Workplace of the future
Alexis George: People are speculating about working life never being the same again and wondering if office work will be forever more flexible and remote.
I think there is no doubt our working lives will be changed forever as a result of this virus. It was happening gradually and naturally anyway. At ANZ, we have already made all jobs flexible and certainly were encouraging more working from home but I don't think any of us envisaged we would be able to get to the level of productivity working from home that we did over the last month. Outside our branch staff, 95% of our people are effectively working from home.
I’d like to think everyone will be back in the office full time in the future but I’m not sure when that will happen but with no vaccine yet it is not likely to be soon. Certainly it won’t be anything like it used to be, before COVID-19. I think all of us will want to at least have some flexibility in our working lives. Maybe the workplace doesn't look like a sea of desks anymore. Maybe it's much more about areas of collaboration.
Kate Langan: Absolutely. Progressively across different parts of ANZ we've been experimenting with new ways of working for some time. We’ve looked broadly at why people come to work. What is it that brings people together? What's the satisfaction of work and what helps people be productive in a workplace?
The traditional workplace necessitated a desk so we could have a place for or use the bulky equipment that our employer provided to get our work done. Today’s technology has shifted this need. Mobile devices and apps give us all far greater freedom and our workplaces have the opportunity to fundamentally change. Do they become places that we come to collaborate and to have those serendipitous encounters, to move things along as a group in a team environment - while focused individual work can be done elsewhere? Not necessarily at home but in any location that helps us feel comfortable and productive.
In the short term, however with COVID-19, will people feel safe coming together to actively engage? Will they want to come in? Will they want to collaborate face-to-face?
We have to address both of these realities. How do we strike that right balance? We need to provide workplaces that enable us to collaborate yet also enable us to be safe in a very different world. We need to move away from some of the old legacy things, but at the same respect and explore both physical and psychological safety as inherent human needs.
Change is a given
Kate Langan: The workplace is changing. We've been taking baby steps towards it across ANZ in different countries and in different places with different levels of success. We’re seeing a shift from only face-to-face meetings to more virtual gatherings using intuitive technologies. And while the pace of change is slow, we are seeing how different types of spaces, new wellbeing spaces, space with fittings that end-users can shape and change themselves, are helping us work in new and different ways.
COVID-19, by necessity, has accelerated changes that may not nor could not have been previously embraced. Technology tools, networks, even regulation in some countries, have shifted to enable remote working. COVID-19 has given us all a push to think about how we not only build for the immediate future and return to our workplaces, but how we might reshape our environments in quite a different and exciting new way going forward?
Alexis George: What about the practice of sharing desks – what are your thoughts on that?
Kate Langan: It’s important to understand all the aspects of working in what I would call a flexible way - not having one desk per person. When we review access data – information from turnstiles or entry swipes, we see how many people actually come into a workplace on any given day. We compare this with headcount data and desk allocations and then work with our business leaders to understand and provide the right fit – that’s to say the right number of desks to accommodate the number of people that come in every day. The people in the business unit may be a different combination of people each day so, as a team, we ask them to share desks vs leave unattended desks empty for large amounts of time. By sharing a number of desks across a group of colleagues, in a neighbourhood, you get a chance to change which desk you sit at or who you sit with, giving everyone more choice on how and where to work when you come in.
Sharing space also helps us keep the workplace clean and tidy; it helps with our clear desk policy to protect information and enables us to work most efficiently as groups and not just as individuals. There are some really interesting dynamics that come through when we look at overall attendance data over a period of time.
Interestingly, Tuesday is our peak day in Australia when most people come in to the office and Friday is predictably, our lowest day of occupancy. Between Monday, Wednesday and Thursday, the numbers bounce around a little, but they're pretty consistent giving us a good sense of the total number of people we need to accommodate.
We definitely appreciate there’s no ‘one size fits all’ approach and given our scale and the diversity of our business, it’s important we work with all the different business units to understand any unique needs and get the right allocations. We also understand that things change and we have to continuously work with different parts of the business to help accommodate growth or changes in organisational structure to get the right teams physically together.
Sharing desks is sometimes called hot-desking or hoteling – technically these terms relate to smaller environments where people can sit anywhere in the organisation. These ways of working very often have apps that help locate empty desks. Our structure, however, is much more one of communities, encouraging sharing, respectful and collaborative behaviours. We recognise people like to sit with their team and often work most productively in a neighbourhood setting. We also recognise we need to provide quiet spaces for focus and concentration; the balance of the different types of space is one of our challenges – this perhaps is where our wider COVID-19 work-from-home experience may help reshape what’s provided centrally in the future.
I think there’s a lot of upsides when we look optimistically at the way we can use space and the right thing to do for the organisation, which is obviously using our space and our physical furniture assets as effectively as possible.