Forget about my cheese - who moved my desk?
Twenty years ago I remember facilitating a dispute among employees, who were arguing about who got the window seat and how many of them got arms on their chairs. What a difference two decades makes.
Today these same professionals might not even have a cubicle…or for that matter, their own chair. The reason is simple: companies are trying to cut costs and accommodate a mobile workforce.
For an increasing number of mobile professionals, their “office” is a Starbucks, a hotel lobby or an airport conference room. Offices—with their stacks of paper and photos of the family—are being replaced by laptops and briefcases. Sales professionals and consultants have long been officeless, but this is a new trend among telecommuters, entrepreneurs, bloggers, and even traditional office workers.
For example, 950 companies were surveyed by the Facility Management Association (a professional organization for facility managers), and found 60% had some unassigned workspaces in their offices. Half reported an increase over the last two years.
For these employees, their desks have been replaced with communal tables or unassigned desks that they share with an endlessly changing group of fellow colleagues. Sometimes these spaces are available on a first come first served basis. In other cases, companies use a “hotelling” policy, where empty offices or areas can be reserved in advance.
Corporations are finding they can save millions in real estate costs by capitalizing on this trend. For example, in a recent Wall Street Journal story (Warming Up to the Officeless Office, April 18, 2012) it stated that American Express discovered their offices were only occupied 50 percent of the time, due to travel, vacations and sick days. Now, roughly 20 percent of the New York office of 5,000 employees are called “club” employees. They come to the office a few days a week and set up in unassigned offices. These are often called “free address” or “non-territorial offices.
In the same article, the WSJ reported that GlaxoSmithKline “says it has saved nearly $10 million a year in real estate costs by gradually shifting 1,200 employees at its Research Triangle Park, N.C., office to unassigned seating.” They are arranged by “neighborhoods” of functional specialties.
Not surprisingly, collaboration is one of the by-products, so is faster decision-making and fewer emails. Some report cutting email by 50 percent. But for some, it’s a hassle. Setting up a new office space every day isn’t universally welcomed. It can be especially difficult for those who have difficulty staying organized.
Starbucks, you could argue, launched the trend, but they are being supplanted by newcomers who see the wisdom of the business model. Starbucks strives to create a “third place”—somewhere between home and the office. But some—like me-- find the whining machines and crowded atmosphere too loud and just not comfy enough.
This has not been lost on some enterprising hoteliers. The Public, a boutique hotel in Chicago, has a fireplace, high ceilings, plenty of electric outlets and free Wi-Fi, and it is creating its own hip urban workplace environment. Some of its main attractions are the comfy chairs and a roaming wait staff, ready to take your order for food and beverages.
Hotel owners like the buzz of locals doing business in their lobby. Many hotel guests prefer it to working alone in their room. It makes the hotel look like the “it” spot to stay and hang out. They also like the food and beverage revenue it generates during the normally dead times of day, when hotel lobbies are typically empty.
Short of diving full bore into the free space movement, many companies are creating their own version of the coffee shop, where employees can set up their lap tops, meet casually with co-workers and get out of their office or cubicle to work in some unstructured space.
An argument can still be made for the walled office, particularly for those who must have frequent private conversations with employees and customers, but for many, the office or cubicle is a thing of the past.
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Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, customized training (leadership skills, presentation skills, internal consulting skills & facilitation skills), team conflict resolution and retreat facilitation.
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