When management consultants Andersen Consulting realised three years ago that continued expansion would mean it might soon outgrow its headquarters in London's Arundel Street it hit on a radical solution. Instead of searching for another building it looked around for another way to organise the present one that would allow for growth.
The solution, partially implemented already, was to turn the HQ into a sort of hotel, only in this case the guests booked in to work rather than to sleep the night. Since a lot of its fee-earning consultants were by the nature of their jobs peripatetic, spending more time in the offices of clients than in Andersen's office, the organisation decided that they didn't need offices and desks of their own. They could simply book in, just as they would in an hotel, when they needed an office.
'We realised there were many days when a lot of the space was unoccupied even though people had names on the desks,' says Tim Arnold, Andersen's director of property and facilities management. 'We took the view that by being a bit more creative we could move forward into a much more efficient way of working and at the same time bring the offices up to a much higher standard with a much better standard of service.' The offices now have several different types of workstation, designed for everything from a transitory touchdown to a stay of a day or more. The booking system is PC-based. Consultants who want a workstation can either book in person, by phone or by voice-mail or e-mail. The request is acknowledged and fed into the system; then each morning the floor administrator gets a read-out with the day's booking.
Andersen's Paris organisation has gone even further than the London one. In early January all 1,000 staff will move from Andersen's existing building at La Defense to an office right at the centre of Paris where the Champs Elysees meets the Avenue George V. Everyone, up to and including the partners, will have to use a workspace booking system, says Francois Jaquenoud, the partner in charge of the move, who calls it a just-in-time office.
As well as bookable work spaces the new Paris office will have a complete floor designed to look rather like an executive lounge at an airport. Instead of booking in, people who are coming to the offices for a very short period will use this club lounge. They might be meeting people, collecting their mail, or just touching base at the office to get a sense of belonging, says Jaquenoud.
'They will be able to sit and rest, read the papers, discuss things with their peers. There will also be compact workstations in the lounge that they'll be able to use without the necessity of booking before they come.' Persuading the partners to join the scheme was a big breakthrough. The partners accept that there is a trade-off between privacy and comfort. They are losing their proprietary rights to space, says Jaquenoud, but getting instead one of the most magnificent and best equipped offices in the centre of Paris. Another thing which appeals to the partners is that the building makes a statement about Andersen.
'We're saying that even our senior partners spend most of their time at clients' offices, not at HQ. We're also saying to clients that our mission is to help them become more successful and the George V set-up is a living demonstration of what we can do for them. We're saying "We've been able to make our people change - even our senior partners - in order to achieve a strategic goal in our business".'.