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Conference in the rocking chair: Activity Based Working.

Magazine contact #23

What am I working on at the moment? How much space do I need? What is the best place for this activity? These are the questions that are asked with "Activity Based Working". We asked around and put together everything about implementing ABW that needs to be considered.

The meeting has just begun. It is scheduled for a quarter of an hour. Instead of going into the conference room, colleagues this time come together at the yellow high desk. The material of the table seems familiar and this is no surprise as the yellow 3-SO formwork panels are ultimately used around the globe for in-situ concrete construction sites – from a Lower Austrian single family home to the World Trade Center at Ground Zero to the 828 metre high Burj Khalifa in Dubai. “The high performance quality formwork panel for special requirements and many uses.” as it is stated in market leader Doka's prospectus. The catalogue contains what it promises. “Naturally we are delighted with the wonderful, fresh redesign of our office,” said Evi Roseneder, Head of Corporate Communication. She is based in the new, nearly 700 square metre office in the company’s former ceremonial hall along with her approx. 50 colleagues and employees from the product management and marketing divisions. “But what’s special about our new office is not only the design of the open, spacious rooms but also the implementation of an entirely new working world. Everyone works wherever they feel like at that moment.” In the office technical jargon the new form of working together is called Activity Based Working, abbreviated to ABW. It implies that instead of a permanently allocated desk there is a wide range of differently designed workplaces. In contrary to classic desk sharing, however, which already gained a foothold some time ago, the focus of ABW is on the choice of the most suitable place of work for each activity profile. “It makes a difference whether Idesigning and brainstorming in a group or holding a confidential conversation in private. The requirements on the workplace are also correspondingly diverse." says Rosender.

” The conversion of Viennese organisational consultant M.O.O.CON was accompanied by a change management process. The company founded in 1998 has already supported countless companies and created ABW offices. “Activity Based Working is none other than the conceptual transition from my desk to our office,” explained Bernhard Herzog, Head of Research and Development at M.O.O.CON. “It is also important for a change in thinking to accompany the new workload. Ideally employees grow more active and livelier, not only experiencing a healthier day-to-day working life but also participating more intensively in the entire communication process.” In any event, according to Herzog, the introduction of ABW should not go hand in hand with the primary desire for efficiency and space saving. “No employer in this world does something like this out of pure altruism. That’s already clear. But I warn against putting this factor in the foreground or all is already lost. First and foremost the aim has to be to offer employees a new way of working with beauty, communication and perhaps also a bit more day-to-day enjoyment. The more diverse and livelier the offer of different workplace situations, the better.”

Barbara Masser-Mayerl is also well aware of this. The Communications Manager at the pharmaceutical company Glaxo Smith Kline Austria in the Wiener Euro Plaza found the change management process quite intense. “At the old location in Wien-Auhof employees were accustomed to small individual and group offices,” explained Masser-Mayerl. “The open plan office with desk sharing was quite a shock for us. However, with the right preparation it’s certainly possible to master this sort of process.”

The transition lasted one and a half years. Employees were not only involved in the choice of furniture but also in designing, configuring and naming the individual meeting rooms. Hence the conference rooms are now called “Forest”, “Meadow, “Oasis”, “Spaceship" or "Table Soccer". “The most important thing is that Activity Based Working is suitable for the company,” explained Bernhard Kern, Managing Director of Roomware Consulting GmbH, which supports its customers in implementing ABW concepts. “When someone stands in the working café or sits in a silent booth and it isn’t considered to be working or as creative output then I would advise the company against taking such a step.” A concept like this makes sense above all when employees can act creatively and autonomously on a project. Then, according to Kern, ABW is an immense tool for communication and quality for the company. “Before thinking about introducing ABW,” advises Astrid Zuwa, Managing Director of designfunktion, Gesellschaft für moderne Büround Wohngestaltung, “I recommend analysing the company’s core business and its company culture. For a corporation with a nine-to-five culture something like this would make less sense. If the work culture suits to the company culture,” continues Zuwa, “then Activity Based Working might not go far enough. “Anything goes. We have also already planned law firms with showers, conference rooms with sofa beds and chill-out areas with hammocks.”

One current – and also much publicised example for ABW – is the recently opened Erste-Campus in the Belvedere quarter in Vienna. An open space concept with Activity Based Working was developed in collaboration with the Berlin interior design office Kinzo for the staff of around 4,500 employees. “We looked at different companies in Scandinavia, Germany and Switzerland,” reminisced Ursula Kuntner, People Stream Lead and the main person responsible for the implementation of DNA (German acronym for The New Working World). “We subsequently moulded the best insights gained on this trip into our own concept that fit us perfectly.” A mix of classic desk sharing and a heterogeneous, very diversified centre zone with many different working possibilities built-in. Some people sit at “me” desks, other at acoustically screened “we” places, others in the armchair under our rubber tree. “A wonderful atmosphere of wellbeing has been created,” said Kuntner. “This is also due to the fact that we thoroughly designed the process.” Our in-house DNA ambassador mediated between planners, the board and employees in the planning and realisation phases and compiled fears and desires. “Old habits die hard. I can now say, however, that communication has increased and employee autonomy – beyond the hierarchies – has significantly increased. What was still associated with fear and worries in the past is now in most cases an expression of pride and joy.”

 

Wojciech Czaja

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