REGIONALREPORT TriangleGSK plays musical chairs at work
GlaxoSmithKline PLC is gradually doing away with conventional work- stations at its Research Triangle Park campus, opting for a floating seat plan that saves money and increases productivity. About two years ago, the London-based drug maker started switching 1,200 of its more than 4,000 RTP workers to a “smart-working spaces” model. They no longer have permanent desks and periodically move to different areas of the office.
The transition has allowed GSK to take advantage of space that went unused when, for instance, staff was making outside sales calls. The company has vacated eight of its 10 RTP buildings, saving $10 million annually in rent and utility costs. That was possible without significantly reducing headcount because the new seating model is more efficient, the company says. Most of the interior walls were torn down during renovations, and wireless Internet was installed. The change is made when GSK offices are revamped, so while many of its RTP workers are still in standard workspaces, that could change.
GSK began studying alternatives to conventional offices in 2004, and its Parsippany, N.J., outpost was first to switch. The result: double-digit sales growth there. GSK started spreading the model. No department has been spared — from sales to research and development, with executives working alongside entry-level employees. Though they no longer have fixed desks, workers have “neighborhoods,” so those with similar jobs can collaborate more easily. Each worker has personal storage and can move if they need to work with another department. Employees like Ed Danyo, GSK’s manager of workplace strategy, don’t keep as many paper files and rely more on electronic documents, which workers save to a shared network. “Getting rid of all of my stuff was really liberating for me.”
Though productivity often rises, there is a downside to unassigned seating — research has noted distraction can increase. GSK also has tried to be mindful of the culture shock employees can experience after years in traditional offices and cubicles, Danyo says. “Months in advance, we created mock-ups of the new areas, so people could sit and imagine themselves there and see how it would set up.” Desks and chairs can be adjusted to fit different workers’ height and preferences, and while open areas are essential, GSK’s revamped offices include quiet zones and spaces for meetings and confidential conversations.
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