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The office as an enabler of culture

HCTV drops in on the new Merck, Sharp and Dohme offices to check out how they've put Activity Based Working into action.

Video transcript below:

Lisa Onsley, HR Director - Merck, Sharp and Dohme
Lisa Onsley:  
For us it simply wasn’t about an office redesign, I think anyone could do that without too much thought.  For us this was more of the office as an enabler of culture. We wanted to provide a new environment that helped employees perform their best at work.

Reporter:  The concept of activity based working is relatively established now, but for many the jury is still out as to its effectiveness.  Pharmaceutical company, Merck, Sharp & Dohme recently changed over to ABW in the new purpose built facility and HR Director, Lisa Onsley says the benefits have been many, both productivity and for employee health.
Lisa Onsley:  The benefits for us were many, the first most obviously was around collaboration, flexibility and really providing personal choice and responsibility to employees. That for us was a real driver.  

One thing important for us in the design was to have the grand staircase as it’s often referred to and that enables people to, rather use the lift or the elevators, they need to use the staircase and so that has some great incidental exercise that we probably didn’t fully anticipate being as great as it has been.  So we see people up and about, they don’t sit in one spot for more than generally two hours, they might sit in a quiet spot for a couple of hours and then move to collaboration space beyond that.  

In addition, one of the things that was really important for us was that we provided incentive to employees to sustainably commute to the office.  So like most office spaces we have limited car parking, like you know in your office.  So we encouraged employees to commute other than in a vehicle and we found that is actually been a real positive for our staff and high engagement around that.  

Simple things we created in the office design, such as showers and easy access for employees such that they didn’t have to walk through the main office area to get to the showers upon arrival at work, they could discreetly enter, get themselves ready for work and then go to the space and come in to work for the day.

Reporter:  Both Onsley and the L&D manager Peter Dale, say that although they face some resistance from pockets of staff, a comprehensive changed management strategy helps smooth the process.

Lisa Onsley:  And another important aspect was to manage the change well to the extent we can manage change.  We had change champions and across each department who would regularly meet and work with their teams around issues they were anticipating that might not be so positive.

Peter Dale, Learning & Development Manager - Merck, Sharp & Dohme
Peter Dale:  
And people were concerned about not necessarily owning their own office space, where they would store their materials, moving to a new way of working, so there is all these types of concerns and when we started to engage people in the idea of moving to this new way of working, one of the advantages that we did have is that we started quite early, about 10 months in advance.  

Helped first and foremost people to understand why the need for change and why we were going to be moving to this new way of working and really encouraged our leaders to actually be proactive in supporting some of the conversations around what it looked like for particular team members.  So that helped people move from why are moving to this newer way of working to how are we going to make it work for us.  

Lisa Onsley:  The other thing is to have representation from employees.  What we found along the way is that most of our employees had better ideas than we did about ways that we could work and that was just terrific.  So we continued to engage with people from the very beginning right through the end.

Reporter:  Finally Onsley explains that a key part of the changed management process was making sure that IT was there every step of the way to smoothly implement innovations such as deskless working.

Lisa Onsley:  Having the right IT infrastructure was paramount for us and so having IT involved from the very beginning was critical.  One of the things we did was standardise and so we felt that giving the ability and flexibility was a key drivers for us.  We needed to provide the IT structure to do that.  So all employees had the same laptop, the same iphones, so they can move around the office without any hesitation or any issues.  

The other thing that was really important was having terrific wireless capability and people can move from level 1 to level 3, simply by picking up their laptop and just re-docking or working completely wirelessly.  There is no need be concerned about where you are in the building to have great technology all around you.  The other thing as collaboration is so important to us, the other thing we did was introduce some other interesting technologies such as smart boards, terrific video conferencing facilities and we often see people who would previously have sat in a meeting room around a white board sitting out in open spaces with their laptops connected to a big screen working in the moment on projects out in the open space and that’s been a great benefit for us.

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