First come, first served
The move toward flexible workspace
Roughly 70 percent of today’s workforce is mobile to some degree or another. This ranges from employees who work out of a home office and traveling salespeople to staff who may visit clients off-site once every week or two. And while the jury is out on whether mobile work arrangements are better or worse for productivity, employee morale and worker satisfaction, one thing is certain: Providing flexible workspace that matches the worker and the work is key.
As more and more employees become mobile, many companies have moved toward a new office arrangement called “hoteling.” Through hoteling, mobile employees do not have permanent workstations or offices, but instead reserve space when they return to the office. It’s a first-come, first-served arrangement; where employees literally check in anywhere from a few hours to a few weeks, then check out for the next mobile employee to take their place. It’s a fluid situation, in which employees can land at a desk anywhere — and on any floor — within their organization. Each day, employees may find themselves working at a different desk.
Boeing has provided hoteling arrangements for its mobile employees, who have embraced the new flexible arrangements with much success. Through its Virtual Office Program, the world’s largest aerospace company now has 13,000 employees who work without a permanent office through arrangements that allow them to jobshare, telecommute or drop into any one of the company’s 25 hoteling centers nationwide.
“We are helping to provide a toolbox for getting the job done,” explains Jeff Hobbs, real property strategic planning manager for Boeing. Hoteling adds to the overall menu of work options that includes permanent offices, desk-sharing and telecommuting, which allow Boeing to best match the workplace and the work to the worker and his or her needs, Hobbs adds.
While hoteling provides workplace flexibility and saves money by reducing the need for office space, it has gotten mixed reviews, in part because it inhibits strong workplace relationships, which can reduce workplace collaboration, says Tom Davenport, professor and director of research for Babson Executive Education at Babson College in Wellesley, Mass.
“It (hoteling) certainly increases the efficiency of the office environment, but it leads to a certain degree of impersonality,” he explains. “If the person sitting next to you is different every day, your chances of getting to know him or her very well are not very good.”
Boeing has experienced the opposite effect. “We think communication actually goes up,” says Hobbs of hoteling and off-site work arrangements. In the traditional office environment, employers and employees simply assume that communication will occur among co-workers, he says. “Now, what we have is more purposeful communication.”
In fact, communication isn’t the only boost Boeing has seen among employees who telecommute. Productivity also has risen. In ongoing surveys of employees and managers conducted three months after an employee starts telecommuting, employees report being 30 percent to 35 percent more productive.
Although the success of Boeing’s Virtual Office Program seems to contradict Davenport’s assertions, it actually supports two key elements —choice and segmentation — that Davenport says are needed to help today’s workforce succeed. Some of the nation’s most innovative companies are leading the charge to provide work environments that boost productivity, performance and communication by providing a variety of workplace environments that offer flexibility and choice in where and how employees work based upon industry, worker segmentation and employee preference.