How Westpac is using tech to transform its 200-year old workplace

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How Westpac is using tech to transform its 200-year old workplace
Credit: Geyer.

Inside the WorkSmart offices.

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Judging by the reception iTnews got on our exclusive tour of Westpac’s new WorkSmart floor in Sydney recently, the bank’s staff are very excited about their new flexible way of working.

Six of Westpac’s top IT brass turned up to show iTnews around the pilot WorkSmart floor at 275 Kent St.

The floor is a replica of the bank’s new technology-enabled digs in 150 Collins St Melbourne, which officially opened in February.

Collins St formed the starting point for Westpac’s WorkSmart efforts.

In 2012, ahead of the planned construction of two new big offices, the bank undertook a study of how staff in its CBD sites in Melbourne and Sydney were approaching work.

It found 50 percent of desks in each building were unoccupied at any one time.

The following year, it took a lengthy look at trends in the workplace, partnered with a number of researchers to study the future of work, and surveyed its employee base to find out how they wanted to do their job.

Eighty-three percent of Westpac’s 45,000 workforce said they wanted flexibility within their workplace within three years.

Last year, WorkSmart began to come to life. The bank identified what it wanted to achieve - as well as challenges that stood in its way - in order to meet its employees’ expectations.

Construction started to build pilot floors boasting activity-based working in Melbourne and Sydney. Staff on these floors acted as the testing ground for what the bank now expects will be a group-wide rollout of the WorkSmart methodology.

The first test came in November 2014, when more than 1000 employees moved into the new 150 Collins St headquarters.

Then, just last month, 350 staff on one level in Sydney’s Kent St offices became the second corporate site to transition to this new way of working. The Sydney group acted as the second batch of guinea pigs ahead of the bank’s move of 7000 staff into its new Barangaroo headquarters later this year.

Brisbane is next, as are around 3000 predominantly IT workers - including Westpac IT chief Dave Curran and CIO of innovation delivery online and mobility Dhiren Kulkarni -  in Westpac’s Kogarah technology campus. Two floors of the five in Kogarah have already been converted.

Westpac is by no means an early adopter of activity-based working.

It’s been beaten to the punch by a number of rivals including the Commonwealth Bank, NAB, Bankwest, and more recently, Bank of Queensland.

But Kulkarni has been happy to sit back and watch his rivals jump in headfirst, and take the learnings from both their successes and their mistakes.

Based on these learnings, Westpac has made sure to take every staff member that is to be relocated to a WorkSmart environment through 12 months of training prior to ensure they are ready to work in the radically different environment.

His own results, so far, have been promising.

“Anyone who comes in here doesn’t want to go out,” Kulkarni told iTnews.

Employees are no longer assigned desks or deskphones. Instead they operate from a standardised laptop (a choice of Toshiba or Lenovo), and a standardised smartphone (bring-your-own iPhone or Samsung, or the provisioned Nokia Lumia 635) managed through the Silverback mobile device management platform. Connectivity is provided through a new Cisco WiFi network based on the 802.11ac standard.

The desktop is emulated by plugging a laptop into a charging station attached to an external 23” Dell high definition monitor, keyboard and mouse.  

Desks (all adjustable, with a number of standing desk also on offer - Westpac CEO Brian Hartzer uses one) range from single desks to two-person partner stations all the way up to tables large enough to accommodate a project team.

Various types of meeting rooms are scattered throughout - staff can tuck themselves away for a few hours in a tiny hideaway big enough for one, or they can grab the rest of their team and head into one of the larger rooms equipped with a Crestron Air media player sitting behind a TV, from which they can screen share with up to four others.

Paper has been effectively banned - the two printers servicing the 350 staff on the Sydney WorkSmart pilot floor are almost hidden as part of the “paper zero” initiative. Staff have been given individual lockers rather than storage facilities at their desks to encourage them away from paper.

Pulling all the elements together is the specially-built WorkSmart app - a cross-platform mobile application offering functions including detailed staff phone directory, employee location finder, meeting room booking linked to the newly-implemented Condeco system (which offers touchscreens at every door), ability to locate a vacant desk, and feedback and help, among others.

“This is about looking at work as the outcome that you want to achieve by the end of the day,” Sandra Casinader, WorkSmart program integration director told iTnews.

One phone

One of the biggest choices Kulkarni and his team had to make was around smartphones.

Westpac last year had initially planned to replace its long-running fleet of provisioned BlackBerry phones with Samsung’s Galaxy Ace 3 smartphone.

But after piloting the Ace and the Lumia 635 (along with BYOD for Apple and Samsung) in Melbourne, it decided the Lumia was a better option.

It wasn’t an easy choice.

"Given the popularity of iPhone and Samsung devices, we were all very apprehensive about how Windows Phone would be received,” Kulkarni admitted.

“But surprisingly people liked it. We’ve got 7000 people now on them in Melbourne and Sydney. Windows Phone does everything iPhone and Samsung mobile phones are expected to do.”

“A large percentage of our employees are surprisingly either first time smartphone users or BlackBerry users,’ Dylan Ferrie, senior manager of the WorkSmart program, said.

“So when you take away their BlackBerry and give them this, they are amazed. It’s not an iPhone, it doesn’t pretend to be an iPhone, but it does give users two days’ battery life with some really nice native Windows features.”

The Lumias will over time be handed out to Westpac’s entire 45,000-strong workforce.

Much easier was the decision to roll out the Yammer social networking tool.

Initially, only those within WorkSmart were to be given the technology, but plans quickly changed once it quietly went live and word spread.

“It went viral. We did not have to push it at all,” Westpac’s mobility chief Eugene Zaid told iTnews.

Fifty users started on Yammer in December 2014. By February, 10,000 were using it, and as of this month, it boasts around 24,000 Westpac employees as customers.

The bank had been testing out a social media platform custom-made for the company, but it was found to have a number of failings, Kulkarni said.

Those negative results coupled with internal demand for Yammer from staff who had used it at other organisations meant the decision was made for him.

“We are all Yammer junkies. Whenever I get bored, I go to Yammer,” Kulkarni said.

Read on to learn about the WorkSmart centrepiece and what hasn't worked ...

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