It’s All In A Day’s Work
Lauren Renner represents much of what’s refreshing and new about business today.
At 26, she’s a part of Gen Y, the young people who are seemingly comfortable with all technology, eager to learn from everyone, ready and willing to collaborate with colleagues.
A financial analyst at Steelcase, her career exemplifies how much business has changed. Little more than a generation ago, women mostly held clerical positions. Today they hold over half – 51.5 percent – of management, professional and related occupations according to Catalyst, a nonprofit foundation that advocates for women in business.
Renner’s workplace is especially new. Her “office” is a series of workspaces at the Steelcase global headquarters, a work environment of individual and group spaces with flexible furniture and tools that support a range of workstyles, and a palette of place and posture that are essential elements of an interconnected workplace.
Her typical day starts with a visit to the WorkCafé, an on-site third place for dining and working and where she often has an impromptu meeting with a colleague about a current project. Sometimes she grabs a space to catch up on email, make some calls, write a report. The WorkCafé is purposely designed to support this blend of individual and collaborative work common among mobile workers like Renner.
Knowledge work today means frequent collaboration. Renner’s supervisor, Tim Fennema (shown with Lauren above), schedules twice-weekly team updates so everyone stays in touch. Even so, managers must adjust to not having “line of sight” to their direct reports. “You have to trust that, as long as the work gets done, it doesn’t matter if I can see my team at work,” says Fennema.
The new work environment for Finance, Quality and Procurement serves the three groups (it used to support just one), as well as visitors from other areas of the company. Most spaces are unassigned and can be used by anyone. Configurations range from wide open to fully enclosed, in sizes right for individuals, and small or large groups.
Individual work. A height-adjustable desk is one option for Renner, who has no assigned workspace. A favorite home base for the day: one of the bench-style workstations in the department’s nomadic camp, spaces available to any worker.
Renner’s day is a series of collaborative meetings punctuated by solo work. Her tools of choice are a smartphone, laptop and portable laptop stand, a wireless mouse, keyboard and numeric keypad. She carries few papers, working almost exclusively with digital files. Although she’s assigned a drawer in a file cabinet for storage, she uses it rarely. “I used to store my purse there, but I’m moving around so much I just carry it with me now.”
Renner’s generation is often reported to prefer working at the local coffee shop, hunched over a keyboard and plugged into an iPod. Yet Steelcase research, including recent planning with the people in the Finance, Procurement and Quality departments, show that “a preference for a certain type of workspace varies more by workstyle than by age,” says Julie Barnhart Hoffman, design principal with WorkSpace Futures, the Steelcase research and design group, and principal designer of the new work environment.
“There are different workstyles within each generation – Boomers, Gen X and Gen Y. The important thing is not labeling workers by generation. We all need to be able to choose the places we work, the tools we use, what’s best for the work at hand,” she says.
Working with colleagues. «We look at spreadsheets all day long and media:scape has really helped with that. Two of us put spreadsheets on the screens, you pull in others and everyone contributes. It’s great.”
Tim Fennema, director of finance and Renner’s supervisor, says, “We all had assigned desks before, but we’re all mobile, we deal with global finance issues and people around the world, so we’re used to working without ‘line of sight’ to each other. We use instant messaging, media:scape to compare documents and share ideas, and we meet face-to-face if needed, either in person or using telepresence. As long as the job gets done, that’s the test. People appreciate this level of freedom. It makes it more enjoyable to come to work.”
Working with colleagues from Brand Team. This Collaboration Zone has everything Lauren needs to work through the budget process with the Brand Communications team: display and projection surfaces, data and power access and easily reconfigured tables and chairs.
Working with colleagues from Finance group. The Finance group closes the company books during the first two weeks of each month. “You need to be visible to others when you’re closing the books because it can get pretty stressful,” says Renner. “We work closely together so we can help each other out, get another perspective on an issue.”
Renner’s colleagues are sometimes located in other countries and telepresence helps bridge the distance. When team members are located in different time zones, a mobile worker’s day often extends beyond normal business hours.
Renner changes locations throughout the day, switching between her bench workspace, a media:space collaborative work setting, a client’s office in another building, the WorkCafé on the first floor, and other spaces. “Sometimes I finish a meeting in the WorkCafé and just stay there and work for the rest of the afternoon.”
CHOICE + CONTROL
She doesn’t have an assigned desk or other traditional totems of corporate success. Instead she has much more choice and control over her work environment than previous generations, as well as better tools to support the ways she works.
“I think success today is measured by the work you’re doing and the responsibility you have. It’s not about having your own desk. I’d rather have the ability to choose where and how I work.” For Renner and knowledge workers like her, the new status symbol is the freedom an interconnected workplace provides.