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How to design when activity based working is the new normal

Much more than hot desking, Activity Based Working (ABW) has become an important aspect of contemporary workplace culture – with many businesses using it as a way to commit to employee welfare and productivity, especially in computer-intensive workplaces.

Since 2010, many of Australia’s largest companies have adopted activity based working as their corporate standard. Many benefits are attributed to ABW, from better use of resources through to cost control, to improved ergonomics and employee satisfaction. But are such benefits measurable? By whom are they measured? And, where?

Typically, an ABW fit-out consists of installing work points or workstations that are easily adjustable, to be used by different employees on an as-needed basis. In practice, this involves a combination of monitor arms for adjustable screens and laptops, network-enabled smartphones for portable communications, height-adjustable desks, and the division of the workplace’s floorplate into zones for quiet working, silent working and collaborative working. There’s a lot to keep on your mind if you want the best possible fit out!

The use of monitor arms sets ABW apart and allows for the easiest change of computer positions for different employee work styles. One way to measure the popularity of ABW in Australia is to consider monitor arm shipments, with Uplifting Solutions, the leading Australian supplier of monitor arms, having supplied over 40,000 monitor arm units in the past 12 months alone.

Corporate fit-out and refurbishment activity has seen ABW concentrated in key sectors. In Australia, where it is thriving perhaps more than anywhere else, the trend is almost exclusively private sector, with finance predominating. Macquarie Bank was one of the first to formally implement ABW, followed by Westpac, NAB, CBA, ANZ and Rabobank.

Cost savings emerge from reductions in the staff-to-desk ratio, commonly for most financial institutions at 85 per cent. That is, 85 desks to every 100 staff members. Some consulting firms, such as PWC, with a higher proportion of out-of-office staff such as auditors, can run a ratio of up to 50 per cent – or one desk for every two staff members.

Over the past eight years, the Westpac Group, has installed more than 35,000 monitor arms in more than 300 different locations throughout Australia. Uplifting monitor arms are the corporate standard for both Westpac and St George Bank retail branches, as well as throughout Westpac Group administrative offices. For one Sydney ABW fit-out alone, five different types of monitor arms were used, totalling a huge roll-out of over 10,000 individual units.

Similarly, the Commonwealth Bank of Australia is applying ABW principles to all new offices. Again, Uplifting monitor arms are the corporate standard and are used by bank tellers, financial traders, software developers, designers, accountants, administrators and security analysts in a wide variety of roles and locations throughout the organisation.

It is not only the financial sector that currently benefits from this favoured product type, however. Telstra, Australia’s largest telecommunications company, initiated a new corporate program known as the “future way of working” in 2014. With over 28,000 monitor arms now installed on 14,000 Telstra desktops, tomorrow’s way of working has arrived, today.

Author note: David Parker is the founder and managing director of Sydney-based Uplifting Solutions Pty Ltd. He has a Bachelor of Economics from the University of Sydney and a Master of Science from the University of Brighton, UK.

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