Neue Arbeitsumgebungen

Who needs their own desk?

Hugo Lombriser of Credit Suisse AG has assisted more than 5000 employees in their office transition – and there is no provision for having your own desk in the new concept. Karin Hilzinger develops new work environments for Swisscom. A debate.

Hansjörg Honegger

Hugo Lombriser, your job is to explain to the employees of Credit Suisse AG why they suddenly no longer have a fixed workstation. Why are you taking their desks away?

Lombriser: No one is taking desks away. The fact is that the work processes have changed, and the existing, rigid infrastructure often does not meet today’s requirements for a modern, dynamic work environment. The main driver is technological development and the increased use of smartphones, tablets and laptops, which make us more flexible. People are more frequently working on the go as well as part-time. With Smart Working we have further developed the open-plan office and are offering a mix of different workstation areas depending on the needs of employees. The potential for savings is also not to be underestimated.

What’s to gain?

Lombriser: A lot. If we provide only 80 workstations for 100 employees, we are able to do away with 2000 workstations here in Zurich.

Karin Hilzinger

Karin Hilzinger from the Department of Human Centered Design at Swisscom Switzerland is responsible for creating work environments that make the culture of tomorrow a reality today.

Hugo Lombriser

Hugo Lombriser has been working at Credit Suisse AG since 1980. He has been responsible for change management relating to new workplace concepts since 2010 and has assisted a total of 5000 employees during the transition so far.

«Mit Smart Working entwickeln wir das Grossraumbüro weiter.»

Hugo Lombriser, Change Management Consultant

But the workstations look very stylish and the different zones are elaborately designed. It doesn’t look like you are saving a lot of money.

Lombriser: True, the individual workstations are more expensive, but you need fewer of them. The big savings are incurred when moving someone from A to B. With a conventional workstation concept, that costs around CHF 1500 per workstation. In our system, it costs nothing and goes fast. These savings are extremely significant.

Frau Hilzinger, what is Swisscom’s motivation for dispensing with individual workstations?

Hilzinger: Swisscom is part of the Smart Work initiative. It is less a question of abolishing individual workstations and more about enabling new forms of work for employees. Team work is very important, along with the ability to work anywhere.

«Die Mitarbeitenden sollen sich spontan und teamübergreifend treffen können.»

Karin Hilzinger, Verantwortliche für die Schaffung von Arbeitsumgebungen bei Swisscom

Saving money is not an issue?

Hilzinger: Efficiency is an issue for us – but effectiveness as well. For us today, real estate is no longer a necessary evil so that people have a roof over their heads, but a tool to enable them to be more productive.

Lombriser: We go one step further at Credit Suisse. We specifically offer employees room for certain needs: communication, concentration and collaboration, that is, cooperation. Employees can thus choose their workstations according to their current needs.

By giving up a fixed workstation, people need to dispense with something that may be very important to them. How does one manage this transition?

Lombriser: We prepare our team very well for the transition and greatly involve those affected. Reservations arise, especially if employees do not know what to expect.

No conflicts, no resistance?

Lombriser: Yes, of course. You have to put yourself in the situation of the people and know the power of habits. Such a change is daunting for many. We from the Change Management Team are always present to support and assist the local organisation.

Participation or persuasion?

Hilzinger: Participation within the meaning of ‘everyone can join in’ is very dangerous in such endeavours. It raises hopes that frequently cannot be fulfilled. However, inclusion within the meaning of clarifying needs is essential in the concept phase.

Lombriser: Correct. It is another matter when it comes to a set of rules – for example, whether eating at your desk is to be permitted. We negotiate that with the teams and ultimately the majority decides. We moderate and steer, but do not make the decisions ourselves.

The teams still sit together after all.

Lombriser: Yes, in what are known as home bases, which are absolutely needed so that employees who need to or want to can sit together. However, those who prefer another work zone are allowed to sit there.

Hilzinger: This solution is actually great. But let’s be honest: Most people sit at their traditional place every day and are somewhat grumpy if it is occupied in the morning.

«People are creatures of habit and many always go to the same workstation.»

Hugo Lombriser, Change Management Consultant

Lombriser: Correct. People are creatures of habit and many always go to the same workstation.

Hilzinger: Fine, but why not just give them this workstation?

Lombriser: Because then many workstations are vacant, which in turn is very costly. People travel a lot, go on holiday, are sick, or work only part-time or from home. Our measurements show that there is never more than 78 per cent of the workforce present at the same time. In Üetlihof, our biggest building, that would be 700 workstations that were permanently empty. That is a huge cost factor.

Hilzinger: Cost is one thing, but the many empty desks are also gloomy. That isn’t conducive to a creative mood.

Lombriser: True, we now have departments that are asking us for help for this very reason. While it was previously unthinkable, today more and more want to roll out desk sharing because poorly occupied spaces are depressing in large offices. The benefits have become widely known internally. Smart Working also comes from a survey of employees and was developed in cooperation with universities and adapted to the global working methods of the bank. Incidentally, our system is particularly popular with young job applicants, who put great emphasis on individuality and flexibility.

Smart Working is an argument for attracting young talent?

Lombriser: Absolutely, that was always our goal.

Hilzinger: Despite increasing digitisation, the work environment remains important for young people. Previously you had to go to the office because the infrastructure was there: PC, telephone, and so on. Today that no longer applies for many employees – they can work anywhere. But for us it is important that the teams meet and – even more important – that employees also meet spontaneously and across teams. I call it collision spaces. This results in innovation that companies cannot do without.

Lombriser: This kind of collaboration is highly dependent on personality. But one thing is clear: The work concept promotes collaboration, for the simple reason that you often meet new people, talk with them and get more information in this way.

Hilzinger: In Bern, Swisscom offers what is known as the Brain Gym, a large hall in an office building with tables, chairs and sockets. All Swisscom employees can work there. The Brain Gym is actively used and many people meet there purely by chance. I often hear that certain things are accomplished very quickly in the Brain Gym without e-mail and elaborately organised meetings.

What reservations do employees express about the change?

Lombriser: Mostly it comes down to privacy, hygiene, food at the workstation and fairness. The last point is about having the boss participate in the change and separate from his or her office. A big issue is always documents on paper. The pilot group of about 200 people disposed of around 20 tonnes of documents during the move to the new workplace concept. No one missed any of it. Today we are not paperless but much better than before, because we are now also able to work with an electronic filing system.

We talk a lot about communication and exchange. Is there not also a risk with this system that people will chat too much with each other at the expense of performance?

Lombriser: That’s a very important point! Previously performance was sometimes equated with attendance. That this is no longer appropriate is recognised especially by managers, who barely see their employees. They set clear goals for their employees, demand that they are met and check the quality of their work again and again.

Where are the limits of this system?

Lombriser: The system is not worthwhile for less than 80 workstations. The workstations would be too expensive and the desired rotations would probably not occur.

Hilzinger: There is no excuse for impractical and ugly offices. Even small companies should support their employees as optimally as possible in their work.

«Die Arbeitsumgebung bleibt trotz zunehmender Digitalisierung auch für junge Leute wichtig.»

Karin Hilzinger, Verantwortliche für die Schaffung von Arbeitsumgebungen bei Swisscom

But that results in costs again.

Hilzinger: Setting up workstations results in costs anyway. Unmotivated employees who are hindered in their productive activities also result in costs. We at the Swisscom Department of Human Centered Design show companies how a creative and positive environment can be created.

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