Drop­ping desks — and cut­ting costs

San Francisco Chronicle Late Edition - - BUSINESS - By Steve Brown Steve Brown is a Dal­las Morn­ing News writer.

Like fax ma­chines and desk­top tele­phones, your in­di­vid­ual of­fice work space may be headed for ex­tinc­tion.

More than half of cor­po­rate ex­ecs say they plan to switch to unas­signed worker seat­ing for all or some of their em­ploy­ees dur­ing the next three years. In­stead of hav­ing their own desks, work­ers will grab an empty work­sta­tion when they come to the of­fice.

Don’t be late to work, or you could wind up sit­ting by the dump­ster.

It’s just one of the ways that em­ploy­ers are shak­ing up the tra­di­tional of­fice en­vi­ron­ment to cut costs and — sup­pos­edly — in­crease pro­duc­tiv­ity, ac­cord­ing to a new re­port by com­mer­cial real es­tate firm CBRE.

For a decade, busi­ness em­ploy­ers have in­creas­ingly shifted from in­di­vid­ual of­fices to open work en­vi­ron­ments. They usu­ally say the moves are to in­crease col­lab­o­ra­tion.

But ma­jor of­fice users also ac­knowl­edge they are slash­ing real es­tate costs with these shifts.

At a grow­ing num­ber of of­fice cen­ters, many work­ers don’t have as­signed desks and put their per­sonal items in a locker or cab­i­net when they leave.

“The mod­ern work­place is in a state of tran­si­tion as work­place de­sign stan­dards have evolved from tra­di­tional lay­outs with a mix of en­closed and open work spa­ces,” CBRE re­search an­a­lyst Julie Whe­lan said in the new re­port. “Man­ag­ing em­ploy­ees through this change is crit­i­cal, so that the ini­tia­tive is viewed as be­ing ad­di­tive to pro­duc­tiv­ity and well­ness in­stead of a pure cost-cut­ting mea­sure.”

The moves, it ap­pears, are only par­tially to build team­work and pro­mote net­work­ing.

More than half of firms say their pri­mary rea­son for the of­fice changes is to re­duce costs. Only 20 per­cent said they are go­ing to the new of­fice en­vi­ron­ments to pro­mote in­no­va­tion. And less than a third say the changes are to re­tain and at­tract tal­ent — some­thing of­ten said by big cor­po­ra­tions.

CBRE sur­veyed mostly bank­ing and fi­nance, tech and telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions, and pro­fes­sional ser­vice firms about their of­fice plans.

Al­most half the com­pa­nies said they planned to make work­place changes to seek bet­ter space uti­liza­tion. Less than half said they plan to al­lo­cate pri­mary as­signed worker seat­ing in the years ahead.

Not all trends are as util­i­tar­ian.

To keep work­ers happy, of­fice users say they plan to ex­pand ameni­ties, in­clud­ing full-ser­vice cafe­te­rias, em­ployee show­ers, bike racks, cus­tom cof­fee ser­vices, green space, game rooms and on-site health care.

“Twenty years ago, real es­tate was much dif­fer­ent. It was a place to house peo­ple. But now our clients are us­ing it as a tool to at­tract and re­tain the best tal­ent in their re­spec­tive in­dus­tries,” said CBRE’s Clay Vaughn, a se­nior vice pres­i­dent in Dal­las. “A big part of cre­at­ing great space is giv­ing em­ploy­ees op­tions of how and where they work in the of­fice.

“The com­pa­nies that em­brace this will be the win­ners in the fierce com­pe­ti­tion for tal­ent.”

Even if that means giv­ing you a locker to call your own in­stead of a desk.

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