Building a great workplace is hard work, but getting it right pays dividends.
Architecture and design consulting company AECOM faced this challenge 12 years ago when it looked to support its rapid growth with a global office construction project. The company designed and constructed new premises in Brisbane, Sydney, Perth and Auckland, and renovated offices around the world – locations include Los Angeles, New York, London, Hong Kong, and the United Arab Emirates.
But rather than begin with a focus on bricks and mortar, as most companies do, AECOM turned to the people who matter most – employees.
The expansion included the merger of several legacy companies and the co-location of teams that previously worked in separate offices within the same city. By tapping the creative powers of this staff, AECOM began a process that redefined the company’s culture.
“I think we’ve prioritised the use of technology in the workplace,” human resources director Australia New Zealand Helen Fraser says.
“AECOM recognises the way teams and individuals are working is less and less confined by physical location, and that technology is an evolving, and rapid, enabler of collaboration.”
The company invests in leadership development, with a focus on accountability, communication skills and the ability to write constructive feedback. These philosophies directly influence the design direction given to building engineers.
In a business where people are everything, employee engagement metrics have tracked consistent improvements and communication lines remain open.
Employees developed plans for creative, open office spaces with hubs and smaller rooms to accommodate and encourage different kinds of team-based work. The physical environment blends with IT to achieve the ideal combination of form and function.
“We have building-wide Wi-Fi, meaning our teams can work anywhere they feel comfortable,” Fraser says. “We make use of video-conferencing facilities in our offices to manage virtual teams and projects that span cities, states, countries and continents.
“Our internal social media platform – Chatter – facilitates discussion both locally at an office level, nationally at an Australia level, and internationally with AECOM’s 45,000 people spread across 150 countries.”
The company also takes steps to keep the network secure, even developing a mobile app for employees to record safety incidents and learn how to respond in the case of an incident.
The results of all these efforts are evident; in a business where people are everything, employee engagement metrics have tracked consistent improvements and communication lines remain open.
The company has also found a way to cater for different working styles, which in turn has improved collaborative problem solving skills. Fraser says the energised workforce is attracting new employees who are drawn to work on some of the largest projects in the world.
To keep things on track, the company’s annual engagement survey collects feedback on leadership, communications, workplace, supervision, retention intentions and discretionary effort.
“We also regularly measure our voluntary turnover figures and leaders are accountable for these metrics,” Fraser says.
“It is critical that leaders see how a positive workplace culture affects business performance. When there is commitment to improvement, the leaders then own the culture and changes to this culture.”
Coffee machines are like the old-fashioned water coolers. People chat around a coffee machine and that opens up communication lines.
Focus on innovation
Meanwhile, one of the project’s lasting impacts is a workforce culture that’s collectively attuned to improving business operations.
For example, one group of engineers studied the best ways to use tablets on the job. After some research, they concluded entering data directly into tablets would improve productivity and efficiency. The team prepared a formal business case to buy more tablets, which in turn was approved by management.
Fraser’s says this type of success comes from a focus on organic innovation, and looking for ways to integrate an organisation’s culture with the physical environment and connected technologies.
It’s even reached the point where coffee training takes centre stage for new employees.
“You get your barista training your first week here in our Brisbane office,” Fraser says. “People really like that. Coffee machines are like the old-fashioned water coolers. People chat around a coffee machine and that opens up communication lines.”
The perfect blend of technical precision and office culture.