Friday, October 4, 2013

Changing how and where you work

This week, we hosted a visit from a colleague at the Twin Cities. It is always great to get together with other IT leaders, to hear about how people are facing the challenges of technology on campus.

Jen shared with us how one area of the University is responding to how we work. The increase of wireless networking and online communication and collaboration tools means where we work has become less important.  Enter Work+, an alternative workplace strategy. I find this immediately interesting and intriguing.

Work+ is the University of Minnesota’s alternative workplace strategy program. A partnership between the Office of Human Resources, Office of Information Technology and University Services, Work+ is an integrated program that will enable colleges and units to redesign their workplace to include variety of spaces and technology tools that will support their future needs, along with the training necessary to use them effectively. Work+ empowers employee efficiency, productivity and satisfaction by offering more nimble spaces and technology that enable collaboration and adapt easily to operational and technological changes.

While Work+ can enable groups to be more collaborative and productive in dealing with resource constraints, it requires funding to reconfigure spaces as well as time and training for staff. Additionally, some groups may have already transitioned to a mobile workstyle and not benefit as much from engaging in the Work+ process.

The Work+ project reminds me of several past examples from industry. Andy Grove, as CEO of Intel, famously worked from a cubicle. Grove commented on working from a cubicle: "I need a conference room for private meetings, but most of the time I can read, work at my computer, or have phone conversations very nicely in my office." Similarly, Sun Microsystems was one of many companies to adopt "hoteling" office work environments, where employees can drop into an office, and immediately resume productivity.

Using a system like "hoteling" or Work+ may be an ideal solution for many work environments, but it particularly benefits those offices where staff often roam to work collaboratively with others. On campus, we are unlikely to see this work with faculty, who maintain a personal collection of reference books for their courses or research - something which cannot be easily relocated elsewhere. But IT shops may consider this as a way to maximize space. Set aside meeting spaces, but arrange flexible work spaces for team to "drop in."

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