Several years ago, Microsoft’s Global Executive team started a conversation about the need to ensure the sustainability and success of the organization in a climate of economic unpredictability and market evolution. Microsoft offices around the world started testing new ways of thinking about work and started a move to Activity-Based Working.
Here in Australia, we started a dialogue about the challenge of defining a successful long term strategy in the face of continuing change. We recognized that to continue to be the market leader and maintain competitive advantage, we would need to focus on our culture and break existing paradigms about how work was done. We needed a workforce that was resilient, innovative and agile to face the ever increasing pace of our industry. Under our old working style we were also at risk of running out of space at many of our Australian office locations due to an ever growing workforce. Like other organizations, the majority of our people work at their designated workspace less than half of their day, suggesting that allocated workspaces and the significant infrastructure this requires is becoming both redundant and unsustainable.
We recognized that to change our culture, we needed to challenge the systems, symbols and behaviors of Microsoft Australia by focusing on the values and attitudes of our people. We encouraged a dialogue among team members and their managers to develop a clear picture of job roles in terms of outcomes and achievement. We asked our employees: “In your personal and work circumstances, when, where and how do you need to work in order to execute the job you’ve been employed to do?” This way of working generates a culture founded on true trust, empowerment and accountability. An output-based environment supported by the right application of HR systems together with enhanced manager capability were essential to eradicate the few “how will I know they are working?” concerns.
Simultaneous to the culture discussion we were considering solutions to the challenge of fitting our growing workforce into the Sydney head office location and offices in Perth, Brisbane and Adelaide. We engaged with our global Microsoft counterparts to determine how principles of activity-based working could be applied. Using a staged process, our Sydney office was refurbished to cater for more and different types of space which encouraged collaboration, such as spontaneous meeting spaces, formal meeting rooms, stand-up desks, floor hubs, and a customer area showcasing Microsoft technology on our partner devices. All employees have access to all spaces and people select where they would like to work based on the activity they are doing rather than having a designated workspace. This approach is the same no matter what the role—or how senior the individual.
Technology has been a key enabler of our move. Our people simply need an MSIT-approved device and an internet connection and they can instantly work securely, wherever they choose. Our suite of integrated technologies and tools that our people are using in new and innovative ways drive competitive advantage.
Challenges and Lessons Learned
Challenges in transitioning to activity-based working are to be expected, but these can be overcome with a blend of strong leadership, cultural improvement and robust strategy. For example, we overcame the desire to retain personalized workspaces by encouraging people to decorate their lockers and express themselves through technology such as SharePoint and Lync activity updates. In the place of traditional forms of recognition, we have developed an intranet application using social media principles which also “splashes” acknowledgements across TV screens country-wide, which we have found to be even more powerful as it has morphed into employees recognizing one another more frequently.
Benefits of Activity-Based Working
We have observed a boost in employee productivity, engagement and wellbeing. Our new way of working fosters more opportunities for collaboration due to the ‘bump factor’ that facilitates quicker and more collaborative decision making, enabling increased employee mobility and flexibility. We have significantly reduced costs in many respects, in areas such as floor space, stationery, recruitment agency fees and utility and telephone costs. And, we are more environmentally sustainable. Our carbon emissions have decreased due to our reduced floor space, infrastructure, and power requirements.
We believe that the new way of working at Microsoft Australia could point to the workplace of the future, which offers flexibility, spontaneity and the flawless transition between the virtual and the physical.
Benefits of this new way of working*
- 10% improvement in individual effectiveness
- 14% improvement in informal collaboration
- 11% improvement in overall workplace satisfaction
- 7% improvements in team effectiveness
- 20% improvement in formal collaboration
- 21% improvement in impression on customers
Source: Microsoft global survey
*WRAF performance versus legacy sites