In pictures: Getting the IT right for activity-based working

IT has played an important role in making ABW work at Jones Lang LaSalle's 420 George Street office in Sydney

Photos by Ian Sharp.

Photos by Ian Sharp.

Real estate services firm Jones Lang LaSalle moved into its current Sydney office at 420 George Street more than three years ago. As part of that move, the organisation transitioned to activity-based working.

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The transition has boosted opportunities for working and collaborating in new ways but it has not been without its challenges, says Andrew Clowes. Clowes is the head of IT at JLL and responsible for providing the technology for making ABW work.

JLL has dubbed the ABW system used at 420 George Street 'WorkSmart@420'. The concept "is based on fit for purpose work environments," Clowes says.

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The building itself is a five-star Green Star rated building and the office's sustainability credentials are highlighted in reception. JLL occupies three floors, which are linked by a stairwell (the stairwell is a "critical part of the design," Clowes says).

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The office is free of assigned desks. Instead, JLL employees can sit where they like within a home zone. "People have home zones where they tend to work with their team but they can sit anywhere within that zone," Clowes says. "And if you're working on a project then you can obviously regroup to a project area to work."

There are two styles of workstation: A more conventional desk and a bench style.

In addition to individual workspaces there are a variety of spaces for collaboration and more formal style meeting rooms, which can be booked through Exchange.

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Evoko Room Manager displays the status of a room — if it's free, currently in use or shortly to be used for a meeting.

There are also unbookable "hush rooms" that can be used for making calls. "You can just jump in, make a call, do whatever you need to do," Clowes says.

There are no formal rules around using the hush rooms but they're designed to be used for short periods (there are no monitors to attach your notebook to, for example) and there's an expectation that people won't use them as a de facto office.

The JLL office uses Cisco wireless for networking — an essential part of the shift away from desktop PCs. Before moving to 420 George Street, the device mix was around 70 per cent desktop PC and 30 per cent laptops.

“When we moved into here we got rid of the PCs and converted everyone to laptops,” Clowes says. "Every desk is fitted with a power pack and a standard monitor," the CIO adds.

JLL employees also get an allowance that allows then to "buy the most appropriate device for them". "So we give everyone a laptop – company owned, fully managed fully supported – and then we say ‘Look if you feel you need an iPad and a phone get that. If you want a BlackBerry, get a BlackBerry. You get what works for you.'"

Because ABW involves a workforce that will move around, wireless is vital.

"You’ve got to be mobile, you’ve got to be laptop-based," Clowes says. "You’ve got to have wireless. And you’ve got to actually increase your bandwidth – which we’ve done. Because whilst you can block some stuff you find that actually people have an expectation that you’re not going to block too much. So you’ve just got to deal with the bandwidth issues."

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Another important role for IT has been delivering adequate storage. At JLL employees had to adjust to a drop from around three lineal metres of physical storage space each to 30cm of lineal storage space, Clowes says. Employees each have a locker for storage.

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One result has been a steep increase in electronic storage demand, with employees frequently scanning documents to retain a copy. JLL has a distributed file-print server environment, which means that multiple copies of documents will sometimes be retained.

Clowes says that for about 18 months the IT team has been using Box for storage, which has largely solved the problem of keeping multiple versions of documents. The CIO expects the rest of the firm to progressively move to using Box as well.

“Our file-print servers have probably got another cycle, but we want to be off local file-print servers,” Clowes says.

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JLL has deployed an Avaya VoIP system nationally. Employees can log in to the desk phone at a workstation and log out at the end of the day or when they need to move to another desk.

Another tool the office relies on is Citrix's suite of GoToMeeting SaaS applications. "We use GoToMeeting predominantly for large group-based collaboration," Clowes.

"For instance we have a vid con weekly with the team around the country for all of IT. Our facility management team, which is a very large corporate solutions group, they do a lot of their training using GoToTraining and a smaller number using the GoToWebinar component of that.

"We like that because we don’t have any infrastructure support. It’s open up, dial in and bang you’re done. That sort of suits our technology direction – which is we don’t want to run the hardware, we just want to use the tool."

For one-on-one collaboration, Microsoft Lync is used. JLL was in the process of implementing Lync when Computerworld visited.

"We're just implementing Lync here and have presence available on Outlook," Clowes says. JLL had also just finished migrating to Office 365.

Although email is now mostly in the cloud, a small on-premise Exchange environment has been retained for dealing with clients that have particular regulatory requirements around data, such as financial institutions.

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The shift to ABW has seen printing slashed, which has helped both with the office's green credentials and with cutting costs.

"All of our printing is card-activated," Clowes says. Canon's uniFLOW printer management platform has been implemented to support ABW.

"We reduced our print costs by about 30 per cent instantly by implementing that. We used to have trays of uncollected printing — that's gone."

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JLL's print fleet has at least halved overall, and in Sydney the number of devices went from around 26 to eight. uniFLOW allows an employee to print in one office then collect it in an entirely different office.

One misconception around ABW is that it's a cheaper way of working, Clowes says. Some organisations might see it as just a way of saving on floorspace, but to do it right requires a significant investment.

"The payoff is that you can work in a whole lot of different of ways," Clowes says.

Clowes cites a global survey conducted by JLL that showed a big disconnect between where value is created for businesses and the activities on which employees end up spending a large portion of their time.

"People were spending 42 per cent of their time on emailing but it actually creates 6 per cent of the value," he says. The areas that created significant amounts of value were collaboration and time spent thinking.

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"Therefore having collaboration spaces and having quiet spaces actually provide the two highest pieces of value, in terms of your work day," Clowes says. "Feedback from staff is that we work a lot better because we have facilitated those sorts of things."

The transition to ABW involved a degree of adjustment, Clowes says. There was a carefully managed induction process that explained how ABW worked. Staff needed to be taught to log in and out of the VoIP handsets, for example. A purpose-built app helped with the transition.

Clowes says one piece of advice he has for IT teams that are helping with a transition to ABW is to think carefully about capacity.

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“You’ve got to oversize the environment,” Clowes says. “You’ve got to oversize because the population can be plus or minus 25 per cent of what you think it’s going to be. That affects bandwidth, it affects storage and it affects refresh cycles, it affects MDF usage – all those things are affected."

Photos by Ian Sharp.

Follow Rohan on Twitter: @rohan_p

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