Informal but essential social processes that occur spontaneously in the conventional work-place, such as the brown-bag lunch and the weekly happy hour, need to be managed in the alternative workplace. The alternative workplace undermines teamwork and organizational cohesion. In fact, it can build them—but in an unorthodox manner. Modern theories of teamwork are based on traditional, face-to-face models in which communication, information, and personal chemistry are intertwined in one location most or all of the time.
In the alternative workplace, these links are unlocked.
by Jana M. Kemp
Technology empowers everyone—not just managers—wherever they are by enabling immediate communication with teammates and shared access to information. The chemistry within teams also has different elements. Contributions are defined more by content than by cosmetics when the team works electronically: an objective, egalitarian quality that often is missing in the conventional workplace. The alternative workplace is really about computers.
Strategizing the Workplace of Tomorrow
The impetus for adopting an AW program is rooted in corporate strategy and renewal more than it is in technology. In a farsighted vision of its business, the U. Similarly, in other organizations, the alternative workplace is really about rethinking the basics: What is the real purpose of your workplace? What work is performed? Who does it? How do they add value? What are their most important needs in the workplace?
Where, when, and what types of facilities and systems do they require?
The Alternative Workplace: Changing Where and How People Work
How best can you provide them? The alternative workplace also can give companies an edge in vying for—and keeping—talented, highly motivated employees.
Finally, AW programs are beginning to offer opportunities to capture government incentives and avoid costly sanctions. Many communities are easing zoning rules to enable more residents to establish home offices. In addition, companies are meeting Clean Air Act requirements—and avoiding hefty fines—through regional workplace strategies with extensive AW components. Finally, tax codes may change to enable more employees to deduct home office costs.
The potential benefits are clear. But at the same time, AW programs are not for everyone. Indeed, such programs can be difficult to adopt, even for those organizations most suited to them.
Strategizing the Workplace of Tomorrow - HGA
Ingrained behaviors and practical hurdles are hard to overcome. And the challenges of managing both the cultural changes and the systems improvements required by an AW initiative are substantial. How should senior managers think about AW programs? What are the criteria for determining whether the alternative workplace is right for a given organization? What are the most common pitfalls in implementation? The lessons learned by managers who have successfully launched such programs and by those who are struggling to do so suggest that the best place to start is with a clear understanding of the many forms an alternative workplace can take.
Different companies use different variations on the AW theme to tailor new work arrangements to their own needs. To one company, for example, establishing an alternative workplace may mean simply having some workers on different shifts or travel schedules share desks and office space.
The company now has 14, employees in shared-desk arrangements. Replacing traditional private offices with open-plan space is another option. In such arrangements, a company typically provides team rooms and workstations in open areas. Free-address facilities are a variation on that format. As Jill M. And everyone can find you because your phone, pager, and PC go with you. Employees may have mobile cubbies, file cabinets, or lockers for personal storage; and a computer system routes phone calls and E-mail as necessary. Satellite offices are another form of alternative workplace.
Some are shells—sparsely furnished and equipped with only basic technology; others are fully equipped and serviced. Satellites are generally located in comparatively inexpensive cities and suburban areas. Most often, they have simpler and less costly furnishings and fixtures than their downtown counterparts. Telecommuting is one of the most commonly recognized forms of alternative workplace.
Telecommuting—that is, performing work electronically wherever the worker chooses—generally supplements the traditional workplace rather than replacing it. At IBM, however, telecommuters comprise an entire business unit. And at PeopleSoft, telecommuting is the dominant style of work throughout the entire company. General Dennis J. Reimer, the U.
Reimer travels with a laptop and routinely communicates by E-mail with general officers and garrison commanders around the world. Home offices complete the spectrum of AW options. Companies vary widely in their approaches to home offices. Some simply allow certain employees to work at home at their own discretion and at their own expense. Most organizations find that a mix of AW options is better than a one-size-fits-all approach. For example, are you prepared to overhaul performance measures as necessary to align them with the new ways in which employees work?
Are you braced for a cultural tailspin as your employees learn new ways of connecting with one another from afar? Are you committed to examining your incentives and rewards policies in light of the different ways in which work may be completed?
We focus a lot more on results than on effort. This distinction refers to a management philosophy and style rather than to an economic sector or customer base. In such an environment, the potential for AW arrangements is limited. Informational organizations, by contrast, operate mainly through voice and data communications when it comes to both their employees and their customers.
Informational, as used here, does not necessarily mean high-tech. But it does mean that managers and employees are moving up the curve toward information-age literacy, which is characterized by flexibility, informality, the ability to change when necessary, respect for personal time and priorities, and a commitment to using technology for improving performance.
A dynamic, nonhierarchical, technologically advanced organization is more likely than a highly structured, command-driven one to implement an AW program successfully. The key is whether managers at all levels are open to change. We had three departments involved in our effort: HR, technology, and real estate. The individuals on the team must be enthusiastic and not unnecessarily fettered by traditional approaches. And they must be made knowledgeable about all the key issues—from the ways in which corporate policies may be redefined to deal with various types of problems and opportunities to the different options for providing furniture or allowances to employees.
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Still, I would be skeptical about whether management by fiat would work very well. AW programs assume that certain jobs either do not depend on specific locations and types of facilities or depend on them only part of the time. To analyze whether an AW program can work in your company, you must understand in detail the parameters of each job you are considering for the program.