Open Plan Offices: Seven Tips From Siemens Real Estate

More than 70% of employees in the U.S. now work in open plan offices, according to the International Management Facility Association (IFMA). For companies considering a move toward an open plan environment, what are the best practices for successful implementation? Over the last two years, Siemens Real Estate (SRE) has been rolling out its New Way of Working (NewWow) open office arrangement to more than 80 sites in 35 countries.FE-WebOnlylogo

As a cross sector services unit of Siemens AG, SRE is responsible for all of company’s real estate activities around the world. Facility Executive spoke with Michael Kruklinski, head of SRE for the Americas, about the company’s open plan implementation.

Michael Kruklinski Head of Siemens Real Estate for the Americas
Michael Kruklinski
Head of Siemens Real Estate for the Americas

“To create an attractive work environment was the driving force here,” says Kruklinski. Serving the way people are working was also a primary motivation for NewWow, with employees working outside of the office more than in the past. “Employees are out with customers on projects, on team meetings, and so forth. Meanwhile, new technology is coming along. We’re working in different styles. We’re working in different environments,” explains Kruklinski. “Also, with not everyone being in offices, this approach fosters collaboration.”

In the Americas, the NewWow concept has been implemented numerous Siemens sites in the U.S. Meanwhile, facilities in Chile, Argentina, Columbia, Mexico, and Canada have also been transformed. Here are seven tips for success from the SRE NewWow playbook, with added insight from Kruklinski.

1. Balance At-Home With In-Office Working: Have open discussions with employees about the best approach to mobile working on a case-by-case basis.

“In cases where we implemented this and the result was that people weren’t in the office at all anymore, we needed to address that. In at least one instance, management decided to establish a mandatory office day.”

2. Find The Right Desk-Sharing Ratio: For SRE, the ratio is typically one desk for every 1.5 employees, but this varies based on the type of jobs performed at each site.

“What we have learned throughout this is that it’s not just about new furniture. Also, one size does not fit all either. We’ve learned that different job families have different requirements. In the beginning we tried to do a sharing ratio of one desk to 1.3 person sharing ratio. In some cases that’s too high, and in other cases that’s too low. When we look at a site now, we have spreadsheet tool into which we enter the job families and the headcount to find the right ratio. In some cases, it’s a 1 to 1 ratio, but for a sales force you could go to a 1 to 3 ratio, for instance. We are now averaging a ratio of 1 to 1.5. With the higher ratio we also figured out you need more ad hoc meeting space.”

3. Ensure Sufficient Private Space: Make sure your space includes enough conference rooms, think tanks, or “phone booths” for private meetings and conversations.

4. Be Sensitive To Employees Giving Up Private Offices: Veteran employees may resent giving up private offices they feel they have “earned” over time. Acknowledge their feelings and help them prepare for the transition with plenty of advance notice.

Kruklinski notes that in most cases, at the beginning of a change, about 80% of the people push back against the new set up. “It’s something new. But once they have worked in the environment for several months, they are very happy with the spaces. The biggest challenge is middle management, and it’s most prevalent in the U.S. sites. Rarely do we feel as much pushback with this in Canada and South America. That’s where the change starts from the top… where the leadership needs to start working differently. When we moved the Real Estate Americas leadership team to Orlando, FL, there were three people—including myself—who could have had an assigned office. But we made a decision as a team not to do that. We built two private offices. They don’t have a name on them; they say Americas leadership team and they’re set up like conference rooms.”

5. Foster Collaboration: Leverage your flexible work environment to gather employees in “neighborhoods” within the office on a regular basis and encourage regular face-to-face interaction.

Grouping departments or employees with similar/related job functions creates neighborhoods within buildings. “This helped a lot. We have in the Orlando office, for example, about 1,000 employees. In the real estate department, there are about 30 to 40 people, and we have a certain ‘neighborhood’ where we congregate. Sometimes there are not enough seats in our neighborhood, so we spill over into other neighborhoods, which is okay. Having neighborhoods is important because you do sit with your team and hear what is happening.”

6. Build A Culture Of Trust: Managers should focus less on controlling daily tasks and more on empowering individual time management, giving employees the freedom to produce impactful, effective, and results oriented work.

7. Start the Change Management Process Early: Begin the change management process at least six months before implementation. SRE starts up to a year before a physical change.

“At a minimum, we explain the [NewWow] concept and what it entails—from a clean desk policy to what neighborhood means to how the IP phone system works. But it goes beyond that. In Mexico, where we moved sites, very early on they included people in the furniture selection and shared the layout of the neighborhoods. It doesn’t always mean we can do everything that comes in as input, but we try to incorporate. So there is an education and training component, and then there’s a dialogue with the employees about finding the best set up there. It takes some time. And the HR policy has to be in place as well.”

SRE emphasizes the most important lesson of all is to avoid a one-size-fits-all approach and tailor the open office plan to the specific needs of each workplace.


UPDATE: On April 1, 2015, Kruklinski joined Siegfried Russwurm, Member of Managing Board & Chief Technology Officer, Siemens AG; Terry Heath, Senior Vice President, CT US; Scott Schlissel, General Manager, Northeast Region, SRE; Joe Panek, Northeast Area Manager, SRE; and employees to showcase the most recently completed NewWow space in Siemens faciities—the renovated CT R&D facility in Princeton, NJ.

The multi-million dollar site renovation has expanded and modernized the R&D facility, which previously featured private offices throughout and is home to hundreds of research scientists, consultants and software engineers who provide technological solutions to the global family of Siemens’ businesses.Siemens_NewWow3

Details of the modernized space and its new features include:

  • The total renovation area of the first and second floors is 67,200 square feet.
  • An additional 9,600 square feet of usable space was constructed on the ground floor, which was formerly storage. The ground floor now includes an All Hands General Meeting Space with a state of the art AV system, a fully stocked fitness center, a library and new locker rooms.
  • The new configuration allowed for more than twice as many research labs to be built. The construction of additional labs gives teams the flexibility to work in a collaborative environment for joint projects in a wide range of spaces, including Future Automation and Imaging.
  • The space has been “opened up,” allowing for more natural light with large windows throughout.
  • Dated cubicles have been removed and replaced with height-adjustable pinwheel desks.
  • The renovated facility includes building-wide online connectivity, an expandable wiring system and an upgraded security infrastructure