ORLANDO — At the end of every workday, Siemens AG employees completely clean out their work areas in the company's new offices near the University of Central Florida. Desktops have no computers or phones. Drawers have no dusty human-resources manuals.
The German company's 300 employees are able to work in different parts of the office — or even at home — on any given day, depending on their needs.
The giant engineering company's new offices are one of seven Siemens locations in the United States that have adopted an "open concept" design. This approach is built on the theory that, at any given moment, only half of an office's employees are actually working in the office; the rest are out at appointments, in the field or taking time off. As a result, Siemens' new facility provides only 77 work stations for every 100 workers. And bosses generally don't get an office.
Branded by Siemens as NewWOW, short for "New Way of Working," the design allows the company to trade the traditional office culture for added collaboration as it downsized its quarters. The open setting includes cafe areas, informal meeting spaces and "think tanks" for anyone who needs a bit of private space.
"It's the shift from 'me' to 'we,' " said Justin Mardex, who is strategy director for M. Arthur Gensler Jr. & Associates, the San Fransico-based architectural firm known simply as Gensler that oversaw the design work at Siemens' new Florida office. "It's a transition from being seen working to your work being seen."
Rooted in what is known as the "hotel concept," which let employees move among desks that were equipped with phones and laptop computers, this new style of office goes further by providing both computing power and phone service via portable laptops, plus lockers or storage space in which employees stash their belongings when they're not using them.
The idea, which appears to be growing in popularity, has its own set of buzz words, including "activity-based working," "workplace mobility" and "free-address approach."
"'Presenteeism' becomes less and less important when you have office environments like this," Mardex said, using a term to suggest the opposite of absenteeism.
A handful of companies shifted to this free-form office style about a decade ago, but more are now moving in that direction, having shed employees. As companies start to grow again, Mardex said, they are looking for new office alternatives. "A lot of times, it's driven by real estate and by an exercise in efficiency," Mardex said. "At Siemens, it's really a culture of change."
Justin West, an office specialist in Orlando for the commercial real estate firm Marcus & Millichap, said the average space requirement for each office employee was 250 to 300 square feet several years ago. But now it is less than 200 square feet per employee, and some work stations are as small as 60 square feet per person, he said, as companies shift to more communal environments.
"With the recent recession and lack of profits, companies have been trying to reduce expenses," West said. "Office space is a large line item that can easily be reduced with the reduction of physical space requirements. With the ever-increasing use of mobile technology, it is not as important for tenants to have massive office buildouts with large executive areas and 'cube farms.' "
Cathy Davidson, Siemens' general manager for building-strategy solutions, said the initiative was born of board-level discussions about employee recruitment, growth, performance and retention. She said new employees are generally more collaborative and team-oriented than their predecessors, and the new design better accommodates them. It also pushes workers toward a paperless workflow, with employees scanning images and reports into computers.
Some Siemens workers have had to hang on to their conventional work spaces: Engineers are so reliant on drawings, sets of plans and large software applications that they have kept their assigned space and desktop computers.
"As long as you evaluate from a performance point of view, rather than a line-of-site point of view, where you work really isn't important," she said. "This really is about changing the way we're working. It's not just about changing the space."