To support innovation and employee collaboration and engagement, a growing number of organisations – including Microsoft – are adopting activity-based working. The benefits speak for themselves.

For employees at Microsoft’s Sydney headquarters, going to work may mean not going to work at all. Instead, staff might choose to work from home, a client’s office, a café or even a sunny spot in the park. That’s because at Microsoft, ‘work’ is a verb, not a noun. It’s something you do, rather than a place you go.

In 2012, Microsoft’s Sydney headquarters moved to activity-based working (ABW). This workplace model is a step beyond hot desking, which allows employees to sit at different desks each day. Instead, an activity-based workplace incorporates different spaces designed to support various activities, and to encourage collaboration and innovation without imposing boundaries on employees.

At Microsoft, adopting an ABW model involved getting rid of assigned desks for employees and replacing them with innovative workspaces such café-style hubs, spontaneous meeting spaces and stand-up desks.

More than just the physical

To support the transformation and further boost productivity, Microsoft realised a cultural shift was needed. The company created a culture of trust, performance and accountability, and its leaders now measure performance based on outcomes rather than time spent at a desk. Allowing employees to decide how they work best has been crucial, and managers trust their teams to get the job done.

“Trust, or the lack of it, seems to be at the heart of many managers’ reluctance to allow people to work remotely,” said Pip Marlow, managing director for Microsoft Australia and New Zealand, in a recent Sydney Morning Herald article. “Recent studies support the business case for remote working by highlighting improved employee satisfaction, reduced attrition rates, fewer absences and reduced office costs.”

A transformation enabled by technology

For an activity-based workplace to be effective, it must be underpinned by technology that is fast, seamless and easy for staff to access and use. Microsoft employees use laptops and mobile devices for their day-to-day work, supported by high-speed networks. They also rely on various online collaboration tools that enable real-time virtual communication and collaboration.

Reaping the rewards

Microsoft’s move to flexible working has resulted in big benefits. The tech giant has won a number of accolades, including AON Hewitt’s ‘Best of the Best’ award for the best workplace in 2012. Microsoft has also achieved improvements to its bottom line and cut office costs in a number of ways, including significantly reducing the amount of physical space it needs.

Importantly, the company has seen an increase in employee productivity, engagement and wellbeing.

“At Microsoft, we know that if we keep our employees happy, we will get results in the marketplace,” said Marlow.

Workplace flexibility a growing trend in Australia

Microsoft is one of a small but growing number of Australian organisations – Canon is another – adopting a more flexible approach to work. But despite the benefits that can be achieved, some Australian employers are reluctant to relinquish control.

In a survey conducted for Microsoft, 70 per cent of Australian employees felt their organisation didn’t have the “technology, tools and culture to embrace a flexible working model”. Of those who did have the option of flexible work, one in two felt pressured to go into the office regardless.

While every workplace is different, organisations such as Microsoft are learning that it can be hugely beneficial to challenge the status quo and create the type of work environment that employees want.

Article by By Ruby Lohman for Canon FastBusiness