Progressive organizations are beginning to treat the workspace as an active tool rather than a passive backdrop, according to Keti Malkoski, workplace research psychologist with office design company Schiavello.
This focus may lead to a decision to shift to a different work environment, such as ‘hot desking’ or ‘activity-based working’ (ABW). The former is focused on the desk: employees are no longer allocated their own, but several employees will use the work station at different times. ABW environments, on the other hand, divide the office into quiet and collaborative spaces that suit diverse tasks.
In Malkoski’s opinion, ABW is the more advanced approach. “[ABW] is an extension of hot desking, in my mind, and it’s probably a more relevant extension in that it’s starting to think about how people are working, and they’re working in different work modes,” she said.
As well as better supporting the work that staff do, a deconstructed office can lend greater autonomy to individual employees, demonstrating trust in them. “It’s no longer about visibility, and that notion of presenteeism, it’s giving autonomy back to the individual and creating a model that’s work output, as opposed to work process, focused,” Malkoski said. And this can be empowering.
Rose Clements, HR Director of Microsoft Australia, has had first-hand experience of the shift to ABW. “It’s required us to be adaptable and agile, we’ve had to think differently how we’re onboarding people, we’ve had to think differently about the strengths that our managers need to be comfortable in managing in this kind of environment,” Clements said. However, she insisted that the results have been entirely positive.
As Malkoski suggested, staff empowerment was an important part of the experience at Microsoft. “That required very much a culture of trust, accountability and empowerment, because you’ve got to genuinely believe that your employees get up every day with the intention of having a great day, that they’re going to want to be successful,” Clements said.
It strikes Clements as ‘ironic’ that organizations, whether by default or design, often express a lack of trust in their employees by emphasising presenteeism and heavy-handed style of management. “Our people know that they have outcomes and achievements and deliverables that are part of their commitment to Microsoft, and that’s what we look for, that’s what we evaluate performance on,” she said.