What companies can learn from KPMG’s activity-based workspaces

by HCA25 Mar 2015
While some organisations 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.
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.”


  • by Paul 25/03/2015 11:54:06 AM

    "The next generation of employees, who are used to working closely with one another in a tightly connected fashion".

    Is this the same generation that the Universities have conditioned to believe that online learning (from a bedroom at home) is the best learning model. I am not sure if they are used to working closely with others.

    Overall looks like the Company have been successful in reducing the office space therefore saving on the rent expense. Well done on the expense reduction and looks like everything else is falling into place. Well done.

  • by Laura 25/03/2015 12:59:57 PM

    I'd have to agree with Paul. I haven't found that the next generation is highly collaborative, in fact quite the opposite. They might have a massively networked group of people, but how many of those people have they actually met or worked/studied with?

    I can't see that being physically surrounded by people (as opposed to virtually) would suit the next generation who, in my opinion, have generally become quite insulated from social activities and face-to-face interaction.

    I certainly agree that going paperless and reducing office space is a plus, but I imagine the HR issues that will come out of this change will probably outweigh the benefits.

    Kudos for the innovative approach though!

  • by nelz 25/03/2015 4:28:06 PM

    another positive thing is, good exercise for us IT guys as we keep on moving around the whole day when one user need some kind of IT support :)

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