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Activity Based Working: How It Can Work for the Public Sector

Adopting agile work environments can help
reduce property footprint by 40%

Ian Morely

By Ian Morley

With all the buzz about activity based working environments these days, property teams worldwide are starting to sit up and take notice. That’s especially true in Australia and New Zealand, where some of the largest organisations, such as NAB, ANZ, Commmonwealth Bank, and Westpac are leading the way in creating modern spaces with non-assigned seating.

These workplaces of the future are not only driving down the cost of real estate for these large firms, but helping to attract top talent and to create a culture of collaboration and innovation.

Related article: What Does the Agile Work Environment Look Like?

Large corporations are not the only forward-thinking organisations making the move to activity based working. Several Australian government departments have already implemented flexible work environments. You can read more about them in these articles:

Office for Digital Government: Activity Based Working and Adaptive Workspaces
Department of Human Services: Government agency jumps on activity-based bandwagon
Defence pilots activity based working

While we can’t name names, we also know of more Australian government departments currently exploring the option, with pilot programs in the works.

Here’s why exploring a move to activity based working is smart for the public sector.

Why activity based working is a win for government departments

It’s true that government agencies do face certain challenges in making the move to activity based working, above and beyond the ones faced by private enterprise, such as overcoming employee anxiety and resistance to change. For government departments, older buildings and lack of budget to refurbish can also hinder plans to change to an activity based working environment. In addition, government departments face restrictions from Enterprise Bargaining Agreements and mandated business practices.

Related article: Top 3 Challenges of Moving to an Agile Working Environment

However, the benefits to be gained from activity based working are so compelling that some government pioneers are pushing the envelope in spite of these challenges. Here’s why:

Huge cost savings.
Real estate represents one of the highest costs faced by organisations, second only to the cost of labour. Most property teams are facing pressure to reduce the cost of workspace, but Australian government departments face an even greater challenge. They are mandated by law to reduce costs every year, in the form of the yearly efficiency dividend.

Since activity based working allows organisations to accommodate more people in fewer square meters, it’s an attractive option for helping to meet occupational density and vacancy targets, as well as reducing overall real estate spend without any reduction in headcount.

According to a report by global property services firm JLL, Australian government agencies can reduce their property footprint by as much as 40 percent by adopting activity based working environments.

Workplace productivity.
While many organisations initially face objections to activity based working, once they demonstrate the benefits for workers and ease their anxieties, these modern environments help workers to be more engaged and productive.

After all, in exchange for the desk they lose, employees stand to gain spaces that are better suited for the work they are doing, more collaborative spaces where they can connect with co-workers, and fun features like employee lounges, kitchens are areas for relaxation. It’s a proven fact: happy workers produce better results.

Innovation.
With constant pressure to reduce cost and meet the challenges of changing government initiatives, the public sector must be constantly looking for ways to improve. When you need ideas and innovation, fostering a collaborative culture within your organization is a good place to start. When teams have spaces that encourage them to work together, as activity based working spaces do, there’s a significant increase in creative thinking.

More agility.
There’s a reason activity based working is sometimes referred to as “agile working.” These environments are more conducive to changing business conditions and implementing new initiatives quickly. These are challenges that government agencies face regularly. Whenever a new regime takes over with new priorities and new laws are enacted, public sector departments need to be able to turn on a dime. Agile spaces can more easily accommodate fluctuations in numbers of workers and reorganizations due to new plans.

Attracting and retaining talent.
It’s no secret that there’s a shortage of skilled and talented workers in many industries and regions. Government agencies are competing for talent with private companies out there providing comfortable and even fun work environments. Millennials in particular are drawn to the cool new features found in activity based working environments.

Technology can ease the transition to activity based working

If you’re considering a move to activity based working, even if that move might be years down the road, now is the time to implement technology that can help you on the journey to right-sizing your office space.

Any plan to move to a non-assigned seating model must begin with understanding and taking control of your current utilisation of space. Workplace management software helps you build reliable data about your work space and how it is being used, stating with business unit allocation and down to the seat level. When you have this accurate information, you can use it to gain the trust of your business units, drive conversations about strategic changes, and even build a business case for a move to activity based working.

Technology also provides the data you’ll need to design and implement the activity based working environment that’s right for you. For example, to decide on people-to-seats ratios for each business unit, you must have a deep understanding of space utilisation, not just who sits where. That’s where utilisation tracking technologies come into play, such as RFID tags, badge swipes or speed gates, lighting and desk sensors and network capture tools. Besides giving you the data to make good decisions, the data from these technologies can also power wayfinding tools for employees to find work spaces and each other in the new environment.

To learn more about the different technologies for collecting utilisation data, take a look at this helpful resource: Measuring Workplace Utilization.

A guide to measuring workplace utilization

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