Creating a new kind of workplace at IBM

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The initiative is called ‘Workplace of the Future’ and it’s high on the list of IBM’s priorities for 2010 – and beyond.

KK. So, Bill, tell me about ‘Workplace of the Future’: when was it introduced, what are the goals of the program and what do you hope employees will get out of it?

BS: ‘Workplace of the Future’ is a social project. We introduced the initiative during the fourth quarter last year. The goal of IBM’s CIO was to change how employees perceive IT and to change the way IT delivers on the needs of employees. In other words, how can we bring it all together?

When we launched, we initially called the project, ‘Workstation of the Future’ till my boss realized that it’s not about workstations and equipment – it is about the workplace itself.

At IBM, we have had a focus on collaboration and social computing for some time and we have a culture of open dialogue that supports that. When we looked at how our work force is changing and how the nature of work is changing, we looked at how we should make changes and provide the right environment to create a user centric workplace of the future. So we embarked on a journey to make the program a priority and in 2010, this is a visible part of what IT is trying to do.

KK. What kind of approaches are you taking to help carry out the initiative?

BS: One of the things we are trying to do is to conduct a deeper segmentation process for employees whom are we trying to enable. We want to get a multidimensional view of employees we service based on people’s job roles, geography and their attitudes toward technology.

An IBM’er – whether he/she is an employee, contractor, vendor – their view of our company culture is increasingly influenced by the capabilities of IT. We rely on technology to enable us to connect with each other to get the job done.

KK. How are you working to accommodate the emerging work force of Gen Y’ers at IBM?

BS: Our assumption is that we are dealing with four generations at once. Each generation has different working and learning styles, and expectations of how to interact with their bosses and with each other.

We definitely recognize the need to provide an environment that will attract the right talent coming into the business and the need to meet the working style they’ve come to expect.

Contrary to when I joined IBM 30 years ago, employees are coming in with networks already formed so they are blended in and out of the firewall. We want to cater to that without alienating other generations.

KK. Now more than ever, we’re seeing the development of a mobile work force and the need for easy access and instantaneous communication for employees on the go. What are some of the challenges you’re facing in that area, particularly with the compatibility of people’s electronic devices?

BS: ‘Any device, any place, any time’ – we don’t have that yet but it is our goal. We recognize that work isn’t a place anymore; we need to supply capabilities that are independent of employees’ locations since 50 per cent of our work force don’t work in an IBM facility. That said, 50 percent of employees have been here less than 5 years.

So whether employees use a BlackBerry or an iPad or an iPhone, whether they’re on a Mac or PC, our goal is to let employees choose their devices. We see that employees bring their own devices to work and that they don’t want multiple devices at home and at work, so we want to supply them with what they need as well as the right apps.

Mobile is definitely one of our key enablement initiatives. We have a large number of BlackBerries and we’re in the process of bringing in more iPads and iPhones so we can become platform agnostic and cross platform.

KK. Specifically, how has ‘Workplace of the Future’ enhanced and inspired productivity and innovation at IBM?

BS: We have a technology adoption program that fosters innovation in a large company. If you think about it, one half is technology, the other half is knowledge, so we can create innovations to help people become productive across the company.

The program consists of 2 categories:

We have the Innovators. Over 1000 people are registered as innovators at IBM – they supply a function that is available to all IBM’ers. As IT, we provide the infrastructure and capabilities for all business units to use these innovations to improve productivity.

The second category is our Early Adopters. Over time we have migrated from a small population to 100,000 people. 25 per cent of the company wants to improve productivity by sharing knowledge to improve their work.

Our Lotus Connections product (mentioned later in this article) came out of this innovative environment of knowledge sharing. 50,000 IBM’ers worked together to create a platform to enable employees to find subject experts in the company to connect with to get their jobs done faster and more effectively. It’s not a question of whether or not their colleagues know something, it’s how to find them and connect the dots of 400,000 employees.

KK. What are your keys to successful collaboration?

BS: As we look at the collaborative process in its most simplest form, we try to Find, Know, Work and Recognize.

We find people to team up with to get the job done with the right technology.

We get to know them and build trust to work effectively across the team no matter what country and time zone they’re in (social computing and video help play a role in that.)

By working and recognizing our peers, we work on building reputations at the company.

At IBM, one strong example of collaboration is our ‘Blue IQ’ program where 1000 ambassadors take it upon themselves to share best practices around social computing with their colleagues. We do ‘Lunch and Learn’ sessions giving people the tools they need to help spread the message.

KK. How important is it to involve employees and promote conversations within the organization?


BS: It’s high on the priority list thanks to Lotus Connections, which is our Facebook for the enterprise. On the site, we have blogging, microblogging, file sharing and online communities.

On every employee’s home page, you see their profile (what we call our ‘blue pages’) merged with a social environment profile in Lotus Connections. The first thing I do is go where the conversation is  – that’s where I find people, content and an open sharing of opinions. This saves time when it comes to finding information: I can see who’s commenting on what and connect with those people.

When you sit in an office, you see pictures of people’s kids – I have three daughters for instance – so you make those natural connections with people when you’re face to face. When you’re not in an office, Lotus Connections allows employees to have their own virtual space so they get that missing connection.

KK. Many of us know that IBM was one of the first companies to establish a proper social media policy for employees. Can you tell me a little bit about the governance that you carry out at the company? 

BS: For many years, we had business conduct guidelines stating how people should operate as professionals inside and outside the company, with vendors, clients and with each other. Ultimately we added blogging guidelines, then social media guidelines.

We want to make sure everyone knows the rules of the road so they act responsibly when representing the brand and when they’re sharing the IBM experience internally and externally.

On our collaboration site, our social media guidelines are on the top right of the page inside the firewall (w3.ibm.com/collaboration). We also tell people which are the proper tools to use and also mention the guidelines as part of our business training.

When it comes to blogs, wikis and social networks, we encourage responsible engagement in innovation and dialogue. Employees are personally responsible for content they publish and we make sure they understand copyright rules as well as privacy protection. If you are speaking on behalf of the company online, you need to identify yourself – every IBM’er is an IBM employee so they need to be clear who they are and what level in the organization they are.

KK. What are you doing to measure the success of ‘Workplace of the Future’?

BS: The second half of my title – ‘Workplace Effectiveness’ – says it all. I am responsible for conducting surveys inside and outside the company. We also look at metrics.

Basically, we pay attention to how the initiative is used – is it adopted in the right way? Are there better ways to use it? What are the usage patterns?

We run an annual survey of IT satisfaction across all platforms and users. We distribute three surveys around workplace effectiveness, studying job roles and the type of collaboration needed to support a job role. We use the information we get to make more informed decisions and alter our plans if necessary.

Six to nine months after we conduct a survey, we run another one centered around the actions we’ve taken to see if we’ve moved ahead of the baseline.

KK. So where do you go from here – what does the ‘future’ hold for ‘Workplace of the Future’?

BS: We are where we want to be – enabling IBM’ers to have their device of choice in the place and time of their choice to do their work productively covering all scenarios.

We’ll also be paying attention to mobile enablement – enabling applications to have productive use of small screens. We want to think about the experience we want to deliver regardless of the platform – that is the reality in the next twelve months.

Here are the 7 workstreams that are the backbone of IBM’s efforts to support a workforce that has the tools and the environment to drive growth for the company: