Create transformative innovation

Empowerment 101

In the old days, offices were organised hierarchically. Management typically occupied the top floor. The lower your floor number, the further down the organisational chart you were.

Empowerment 101

However, a new way of organising workplaces is emerging. Activity-based working brings teams together in flexible workspaces that accommodate collaboration but also offer workspaces where people can work individually.

“It’s changing the traditional office,” explains Telstra senior business consultant Stuart Kirkby. “It’s about ensuring that people have engaging workspaces for performing specific tasks.”

Making the transition to activity-based working isn’t just about creating a funky new office. It’s a journey that everyone embarks on and moves through together.

So, how can you make that journey?

1) Understand why you’re making the journey

Activity-based working is just one component of employee empowerment. “It’s an enabler,” explains Kirkby. “It’s not a driver – strategically you need to be careful not to blend enablement with empowerment.”

In Kirkby’s experience, simply setting aside space in the office and buying some cool new furniture won’t empower your teams. It will, however, allow teams who are empowered to work more effectively.

2) Ownership

Telstra’s director of unified communications and collaboration practice, Gwilym Funnell, believes people are empowered when they have a say in the outcome of the task on which they are working.

“The most important part of empowerment is ownership of developing the outcome you’re trying to achieve rather than just delivering the outcome,” Funnell says.

This can be challenging as the strategy may have been developed and dictated by higher levels of management. “It’s really making sure that anybody who’s working on something feels that they do actually own the decision of how to do it,” Funnell adds. “That’s one of the key starting points.”

3) Flexibility

Activity-based working requires a flexible view of how and when people work. For companies working across multiple time zones using skills from many disciplines at different times, it doesn’t make sense to embark on an activity-based workplace and expect everyone to work a conventional nine-to-five day.

Team members need to be able to move in and out of the activity-based workspace as needed. That means managers should be goal-oriented rather than attendance-focused.

4) Incremental changes

More than 2500 years ago, Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu said “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”. In other words, long processes need to be executed in user-friendly chunks.

“You can make a gentle shift to being goals or outcomes-based,” Kirkby explains. “You don’t have to suddenly let go and make the change in 12 months.”

To empower people, managers need to create a working environment in which trust, respect and freedom are key values. People need to be taken on the journey so they can assimilate the internal changes they need to make in order to accommodate the workplace changes.

It’s really making sure that anybody who’s working on something feels that they do actually own the decision of how to do it.”

– Director of Telstra’s Unified Communications and Collaboration Practice, Gwilym Funnell

5) Celebrate the wins

“The more people see the behaviour of empowered teams, the more infectious it becomes,” Funnell says. As people see the benefits and success, their understanding of activity-based working increases.

“People learn not just from lessons and being told what they need to do, but from observing,” says Funnell. “Raise the visibility of the cultural change and look at the teams that are doing it well and those that are less successful. Then work out how to help those that are not doing as well.”


Creating a single strategy for people, workspace and technology transformation:
  • Activity based working is a potential component of a Future Ways of Working (FWoW) strategy, but every business is different
  • FWoW aligns culture, work practices and the tools people need with the strategic goals of the business
  • A FWoW strategy helps organisations to improve core performance whilst responding to the changing needs and expectations of their workforce – increasingly staff expect to be empowered, and allowed to work flexibly.

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