Shared Offices and Activity-based Workspaces

Manila has the “worst traffic on Earth,” according to the first Global Driver Satisfaction Index run by Waze, developer of the popular navigation app. In 2015, Waze surveyed the experience of 50 million users across 32 countries and 167 metro areas.

The benchmark commute time from home to work is under-20 minutes, very far from the 150 minutes — 2.5 hours one way — often clocked in Metro Manila.

One way, companies respond to such a challenge is via flexible working arrangements like flexi-time and telecommuting. For example, a multi-national bank and a large consumer goods company both based in Makati has instituted a work-at-home policy for 2 days in a week. Feedback we have gathered about this was that it was also a way to save on office space, which is now used on a rotational basis.

One very novel idea we heard from the Ayala Smart Cities innovation workshop involved facilities to be put up in locations which traffic has cut off most cruelly, like Quezon City. To add, the facilities would be shared by employees of any Ayala Group company who live in that same area.

Having such facilities would buy back for the Ayala citizen and company, the 3-6 hours of productivity otherwise lost to the commute. Moreover, with the inter-company co-location element, this proposed set-up would foster collaboration, cross-pollination of ideas, and innovation across different Ayala Group companies and citizens.

With this lead, the team and our consultants from Curiosity Research began to look for how best to design the proposed shared offices, and investigated what relevant best practice has been. We found that there in a trend for employees to work from home, in co-working spaces, or from wherever they may be at any given time. The rise of knowledge work, mobile devices, the internet, the cloud, teleconferencing, and changing work requirements are allowing more people to work away from their desks.

One powerful framework to aid the design of the shared space is Activity-Based Working (ABW), where the configuration of the the working environment is based on the activities and tools various types of employees need to do their work. Proponents expound its ability to reinvigorate a business, create flexibility and improve employee productivity and morale.

“ABW is a workplace strategy that provides people with a choice of settings for a variety of workplace activities. Rather than forcing individuals to undertake all their work at one setting, ABW allows people to physically locate themselves where it is most suitable for them to complete their work. Spaces are designed to create opportunities for intense, focused work to impromptu and informal meeting space, to formal meeting rooms depending on the work an individual is undertaking. It allows not only flexibility in working style, but affords the employee flexibility in their real estate strategy with a workplace that allows for contraction and expansion in demand and headcount over time.”  ~Jones Lang LaSalle

To increase productivity and to save on office space at the same time, American Express used the activity-based working framework for its workforce of more than 63,000 employees. Under the program, called BlueWork, employees were categorized according to their roles and activities: Hub, Club, Roam, or Home.

Hub employees are those who need a fixed desk because they go to work every day. They work in a traditional office environment, working at their own dedicated desk each day during standard office hours.

Roam employees are those almost always on the road or field. They work on a daily basis from locations other than the company’s own offices—but not from their home—such as a client’s office.

Home workers do their tasks from home for three or more days per week. They are supported with technology needed for communications and video conferencing.

Club employees are those with flexible roles. They are sometimes in the office or other locations, and so they operate under an activity based working model. They don’t own fixed desks but can work at any of the various work spaces in the office, depending on the task at hand or their preferred environment.

Assigning every employee an office or permanent desk would naturally result in low utilization, unless all employees are “hub” workers who depend on their fixed desks. Jones Lang LaSalle estimates that offices are 60-70% occupied on the average, meaning 30-40% of the office is unutilized. But as work demands move away from the industrial factory paradigm, this is becoming less and less of the case.

FlexOffices, hot-desking, and free-seating arrangements – which involve office spaces are not allocated — can be very efficient in space utilization, because individual facilities are shared from day-to-day, or even in hours within a day, instead of tied to individuals.

Activity-based working is not hot-desking. Although it also involves non-allocated space, it takes this idea much further – not only accommodating a larger number in a smaller space, but also offering a tighter fit between the types of space and the various types of work.

With such a set up, the American Express was able to cut their utilization of precious office space, while aligning the common facilities to the activities that more transient workers needed. The BlueWork program did not only improve worker productivity at American Express by 50%, it decreased employee turn-over from 9% to less than 1%, and it also saved the company 15 million dollars annually in real estate costs.

One of the lessons of this case is that when employees get the appropriate support to create a working style that meets their needs, they are more engaged while working and are more committed to the company, resulting in better results for both the individual worker and the employer.

It is a bit ironic that Jones Lang LaSalle’s (JLL) is a philosophical and practitioner-advocate of ABW, which decreases the demand for office space, when its very business is corporate real estate! JLL began ABW in its headquarters in Sydney in 2012, and has since rolled out elsewhere.

JLL’s research found that companies who have adopted ABW have pointed 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. Cost savings were not listed as a major driver for undertaking an ABW program, but only a by-product.

“It is an important point – that 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.”

~ JLL Activity-Based Working Report 2012

JP Orbeta and the Ayala HR Council have a vision in line with what the “Future of Work” would be. For the shared offices, they have already appointed a task force with representatives from group companies to look into how best to design and roll out our shared offices. They have been analyzing the employee data such as employee roles and types of work activities, where they live, etc., to inform the design, scope, locations of the shared offices.

Future Cities