Hot-desking gone haywire: Bankwest has to develop an app to locate missing staff

Bankwest’s enthusiastic adoption of “hot-desking” looked set to cause a headache, with the bank worried about staff going missing at the bank’s new corporate headquarters in Perth.

Under Bankwest’s flexible working model, which it refers to as “activity based working”, staff are no longer tied to a specific desk.  But the bank identified staff having problems finding computers across the 14 floors of the building as a result of the policy.

The solution came from the bank’s information technology department, which developed an app to track the bank’s workers called Locate my Colleague.

Whenever an employee sits at a desk and connects their computer, their location is signalled on Bankwest’s intranet.

“We developed some technology a few years back to track where people were connected to the network,” Bankwest chief information officer Andy Weir told The Financial Review.

“We have repackaged that so that now you can type in a name online and a colleague appears on the screen as a flashing icon.”

Hot-desking is viewed by many businesses as a cost-saving measure that can reduce floor space. However, productivity experts warn that employees who do not have personal belongings around them can be less productive.

Craig Knight, principal researcher and managing director of Prism, undertook some research where workers were observed while operating in “lean” environments.

When elements such as plants and personal photos were slowly added into the mix, productivity rose as much as 30%.

Knight warns any business that takes away these elements can hinder performance.

“This actually has the opposite effect intended,” he says. “If you give people a little bit of leniency and free space, you’ll see productivity actually increase by a significant amount.”

Knight’s warning accords with the experience of Chiat/Day, an advertising company in Los Angeles that in 2004 removed private cubicles for its 300 staff.

A 2009 Wired article described the effect of the move as “turf wars, kindergarten-variety subterfuge, incessant griping, management bullying, employee insurrections, internal chaos and plummeting productivity”.

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