20 June 2012 – With Australia quickly approaching a workplace that will be shared by four generations, a new white paper by Jones Lang LaSalle says that activity based working, or ABW, gives organisations the ability to better mix the different generations to encourage collaboration and knowledge transfer.

According to the paper, ABW helps organisations address the generational gap by providing each generation with the technology and connectivity tools to help them work at their best.

They include flexibility of work settings for a variety of different work styles including:

  • more collaboration space versus personal space – which is what Gen X and Y are looking for:
  • homezones or neighbourhoods – allowing baby boomers access to support staff and team resources and also allowing Gen Y access to mentoring and learning experiences from more senior team members
  • improved technology tools to support the way in which Gen Y and millennials (also referenced as Gen Z) are accustomed to communicating and working
  • a trust-based leadership model whereby leaders manage by outcome rather than line-of-sight

JLL Australian head of corporate transactions and consulting, Tony Wyllie, said analysis by his company of the key drivers for organisations who embarked on ABW recently found some interesting results.

“While still remaining cost conscious, organisations are not listing cost savings as a reason for embarking on the ABW journey, but instead as a by-product,” he said.

“The adoption of ABW is not just about cost

– it is the workplace catching up with the way people work

and live their life, enabled by technology and connectivity.”

“The adoption of ABW is not just about cost – it is the workplace catching up with the way people work and live their life, enabled by technology and connectivity.”

Mr Wyllie said that was where the generational factors came into ABW.

“We believe it supports the generational gap in the workforce by catering for different work styles and needs of generations,” he said.

“The ABW concept incorporates enhanced mobility and flexibility through multiple activity settings and work locations.

“Jones Lang LaSalle moved to ABW in March this year (pictured) and by using non-assigned desks, we have increased the work points for our employees.

“We have gone from just two work settings of a desk or meeting room to eight different settings – desk, meeting room, quiet ‘hush’ room, discussion pods, team tables, café, floor hub and a ‘touch and go’ area for short stays.”

Mr Wyllie said a popular analogy that was used was of a house.

“You don’t use just one room for all home activities,” he said.

“ABW is about bringing this same concept to the workplace.

“As the workplace has become a home away from home for many generations and with the rise of the Gen Y and the Millennials, there will be less acceptance of an environment and leadership approach that is not aligned with their values of flexibility, individuality and innovation.”

The paper says generational work styles and needs which are supported through Activity Based Working are:

Generation X: Generation X comprises 50 per cent of the Australian working population and are characterised by an ethos of “work to live” rather than “live to work” like their boomer elders. Gen X were brought up on technology and are more open to change than previous generations.  A flexible workplace is a must for Generation X who are balancing their career ambitions with the needs of a young family.

Generation Y: These technological whiz kids currently represent 20 per cent of Australia’s workforce but are predicted to move up to almost 50 per cent by 2020. Not bound by the shackles of the traditional office environment, this generation is willing and able to work anywhere anytime. This generation is comfortable with digital communication and are connected 24/7.

The Millennials: (also referenced as Generation Z) are only just entering the workforce and make up less than 5 per cent of the Australian working population, so there is limited evidence of their working style. What is certain is their acceptance of the digital age into which they were born. They have never known a world without computers, the internet, mobile phones, email or instant messaging.

Baby boomers: Baby boomers make up 25 per cent of the Australian workforce and are increasingly extending their retirement ages. However, in many instances they are adopting a more flexible approach to their traditional employment terms. Many are opting for part-time, consultative roles or working from home arrangements. While their long tenure in a traditional work environment may not lend them to being ABW champions, their more flexible work practices do fit with the philosophy.

According to the white paper, organisations turning to ABW for solutions point to its ability “to support business growth and objectives, create brand differentiation and drive talent retention and attraction as the most important drivers of the program”.

Improving sustainability credentials were also noted

as important,

but further down the list

“Interestingly providing a flexible real estate strategy, whilst an important input to the business case, was not the overall driver of going down the ABW path. Improving sustainability credentials were also noted as important, but further down the list.

“Most organisations showed space utilisation rates of 60–70 per cent, meaning at any one time 30–40 per cent of the space is vacant.

“This is not a sustainable solution from both an environmental or financial perspective. Clearly an ABW program needs to be able to prove its capacity to support business growth and objectives, ultimately creating shareholder value.”

The white paper also noted that ABW was not “a one-size-fits-all solution”.

“There are degrees of ABW to be applied to different organisational styles, different teams and different geographies. Careful consideration needs to be taken as to what style of ABW program will best fit your organisation, business strategy and objectives, the work itself the company undertakes and the culture you want to foster.

“Consideration should be given to scalability, the degree of flexibility desired in your real estate strategy, the demographics of your talent pool and of course location.”