Continuing a trend that began in technology and creative companies, a global financial services company has eliminated private offices at its New York headquarters.
WHEN PLANNING SPACE for its 750 support staff employees at One Madison Avenue in New York City, Credit Suisse Group envisioned a headquarters environment that would increase efficiency, foster spontaneous sharing of ideas and, in the words of Michelle Lindgren, Americas head for workplace strategy, “make a diverse workday much more seamless.”
Reflecting the company’s desire to increase cooperation and collaboration, the company’s “Smart Working Floor” completely eliminates private offices. (At a second Manhattan location, Credit Suisse maintains more traditional space, with assigned private offices.)
Employees at the 91,000-square-foot, third-floor One Madison Avenue headquarters “are able to choose the type of environment suitable for the work they need to do at any particular time,” explains Lindgren. “While most work can be done in the open plan [space], employees can move to a quiet zone when they need to concentrate on heads-down work, walk to a nearby phone booth to make a confidential call, then have a quick informal meeting on one of the many couches that serve as alternative settings.”
Per Hansen, global head of smart working for Credit Suisse, adds, “The office is free address. Nobody has an assigned workspace, irrespective of corporate rank. You go to the space that is best suited for the type of work you are doing on that day.” Technology supports the Smart Working Floor concept. Employees use Microsoft Lync (an instant messaging tool) to communicate with each other and “smart cards” to log in to computers located throughout the floor. The smart cards also allow Credit Suisse to observe overall occupancy levels and trends in the usage of different settings.
The Smart Working Floor contains a variety of workspaces, as described below and in the “Project Summary” at left.
Neighborhoods. Although all 750 employees have the ability to “free address” daily and work wherever they chose, work teams are organized into six neighborhoods, also known as home zones, which allows people to find each other more easily. “Team members have assigned lockers in that area of the floor, and the team assistant sits there,” explains Hansen. “This gives them a ‘spiritual’ if not a physical home.” The assistants serve as anchors for their teams; their reserved seats allow the people they support to know where their assistant can be found. Staff members are encouraged to move about the space as their daily tasks change; they are not “tied” to any one neighborhood. Some people, however, prefer to sit in the same neighborhood every day.
Work/Meet Areas. Each neighborhood contains about four work/meet areas, each of which features three or four chairs grouped around a modular desk. Half of the work/meets can be reserved in advance; the other half are available on a first-come, first-served basis.
Business Gardens. Segregated from the busier office areas and framed by half walls, three interior business gardens are designed for quieter collaboration in a soothing, natural environment. Furniture is more spread out. Telephone conversations are allowed in the business gardens. Slightly smaller than the neighborhoods, each business garden contains 28 to 30 seats.
Quiet/Focus Zones. For work that requires heads-down concentration, away from the hum of the open office areas, four quiet/focus zones located on the perimeter of the floor each offer six to 11 individual desks. Telephone conversations are not allowed in quiet/focus zones.
Some informal work/meet areas and project zones can be reserved by groups that need to work together for a day or more.
Ted Moudis Associates
Project Zones. These areas can be reserved by teams that want to work together intensely for two weeks to a month, in a benching configuration that is partially separated from the more open neighborhoods.
Phone Booths. Employees who need privacy for telephone calls or space for some heads-down confidential work can use one of these small (about 50 square feet) rooms. Perhaps because New Yorkers are used to tight living spaces, the size of the phone booths doesn’t deter some people from using them as offices. “People like to work in the phone booth, as opposed to what it was intended for,” Hansen muses. Allowing people to work where they like supports Credit Suisse’s commitment to providing a range of different settings to cater to the differing needs of its employees.
To offer additional areas for telephone calls, Credit Suisse now provides phone kiosks. These round kiosks are intended for one person at a time, and provide some sound insulation for cell phone conversations, but no seating.
The Pantry. This area features both kitchen and social space. “Previously, there was no place to sit and congregate,” explains Lindgren. The pantry combines coffee and vending machines areas with moveable furniture that includes soft seating as well as cafe-height tables and stools. The pantry has proved to be a popular meeting area; according to Hansen, “80 percent of the people [in the pantry] use a laptop or notebook and discuss work.” He adds that the pantry is “significantly more space efficient than closed-door meeting rooms.”
The Bottom Line: More Space or Less?
Although each workspace on the Smart Working Floor is smaller than a traditional work station or private office, the total square footage is roughly the same as in a traditional office environment. For example, if a floor previously contained 100 desks and/or offices, a Smart Working environment would also contain 100 desks, albeit arranged differently and with smaller enclosed office areas. But since Credit Suisse assigns more people to the space, the space per person decreases. Without individual executive-style offices, Credit Suisse has been able to allocate more space to informal areas like the pantry, business gardens and work/meet areas.
Lindgren and Hansen agree that Credit Suisse’s Smart Working Floor concept has been a resounding success. Originally, employees were invited to volunteer for this new type of workplace. Now, it has become the new model for Credit Suisse’s support staff workspace.