Inside CommBank's activity-based workplace

 

Staff go mobile with MacBook Airs, Pros and high-end Dell laptops.

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The Commonwealth Bank of Australia will deploy more than 6200 MacBook Air, MacBook Pro and Dell laptops as it moves into its new “activity-based workplace” in Sydney’s CBD.

Some 2000 staff have moved into Commonwealth Bank Place since June with the remaining staff to move by February next year.

In accordance with advice to staff in May, the bank today unveiled a 56,000-square-metre space with docking stations and lockers instead of traditional desks and offices.

The bank leased the six-star Green building in September 2008 and decided to adopt an activity-based layout after learning of similar deployments in the Netherlands.

A majority of Commonwealth Bank Place staff were issued with 11-inch MacBook Air laptops, configured by integrator HP to boot directly into the bank’s Windows XP standard operating environment.

Power-users, including developers, would receive either MacBook Pro or Dell laptops, with the latter chosen because newer MacBook Pros no longer supported Windows XP.

The bank used Dell desktop computers in its other offices, including at its headquarters in Sydney’s Martin Place.

General manager of product management Grant Bowden said the MacBook Airs were “competitively priced” with Dell hardware, both supplied by HP.

The bank had also considered desktop virtualisation but decided that issuing laptops would be more cost efficient, given the systems it had in place, he said.

“That doesn’t mean that we’d rule something like that out in future,” Bowden noted, adding that the bank would also “look at” its Martin Place layout and Windows XP, which would no longer be supported by Microsoft from April 2014.

The bank's property, IT and change management staff worked with HP, Apple, Telstra and Cisco on the deployment, which involved some 300 wireless access points across two, eight-storey buildings.

Each floor was divided into “home zones” and “plazas”, with the former housing individual and team lockers, and quiet spaces where staff tended to work independently.

Plaza areas were targeted at collaborative work and featured café-style settings, more private meeting pods, and desks with LCD “smart boards” for presentations.

Following an internal survey that found an average of only 45 percent of desks to be occupied at any given time, Commonwealth Bank Place had docking stations for only 80 percent of its workers.

Each docking station featured a 24-inch LCD screen, mouse, keyboard and network access. Instead of desk phones, staff used Microsoft Lync softphones through DECT wireless headsets.

Team managers were invited to opt in or out of the move, with technology and retail banking executives Michael Harte and Ross McEwan “queue jumping” to become early adaptors.

“I wasn’t supposed to move until late October; I moved in two months ago,” chief information officer Harte said.

Those who decided to opt in were invited to tour Macquarie Bank, which introduced activity-based working in its Darling Park facility in 2009.

Commonwealth Bank chief financial officer David Craig said it had introduced “home zones” to give teams the sense of having a home base, following feedback from Macquarie Bank.

“We learned a lot from Macquarie; Macquarie were really helpful to us,” he said.

ANZ Wealth and Suncorp have also moved towards more flexible workplace layouts in efforts to lower real estate costs and facilitate modern working habits.

According to Suncorp’s executive general manager of enterprise services Paul Cameron, desks cost about $10,000 a year.

Craig expected a bulk of the Commonwealth Bank’s real estate savings to come from how the flexible layout allowed teams to scale up and down without moving any hardware around.

Commonwealth Bank Place would house enterprise services, wealth management, CommSec’s equity margin lending, and financial services’ group audit, security and corporate services teams.

Craig said the bank would monitor any productivity changes to come from the move, although productivity gains were not included in its business case for activity-based working.

He described the new workplace as a cultural journey that replaced the traditional managerial emphasis on control and attendance with a focus on trust and output.

Harte expected Commonwealth Bank Place to help the bank attract younger staff, who tended not to view bank jobs as particularly attractive IT career opportunities.

“We find it difficult, particularly in IT to attract a young, vibrant workforce directly out of university,” he noted.

“But once they see that we’re working on some of the largest projects and have got work environments that enable them to have not only mobility but also a fresh way of working, they’re immediately attracted.

“They don’t assume that the best IT opportunity is at Google. They’ve seen how the Google people work, and then they come in here and look at this. We become a wonderful brand for new, exciting workers.”

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