Dilbert Doesn’t Work Here
by Melinda Ligos
At Siemens’ research and development facility in Princeton, employees don’t meet in conference rooms; they huddle ’round the campfire. They don’t make phone calls from their desks; they
hunker down in a phone booth. And executives wouldn’t be caught dead in a corner office; they sit elbow to elbow alongside other employees at computer stations in the middle of an expansive,
The new open-work environment, which has been implemented in more than 80 Siemens locations in 30 countries around the world, eliminated offices, high-walled Dilbert-style cubicles, and traditional, closed-off meetings rooms. Now, most employees (including the top brass) sit at pinwheel-shaped desks and meet in informal collaboration areas called campfires. The company’s research scientists, consultants and software engineers change work stations daily, and natural light streams through the 9,600-square-foot space.
“When I first came to the Princeton office, I witnessed two colleagues having a discussion while separated by a cubicle wall,” says Kurt Bettenhausen, senior vice president. “I thought, ‘They really should be taking a cup off coffee together, not talking over a wall.’ ” Bettenhausen helped oversee the transformation of the Princeton location, which debuted last year.
Welcome to the new American office, an open-style concept that’s been influenced by Silicon Valley’s collaborative work environments. More and more open-style offices are popping up in the region and experts say there are many benefits to such a floor plan.
Efficiency is one, says Judith Lindenberger, president of The Lindenberger Group, an HR outsourcing firm based in Titusville. “Most of us don’t need big file cabinets anymore, because everything is stored in the cloud,” she says. “And with more people working remotely, it makes sense to have flexible work spaces, where people can plug in and work when necessary.”
Open spaces also are enticing to millennials, who crave an atmosphere where they have quick access to higher-ups, Lindenberger says. “They’re more interested in working as a team,” she adds.
The need to foster teamwork was the number-one factor driving the Siemens re-do, says Bettenhausen, who says he witnesses employees sharing ideas on an ad-hoc basis “at least five times every day.
“It’s human nature,” he says. “You see someone working on something and someone immediately says, ‘Hey, what’s going on here?’ And they start sharing ideas. Of course, undergoing a massive
space transformation is not easy. The Siemens renovation took nearly two years, and employees had to move twice before it was completed. And some workers fretted that they wouldn’t be able to
concentrate, as the noise level was sure to rise, says David Rapaport, Siemens’ head of technology & innovation management. “Initially, we were all a little skeptical,” he says. But Siemens countered the worry by giving employees headphones.
And, Bettenhausen says, “the employees with louder voices learned how to adjust their volume within about four weeks. Some people just weren’t aware of how loud they were.”
Despite these challenges, Rapaport says, employees quickly warmed up to the transformation. “Before, you used to have to look over people’s cubicle walls or into their offices to see if they were there,” he says. “Now, you just look around and can see and talk to everybody. That makes it a much more exciting place to work.”