Wednesday, March 18, 2009

dupont's move out of private offices

This is an interesting article from 1997 in the New York Times reporting on DuPont's migration of workers out of private offices and into a landscape office system. Cubicles were not exactly cutting edge in 1997, yet it seems they met with the same kind of resistance that I've heard associated with a move from cubicles to wide open offices.

When the Fluoro Products employees learned that the company would be taking away their traditional offices there was ''nearly a revolt,'' Mr. Kokjohn said. ''They viewed it as treading on their personal rights,'' he explained.

To help in the transition, Du Pont flew employees to the Grand Rapids, Mich., headquarters of Steelcase, which is outfitting Du Pont's new workplace. At Steelcase, the workers learned a new language. They found out they were in the ''migration'' process (moving from a private office to an ''individual screened workstation,'' i.e. a desk). They learned about ''collaboration zones'' (meeting rooms), ''docking stations'' (a workbench) and ''free addresses'' (space not assigned to a particular worker).

From the sound of it they were also transitioning sales staff that were not in the office full time away from having dedicated workstations, and into some kind of hoteling arrangement. All of these moves reflect a trimming of real estate cost by condensing the office into less sqft, using the space more efficiently.

Research has shown that when people work without walls communication is more rapid, managers are more accessible and productivity rises. It has been estimated that a 30 percent increase in density in an office will result in a 5 percent increase in worker productivity, Mr. Kokjohn said. The total benefit to the company is about 10 times greater than the money saved on real estate, he said.

A source of the research is not quoted, but I suspect this is coming from Steelcase, the vendor for the new office system. I'm trying to reconcile this with the research quoted in the Michael Brill book. It seems private offices can be as much of an impediment as completely open offices. Again I think giving the worker control over their privacy is the key.

Du Pont Shuts the Door on Its Private Offices in the New York Times

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