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News release


Applying an Activity Based Working (ABW) environment to Commonwealth Government agencies has the potential to utilise approximately 30 to 40 per cent of office space that may currently be underutilised in a traditional office environment

The case for workplace change continues to build in the government sector as agencies seek to increase efficiency and productivity against a backdrop of Commonwealth budget cuts, sustainability targets and additional requirements under PRODAC

​AUSTRALIA, 4 JUNE 2014 – Most organisations in the public and private sector show space utilisation rates of 60-70%, meaning that at any one time  30-40% of  office space is being underutilised.  Translated to the public sector in Australia, this has the potential for cost savings for Commonwealth Government agencies, according to a new report by global property services firm, JLL.

The report – Activity Based Working: Application to Commonwealth Government – examines the opportunities and challenges of introducing an Activity Based Working (ABW) model into government agencies.  To date, there has not been a widespread adoption of ABW in the Australian public sector, however there are some examples of agencies applying ABW features in their work environments.

The benefits of ABW in the private sector has been well documented, with pioneers such as Macquarie Bank and Commonwealth Bank.  The big banks have been joined by IT companies, other financial institutions and professional service firms over the past 2 years. This model of ABW is a workplace strategy that provides people with a choice of activity settings/work locations for a variety of workplace activities.   

JLL’s Head of Government Business, James Tonkin said, “Commonwealth Government agencies should consider challenging the existing work styles that have been in place in many instances for over 30 years.

“Technology is facilitating new ways of working that offers greater flexibility and mobility for employees, whilst at the same time the opportunity to reduce cost for an organisation.

“A new target was introduced in July 2013 under PRODAC, requiring that all Commonwealth Government agencies reduce their occupational density target for useable office accommodation from 16 square metres or less per occupied workpoint  to 14 square metres.  This new target, combined with continued funding cuts, applies even more pressure to agencies to develop cost efficient real estate strategies.

“The Flexible and Efficient Workplace Design Guidance was released by the Department of Finance in September 2013 to help drive agencies to incorporate more efficient and effective workplace design, so this encourages more flexible working styles.

“Commonwealth Government agencies are required to meet a minimum 4.5 star NABERS rating for both base building and for the fit out, with exemptions for smaller tenancies and shorter leases.  ABW can help agencies meet their requirements in terms of fitout through reduced footprint, lower energy usage, less reliance on paper and reduced printing volumes.

“Another benefit an ABW model can provide is to allow agencies to become more nimble when organisational change is announced, for example a Government reshuffle, Agency co-location or a new project announcement that requires increased staffing.  ABW gives agencies the ability to add and contract headcount without expanding or shrinking floor space.

“Rather than moving to the extremes of the IT sector, the Government sector could consider a hybrid workplace that offers the option of working individually in a quiet space or working with their colleagues in open, collaborative team environments.

‘It is important to note that ABW is not a one size fits all solution.  First, a government agency must decide if ABW is the right workplace strategy.  It is possible to create a successful hybrid model, where for instance the traditional office style is retained for senior levels and an ABW work environment for the younger graduates is created.  ABW can be started in just one area of a business.

“Different kinds of unassigned work spaces such as work stations, touchdown spaces, privacy rooms, open project spaces, team rooms, lounge rooms, cafeterias can all facilitate better utilisation of the office space,” said Mr Tonkin.

The JLL paper examines the results of Time Utilisation studies in the public and private sector.  It estimates at any one time, 30-40% of traditional office space is vacant due to annual leave, sick leave or employees working from a remote location.

Mr Tonkin said, “Based on the results of these studies, on a portfolio of 100,000 square metres (which equates to approximately 6,000 employees), the savings in office space requirements could add up to something in the order of $10 million per year.  This scenario makes ABW worth considering.

“There are some challenges for ABW for the public sector, but these can be worked through at the individual agency case to bring about the desired outcomes of a more flexible working environment for staff and cost savings from a reduced office footprint required.

“Technology is a key issue for the public sector, as supporting technologies like wireless networks are vital to the success of an ABW workplace strategy.  Concerns have been raised about security of data, but these can be mitigated by implementing strong security measures to address these risks.  The Department of Finance has published a list of considerations that need to be addressed when an agency implements a mobile work strategy, so this already mitigates some of the challenges.

“Access to capital is also a real constraint for many government agencies and presents a challenge due to the large upfront investment involved in refitting space for ABW.  However, agencies do need to balance the up-front investment with the cost efficiencies over the life of the lease, which can be significant.

‘Thus, the best time for a government agency to adopt an ABW strategy is prior to a major lease expiry.  In order to accommodate this, an agency’s property leasing strategy needs to be aligned with their fit-out program,” said Mr Tonkin.

The JLL paper outlines Key Drivers of considering ABW for Commonwealth Government Agencies:
Cost efficiency:   Increases space utilisation and minimises real estate costs which is an important consideration given Commonwealth Government agencies have typically seen a decrease in funding over the past four years
Flexibility and Efficiency:  Supports the occupational density target established by the Commonwealth Government, of 14 square metres of usable office area per occupied workpoint
Future proofing:  Enables quick responses where functions are transferred via organisational change or Machinery of Government change
Sustainability:  In accordance with the EEGO Policy, Commonwealth Government agencies are required to meet a minimum 4.5 star NABERS rating for both base building and for the fit out.  Buildings with tenancy areas of less than 2,000 sqm and leases for under 2 years are exempt
Innovation:  Fosters creativity via collaboration across agencies and functions which could include co-location of agencies
Talent:  Meets the multi-generational needs of an agency’s employee base.  Governments will find themselves disadvantaged as adoption of ABW increases in the private sector if they cannot provide an attractive environment, equipped with cutting-edge technology and innovative workspaces