For many decades, an office was a status symbol of career success. Your own four walls, your own desk where the work piled up, and your own phone with its own extension code. The bigger the display, the more important you were. That kind of workspace is now threatened with extinction. It no longer fits with our times. It contradicts the vision of the digital working world in innovative companies in every way: it is not open, not mobile and not flexible. The telephone on the desk is very much a symbol of the old, analogue work culture. That makes it superfluous in future.
British Airways: working together better and faster
The employees at the Waterside head office of British Airways at Heathrow Airport have not seen a landline phone for a good five years. Personal desks in the open-plan office were done away with even earlier: the principle of hot-desking has been in place since the opening of the new office building in 1998. British Airways was a pioneer of this innovation. Hot-desking means there are fewer desks than employees. That reduces costs and makes it possible to fit more employees into the same space, because not everyone is or needs to be in the office every day. Anyone who cannot find a free desk gets to work on a seat in the cafeteria or lounge. Employees say that the work culture at British Airways is based on meetings, considering things together and interacting, and informal communication over a cup of coffee. The appropriate technology for this form of flexible and mobile work has been introduced gradually since 2010. First, Wi-Fi was introduced to the whole building, then the desk phones disappeared department by department and all employees received laptops and smartphones. The basic tools for communicating with each other became Skype for Business and Yammer. According to an insider, that was a radical change for some, but the benefits of an open work culture and transparent communication soon became evident and the transformation was accepted. Depending on the project or task, the employees rearrange themselves at the desks or move to glazed meeting rooms for discussions. The boss sits within easy reach and can be addressed with questions, ideas or problems at any time, and can get in contact with their team just as quickly. The office must be left spick and span at the end of the day. Everyone puts their laptop and documents in their personal locker and then takes their things out again the following morning.
Philips: shaping the future of work together
The Dutch corporation began implementing the ‘Workplace Innovation’ concept at its locations in Eindhoven and New Delhi in 2009. Since then, Philips has been developing a new, flexible working environment under that motto that is intended to increase employees’ productivity, inspiration and creativity. In the meantime, more than 30 locations worldwide have been redesigned according to this principle. As part of this renovation, as many as 30,000 employees are now without a landline phone. The new working world opened up for the D/A/CH headquarters in Hamburg’s Fuhlsbüttel district in 2015. Here, too, the landline phone was removed from the desks of 1,000 employees. This process did not take place overnight, but rather was three years in the making. ‘There was a lot of doubt about the new concept. We held open meetings, discussions and conversations, talked to each other and involved our employees in order to prepare the transformation,’ explains Sebastian Lindemann, Head of Corporate Communication for D/A/CH at Philips in Hamburg. One aim of the changes was to use office space more efficiently. This is another location with fewer desks than employees. Where before there was a space of 22,000 m2, a total area of 13,500 m2 is now sufficient for 1,000 employees.
As a result, the internal communication measures and cooperation within teams and between departments has changed considerably. Skype for Business is now used instead of conference calls, and a company social network on the basis of IBM connect and an internal YouTube channel are the most important tools for internal communication. The employees decide when they need to be in the office and when they would prefer to work from home. Anyone can be reached at any time on their mobile phone – wherever they are currently working. The office is open from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. There are no fixed working hours. The new freedoms have been well received. According to Sebastian Lindemann, trust in the self-organisation and sense of responsibility of the employees are prerequisites for this work to succeed and the concept is continuously altered, fine-tuned and developed further by employees and management.
Volkswagen: the new work environment is a ‘work in progress’
The Volkswagen Group is planning a consistent changeover to a new, cooperative workplace design in all departments in 2018. In July 2017, Dr Karlheinz Blessing, Head of Human Resources and IT of the Volkswagen Group, announced that: ‘Tomorrow’s world of work requires a management and corporate culture built on openness, creativity and desire to make decisions and enter discussions. We are adjusting to that. At Volkswagen, we are changing the way we work, how we manage and how we interact with each other.’ A flagship project of the innovative working world at VW is the newly set up IT City in Wolfsburg. Depending on the country and work culture, it may take a lot of work to convince everyone about the transformation to agile work. For example at SEAT in Spain, where up to now having your own office and a fixed desk has been the standard procedure. According to an insider, employees there have mixed feelings about the change to open, agile work with a laptop and smartphone but no landline.