New Year, New Ways of Working

Looking forward to heading back to the office and your dedicated desk complete with personal touches, cat pictures and drawings from your pre-schooler? Think again. This traditional model is fast being replaced by concepts of the agile work environment or an activity-based workplace.

Many people associate activity-based workplaces (ABW) with hot-desking, which removes allocated seating to encourage mobility and maximise office space. In fact, it’s so much more. It may include hot-desking, team collaboration spaces and working from home, but these aspects are all location-orientated. True ABW is about team engagement, business agility and results.

Efficiency and effectiveness are the ultimate goals. Matching employees and work tasks to work environments and technologies is when the magic happens. Teams form, new relationships are made and business speed increases without the constraints of traditional working environments that dictate where a person sits.  

Our experience with clients shows three mission-critical components that will allow organisations to successfully deliver effective ABW environments and truly adopt new ways of working:

Cut the wires

Operating wirelessly is the single most important step to take. Invest in soaking your office environment with fast WiFi and make it the way everyone connects. When establishing WiFi, don’t forget the guest or contractor network. The network that clients see and contractors use often operates at a secondary and lower spec but it should still be fast and efficient for everyone.

When going wireless, cut the phone cables too. Embrace mobility and negotiate with your provider for a flat rate price or an all-inclusive bundle for mobile calling. There should be no cost advantage to picking up a landline. You’ll reduce costs in so many ways: lower fixed line access charges; lower voicemail charges; no desk phone to mobile forwarding costs; and most importantly, no costs associated with moving extensions when someone moves desks.

Striking resistance from the people involved? They want to keep their desk phone? For some roles this is warranted – call centre teams are an obvious example. For other roles, challenge them to go mobile-only for a month and reward them at the end of that period. If it works for them, stick with it. 

Think about the activity that the role demands and fit the technology – wired or wireless – to the role. Wired should be the exception, not the rule.

Collaboration is king

Increasing business agility and speed demands increased collaboration within the business. When you need ideas and innovation, fostering a collaborative culture is a good place to start. ABW breaks down the knowledge silos associated with legacy, role-based working environments and their supporting technology.  

In making any change, it’s important to consider the needs of the business first, then the technology. Consider where your employees will be working, what information they’ll need to access and who they’ll be collaborating with. Think about your technology and see whether it enables this way of working. Is it mobile-friendly and easily accessible on any device?

Technology is one component of collaboration, office furniture is another. When no longer tied to a particular desk or location, teams are free to form cross-functionally. Providing suitable spaces and collaborative work spaces is essential. These may include a dedicated room, tables designed for four to six people to work at together, or a corner that offers wall space for projects and visual tracking. ABW is about making collaboration easy; it empowers more people to work on projects that require cross-functional skills.

When teams have the technology and an environment that encourage them to work together, there’s a significant increase in innovation and productivity.

Train your teams and your managers for a smooth journey

You can have the latest and greatest technology, a cool new workspace, or a virtual team; but if your people haven’t bought into why the organisation is changing, the shift to ABW may not be easy.

You will need an effective change management programme that will involve and engage with people through a variety of mediums and at every level of the organisation. This is important so that everyone knows what’s changing, why the organisation has chosen this strategy, what the future looks like, how we’re going to get there, and the opportunities for individuals to be involved.

For ABW to be successful it needs to quickly become ‘the way we get stuff done around here’. A good change management plan will look for ways to embed and promote new behaviours through a broad range of channels and initiatives.

Critically, leaders and managers must adapt. ABW means no longer managing what a person is doing by always seeing them in the same place, but developing the team member and the manager’s skills to ensure that working independently is working well, and that the key outcomes are being achieved. Hours logged at a designated desk are no longer a KPI; outcomes and success must become the new measures.

It’s important to encourage an environment of trust. Put systems in place to enable managers to trust people to perform their jobs and produce a great outcome, regardless of where they work from.


The success of moving to ABW requires the right technology, a flexible office configuration and the training and development of all involved to adapt to this new way of working. Cultural change and team engagement in the process are key drivers of success for the business overall.  

ABW is not a hot new thing; in fact some businesses have been on this pathway for five years or more. Getting it right and realising the benefits promptly is the opportunity for those moving now. It’s also an opportunity to take advantage of cloud technologies, virtual desktops and mobility in a way not previously available.  

Strategy, technology and empowerment create winning teams and cultures.

To discuss the topic further, please get in touch with the author, Julia Dol, on 021 458 542.


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