Personal work areas can be expensive. In this no-cubicle age, more and more employers are realizing, to the chagrin of some of their employees, that eliminating assigned work areas is, in fact, a great way to cut costs and accommodate an increasingly mobile work force. While freelancers and contractors are used to this work style, many office workers have had to adapt to working at communal tables or unassigned desks they share with a sometime shifting cast of workers, as well as keeping their files and supplies in storage lockers.
This trend has been traced back to the need for companies to cut back on real estate and other costs. Plus, the added incentive of saving millions of dollars annually in rent and energy expenses. Studies show that traditional office space has a utilization rate of just 50% due to sick days, vacations and travel—and that does not even count wasted drawer space that holds stacks of old paperwork, cookware, shoes and other personal items. On a brighter note, it has been observed that this new way to work has brought about unexpected benefits — from increased worker communication and collaboration to reduced internal emails.
American Express started a companywide program called BlueWork where about 20% of their employees come to work a few days a week and set up in unassigned spaces. The organization’s intention was to spur creativity and save money by doing away with traditional office space. GlaxoSmithKline saved nearly $10 million annually in real-estate costs by gradually shifting 1,200 employees at its Research Triangle Park, N.C., office to unassigned seating. PricewaterhouseCoopers has a desk-reservation policy, allowing employees who visit other offices to use vacant cubicles and desks. Post-recession, it looks like the officeless office is here to stay.