Activity-based working delivers flexibility, collaboration for home builder

Mobility, virtualization key to Porter Davis ABW transition

Victoria-based residential volume builder Porter Davis Homes has consolidated five regional locations into a single office and undertaken a shift to an activity-based working model.

Porter Davis has operated for around a decade and half and builds about 1600 homes per year, said Warren Arbaitman, group IT manager at the builder.

Arbaitman said there were a number of factors behind the centralisation and shift to ABW. Although there was an obvious financial saving from the consolidation, the builder was also seeking to better retain the millennials that comprise an increasingly large portion of its workforce.

“The motivation was really to create a centralised office where that would attract high-end staff and incentivise them to stay by making a flexible workplace that would breed innovation, collaboration and those kind of things,” the IT manager said.

“We’re ever expanding, ever looking for new market opportunities and we’ve become quite an innovative company,” he said.

“We’re trying to use innovation to get that market lead; as you can imagine in the building market there’s a lot of competitors.”

The new office is based in Melbourne’s Docklands.

Porter Davis has the equivalent of 500 full-time employees and even before the shift a significant number — around 100 — frequently worked away from the builder’s offices, including salespeople working out of display homes and site supervisors.

The amount of off-site working meant that office space was not always well-utilised, Arbaitman said.

“A lot of the time people weren’t actually in their physical office because they were having to travel between regions and travel to our display homes,” he said.

Implementing an ABW approach and ensuring that employees had the flexibility to work in the office, on-site or at home has involved a significant IT rollout. That has included deploying laptops to employees that previously used thin clients or desktops and a shift to Microsoft Lync for communications.

“Activity-based working means you work where the activity dictates,” Arbaitman said. “We needed to enable people working from home and working within different teams in the office space.”

Arbaitman leant on Citrix technology for the mobility side of the transition to ABW, rolling out the vendor’s XenDesktop and XenApp virtualization offerings.

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“We couldn’t afford to go and restructure our whole infrastructure” because of the additional complexity it would add to ABW project, Arbaitman said

Porter Davis also tapped Citrix offerings to help cut paper.

“Previously in the typical setup you’d have a desk and you’d have a shelf full of paperwork; but you’re moving to a completely mobile, hot-desked office. The first challenge we needed to overcome was the paper,” he said.

The home builder employed a combination of Citrix’s ShareFile and its electronic signature platform RightSignature for the job, he said.

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“They enabled us to digitse customer-facing contracts and things like that so we could keep all of it electronic. With RightSignature we don’t need to print out thick contracts and sit down with clients and have them sign every page.

“We can use RightSignature to get back a legal copy that we can store electronically. Basically that just wiped out the majority of our paper overnight.”

Porter Davis moved into its new Docklands office in November so it’s still relatively early days for the shift to ABW.

Arbaitman said there were positive signs, however, when it came to boosting collaboration among teams, and increased flexibility delivered through the mobility program has boosted productivity.

Bringing the regional offices together has also boosted the standardisation of processes, he added.

Arbaitman said he was looking at videoconferencing to increase collaboration further as well as potentially using alternatives to email such as Slack for internal communication.

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