How do you move over 1,200 people into a future-proofed hub of collaboration? That was the logistical and transformational challenge faced by Vodafone once the decision was made to consolidate three existing corporate HQs into one – a challenge that Vanessa Hicks, General Manager of HR for Vodafone, was to tackle from day zero.
“We’ve had our people spread across a number of offices for some time, and it hasn’t been ideal for creating a unified sense of collaboration. We wanted to bring all of our employees into one office – a new space that gave them a sense of pride in the brand, created a new way of working, and symbolised to the market that we are back.”
This decision was backed by extensive research from stakeholders (both internal and external) to inform how future ways of working can be built into a physical work environment, and how to maximise the benefit to Vodafone employees:
“We did a survey to our employees because it was really important to understand what’s important to them – how do they work today, how do they want to work, and how can we create an environment that supports that. We found only 39% of our employees were satisfied with the current office – there was a desire to work in a more collaborative environment, but the current space did not provide that opportunity.”
Designing Vodafone Central
Around this time, Vodafone approached Incorp (a strategic workspace company who had previously worked with the likes of PayPal, LinkedIn, Tesla, and Salesforce) to help translate this dream into a reality. Perry Gray, Incorp’s Managing Director, emphasised the core focus was on people, and that understanding their needs was a crucial input into the final design.
“[The brief] was open ended – and that was what excited us. Iñaki (Berroeta, CEO of Vodafone Australia) and the team had this hint of a new future – a new purpose for Vodafone that was kind of mysterious. We really saw this as a phoenix project in terms of celebrating the resurgence of the brand, galvanising the team, and repositioning the organisation to show Vodafone is really going to shake up the industry.”
Gray and the team at Incorp focused on four environments that organisations work within to align these values with the overall corporate vision.
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Incorp was tasked with creating an environment that was not only future-proofed, but one that allowed for many different workplace settings. It coincided with Vodafone’s shift into activity based and flexible ways of working, with employees empowered to work in the environment that suits them best for the task at hand.
“The whole idea of activity based working is that as an individual, I’m empowered to make decisions about who, where, when, and in what style of environment I need to work to get the best outcome. I need to be able to find the people I work with best, and I need to be able to sit in the environment that will support that activity in that place and time.” – Perry Gray, Managing Director, Incorp
While still a relatively new concept, the approach is fast revealing benefits: a study from Samsung found that where 28% of Australian organisations employ a form of activity based working, close to 66% will by 2020. The average number of employees participating in activity-based work will increase from 27% in 2015 to 40% in 2020. Some 43% of Australian organisations see smart offices (employing Internet of Things and cloud technology) as the future of activity based working. And importantly, 61% of organisations see activity-based environments as more valuable than a traditional office workspace.
Ms. Hicks describes one of the biggest features of the new office – an interconnected staircase that connects every level of the office – as paramount to these ideals, connecting people through physical space on top of technology.
The technology overlay was essential to powering these flexible ways of working. Every meeting room, office space, and community area is interconnected with cutting edge communication tech that allows workers both inside and out of the office to be ‘in the room’. This allows for the creation of ‘virtual teams’ unbridled by location and enabled by technology.
Keep it flexible
Enabling an activity-based philosophy was a vital aspect of the office design, while allowing technology to power a flexible work policy underpinned a core mantra of a future-proof work environment.
Enabled by technology, flexible work practices – including alternate hours and working from home – encourage increased engagement from employees, greater retention, and a smoother transition between generational working styles. Flexible arrangements remove the anxiety of employees facing a significant lifestyle change, creating an attractive environment for senior employees (including women in senior positions and those returning from maternity leave).
A study sponsored by Vodafone UK found that businesses, including Lloyds Banking Group and Cisco, discovered flexible working arrangements directly improved efficiency and productivity. Up to 74.5% of employees said their output improved when working from home, while 64% of those surveyed said flexible arrangements would have a ‘significant’ or ‘huge’ impact on their quality of life.
If flexible working arrangements were made more available in Australia, some 73% of older working Australians could remain in the workforce – adding 2.1 million potential work years to productivity – akin to $134.8 billion yearly or 1.3% of our GDP). The general workforce could cut commuting time by roughly 8.2 million hours a week – saving $108.7 million in travelling costs weekly. Stats this significant would explain why the Australian government’s goal is to double our level of flexible work by 2020, so 12% of Australian employees have some flexible arrangement with their employers.
Working flexibly allows employees to better meet customer needs, too. It allows for on-demand operation in a digital environment. As customers across the board expect on-demand service, companies need to be agile to handle this expectation and offer competitive service across all channels.
With an understanding of these benefits, Incorp designed the space to maximise freedom and flexibility across every floor. “We know that while flexibility is an important part of any organisation, what’s just as important is for people to connect, belong and to feel a part of something bigger than themselves. So what you want to try and do is create a reason for people to come together and share their genius amongst each other.”
The future of the workspace
The opening of Vodafone Central marks the beginning of a new chapter – not just for Vodafone employees, but for the customer. We know that stronger efficiencies and happier employees create better, more lasting work that will challenge the telco industry from top to bottom. So where to from here?
“The office will continue to evolve as the business does, but we’ve made such a leap in terms of this environment. What will evolve is technology – being a tech company we wanted to showcase our technology to our employees so that we can drive that better experience for our customers. – Vanessa Hicks, General Manager of HR, Vodafone Australia
Indeed, Incorp have some ‘radical’ ideas about where office technology is going – from smart glass that can adjust outdoor brightness levels, to sensors that can detect your preferred seating and temperature levels, to heat mapping that can sense stress levels in conversations – all cross-referenced with social data to gain a better understanding of what’s happening in an organisation as it happens. “This isn’t science fiction. It’s happening now.”
For now, Vodafone Central was built to form a stronger bond with our employees, and for Ms. Hicks, this is only the beginning. “This building is a statement of where we are as a brand and the confidence in ourselves and the market. This is a statement of us going forward.”
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