Office Accommodation Under Threat



Early this week ASMOF and other health unions attended a presentation by Veldhoen + Company (‘Veldhoen’) at the NSW Ministry of Health (‘Ministry’) regarding Activity Based Working (‘ABW’). Veldhoen describes ABW as based on the principle that workspaces should be designed in accordance with the activities of workers, and contends that ABW “enables people to work with whomever they need, whenever they need, and wherever they need, to enable them to work more effectively with colleagues”.

A significant effort was made by Veldhoen to emphasise that ABW is not the same as open plan office spaces or hot desking, which has been the main concern of ASMOF and its members, however this concern was not alleviated by the presentation. For example, sample drawings were used to compare traditional open plan office spaces to ABW, and whilst they do differ, the concept is the same – both spaces do not include enclosed offices and therefore do not take into account the unique activities that are undertaken by Staff Specialists. Furthermore, Veldhoen was unable to advise of any other health organisations in world that have implemented ABW, nor were they able to provide any case studies of ABW being used in a clinical setting other than the Emergency Department of Blacktown Hospital.

The concerns of ASMOF have been further heightened by the draft Workspace Accommodation Policy (‘Policy’) that the Ministry has circulated for consultation, which is to replace the rescinded Office Accommodation Policy Directive PD2005_576 (‘Policy Directive’).

The draft Policy is to be read in conjunction with the NSW Government Fitout Design Principles (Office Workplace Accommodation) (‘Principles’), which sets out the requirements for new or upgraded fitouts of government commercial office accommodation.

In comparison to the rescinded Policy Directive, the draft Policy does not set out any requirements for office fitouts, rather it aims to explain how the standards set out in the Principles are to be applied, including the process for consultation. We note the consultation clause in the draft Policy is vague in that consultation is to occur “at a sufficiently early stage” and outcomes are to be communicated “as soon as practicable”, which is open to interpretation by the Health Organisation. Furthermore, whilst it is accepted that consent of staff should not be required in order for a Health Organisation to make changes to workspace accommodation, ASMOF is concerned that the draft Policy does not adequately resolve the issues that many Staff Specialists have experienced, which is that although they have been “consulted” through user groups, the impression that members have received is that they did not have any option other than ABW.

To fully understand the implications of the draft Policy on Staff Specialist office accommodation, reference must be made to the Principles. The purpose of the Principles is to meet the government’s objective of making all public service jobs flexible by 2019. The Principles state that flexible accommodation is about choice and allowing workers to choose from a variety of workplace settings based on the type of work that they do, echoing the principle of ABW. Indeed, the Principles require all government agencies to actively pursue ABW and to first test “other open plan office arrangements” before allowing enclosed offices (see section 3 of the Principles).

Section 4 of the Principles sets out the models that all new government accommodation projects must either comprise of. These models have been extracted below:

  1. Activity based planning – customised but shared modular workplace. Depending on the choice of the individual agency, each staff member may or may not have their own permanent workspace/workpoint.
  2. Universal planning – consistent in nature and provides one or a limited few sized work setting that is designed to provide all of the functional performance needs of the agency’s staff. Universal planning is a very effective planning technique for agencies that experience a high degree of churn and organisational change as the rearrangement of organisational groups can be achieved without the need for any change to the physical workplace.
  3. Hoteling – often mistaken with hot desking which is a non-bookable workplace, hoteling is the controlled and pre-arranged booking of specific work settings by individuals or groups in order to accommodate them for a given period of time or project

Section 5 of the Principles provides further explanation of some of the workplace setting terms such as collaboration hubs and touch down work-point.

We note sections 4 & 5 make no mention or reference to enclosed offices. It is not until section 6 that enclosed offices are briefly addressed and the following requirements are set out:

  • Enclosed offices must allow for use as a meeting room by general staff when vacant;
  • The maximum size is 15m2;
  • Must be located around building core and away from glazed facades; and
  • An open plan configuration must be first tested before an enclosed office will be allowed.

ASMOF has been invited to provide our comments on the draft Policy by mid-September 2018. Accordingly, we are seeking member’s feedback regarding the draft Policy and any experience that you may have with the consultation process in respect to current redevelopments. If you would like to provide your feedback or share your experience, please contact either Senior Industrial Officer, Bob Morgan or Industrial Officer, Catherine Ryan on (02) 9212 6900, or alternatively by email at or

We look forward to your active support to ensure that office accommodation for Staff Specialists is protected.