Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

IBM's Warehouse Office Approach to Workplace Woes

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

IBM's Warehouse Office Approach to Workplace Woes

Article excerpt

CRANFORD, N.J. _ Walter P. Barlow, a sales executive at IBM, punched his name into the computer under the high steel beams of the old Universal Corrugated Box Machinery Co.

After a brief pause, the screen informed Barlow that he would be assigned to desk No. 106, an anonymous, empty cubicle like all the others with no walls and no adornments _ just a telephone, a jack for his laptop computer and a black plastic tray with a highlighting pen and a stack of Post-It notes.

"I can't imagine why anyone would want to come here just to work," Barlow said.

Talk like that is music to the ears of Barlow's bosses.

International Business Machines Corp. chucked its five branch offices around New Jersey last year, giving up 400,000 square feet of traditional prime office space with elevators and closed doors and windows with coveted views, and last month consolidated everything here in a high vaulted steel-walled industrial building just off the Garden State Parkway. But this was more than just a tradeoff of glass-and-fern ambiance for the allure of cheaper rent and a view of the heating and air-conditioning duct system.

At Cranford, there are no enclosed offices at all, no permanent desks for the 600-worker sales and service force, and no pretenses as to what the change was all about: The office is no longer a place "just to work." Come for a specific task, a meeting, a demonstration of the latest hardware for a client, or to pick up your mail. But don't put up a picture of your children and don't get too comfortable. With the partitions between desks only about three feet high, everyone is visible all the time, even sitting down. And since there are only 220 shared sales and service desks, everybody can't all be in the office at the same time anyway.

"I wanted people to know we're in a warehouse, and we're paying warehouse prices," said Duke Mitchell, the company's general manager for New Jersey, who, like his staff, no longer has a private office _ though his small metal desk is at least in the corner and permanent. "No walls, no boundaries, no compartments, no hierarchies, no epaulets," he said. …

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