The following article/story appeared in the Wall Street Journal by Kevin Hagen on July 7, 2014 and was written/reported by Keiko Morris:
Alexander Saint-Amand admits he used his old desk to store his stuff: extra neckties, books and water bottles.
As of last week, that became impossible because Mr. Saint-Amand no longer has a permanent desk at Gerson Lehrman Group Inc., the company he leads as chief executive.
Like everyone else in the 250-person office, Mr. Saint-Amand is now assigned only a laptop, a headset and a locker.
GLG’s new office design offers an array of workspaces—from comfortable couches to high stools at a barista-staffed coffee bar to single-occupancy glass booths.
“Something funny about having a lot of stuff is it makes you feel like you’re doing something,” said Mr. Saint-Amand, whose company helps other firms learn about business issues by matching them with experts. “But when you don’t have all that stuff, it frees you up to actually concentrate and work.”
GLG workers will have so-called neighborhoods, areas where their teams are based. But they are free to find a spot to work anywhere on the company’s two floors at One Grand Central Place. In the world of office design, the new layout at GLG is known as activity-based working.
Doing away with seating assignments for an office as large as GLG’s in New York is rare but increasing, said John Arenas, chief executive officer of Serendipity Labs Inc., a company that provides temporary work and meeting spaces for mobile workers.
Companies such as Microsoft
Corp. MSFT -0.50%
, PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP and Accenture have been experimenting with variations on unassigned seating since the 1990s and early 2000s. The Macquarie Group MQG.AU -0.94%
drew much attention in 2009 when it instituted an activity-based working concept at one of its offices, for 3,000 workers, in Sydney, Australia.
Last year, real estate services company CBRE Group
Inc. CBG +0.16%
brought its version of the office design to its Los Angeles operation. CBRE said it planned to have the system in 21 of its offices by year’s end.
“When we actually looked at what they needed, they needed much more choice, the ability to make good decisions about getting their work done,” said Lenny Beaudoin, CBRE senior managing director of workplace strategy.
Offices designed around activity-based working save space, so they appeal to companies determined to shave real estate costs. CBRE’s new Los Angeles office will be able to accommodate 250 people in 48,000 square feet, compared with 210 people in the 72,000 square feet the company would have needed in the old office format. Companies also see the layouts as recruitment tools to attract younger workers who are accustomed to mobile technology.
“Office workers are really only at their desks 40% of the time,” said Bernice Boucher, a managing director at Jones Lang LaSalle
Inc., JLL +0.09%
a real estate services firm. “We have known this for decades, which is why everyone talks about desk sharing…free-seating and telecommuting.”
The wide options under activity-based working also give some employees private space they didn’t have.
“Quiet people are reminding people that it’s not just about collaboration, but concentration,” said Elizabeth Burow, director of discovery for design firm HLW International LLP.
But eliminating the private office or the private desk isn’t for everyone, said Richard Sennett, a sociology professor at New York University and the London School of Economics.
“Sometimes having a space you control, which is yours, gives people the feeling of empowerment and it can be good,” he said. “But it varies.”
GLG’s new office is 65,000 square feet, almost double its old quarters on Third Avenue. It is now in a building owned by Empire Realty Trust Inc. across the street from Grand Central Terminal.
Mr. Saint-Amand said the bigger space would allow GLG to host thousands of meetings between its network of prominent industry experts and business professionals—instead of convening them off-site as they did previously.
Natural light spills from a new skylight over a white staircase that descends into a cluster of red couches and white tables. It is a work area that resembles a sleek living room. Elsewhere are open bench tables with monitors and glass-walled meeting rooms named after influential thinkers, including Indira Gandhi, Thomas Hobbes, Winston Churchill and Thomas Jefferson.
“We want you to feel like you own the whole office not just your desk,” said Clive Wilkinson, whose firm, Clive Wilkinson Architects, designed GLG’s space. He was also the architect of the Macquarie Group’s activity-based office in Australia.”That’s a landmark change because employees typically are kept in their place and told, if you’re incredibly lucky you might get an office some day.”
GLG’s workers seemed to be adapting. Workers already had collectively dubbed the small private spaces with tall cylindrical walls as the “submarine.” And the small glass booths had come in handy for sales pitches.
Jim Sharpe, head of GLG’s North American financial services group, said he had already used eight work spaces at the new office by the second day.
He ate breakfast at the coffee bar and had meetings with co-workers in one of the diner-like booths—as well as in the Keynes room.