Preview: From 100 card walls to none and back again

Ed Cortis - Head of Solution Delivery, Bankwest

Ed Cortis – Head of Solution Delivery, Bankwest

Guest Blogger: Ed Cortis – Head of Solution Delivery, BankWest

I’ve never visited your office but I know that about a third of your desks are empty all day long. In fact, if you look around you’ll probably see that more than half the desks in your office are empty right now. Imagine what you could do with all that space… Desk occupancy studies conducted around the world have shown that in typical offices 55% of desks are vacant at any one time. Making better use of this wasted office space has resulted in one of the hottest trends in architecture right now, Activity Based Working or ABW. ABW is rapidly becoming the new black and it’s not looking likely to be just another short-lived management fad – according to Trevor Clarke of Tech Research Asia, 25% of CEOs say they’re considering adopting ABW principles in the next few years.

The touted benefits of ABW are impressive. Greener, cheaper offices and happier, more productive staff. Sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it. Surely you can’t cut costs and have more engaged employees at the same time? Only time will tell but the earlier adopters (including CBA, Bankwest, BHP, PwC and Microsoft) are sharing some impressive results. Microsoft has credited ABW with helping them improve sales by 51%. 98% of CBA’s staff say they wouldn’t want to go back to the old way of working.

With ABW there are no assigned offices or desks and staff get to choose where and with who they want to work each day – at a desk, in a meeting room, at cafe-style collaboration spaces, or at home. It’s all about mobility. Everyone gets a laptop, printing is discouraged and desks are clutter-free.

ABW’s principles of breaking down hierarchies (none of Bankwest’s 1300 IT staff have offices) and providing collaborative spaces, enabling cross-functional teams to coalesce and dissolve as needed, sounds like the perfect environment for Agile to thrive. And it is. However, at Bankwest we have also faced a surprising number of challenges in getting Agile to work within the new environment. For example, since ABW doesn’t allow teams to have their own permanent space within the office, where do we put our card walls and information radiators? And if everyone has a laptop, what about devs who want grunty machines and dual screens?

It’s been a hell of a journey (I called my session, “From 100 card walls to none and back again”) but we’ve managed to overcome many of the cultural and technical hurdles and arrived at a place where Agile and ABW are working really well together. Even if I moved to a more cash-strapped organisation with no intention of adopting ABW, I’d still take many of the principles I’ve learnt with me.

In my session, I’ll explain more about the thinking behind ABW, where the benefits come from and what we’ve learnt about how ABW principles can make Agile teams more productive. I’ll also describe the various obstacles we’ve encountered along the way and share how we’ve overcome them. And, even if you’re not interested in ABW, you might still want to come along and learn why the subtitle for my session was almost, “Lady Gaga, furniture bling and shower curtains…”

Ed Cortis
Head of Solution Delivery

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