“What we sought to achieve when we started to design our new workplace was the opportunity to create spaces where people could collaborate both physically and virtually,” says General Manager, Future Ways of Working at Telstra, Nicole Birbas.
Central to the collaborative atmosphere is technology, ranging from Wi-Fi on all floors through to replacing desk phones with “soft phones” - phones that run through the laptop rather than a landline.
“We want to enable people to work not only in a mobile fashion in the office, but when they work remotely to have that same experience that they would in the office.”
This flexibility is central to the new office design, and there are lessons to be learned for businesses across the country.
“The opportunities for flexible work [in big corporates] is quite common these days I would say, but I think that potentially small businesses are at a bit of a disadvantage if they can’t offer that same flexible work to their employees as well.”
“If real estate cost for a small business can be reduced through sharing space, then it provides [businesses] with the opportunity to spend some of that funding on the technology to allow their employees to work remotely.
“It can really give their business the same kind of differentiation as in a corporate setting.”
A layout designed to work
With increased movement of staff the potential for disruptions is increased, requiring a new way of thinking about how the office is laid out. Each level of the Telstra office space is broken into different areas that each serve a purpose for the staff and the managers – geared to letting staff work the way they want to work.
“We have created our spaces so that they transition from noisy through to quiet, so you enter into the noisy area, then go through to the next zone which is our team zone … then through to the individual work points, then through to the opposite end of the floor is the full focus area,” says Nicole.
The new Telstra layout breaks the office into ‘team connect’ spaces for groups to work together, ‘work connect’ spaces for individuals, and ‘full focus’ areas for people who need all their attention in one place. Breaking these areas up and having specific break out areas means that everyone can go into the environment that works best for them, and keeps them the most productive, as well as collaborating with external partners.
“Because we don’t have fixed desks and we can choose work points according to what we need to do, we can invite other partners and even customers to come into our workplace and feel comfortable. Others are welcome to share the environment with us, and we can collaborate with other parties that we need to work with and that is quite unusual and really beneficial.”
A part of the focus for Telstra is ensuring that video conferencing is possible for every employee from their work stations when speaking to other employees, and in every meeting room when speaking with clients and remote colleagues.
Recognising that face-to-face communication builds relationships, encouraging video conferencing ensures staff members and clients know one another, instead of anonymously communicating over email.
“From a relationship building perspective video conferencing is very powerful. From a meeting perspective I think it is even more powerful.”
“With video you can see what is going on, you can more easily identify the points at which you’d like to make your contribution, and it provides a more inclusive experience for people who are remote,” says Nicole.
Movements away from email as the dominant form of communication in the workplace means new versions of older ways of working (like calling on the phone or speaking face-to-face) are more effective and build stronger relationships.
The results so far have been significant, according to Nicole, including reduced workplace fit out costs per employee and lower ongoing expenses. Additionally, productivity gains from reinvestment into technology have been pronounced, and staff are overwhelmingly positive about it with 81 per cent of staff surveyed saying they wouldn’t go back to how they used to work.
“We’ve largely repurposed our spend towards technology and other collaborative settings to achieve our goals of collaboration and productivity, and then there is a little bit left over as well in terms of benefits from a financial perspective.”
“From an employee perspective … we’re finding that executives are bumping into their teams more frequently, executives are bumping into each other more frequently and team members are forming different networking opportunities with each other.
Changing the way that your office works can invigorate the way that your employees think, staving off stagnation and kickstarting innovation.
You and your staff are likely to spend thousands of hours in your office each year. By factoring in ways of working and implementing new technology, you can make the most of every one of these hours.