How IT is creating the 'smart' workplace

By deploying technologies like Wi-Fi, Wikis and WebEx, IT is leading the charge as enterprises restructure for maximum collaboration.

smart workplace

From pharmaceutical companies to oil and gas firms, enterprises are breaking down silos and boosting the bottom line through the expanded use of collaboration tools and technologies. And IT is leading the charge.

IT executives are becoming collaboration architects who partner with human resources, facilities, and corporate communications to remove barriers that impede collaboration. These barriers range from physical workspaces to organizational practices and processes.

The goal of unified communications is to allow anybody to engage anybody else spontaneously through instant messaging, web conferencing and videoconferencing, regardless of level, role or region. Asynchronous collaboration tools including wikis, forums, emerging knowledge and project management systems and collaboration-as-a-service platforms enable enterprise-wide information sharing and broad participation in decisions.

But enterprises are finding that these tools fall flat if the organizational structure prevents information sharing, promotes internal competition and requires going through channels. That’s where IT can help, particularly when it comes to the physical workplace environment.

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Philadelphia navy shipyard

For example, GlaxoSmithKline’s building at the Philadelphia Navy Yard reflects the “smart working” structural change that the company is adopting globally. Unlike more typical open environments in which companies eliminate walls and assign desks, GSK’s workplace is “non-territorial” or “free-address.” Without specified seating, people let shifting activities and interactions determine their location and movement throughout the day. This enhances spontaneous interaction.

“It’s removed silos and barriers and allowed collaboration to occur in places we would have hoped it would occur—in the atrium and the coffee shop, on the [lobby] floor with people bumping into each other and then in places we just never expected,” says Ray Milora, GSK’s global head of design and change management.

Ray Milora, GSK’s global head of design and change management

Unexpected collaboration locations include the building’s main staircase and even the roof. “They move around the physical environment now, and they’re much more collaborative than they were before,” adds Milora. An IT veteran, Milora led GSK’s US rollout of the precursor of Microsoft Office 365, and he’s now focused on integrating technology, workplace design and processes.

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In the smart working environment, GSK assigns team members to “neighborhoods” which are clusters of people with interdependent roles. “You’re encouraged to not just sit in your neighborhood but use the whole building as an office,” says Milora.

But IT plays a key role in making this happen. IT deployed a wireless network throughout the Philadelphia Navy Yard facility and is making sure that employees remain connected to the network as they roam from location to location. The building, which has received LEED Platinum certification for sustainability in design, includes lockers for personal belongings and “quiet rooms” available for drop-in, ad hoc encounters.

As informality prevails in the physical workplace environment, people regularly interact with senior leaders. An all-access approach has replaced the need to go through channels. This structural shift also impacts how GSK team members use technology.

The informality in interactions regardless of level, role or region has migrated from the physical workplace to such virtual workspaces as Microsoft Lync unified communications. “Spontaneous use of voice and video has been off the charts,” says Milora. “It’s because of a very embedded way that we collaborate.”

Collaboration comes into focus at Konica Minolta

Konica Minolta’s subsidiary in Australia began changing its structure 18 months ago when David Cooke became managing director. The previous managing director had run the company from a large corner office with city views. Team members rarely interacted across departmental silos. The human resources department was “walled off” from everybody else in the primarily open-plan workspace. This legacy organizational structure was based on command-and-control.

For Konica Minolta Australia, shifting market forces in the printing industry required a more nimble approach.

David Cooke of Konica Monolta

David Cooke, Konica Minolta

On his first day as managing director, Cooke moved into a smaller, glass-front office in a high-traffic area to increase his visibility and accessibility. The former managing director’s office became a “quiet lounge” available to team members.The irony of HR hidden from team members was obvious to Cooke.

“Surely they’re the people [experts] who should be mixing in with the people more than any other department, but they were the opposite,” says Cooke. So he worked with the facilities group and IT to tear down the wall. “We opened up HR to the business.” Konica Minolta Australia also replaced the HR director with an “approachable” leader.

Next, Cooke conducted the first-ever online survey of team members about the organizational structure. Ninety percent responded, some with long comments. “These people were crying out to have a voice,” says Cooke. “It was gold. These were gold nuggets for me.” A key point that emerged was the need to shift from hoarding to sharing information, particularly financial data.

Now, Konica Minolta Australia shares monthly financial results a couple of days after each quarter ends, and Cooke shares other financial and business updates, such as customer wins and losses, in real time.

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