KPMG test-runs future workplace
Kristen Costandi, associate director, Macquarie banking and financial services working inside the activity based workplace layout in May 2012. Photo:Steven Siewert Photo: Steven Siewert SWS
The stuffy corner office and cold cubicle work spaces are set to become a thing of the past, as one of the biggest consulting firms in Australia dives into a new way of working.
First it was Macquarie Bank, then Microsoft, Jones Lang LaSalle, GPT Group and Goodman followed. More recently Commonwealth Bank, NAB and Yarra Valley Water joined in.
Now KPMG is getting in on one of the hottest trends in architectural circles: activity-based working (ABW). Instead of allocated seating and desktop computers, employees in an ABW organisations predominantly use mobile devices and are seated based on the activity or project they are working on at the time.
Consultant Philip Ross, chief executive of the Cordless Group and author of Activity-Based Working: The Hybrid Organisation, says work is ''becoming a process, not a place''. He predicts the death of the individual desk and desk phone.
In order to keep pace with clients, attract a broader set of employees and mitigate the pain of the daily commute, KPMG has begun a pilot ABW on one floor of its Shelley Street office in Sydney. Groups of about 80 employees will work in the ABW space for four months at a time to test the approach and discover optimal working patterns.
''We are testing and extending a whole range of our own technologies to support that,'' KPMG digital economy partner Malcolm Alder said.
"We have become fairly heavy Apple users over the past couple of years and have been progressively expanding a whole range of tools from our internal social-media platform to crowd-sourcing ideas internally on behalf of clients, which is really taking off.
''We have also expanded our range of telepresence facilities between our major offices, which are booked solid, to increasingly using office meeting and virtual environments for people in multiple locations.''
If the pilot is successful, KPMG will adopt the new way for its new office at Barangaroo when it opens in 2016.
Alder said it was critical to get the technology right so clients and staff experienced no disruption.
KPMG has sent employees on study tours around the globe to examine ABW organisations and also has a "Workplace of the Future" steering committee that includes the CEO, NSW chairman, CIO, and half a dozen other project advocates.
Alder noted that whilst the approach was being driven by the architectural and interior design side of the workplace, the technology aspect was critical to get right so that clients and staff experience no disruption.
''It is rather like your first experience with online shopping for fresh groceries,'' he said. ''If this stuff lobs up on your doorstep and there is one rotten pear in there, it'll be a long time before you go back.''
Although the KPMG pilot hasn't been running long enough for the firm to have set key performance indicator (KPI) targets to show what success looks like in future, Alder believes there is a common view that the Barangaroo office needs to support a variety of working styles and preferences that aren't always catered to today.
"We have a general view of what we think working in the future will be like from an attribute point of view relative to the past, but I think there is still a lot to be moved from light sketching to heavy ink within that," he said.
"The general feedback from other ABW companies seems to be pretty positive and there are a lot of people looking at those who are leading in those spaces. Whilst we don't do things just to be 'me too', if that is the way the future workplace is going to look, then to a certain level you do need to be marching to a similar beat to major clients."