Does activity-based design work?


Gavin Moss and Ross Gittins weigh in on the activity-based design debate. Here’s what they had to say about whether office design has an effect on collaboration, and therefore return on investment.

Yes, says Gavin Moss (pictured left), managing partner of PwC Adelaide.

Success for contemporary businesses is more dependent on employee creativity and innovation. And it’s widely understood that collaboration drives the creative process.

With technology rapidly changing the business environment, traditional ‘stop-start’ methods of collaboration are redundant. For a culture of constant collaboration to thrive, employees need a physical environment that supports it.

Over the past few years PwC teams in Adelaide, Canberra, Newcastle and Perth moved to an activity-based-working (ABW) model. By 2017 all 5500 PwC people will be working this way.

No one has a set desk and people choose how, when and where they work, all based on the job at hand. The floorspace is zoned into areas by activity, with low-focus spaces for open discussions and higher-focus spaces for concentrating on individual tasks.

After six months working this way in Adelaide, we’re a more connected and collaborative group. It’s exciting coming to work, not knowing who you’ll sit with and deepening your internal network.

In our Canberra office, staff reported a 50 per cent increase in satisfaction after the change. Seventy-five per cent said they were better collaborators and 80 per cent said they felt more efficient and effective. In our Perth office, staff turnover halved. Crucially, 60 per cent said they felt they were now delivering more value to clients.

The experience of the past six months has opened my eyes to the potential that can be realised by aligning your work environment to the culture you want to promote.

No, says Ross Gittins (pictured right), economics editor, Sydney Morning Herald.

I’m sure reduced office space has yielded savings, but I suspect it’s a false economy when you take into account productivity.

Diane Hoskins, of United States office design firm Gensler, has been researching the question using surveys of more than 90,000 people from 155 companies in 10 industries.

Her people found that knowledge work consists of four modes: focus, collaboration, learning and socialising. They found that the most significant factor in workplace effectiveness is not collaboration but individual focus work. They also found that focus is the thing the new-style offices make hardest.

The four work modes are highly interconnected, with focus as the primary component and the key predictor of all other effectiveness. So office arrangements that sacrifice individual focus in pursuit of collaboration result in decreased effectiveness for both.

Other research by Gensler finds that workers who can focus effectively are 57 per cent more able to collaborate, 88 per cent more able to learn and 42 per cent more able to socialise in their workplace than their peers who are unable to focus.

Justine Humphry, of Sydney University, says ‘clean-desk’ policies are used as a way to prevent employees from ‘nesting’, and yet “studies have highlighted identity expression and professional status as key reasons for personalisation at work,” she says.

This is an extract from Ross Gittins’ article ‘How hot-desking can wreck productivity’, published on The Canberra Times website and reproduced on the AHRI blog.

What’s your view?

Share your thoughts below.

This article is an edited version. The full article was first published in the February 2015 issue of HRMonthly magazine as ‘For or against’. AHRI members receive HRMonthly 11 times per year as part of their membership. Find out more about AHRI membership here. 

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Catherine Cahill

My experience of both styles of work spaces leads me to lean towards agreeing with Ross Gittins. The advantages of creating spaces for people to collaborate are undeniable, but I have witness a decline in productivity and job satisfaction when workplaces get rid of offices and personalised spaces. In Sydney there is little doubt that the true driving factor of this trend is the cost of real estate, not the impact on the people in the workforce. The “collaboration” impact is generally co-opted after the decision has been made on a financial basis. As with most human behaviour – there… Read more »

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Does activity-based design work?


Gavin Moss and Ross Gittins weigh in on the activity-based design debate. Here’s what they had to say about whether office design has an effect on collaboration, and therefore return on investment.

Yes, says Gavin Moss (pictured left), managing partner of PwC Adelaide.

Success for contemporary businesses is more dependent on employee creativity and innovation. And it’s widely understood that collaboration drives the creative process.

With technology rapidly changing the business environment, traditional ‘stop-start’ methods of collaboration are redundant. For a culture of constant collaboration to thrive, employees need a physical environment that supports it.

Over the past few years PwC teams in Adelaide, Canberra, Newcastle and Perth moved to an activity-based-working (ABW) model. By 2017 all 5500 PwC people will be working this way.

No one has a set desk and people choose how, when and where they work, all based on the job at hand. The floorspace is zoned into areas by activity, with low-focus spaces for open discussions and higher-focus spaces for concentrating on individual tasks.

After six months working this way in Adelaide, we’re a more connected and collaborative group. It’s exciting coming to work, not knowing who you’ll sit with and deepening your internal network.

In our Canberra office, staff reported a 50 per cent increase in satisfaction after the change. Seventy-five per cent said they were better collaborators and 80 per cent said they felt more efficient and effective. In our Perth office, staff turnover halved. Crucially, 60 per cent said they felt they were now delivering more value to clients.

The experience of the past six months has opened my eyes to the potential that can be realised by aligning your work environment to the culture you want to promote.

No, says Ross Gittins (pictured right), economics editor, Sydney Morning Herald.

I’m sure reduced office space has yielded savings, but I suspect it’s a false economy when you take into account productivity.

Diane Hoskins, of United States office design firm Gensler, has been researching the question using surveys of more than 90,000 people from 155 companies in 10 industries.

Her people found that knowledge work consists of four modes: focus, collaboration, learning and socialising. They found that the most significant factor in workplace effectiveness is not collaboration but individual focus work. They also found that focus is the thing the new-style offices make hardest.

The four work modes are highly interconnected, with focus as the primary component and the key predictor of all other effectiveness. So office arrangements that sacrifice individual focus in pursuit of collaboration result in decreased effectiveness for both.

Other research by Gensler finds that workers who can focus effectively are 57 per cent more able to collaborate, 88 per cent more able to learn and 42 per cent more able to socialise in their workplace than their peers who are unable to focus.

Justine Humphry, of Sydney University, says ‘clean-desk’ policies are used as a way to prevent employees from ‘nesting’, and yet “studies have highlighted identity expression and professional status as key reasons for personalisation at work,” she says.

This is an extract from Ross Gittins’ article ‘How hot-desking can wreck productivity’, published on The Canberra Times website and reproduced on the AHRI blog.

What’s your view?

Share your thoughts below.

This article is an edited version. The full article was first published in the February 2015 issue of HRMonthly magazine as ‘For or against’. AHRI members receive HRMonthly 11 times per year as part of their membership. Find out more about AHRI membership here. 

1
Leave a reply

avatar
100000
  Subscribe to receive comments  
Notify me of
Catherine Cahill
Guest
Catherine Cahill

My experience of both styles of work spaces leads me to lean towards agreeing with Ross Gittins. The advantages of creating spaces for people to collaborate are undeniable, but I have witness a decline in productivity and job satisfaction when workplaces get rid of offices and personalised spaces. In Sydney there is little doubt that the true driving factor of this trend is the cost of real estate, not the impact on the people in the workforce. The “collaboration” impact is generally co-opted after the decision has been made on a financial basis. As with most human behaviour – there… Read more »

More on HRM