Similar Hot-Desking trends are playing themselves out at Cisco and other technology companies. A key enabler here is SIP-driven IP Telephony. Users can now “log in” to their phones when they arrive at work. Notebook PCs are becoming the thin clients of this decade.
NetTrends: No Office? No Desk! No Problem, Sun Says Sat Jun 1,11:37 PM ET
By Peter Henderson
SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – How much would you give not to have show up at your desk every day? What if it meant giving up the desk itself?
Sun Microsystems Inc. is uprooting employees from permanent desks and plans in a year to have about half the workforce floating around and between offices, as virtual desktops follow them on the computer maker’s network.
What began as a program to deal with “commute hell” in the San Francisco Bay Area during the days when Sun famously said it was the “dot in dot-com”, has morphed into a consolidation drive as Sun abandons real estate, cuts jobs and becomes, according to wry executives, the “O in old economy.”
Sun says will save it $150 million annually, and the program is essentially an advertisement for the company’s marketing pitch that business runs better on a network of big computers than smaller boxes powered by software from rival Microsoft Corp.
A number of companies have tried to adapt the office to the modern world, many without success. Cartoonist Scott Adams, creator of the “Dilbert” office strip lampooning white-collar office life, has suggested that the way to improve productivity was to build an “ultimate cubicle” with a personal cooler, hammock and monitor on the boss’s activity.
GET IN EARLY, GET A GOOD OFFICE
“You come in early, you get a good a parking space, you get a good office.” Chief Executive Scott McNealy has summed up the iWork program.
That philosophy led Blythe Morris, an internal communications manager, to show up at Sun’s San Francisco office on at 7 a.m. on a recent Friday.
“I didn’t want to be that last person without a seat,” she said, leaning back in a standard chair behind a standard desk in a personality-free office that nevertheless has all her electronic information and a phone tied to her number.
Fridays are particularly busy, because many employees who work in Silicon Valley try to stay nearer to their San Francisco homes ahead of the weekend, but to keep people like Morris, who has an assigned desk in the Valley, an hour’s drive south of the city, from swamping the San Francisco office, Sun has the Big Rule: “Use is limited to no more than two times per week, and not any two consecutive days.”
Across the hall, at a carbon copy desk, San Francisco-based Barton George, a brand manager, has gained freedom to reserve an office in advance for giving up an assigned desk. He cleans up his office when he leaves for more than a couple of hours. That is a rule, too.
The Sun offices have none of the hipness of the open planned “officeless office” conceived by Chiat/Day advertising firm founder Jay Chiat, but there is not much confusion, either. Walls divide the space and there are no laptops to be checked out or plugged in, since everything at Sun is physically wired to the network, and computers are everywhere.
The lack of personality at Sun, however, was troubling to Martin Bechtold, Assistant Professor of Design Technology at the Harvard Design School, who said he believed people needed the chance to personalize their offices — even if he did not have studies to prove so one way or another.
“We are after all physical people and not virtual people,” he said.
IT’S THE NETWORK
Sun servers hold all Sun employees’ data, a technologically centralized approach which is different from most corporations that give each employee a personal computer and only put the major corporate information on a server.
The advantage to Sun, which always talks about the power of the network, is that no data is ever locked on an inaccessible personal computer. It is cheaper, too, Sun says.
Sun employees log onto a very small, inexpensive computer “appliance” called a Sun Ray, which lists for about $500 and is little more than an I.D. card reader. That connects them to the servers, which supply all the programs and data they need.
Sun also has its own word processing and office suite, called Star Office, which it has begun selling, instead of it giving away, in a sign of maturity for the Microsoft Office rival.
Sun has been clever about the details to make iWork work, providing office maps on the reservation system and giving employees training to deal with the mobility.
There is still plenty of griping about having to pack up all the time and store everything in high school-like lockers. All the equipment is equally fresh, so far.
Many managers have had a tough time losing their offices and watching employees move around more, but the modern world has pushed Sun in this direction, argues Bill Agnello, executive vice president of workplace resources.
“The forces are already out there: the Internet, commute hell, the choices dual-income earning families have to have with trading off quality of life and commitment to work,” he said.
The system would seem custom-made for fast-growing companies, since a new employee can grab an I.D. card, find a free desk, and go. But Sun has really revved up the program since its own growth stalled, along with the Internet economy.
Sun was on track to increase its work force 50 percent annually before things turned poorly at the end of 2000, and in the last two fiscal years it has taken $465 million in charges to close down offices and get out of real estate commitments.
An office costs about $15,000 per year to maintain, Agnello says, and Sun plans about one desk per employee, including the remote locations, once the system is running, with 18,000 employees, roughly half the company, floating.
About 1,000 of the 18,000 will be home-based, but Agnello says the drive is about being mobile, not working from home. “We are mobile, we are likely to become more mobile. We just need the integrated perspective to support it,” he said.
“(Employees) understand that to invest in those things, to give them more choice and flexibility … they’ve got to help us fund it,” he said.