Fiona Smith Columnist

Fiona writes on workplace issues, including management, psychology, workplace design, human resources and recruitment. She is a former Work Space editor at The Australian Financial Review and has also covered property, technology, architecture and general news.

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Bankwest: you might run, but you can’t hide

Published 24 January 2013 01:28, Updated 26 June 2013 08:05

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When it doesn’t matter what desk you grab when you come into the office, it can be tempting to stay away from everyone who might interrupt you.

But, in trying to dodge a bothersome manager, you can also lose track of the people you need (or want) to see.

Bankwest has developed a tool that helps maintain those personal and work connections for its 2500 staff, who changed to an activity-based working (ABW) hot-desking model in April 2012 when they moved to 14 floors of a Perth building.

Locate my Colleague software tracks people when they log on to their laptops in the building, showing where they are in a floor plan of the building so they are easy to find.

A more recent development in the software shows employees which other people are working around them so they can introduce themselves to those they may have had electronic contact with but have never met in person.

It is technology like this that is helping people adapt to no longer having a permanent space at the office.

Bankwest’s chief executive enterprise services and chief information officer, Andy Weir, says the flexible working encouraged by ABW has been taken up with enthusiasm.

“Since we have implemented ABW in our new corporate headquarters, just over 1000 out of 2300 colleagues have at some point worked remotely from the office. There has been a significant take-up,” he says.

Some of the technology used to keep people connected includes improved laptops and connectivity, instant messaging and video-conferencing.

Weir says the Bankwest culture is as important as it ever was “but it is not necessarily face-to-face – it is just different”.

The company culture is one of collaboration and innovation and is focused on customers. “Nothing in those terms is compromised by people not being sat together for eight hours a day,” he says.

“The beauty of ABW is freedom of choice. There will always be those people who seek out heavy, heavy interaction with people on a daily basis. And there will be people who prefer time on their own,” he says.

Paradoxically, since moving to ABW, feedback from employees is that face-to-face interaction has actually increased because the new workspace design in the office encourages people to bump into each other rather than stay in their pods.

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