Untethered But Not Disconnected

Untethered But Not Disconnected

New wireless networks and devices create more productive work environments. They can also generate anxiety. Here's how to cut the wires so that employees still feel connected


  • Executives and managers must embrace change first and lead by example
  • Allowing employees to test-drive new processes and equipment helps build support for new work environments
  • Internal processes for IT support and maintenance may need to change to accommodate new technologies

Two years ago, Capital One CIO Gregor Bailar gave up his private office in suburban Virginia, with its view of the woods, in favour of a conference table that put him in full view of his staff. The bold move was calculated to allow rank-and-file workers at the company - not to mention Bailar's C-suite colleagues - to see for themselves how a cubicle-free office environment supported with wireless technology could change the way they worked for the better.

Bailar quickly found that he and his staff talked to each other more - and more often - which led to greater productivity and better collaboration. Five-minute meetings, which once had to be scheduled up to two weeks in advance because everybody's calendars were jam-packed, started to occur more spontaneously. The open environment "made access to people easier and made the energy level much better", Bailar says.

Capital One executives and employees alike felt such collegiality had been lost as the credit card purveyor grew from its launch in 1995 to the $US12 billion behemoth it is today. Executives wondered: "How do we keep that feel of that small, entrepreneurial company alive inside of this relatively massive company?", recalls Bailar. The wireless, cubeless work environment, dubbed the Future of Work, turned out to be the answer: A year and a half after rolling out the plan, 11 percent of the company's 21,000 employees, executives included, have given up their fixed desks for unassigned spaces and work areas with more sunlight, advanced videoconferencing capabilities and wireless connections.

But when Bailar and HR chief Matt Schuyler first proposed their plan, some top executives didn't like it one bit. "I was dead-set against the move and came [to it] with a pretty closed mind," one office-dwelling bigwig reported in a survey, which summed up the general thinking. Bailar's decision, along with Schuyler, to be the first to ditch their offices for a prototype Future of Work environment was a key part of their strategy for managing the massive change.

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