collaborative area, they still moved about in that zone rather than established a desk as their own, she says. Instead of forcing everyone to conform to doing everything at a single desk, day in, day out, the pilot confirmed the importance of letting staff have a choice to define which work settings they required to be most productive.
Another valuable HR takeaway from the pilot was that formalised collaboration remained at the same levels, whereas spontaneous collaboration increased because people moved around the floor much more.
KPMG is also part of London Business School’s Future of Work consortium, founded in 2009 by leading HR strategist Professor Lynda Gratton. It includes heavyweights such as Nokia, BT, World Vision International, Thomson Reuters, Novartis, Unilever, Randstad UK, Marks and Spencer, SAP, Singaporean Ministry of Manpower and Virgin Active.
In online masterclasses, they share how their workplaces can remain globally relevant and competitive in terms of technology, generational cohesion, collaboration, flexibility and engagement.
“We discuss the challenges and opportunities influencing the future of work,” says Ferrier, “and, following each masterclass, we take part in a global 48-hour online crowd-sourcing ‘jam’ where we build on masterclass ideas, which are then compiled into a report of key findings and case studies.
“For us in Australia, the jam presents a unique opportunity for our people to experience a social collaboration platform on a global scale, which not only builds our crowdsourcing capability, but enables us to co-create with other organisations, many of which are our clients, to collectively contribute to global research.”
With diverse initiatives such as these on the go, it’s clear that idea collaboration is very much a part of KPMG’s strategy to create innovative, successful future workplaces.
This article is an edited version. The full article was first published in the December 2014/January 2015 issue of HRMonthly magazine as ‘Choice in action’. AHRI members receive HRMonthly 11 times per year as part of their membership. Find out more about AHRI membership here.