Recently Citi Group jumped on an idea to retract the assigned seating spaces for its employees and let them choose where they needed to sit and work. And the outcome of this decision has reaped several rewards.

The company created several neighboorhoods – read allocation of spaces for specific teams. Some examples are compensation neighborbood, talent management neighboorhood and global mobility neighboorhood among others.

These neighboorhoods are designated within larger neighboorhoods and they help employees own the place although none of them have desks assigned in their names.

The person behind the unassigned desks project is Susan Catalano, managing director and COO for the HR function. She states – ““We created what we call neighborhoods — a compensation neighborhood, a learning and development neighborhood, etc. — to help individuals feel they ‘owned’ their space, even though no one has a designated workspace and no one has a private office.”

The company faced two main problems. Their employees were scattered around different offices across New York and the motivation to work together as a team was missing. Second, an internal study conducted showed that workspaces were under utilized due to leaves, flexible work arrangements and travel.

A new office was redesigned in their Long Island center. On the circumference, it had rows of workstations. Every workstation had two monitors. In the center, conference rooms, meeting rooms and solo work areas were created. Additional spaces were created for people to socialize and lunch together.

Citi started to see profits almost immediately. The seating provided was for 150 workers for an employee strength of 200. The saving of 50 workspaces in a city like New York bore immediate fruits with the company saving millions and having no teething problems arising out of the shortfall. The company also started to witness camaraderie among its employees and they started seeing employees lunch at office more often along with their colleagues.

For such a concept to work, you need technology to enable the mobile working environment. Wherever employees sit, they should be able to see their own desktops and office chairs, access to their files and carry their phone extensions along with them. It is not a insurmountable challenge but it needs to executed with perfection to ensure productivity does not get hampered.

Citi has implemented a white noise machine that acts as a sound shield between cubicles and thereby minimizing distractions. Also, phone sets are attached with head phones for hands-free experience.

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