Tax & AccountingFinanceComplianceMarch 01, 2018

The opportunity for internal audit teams in activity based working

Globally, organizations are responding to changes in global trends in the workforce, the impact of new and innovative technologies by exploring new ways employees work and interact. This is also driven by organizations’ need to reduce costs and manage risks in new and innovative ways – management is realizing that work is what you do and not where you go.

Technology and innovation are increasingly able to smoothly bringing together talent, resources, opportunities and ideas, on demand. Employees are engaging in new ways and are embracing the benefits of Activity Based Working (ABW) from the range of work setting options – meeting rooms, focus rooms, collaboration spaces, and webinar rooms - all bundled with the latest high speed technology and innovation. As part of this design, sit-to-stand desks are challenging prolonged sitting which is proving detrimental to our health.

New and modern activity based work spaces are now aimed to suit the activity, to help increase focus and concentration and improve collaboration across teams. This workplace design is driven by increasing efficiencies for the organizations, while offering flexibility for employees, and creates “chance encounters” by design.

Each day you sit (or stand) next to someone new, from outside your department, business unit or team. Your path to your desk or to get your cup of coffee is non-routine. This increases the chances of unplanned encounters with people from across your organization.

Is there an opportunity within ABW for internal audit departments?

Internal audit performance thrives on professional and business knowledge and professional relationships. Within ABW there is an opportunity to leverage the design, proximity of people and our inherent social human nature.

ABW has some rules, which are an important part as with all parts of our society – based on mutual respect and a sense of community at work - daily desk clear-up, no talking loudly, respecting focus area, not eating your lunch at your desk, and maximizing the design layout for your productivity - so if you are using the sit-to-stand desk, don't just sit (unlock the health benefits) and if you prefer to sit, find another location and leave this type of desk free for someone else.

However, with all our embracing of ABW there are a few unwritten rules that evolve and are soon impressed upon, that can sometimes depart from the core founding principles of ABW. At the core, ABW fosters the belief that where you sit or where you do your work, does not matter. In this way it also dispels age-old notions that you had to be seen, for your manager to have comfort that you are in fact working.

Clusters of open activity are known as “neighborhoods”. Focus rooms, collaboration spaces, touch down spaces or break rooms are distributed on this basis. Neighborhoods are a design concept and there is a danger in misusing neighborhood’s as a seating chart, by compelling audit and compliance teams to sit in a particular “neighborhood” – and creating a default location for the Internal Audit team. This could be a final clutch at holding onto a part of the traditional workplace design. However, fully embracing ABW for its merits presents an opportunity to leverage the neighborhood concept to improve communication elements and thereby internal audit performance.

In the Harvard Business Review article Workspaces That Move People (Ben Waber, 2014) highlights Alex Pentland’s three key elements of successful communication that affects team performance, which is relevant to Internal Audit teams:

  1. Energy – interactions with more people overall
  2. Engagement – interactions within the team
  3. Exploration- the interactions with those outside their team

Those with higher levels of energy, engagement and exploration have translated to higher performance, so the challenge is to increase these for auditors and ABW facilitates this perfectly, by creating chance encounters, and increasing interactions.

For audit management there is an opportunity to abandon the “neighborhood watch” and let your audit team fully embrace Activity Based Working encourage them to find a new location across the workplace, increase the three key elements of successful communication and realise the following benefits:

  1. Improve professional relationships
    Auditors will have the opportunity to meet people across the organization every day, including and importantly those outside their normal course of work, and establish new lines of communication.
  2. Improve business knowledge
    Embracing ABW allows auditors to sit beside and engage with staff at the coal face of operations and increase your business knowledge from chance encounters, interactions and communications.
  3. Elevate the profile of Internal Audit
    Daily interactions with staff across various departments, will work towards changing any negative perceptions of internal audit staff. Internal Audit staff will no longer be seen as “those who sit in the Ivory Tower", or those who appear disconnected from the business. These unplanned interactions, may be the opportunity for Internal Audit staff to share with others the value that Internal Audit adds to the organization.

If your organization is currently using the Activity Based Working model, or you will do so in the future, it's time to get out of the neighborhood, or plan to and fully embrace the hidden benefits of modern office design.

Works Cited
Ben Waber, J. M. (2014, October). Workspaces that Move People. Harvard Business Review.

Sio Naidoo
Product Manager, TeamMate Asia Pacific

Sio Naidoo is the Product Manager Asia Pacific at Wolters Kluwer TeamMate. In this current role, he is responsible for TeamMate audit technology continually aligning with the needs of the Asia Pacific region.