What is ABW really about?

Reflections from our first Australasia Masterclass.

Since I can remember, we at Veldhoen + Company have wrestled with a major challenge – how do we course correct the myriad of myths about ABW that were impacting the workplace industry? Seems like everywhere we turned, there was another horror story about a poor ABW experience. All of us know about or have read an article about the nightmares of open plan and ABW; but behind the media frenzy (let’s face it, the media loves a bad news story), these articles weren’t digging into how these programs were implemented, and more importantly, why. That, to me, has been a huge gap in how we see and experience the successful and unsuccessful programs. As the innovators of ABW, this continues to concern us. So at the beginning of 2017, our team began to think about how we get more involved with the conversation and educate the industry on how success can and should be approached.

Thus, the Australasia Veldhoen + Company masterclass was born.

Our team in the Netherlands have been doing masterclasses for decades now. Given the number of ABW workplaces and maturity of workplace effectiveness in the market, these masterclasses have been very well attended but not as accessible to our AU and NZ based clients. After our first program, Macquarie Bank’s Shelley Street building, launched in 2009, there are now numerous examples (both good and bad) of ABW workplaces in AU and NZ. Australia’s first masterclass was a two-day experience designed for project team members who were either considering embarking on an ABW journey or were in the early stages of the journey. We wanted to keep the experience intimate, capping participation at 12 people max. Within a few weeks, we had a waitlist for our September session, and our registered participants surprisingly spanned the globe from AU, NZ, Japan, and South Africa! This told us that the market was craving knowledge, and we were keen to share what our experience has taught us.

The core components for the two days

As a facilitator, I immediately raised my hand to design our two-day masterclass. I wanted us to tackle what was important for us in not only closing the gap in the market, but inspiring people around the possibilities of ABW. It was important that the design felt experiential, participative, and inclusive of multiple points of view, resulting in the core components below:

  • Educating people on what ABW truly is, addressing the misconceptions and the difference between ABW and its distant cousin (or maybe crazy uncle?) the hot desk
  • Spending time helping people understand the linkage between ABW and business strategy. Done well, an ABW workplace should be an enabler of the business’s strategy and objectives. Thus, we spent a portion of our two days talking about defining the organisation’s workplace vision and case for change
  • Enabling people to see it in action via two hosted tours at two of our clients – Goodman and Charterhall. Our clients not only walked our participants through their workspace but also shared the story of the organisation’s journey in implementing ABW, making the linkage between business strategy and how the physical space can act as a strategic enabler. This really landed for people who were able to see it in action, find inspiration in other people’s journeys, and provide positive examples of workplaces who committed the time and effort to getting it right and continuing to evolve their workplace concepts
  • Walking through an ABW implementation lifecycle to give our participants an appreciation for the entire journey and a realization of the work involved. Teams often underestimate the size and scope of change ABW introduces, and being well prepared and resourced is key to anticipating the level of engagement an organisation will need to transition to a new way of working.
  • Sharing knowledge and leveraging shared experiences was important to us. We harnessed the collective intelligence of many viewpoints, including those of the participants in the room, our entire Veldhoen + Company team (who throughout the two days, were involved in leading various workshops), speakers from outside organisations who had a meaningful and different view to share (including one speaker from the US who shared some ground-breaking work on strengthening relationships in the workplace), and a panel of project managers we’ve worked with in the past who shared lessons learned from the trenches

ABW Masterclass workshop ABW Masterclass Coffee ABW Masterclass group work

The participants’ reflections

Participants took away a ton of information – some sharing that they left with more questions than answers – an indication that begs the question that perhaps many organisations pursue ABW thinking they know most of the answers and how it should be done, but need to stay open to thinking more holistically and strategically about what they are truly trying to achieve. Others called out the tours, panel discussion, and the case for change workshop as their highlights. As one participant shared with us:

“Attending the inaugural Australasian ABW Masterclass (Sydney, 2017) was one of the most powerful experiential learning experiences I have had to date. The Veldhoen team bring you into their fold, sharing experience, knowledge, practical tools and advice (warts and all). Then they go one step further and provide the opportunity to also connect with clients who are on the ABW journey. The generosity of their clients with their time, open ‘home’ site visits and sharing of lessons learned and insight reflects on the powerful connecting this team builds when working with them. Would I recommend a Veldhoen masterclass? – absolutely! If you want to really understand context, approach (and yes the philosophy of new ways of working), this is a highly recommended experience. You will also gain tremendous insights from the collective intelligence in the group and make new connections (and yes even friendships). Yes it’s a full-on few days, but so value-filled you’ll come away primed for action and inspiration to deliver ABW and new ways of working in a meaningful and sustainable way.”   Siobhán Hanley | Director of Potential Work Wellbeing & The New Work Practice

We were humbled by the engagement of our participants and the relationships that were created in the short two days together. We also took away some learnings to improve and iterate an even better masterclass, which we will launch in March 2018. I, personally, took away so much from the experience, hosting so many globally curious minds and sharing in some laughs and frustrations with the big role each of us plays to contribute to a better world of work. Thank you to everyone who contributed to make it a great first masterclass experience!

If the masterclass has sparked your interest as a participant or as a speaker, get in touch! We’d love to hear from you and continue the conversation in the next session around how to successfully implement ABW.

More reading and events:

Allison Tsao
Australia & New Zealand Want to know more? Contact
+61 431 847 327 allison@veldhoencompany.com