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Green practice: Open door policy

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Cite as: July 2014 88 (07) LIJ, p.80

An open plan workplace may be good for the environment as well as overall performance. 

Activity based working (ABW) is a strategy designed to encourage different styles of working in a sustainable and productive workspace in an effort to reduce operating costs and improve the overall performance of the workplace. This is achieved by providing an array of workplace settings suited to the needs of differing workplace tasks rather than engaging in different tasks at one setting. This initiative removes the concept of a traditional personal workstation and replaces the practice with a flexible model to adapt to the needs of the business.

Reducing carbon footprint

There are many green benefits to consider. As desks become a communal part of the office, a firm’s carbon footprint can be reduced. Desks are no longer personalised or permanent and the same space can be used by different people for various tasks across a smaller space ratio. In turn, this is likely to increase productivity levels and discourage personal storage. It is likely a reduction of floor space, storage space and overall energy consumption will lead to a more sustainable workplace. Staff would be encouraged to store fewer unnecessary documents centrally, which would limit the use of paper and, therefore, reduce the cost of printing, storage and recycling. Non-essential printing and storage costs will likely be reduced.

These positive drivers have seen large-scale commercial organisations shift to a more productive working environment. Various organisations, including Australian financial institutions and technology companies, have implemented ABW techniques in an effort to include these frameworks in the workplace. Successful outcomes include an increase of 20 per cent capacity for employees as a result of unassigned desk space (http://tinyurl.com/oo4eyxv).

ABW and the law firm

While the ABW model offers sustainability and commercial benefits to the workplace, there is some resistance from the legal sector with regard to its implementation. Due to the nature of the work in a law firm, the ABW model may be considered disruptive due to the open plan nature of the workspace. However, a change in outlook is on the horizon. Recently, two firms stepped away from the traditional law firm model and transitioned into an open plan workplace. One firm opted to incorporate a hybrid office plan that included both open plan and private offices. This allowed partners to maintain their privacy and preserve traditional boundaries between junior and senior staff. Another firm removed personal employee desks from closed door offices, instead choosing to adopt open work spaces of identical sizes with smaller cabinets at each desk. Here, the firm aims to reduce paper use by removing the option of unlimited and large scale storage. Additionally, with the flexibility of the ABW model, this firm opted against the use of hot desking in order to avoid “unnecessary uncertainty”.1 Ultimately, the firm found the ABW process removed the “hierarchical mentality”2 around the office while promoting basic sustainability principles.

Although moving to ABW may be met with resistance, some modification of the traditional closed office plan may be a step in the right direction.




ASMAA HASANEIN is a bachelor of laws student at Deakin University and a member of the LIV Young Lawyers Section.

1. Australian Legal Business, Open Season (2013) 11.11, Thomson Reuters, p34.

2. Note 1 above.

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