Lessons from NAB about your future, digital workplace

WORKTECH is a global conference series that covers the future of work at the intersection of place and technology. I attended WORKTECH for the first time last year, where I presented on the relationship between workplace design and enterprise social networks (ESNs).

NAB’s Digital Workplace at Docklands

This year, WORKTECH was held at NAB’s new activity-based working (ABW) office building in Melbourne’s Docklands. Hidden behind Southern Cross Station, the building certainly has a “wow” factor when you see it for the first time. But what is more important is what is happening inside.

NAB Docklands

Rather than being a pure ABW design, the building designers talk about using a “matrix model“, so that the building performs around the organisation rather than the organisation around the building.

One of the most interesting features inside the building are the areas put aside for co-working by NAB customers and staff from other offices. The design also includes 4,000 square metres of community space. We heard that due to the building’s location, employees from other NAB offices in the city regularly visit this office.

While the role of NAB’s intranet and enterprise social network (Yammer) was understated in the presentations, clearly technology is critical success factor in this latest generation of ABW buildings and the work culture that necessarily goes with it.

During the last year, I have started to work with organisations looking for strategic advice about the role of collaboration technology as they start to plan office refits and relocations. This is a multi-dimensional issue to address, in terms of both:

  1. Practical enablers – this includes way-finding to both people and places, access to power and data for mobile devices, and providing staff with fit for purpose hardware and software (I think of these as flexible workplace hygiene factors).
  2. Employee engagement & work practices – organisations need to maintain cultural and work practice cohesion within an environment that supports an increasingly fluid work style.

Trust is cheaper than control

In terms of employee engagement, NAB’s journey with Yammer has been covered well before:

At WORKTECH, NAB commented that Yammer in particular allows them to connect people across the organisation and lets them see trends. NAB also explained that they dealt with work practice issues like maintaining confidentiality through a combination of self-discipline, clean desks and secure printing.

In my opinion, NAB’s physical workplace culture is very much reflected and reinforced by its online culture.

Don’t ignore connectivity issues

With the exception of the public areas, the designers of the NAB building appear to have done a great job of dealing with power – it requires a fine balancing act between getting the physical infrastructure in place and the details of where desks and other working areas will be placed.

NAB report WIFI issues

WIFI however appears to be much more of a work in progress – this should not be taken as a black mark against NAB, but rather I think we are generally underestimating the challenge of meeting and then maintaining effective WIFI and mobile data access for staff and visitors in flexible workplaces.

The future of technology in the workplace

Inside NAB Docklands

Personally I think there is still plenty of room for technology innovation at NAB’s office and similar fit outs, but I also understand the strategy of focusing on ease of use for staff. One opportunity is to better integrate their intranet and enterprise social network. I think in the short-to-medium term this is less of a technology challenge and more of a governance issue – “technology” and “workplace” are managed by separate areas, so who is responsible for this alignment?

The role of new technologies will instead be to overcome existing constraints in the physical environment. For example, one of the major gaps in way finding is the ability to find people. Some enterprise social networks already support a basic concept of geolocation. New approaches and technologies will soon go mainstream that will integrate the use of wearables and the Internet of Things (IoT) with intranets and enterprise social networks to create the “Quantified Enterprise”.

For example – Coworkr and Sociometric Solutions:

Coworkr app

While emerging solutions like Coworkr are on the face of it driven by tactical real-estate efficiencies, if we can adequately address privacy concerns then the side effects will provide massive strategic benefits in flexible workplaces.

Sociometric Badge

Other sophisticated technologies are also going mainstream, such as Sociometric Solutions. A commercial spin off from the MIT Media Laboratory, this wearable technology can capture face-to-face interactions, extract social signals from speech and body movement, and measure proximity and location of users.

When we consider how fast and quickly the iPhone and iPad have entered the workplace, riding a broader wave of technology consumerisation, technologies like Coworkr and Sociometric Badges are not as far fetched as you might imagine.  Our friends at Geyer (an interior design practice) are currently experimenting with Sociometric Solutions and we look forward to hearing more about its practical application.

Do you need help planning for the technologies, employee engagement and new work practices that will support your future workplace? Please talk to us.