Lauren Renner represents much of what’s refreshing and new about business today.
At 26, she’s a part of Gen Y, the young people who are seemingly comfortable with all technology, eager to learn from everyone, ready and willing to collaborate with colleagues.
A financial analyst at Steelcase, her career exemplifies how much business has changed. Little more than a generation ago, women mostly held clerical positions. Today they hold over half – 51.5 percent – of management, professional and related occupations according to Catalyst, a nonprofit foundation that advocates for women in business.
Renner’s workplace is especially new. Her “office” is a series of workspaces at the Steelcase global headquarters, a work environment of individual and group spaces with flexible furniture and tools that support a range of workstyles, and a palette of place and posture that are essential elements of an interconnected workplace.
Her typical day starts with a visit to the WorkCafé, an on-site third place for dining and working and where she often has an impromptu meeting with a colleague about a current project. Sometimes she grabs a space to catch up on email, make some calls, write a report. The WorkCafé is purposely designed to support this blend of individual and collaborative work common among mobile workers like Renner.
The new work environment for Finance, Quality and Procurement serves the three groups (it used to support just one), as well as visitors from other areas of the company. Most spaces are unassigned and can be used by anyone. Configurations range from wide open to fully enclosed, in sizes right for individuals, and small or large groups.
Renner’s day is a series of collaborative meetings punctuated by solo work. Her tools of choice are a smartphone, laptop and portable laptop stand, a wireless mouse, keyboard and numeric keypad. She carries few papers, working almost exclusively with digital files. Although she’s assigned a drawer in a file cabinet for storage, she uses it rarely. “I used to store my purse there, but I’m moving around so much I just carry it with me now.”
Renner’s generation is often reported to prefer working at the local coffee shop, hunched over a keyboard and plugged into an iPod. Yet Steelcase research, including recent planning with the people in the Finance, Procurement and Quality departments, show that “a preference for a certain type of workspace varies more by workstyle than by age,” says Julie Barnhart Hoffman, design principal with WorkSpace Futures, the Steelcase research and design group, and principal designer of the new work environment.
“There are different workstyles within each generation – Boomers, Gen X and Gen Y. The important thing is not labeling workers by generation. We all need to be able to choose the places we work, the tools we use, what’s best for the work at hand,” she says.
Tim Fennema, director of finance and Renner’s supervisor, says, “We all had assigned desks before, but we’re all mobile, we deal with global finance issues and people around the world, so we’re used to working without ‘line of sight’ to each other. We use instant messaging, media:scape to compare documents and share ideas, and we meet face-to-face if needed, either in person or using telepresence. As long as the job gets done, that’s the test. People appreciate this level of freedom. It makes it more enjoyable to come to work.”
Renner changes locations throughout the day, switching between her bench workspace, a media:space collaborative work setting, a client’s office in another building, the WorkCafé on the first floor, and other spaces. “Sometimes I finish a meeting in the WorkCafé and just stay there and work for the rest of the afternoon.”
Choice + Control
She doesn’t have an assigned desk or other traditional totems of corporate success. Instead she has much more choice and control over her work environment than previous generations, as well as better tools to support the ways she works.
“I think success today is measured by the work you’re doing and the responsibility you have. It’s not about having your own desk. I’d rather have the ability to choose where and how I work.” For Renner and knowledge workers like her, the new status symbol is the freedom an interconnected workplace provides.Tags: Collaboration, Interconnected Workplace, media:scape
Filed under: 360 Magazine, Featured Articles