The tech behind Fonterra’s move to activity-based working

Mobility and collaboration the key pillars for Fonterra’s ABW transformation

Many of the headline shifts to activity-based working (ABW) have been by banks and other companies in the financial services sector. But across the ditch in New Zealand, dairy company Fonterra this year completed a significant ABW transformation as part of the relocation of its head office.

Activity-based working is similar in some respects to hot desking, in that employees are not allocated a fixed desk to work from every day. Like hot desking it can cut the real estate footprint of offices with heavily mobile workforces.

However, ABW also has a strong focus on delivering greater opportunities for collaboration through the incorporation of tailored spaces for different sized groups of employees to work together on projects.

The idea is that depending on the particular activity an employee is engaged in at any point in time, he or she can work side-by-side with relevant co-workers in an appropriate environment.

For Fonterra, the decision to consider ABW was initially prompted by the expiry this year, without right of renewal, of the lease on its former head office in Auckland.

By any standards Fonterra is a significant sized company – and by NZ standards it’s mammoth. Worldwide Fonterra has some 16,000 employees and the dairy company collects some 22 billion litres of milk every year. In 2015 it reported revenue of NZ$18.8 billion

So the relocation of the company’s key Auckland office, even sans a shift to ABW, was never going to be a simple process. But for Fonterra, the move was an opportunity as well as a challenge says Mike Saint, who was the technology stream lead on the company’s ‘Ways of Working Project’.

Three years ago the company began exploring options for a new central Auckland office. Many options were either not in the right location — Fonterra wanted to stay close to the existing corporate office — or not large enough.

The company started talking to other organisations that had implemented ABW, many of which at the time were banks, Saint says. When Fonterra started to lean towards ABW, it engaged Veldhoen + Company — a Dutch ABW consultancy.

Fonterra approached property company Goodman, which agreed to construct a purpose-built HQ for the dairy company and is now its landlord. After a site was selected by Fonterra from four offered by Goodman, a decision was taken that, as well as moving the main corporate office, there would be a process of consolidation.

Fonterra decided to merge five individual offices into the new building. Three of those offices — the head office and two nearby IT offices — will be shut down. It was also decided to bring in management teams previously based at manufacturing sites at Takanini and Tip Top.

“The intention was to bring all of our people together so that they could all be living the same values and collaborating more,” Saint says. “We had a lot people that were in quite disparate sites that didn’t ever see each other.”

Before the move Fonterra was using in the region of 12 square metres per person across its offices; constructing a new building for the 1600 people slated to use the office would be a significant endeavour if that ratio was maintained.

“Looking at an ABW implementation, we planned to reduce that from 12 square metres down to eight square metres per person, while still giving people a lot more freedom and choice about how, when and where they’re going to work,” Saint says.

The build, fit-out and move process took two-and-a-half years. The first wave of people moved into the new office on 29 February. Employees were moved in in waves of around 400 people over a period of five weeks. The process was finished in early April.

Mobility and collaboration

The relocation project had three streams. The first was the property stream, which was supported by the technology stream, which in turn was backed by a behavioural stream.

The description for the IT stream role was delivering “simple, consistent and reliable technology” supporting the property stream.

“The big levers with moving to an activity-based working environment are around collaboration and mobility,” Saint says.

“The key things we had to deliver were a technical environment that allowed people to be mobile and that allowed them to collaborate effectively regardless of place and time.”

Although there was already a significant proportion of notebooks and tablets among employees, “we pushed that to the extreme,” Saint says. “We only have probably half a dozen desktops in our environment now. Everybody’s got either a notebook or a tablet device.”

Those devices will work at any of Fonterra’s locations in New Zealand or overseas, he adds.

Fonterra rolled out Targus’ universal ACP71AU docking stations to support the devices, choosing to steer clear of proprietary docking stations so the dairy company could more easily shift to a new notebook brand. Targus offered design advice for the construction of desk areas for the new office.

Fonterra also approached the vendor for advice on solving a monitor configuration issue that cropped up during pre-move testing.

The dual-monitor configuration would need to be reset every time a new employee used an individual desk. In response, Targus developed a new software offering, Targus Monitors, which allows a user’s preferences to be stored.

For telephony, Fonterra rolled out Lync Enterprise Voice from Microsoft.

“We have IP-based telephony now — we don’t have any fixed line telephones at all; we have no PABXes,” Saint says. “I have one phone number regardless of where I am in the world.”

As part of the ABW shift, Fonterra also moved to follow-me printing through Equitrac, which was delivered through one of the dairy company’s partners, Fuji Xerox.

“That allows us to do walk-up printing or follow-me printing: You print to the cloud, walk up to a device and swipe your card and then get your printing.”

In addition, a rollout of OCR technology means that now employees can scan their documents and convert them to a text searchable digital format.

“That meant we could reduce a lot of our paper dependencies,” Saint says. “We had a whole stream around paper independence, which was to reduce the amount of paper storage but also reliance on paper and paper-based processes.”

Fonterra reduced its paper storage by a massive 55 per cent and cut its printing by 25 per cent, with the latter saving “hundreds of thousands of dollars” a year, Saint says.

Fonterra passport

Read more: From cow to cup: Fonterra aims for total dairy provenance

Something different about Fonterra’s ABW implementation was that the technology stream oversaw some of the deliverables that might traditionally be found in a facilities stream, including the office’s building management system and access control security system.

As part of the project, Fonterra shifted to a single global ID card system. In the past, the company had problems with people moving from site to site due to a variety of security systems.

“People had a stack of ID cards,” Saint explains.

“We’ve moved now to a single system: A single Fonterra passport which is integrated into an SAP system. When a person gets on-boarded in SAP, they automatically get provisioned into all of the IT systems they need as well as all the security systems.

“It means their access card can be enabled or disabled automatically without having manual intervention — that’s been a really big win for us.”

“That single Fonterra ID card not only gives us access to buildings, it also gives us follow-me printing on our printers, it gives us access to lockers, gives us our staff discount in the cafeteria — there’s a whole bunch of things we can use that ID card for now,” Saint says


As part of the project, Fonterra set up a two-floor pilot site in Auckland’s CBD.

Read more: 'Invisible' payments key to mobile success, says Braintree

“We fitted that out with all of the technology, all the work settings and furniture, everything – right down to coffee machines and cleaning services,” Saint says.

Three groups of 100 employees were rolled through the Experience Test Centre.

“We got them to come in and live and breathe that environment and then they could give us feedback on how it performed,” Saint says.

“That allowed us to make good technology decisions about what to purchase for the new building, but it also meant that we could test and trial a lot of the processes that we wanted to move people to. We also did all our training from that site as well.”

With the move to the new Fonterra corporate headquarters only completed last month, it’s still early days. Although ABW involves a significant cultural shift for organisations, the signs are positive for Fonterra’s transition, Saint says.

Fonterra has been surveying employees since they moved to the new office. “We’ve got a 98 per cent satisfaction rating from our employees that have moved,” Saint says. “So 98 per cent of them said they would not go back to a non-activity-based working environment given the choice.

“That’s really a resounding success and we’ve had great feedback from people about systems and processes and the environment that we’ve created for them here. Because it is beautiful — it’s a fantastic environment and people really, really enjoy it.”

Image credit: Fonterra
Image credit: Fonterra
Image credit: Fonterra
Image credit: Fonterra
Image credit: Fonterra
Image credit: Fonterra

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