Originally called “Workplace of the Future,” this initiative consists of moving from rigid, compliance-oriented business to one that is agile and centered on collaboration. Employees have no established desks or office space, and are constantly moving to work wherever it’s required.
“Everyone feels there’s more openness about trying out new things and challenging the status quo,” said Susan Ferrier, national managing partner of people, performance and culture at KPMG.
Three initial concerns, and ways in which they were resolved, are:
- Going paperless. As an ex-lawyer, Ferrier was used to cabinets and shelves of documents and research, but being relegated to one locker forced her and her staff to adapt
- Confidentiality. Ferrier feared that private meetings might be overheard by employees, but the workspace was designed to allow “quick access to private rooms.” Also, she now appreciates the transparency and the fact that workers openly know how issues are handled by company leaders.
- Constant interruptions. Although Ferrier was worried she wouldn’t be able to concentrate with unexpected visitors arriving at her desk, she found that these interactions saved the time and hassle of back-and-forth emails
Another benefit of ABW is that it inherently caters to the next generation of employees, who are used to working closely with one another in a tightly connected fashion.
“My daughter is 17 – she is two or three years off coming into the workplace. Her approach to work or indeed any activity is highly collaborative. She does all her homework and even studies in a collaborative space. Her social life is a massively networked group of people. They just see that as normal,” said Ferrier. “So the whole top-down management structure or philosophy is fragmenting fast. We have to find a new way to lead which is completely different to how we did it in the past.”
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While some organizations are experimenting with minor adjustments such as hot-desking, KPMG decided to undergo a large-scale cultural shift to embrace activity-based working, or ABW.