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Communication and Sustainability: CommBank's move to ABW

Anna Temple, HC Online
Anna Temple:  Commonwealth Bank’s new twin buildings at Commonwealth Bank Place certainly are eye catching.  But it’s the fundamental changes inside that are really worth a second look.  Anna Sparks who was responsible for the changed management side of Commonwealth’s big move says the idea to change the way they were working came right from the top.
Anna Sparks, Commonwealth Bank
Anna Sparks:  Our CFO runs our property department and when we were sculpting out a new city precinct for us, he wanted to challenge the way that we were working to say, “well is this cutting edge and is this the best that we can do?”  And so he spent some time with our property team touring the world and looking at best practice and came back with this concept about activity based working that he had seen in Amsterdam and a number of other global companies and he asked us to see if we thought that could work culturally.
Activity based means that you select your environment based on the type of work that you are planning on doing for the day.  
So if you need to work in a very quiet, lots of concentrated type work, you would select an environment that’s suited to that, whereas if you are doing lots of project work that involves lots of interaction, then you would choose a different environment and sit there or for the day.
Anna Temple: Sparks says there were several key factors involved in getting the over 6,000 staff behind such big changes. 
Anna Sparks:  We spent about 6 months making sure that people were change savvy and they knew what to expect when they came here and that was really important, because there were a lot of people who were nervous not having a set desk anymore.  So that was a really important aspect and then a second important aspect was having our leaders role model it.  So other than two group executives, everybody else in this building are in activity based working.  
Anna Temple:  Sparks notes that it was hugely important to Commonwealth  for the new buildings to be cutting edge in both work spaces and environmental sustainability and that so far their new processes have seen results.  
Anna Sparks:  The environmental aspect is a big one for us.  For CBA to be shown as leading edge in terms of environmental concerns has been great.  Paper usage and those things have dropped dramatically like thousands and thousands of pages of paper are now no longer being printed because everything that we’ve got is follow me printing.  We don’t have people printing things anymore.
Anna Temple: So has the move to this new environment been a success?  Sparks says yes. Commonwealth has seen positive outcomes, increased employee happiness and productivity as well as lower absenteeism.
Anna Sparks:  We find that people anecdotally are saying that it’s much easier to communicate, to understand what’s going on, leaders are finding it much easier to work with their staff because they are all in a open plan environment, it’s easy to grab a space to have a meeting, it’s very adhoc but it’s informal but it’s actually getting a lot more done.
We have recently conducted our people and culture survey and we found that the people who are based in these two building have a slightly higher people and culture survey results than those in a more traditional workspace.  We have also found that absenteeism has decreased dramatically.  I love talking to people when they walk into the lift in the morning and ask them how they like their workspace and to be honest I have not heard anyone complain about it at all which, it’s really nice to see that something that we thought would be great for people they have actually enjoyed.
Anna Temple:  This is Anna Temple reporting for HC Online.