It’s no secret that employees have greater expectations when it comes to their work lives. They want channels. They want creativity. They want innovation. That’s why engagement has become a high priority at many companies who are now looking to transform their workplaces.
Siemens is doing just that with their “New Way of Working” campaign, first introduced in Europe a few years ago as “Siemens Office”. The initiative has since launched in Canada and the United States including Washington D.C., Atlanta, Orlando, Pittsburgh and Mountain View, California.
I had the chance to chat with Shelley Brown, Siemens’ Director of Employee and Leadership Communications in North America (pictured at right), fresh off the landing of Mars rover Curiosity – an endeavour helped made possible by Siemens’ PLM software.
Brown is overseeing communications for the “New Way of Working” program team who are implementing the initiative in the United States. She gave me the lowdown of what the initiative entails and how it works.
“Going forward, any move that meets the requirements of Siemens Office globally – for example, if a lease was expiring or if a building needed upgrading – will be done in the New Way of Working style. We called it that in US since it’s a behavioral culture change within the workplace. The physical aspect is what people notice first, but the real change is how you work.”
She continued, “Although cost savings naturally occur when you’re using reduced space, the real motivation behind this new way of working had to with bringing the company up to speed with what people are expecting. There is a higher level of flexibility with employees and an initiative like this makes us more attractive to perspective employees and to the people who already work here.”
No more cubicles
Along with open workspaces comes the greater opportunity to interact with colleagues.
“The set up truly enhances collaboration,” Brown explained. “Since you’re in an open space with people, you’re always working with someone different. You’re more likely to walk over to a person and ask a question, not send an email. You have a discussion.”
With such transparency, are there ever complaints about privacy? Brown said, “If people need to make phone calls, we provide what we call Phone Boxes. However, there are many other types of spaces where employees can place calls – in cafes, conference rooms and think tanks (which are our smaller conference usually used for presentations).”
Employees are also encouraged to make VOIP calls on their computers while using headsets and staying mobile.
Adapting to a different way of working
Change management training to help staff understand the new office environment is a key component of all New Way of Working implementations. Siemens also runs focus groups to get a sense of any questions employees might have.
As offices move, they’re also advised on how to reserve a space, use VOIP, as well as any other aspect that may be new to people.
“Every location has a whole team that mimics the program team, with local people who are responsible for their workstream – communications, HR, change management, IT, etc. In my role, I provide them with guidance along the way and templates (e.g. for newsletters and town hall presentations),” Brown explained. Each location has a blog on a centralized intranet to engage employees around the new way of working.
In addition, each workspace is required to meet a certain level of sustainability requirements including use of energy (and money) saving appliances, paperless environments and mandatory recycling programs.
With every implementation of the new work environments, Siemens conducts a pre and post survey. So what has the employee reaction been thus far?
According to Brown, “Pre-survey feedback included people feeling skeptical about how they’d work together in an open space. For instance, would it be disruptive or noisy to take calls on a computer? Should they take the calls in our thinks tanks or our phone booths? How would the whole process work?”
“After working in the new spaces, people have now realized that it’s not disruptive. In some cases white noise covers up people’s conversations, and in general people have adapted and are considerate about handling their phone calls.”
Outside the office
Another aspect of Siemens’ “New Way of Working” is telecommuting, which is available to many employees at their manager’s discretion. In Iselin, New Jersey, where Brown is based, employees in some departments already have regular days each week that they work remotely.
Employees stay connected to their colleagues via Communicator instant messaging, Microsoft Live Meeting or by logging in to the intranet from home on a secure network. Managers keep track of employees’ whereabouts on a calendar indicating their remote working schedule.
According to Jim Lukach, Siemens’ Director of Online Communications, remote working has led to an improved work/life balance for staff.
“It’s definitely a positive change for people. It’s nice to not worry about a long commute every day. That time can be used for other things. Work-wise, you’re still connected to people via email, etc. It doesn’t matter where you are; the workplace can really be anywhere and Siemens realizes that,” Lukach remarked.
The only minor drawback he pointed out is you don’t get the buzz of an office working on your own at home, especially when it comes to creating content alongside your peers.
Another challenge, according to Brown, comes from a manager’s perspective.
“Managers have had to deal with the adjustment of not seeing people as often. Employees are now being measured more on the work they produce, instead of on their physical presence.”
Still, most people are ready to telecommute and appreciate the opportunity to work from other places.
“Work is not necessarily 9-5 anymore. The end of the day is whenever a project gets done, giving people the chance to blend their work and personal lives a little bit,” Brown commented.
Social media first took off at Siemens two years ago; now with this new cultural shift and way of working, IT has now enabled greater accessibility to external social media sites for employees. As a result, Brown and Lukach have implemented online social media training on appropriate behaviors inside these social media spaces.
“Before we jumped aboard, we did our homework to determine if this is something we really need,” Lukach recalled. Then we worked with HR, IT, Legal and others to make sure our bases were covered.
“We prepared a policy that covers everything employees need to be aware of, including HR policies and security and compliance issues. Our CEO sent a letter to employees informing them about the training site, encouraging them to use it wisely.”
Brown and Lukach (along with a supplier) worked together to create a 5-part video series on proper social media usage at Siemens.
“In each video, we addressed some aspect of social media such as why are we doing it? Why is it important to the company? What are the pitfalls? How should we get started?” Brown recalled.
For a personalized touch, she and Lukach even recorded an intro to each module.
The videos were uploaded to a special social media awareness intranet site called Get Social – introduced two months ago – which covers anything having to do with social media. Links to Siemens’ Facebook page and Twitter feed are also provided on the site.
“At the same time, our corporate headquarters in Germany put together mandatory social media training. Get Social has been good preparation for the official training,” Brown remarked.
Currently, more than half of US employees (30,000 total) have taken the social media training online.
Making the cultural shift
With new workspaces, channels and more contemporary ways of thinking, Siemens has certainly done much to put a modern spin on what was traditionally a very conservative company. Does Brown have any advice for other organizations looking to do the same?
“I would say, spend the time you need to do an effective culture change program. Make sure people understand ahead of time what is happening and why and how it affects them. Take them through every step of the way to train them and make sure they’re comfortable with it. They may not want to go along with it at first but if you take them through it they will see the benefits.”
Siemens North America will be seeing more of this new way of working with plans for new open workspaces in Massachusetts, Virginia, Missouri, Tennessee – even Brown’s own location in Iselin, New Jersey.
“We started with a few locations and now we’re up to 15-20. We’re going to keep going,” Brown said.