ASB North Wharf Activity Based Working Office

ASB agile office, New Zealand

ASB’s new ABW offices at North Wharf in Auckland’s Viaduct. Source: ASB, 2014

The When, Who and What

Proving that contemporary agile work styles aren’t just for software start-ups out of Silicon Valley, New Zealand’s 167-year-old ASB moved into a new activity based working (ABW) office in North Wharf in Auckland’s Viaduct in July 2013. The bank has 1400 staff in the 18,000 square metres, six floor office – each floor bigger than a standard rugby pitch. The North Wharf office untethers employees from the cubicle desk and gives them the opportunity to work from a large variety of spaces and work stations depending on the task at hand, all underpinned by technology. ASB also established a futuristic retail bank branch at the office.

The Why

One of ASB’s goals was to make the North Wharf project to be the “most advanced commercial office building of its type in New Zealand.” It was also looking to make the office into a benchmark for new workplace buildings internationally. Parent company, the Commonwealth Bank of Australia and its subsidiary Bankwest, had already adopted ABW in Australia and their experiences informed the decision. In also adopting the flexible work style, ASB hoped to break down artificial walls between its business units and improve internal collaboration. It is also aiming to use the office to become an “employer of choice” and attract top local and international talent. As with most ABW offices, ASB also sought to improve the utilisation of its real estate investment by having a flexible environment that could support fluctuations in head count.

The How

In all ABW offices there is a critical focus on ensuring the physical environment’s design reflects the unique culture and brand of the occupying company. As such, input from a broad range of company stakeholders with direction from the executive level is important. However, there is also a big focus on ensuring the physical spaces work in harmony with company processes and support the way the company wants work to be conducted. Often, this requires a considerable change in the way that employees work and as such, change management efforts become key to a successful ABW adoption. This was no different for ASB.

Also critical to any ABW office is technology. Indeed, if employees have a poor experience with technology in an ABW office it can severely impact the success of the work style. In ASB’s case, the bank had to deploy a wide range of technologies in its new North Wharf offices. Firstly, the company ditched desktop computers and desk phones in favour of giving employees a choice of using either a laptop or iPad and a smartphone. Thin client technology that delivers applications over the network from a central data centre (called ASB Cloud) is available at every workstation. This allows an employee to start working on a document in one of the many spaces available – large collaboration rooms, smaller meeting rooms, one-to-one spaces, private or concentration spaces, and so on – and then move to another work station in the building and immediately recommence working on the same document. Many of the office’s meeting rooms also have collaboration technology which lets employees digitally edit documents together in person on a large screen from one device (i.e. an iPad or laptop). Each employee additionally has access to Microsoft Lync for web-conferencing and instant messaging for virtual collaboration.

This approach also meant moving away from paper-based workflows as much as possible by centralising photocopiers, removing desk-based printers and adopting follow-me printing tools. The company has a “clean desk” policy, which means staff must not leave any materials on the desks they use – instead storing their belongings in provided lockers. This in-office mobility is supported by a ubiquitous WiFi network. However, ASB also took the added step of providing a fixed-line broadband connection at each workstation to ensure employees could connect effectively even when using bandwidth heavy applications like video conferencing. If employees do face any difficulties with any of their IT tools they can connect to the regular help desk call centre or go to a physical help desk – called iConnect – for assistance.

ASB does not have a company-wide policy allowing staff to work from home. While the technology supports remote working, the teleworking decision is up to each individual manager’s discretion. In the branch office – called the Innovation Lab – customers can perform typical banking activities like using an ATM or foreign currency exchange desk. However, absent from the branch is paper forms and brochures. Instead, ASB has installed a range of interactive technologies such as plasma touch screens, Microsoft Kinect motion sensor systems and has equipped staff with mobile devices to enhance service levels.

The Outcomes

ASB agile office outcomes ratings, New Zealand

TRA asked ASB’s general manager of corporate property, Derek Shortt to rate the level of contribution the company’s ABW strategy has made to a common set of business goals on a scale of 1 to 10 (where 10 is an outstanding contribution, and 1 is a very low contribution). The results were: 

  • Cost Management – 9. When teams expand or contract, there is no reconfiguration of workspace, eliminating annual ‘churn’ costs. Due to shared desks in the ABW environment the overall floor area requirement is 20% smaller than a similar open plan office solution with individual desk ownership leading to cost efficiencies upfront and ongoing. 

  • Growth – 10. As the workspace is flexible and there is no ownership of workstations then growth and expansion is easily managed. New staff and staff moves require re-assignment of individual lockers only. 

  • Risk Management – 8. With the move to digital working in the ABW environment, document management is undertaken digitally with access by individual computer password – limiting the need for secure paper storage. 

  • Talent Management – 10. ASB believes the ABW environment provides “a superior workspace solution that is reported to improve staff retention and recruitment”. 

  • Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) – 10. The ASB ABW office requires 20 percent less built workspace than a typical office and is therefore perceived to be a more sustainable proposition with less built footprint and less building to support on an on-going annual basis. 

  • Customer Engagement – 9. By virtualizing applications and providing staff with a mobile device (iPad or laptop of their choice), employees are free to work digitally and can be more responsive to colleagues or customer needs. 

  • Productivity – 10. ASB believes the ABW workplace is “all about maximizing the opportunity to perform work tasks efficiently and effectively”. By providing a range of enabled workstations and collaborative work settings staff are free to work in the most appropriate location and type of work environment to suit their tasks. The ABW environment supports ASB’s drive for continuous improvement. 

  • Innovation – 10. The adoption of ABW has meant ASB has undergone a fundamental shift in management practice that it believes is driving a more innovative culture.

The Next Steps for ASB

ASB will continue to evolve its North Wharf ABW office with the rollout of Microsoft SharePoint and an increasing focus on mobility. The company has also announced that it will also adopt ABW at its new Christchurch Cathedral Square offices, to be called ASB House. The building is expected to be completed in 2016.

Check out a virtual tour of the ASB offices here: