- The Washington Times - Monday, April 30, 2001

Local businesses are slashing their real estate costs by treating their offices like hotels stripping employees of their permanent desks and forcing them to reserve space as they need it.

Companies such as Reston consulting firm Accenture Ltd. and Ernst & Young LLP, an accounting and consulting group with offices in the District and McLean, say they adopted "office hoteling" programs because their employees tend to spend most of their time meeting with clients outside the workplace.

Both businesses say hoteling forces workers to become more efficient.

Before an employee reports to the home office, he or she must call the building's "concierge" to request a work space. On some days the employee may need only a desk and chair; on other occasions, he may need a 12-seat conference room to conduct a meeting.

Accenture says it has saved $10 million since adopting a full-fledged hoteling program two years ago. The firm will not disclose its annual office rent, but space in its tony Reston Town Center building can command as much as $40 a square foot.

Meanwhile, Ernst & Young embraced hoteling around the same time Accenture did, and now uses one-third less space, even though it has hired between 300 and 400 new employees since then.

Even the government can't ignore the potential cost-savings. At least one federal agency the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms is considering a hoteling program, according to government real estate officials.

"The beauty of hoteling is that you don't have to have one desk for one employee. You can have three people sharing one desk. That represents tremendous cost savings," says Robert Gaudreau, an executive vice president and "coach" for Regus PLC, a British company that sets up hoteling programs worldwide.

Steve Rohleder, an Accenture managing partner, says hoteling would not work for every business. But he says it makes sense for Accenture.

"Most of our people are out in the field anyway. If they're here in the office all the time, there's something wrong," Mr. Rohleder says.

Inside Accenture

Accenture formerly known as Andersen Consulting has probably embraced hoteling like no other local business.

The firm has about 2,500 employees in Reston, but only 1,100 are in the building on a given day. On average, 94 percent of the work space in the office is occupied each day.

Accenture runs its operation like a first-class hotel. There is a front desk and computer terminals in the lobby where employees check in each day to find out which space has been assigned to them.

Each floor features different kinds of offices, including cubicles, enclosed rooms that offer privacy, "huddle rooms" for meetings with three to four persons and conference rooms for bigger meetings.

Because most Accenture employees have no permanent office, they are given laptops so they can do their job no matter where they sit.

Also, each employee's files are stored in a central location, and they are assigned "totes" to keep any knickknacks they want at their desk, such as framed pictures of family and friends and desktop calendars.

The number of totes an employee is assigned depends on his seniority. Executives in the company get six totes; midlevel managers get four.

Employees don't tote the totes themselves. Once they make a reservation for a work space, a facilities staffer brings their totes to them, often before the worker arrives at his desk for the day.

The facilities staff also brings each employee his files. In addition, staffers roam Accenture's halls each night filling up every desk drawer with pens, markers, note pads and other office supplies.

John M. Loehr, who worked for hotels before coming to Accenture, manages the facilities staff. He says "good customer service" is the key to hoteling.

"When you're here, we're going to kill you with service. We're going to take care of you and give you everything you need to do your job," he says.

Convincing workers

Making an office hoteling program run smoothly is one thing. But as Accenture and other firms have discovered, getting your employees to buy into the program is something else entirely.

Mr. Rohleder, the Accenture managing partner, says it was tough for his employees to get used to the idea of not having their own desk. The firm began experimenting with hoteling before it moved from the District to Reston in 1999.

"It was difficult for many of us," he says, noting that he had to sacrifice a plush corner office. "For a lot of people, their office is an important part of the corporate culture. Now you're given offices based on what you do, not who you are."

John D. Stanford, a manager who has worked for Accenture for 10 years, says adjusting to hoteling became easier for him once he saw how much more efficient he became.

"It forces you to plan ahead and make the most of the time you do spend in the office," he says.

Technology is also key to making hoteling work, according to Richard W. Dugan, a managing partner for Ernst & Young. For example, his employees are assigned personal telephone numbers, which follow them from desk to desk.

"You couldn't have hoteling without that kind of technology," he says.

Hoteling requires a lot of thinking, too. Because so many different kinds of people pass through Accenture's and Ernst & Young's offices each day, both firms keep their work spaces as "vanilla" as possible: Most plants in the office produce no pollen. Most of the paintings and other decor is so generic it could have come off the walls of a real hotel.

"People have to feel comfortable when they are at work," Mr. Dugan says.

Hoteling also depends on special staffers. Accenture's "service team" the people who cart the totes around to employees, retrieve files and replenish desk drawers includes an 18-person daytime crew and a seven-person after-hours crew.

Accenture even has a three-person concierge department to handle personal business for employees. The errands are usually typical picking up dry cleaning, making travel arrangements although the department has also had to order a wedding dress for an employee and track down special screws needed to repair another worker's waterbed.

Employees are charged $10 an hour to use the service.

"The company wants the employees to focus on work when they're at work. They don't want them to be distracted by these kinds of things," Mr. Loehr says.

'Misunderstood'

It is difficult to gauge the popularity of office hoteling in the United States.

The most recent statistics from the Building Owners and Managers Association is a 1999 survey of 1,800 office tenants in 126 cities that found only 33 percent had adopted some kind of "alternative workplace" program.

Of those respondents, only 7 percent used hoteling. Twenty-four percent used telecommuting, and 18 percent had "virtual offices," where employees use laptops to do their work at a client's building.

More than 40 percent of the tenants that used hoteling said it allowed them to cut back on the office space they needed. Ten percent said hoteling required fewer parking spaces for their employees.

Mr. Gaudreau of the British hoteling firm Regus says the concept remains "very misunderstood" even though it has been around for a few years.

"People are still afraid of losing the picture of their wife and kids and dog. They're still afraid of losing their identity," he says.

Still, the kinds of businesses that use hoteling is becoming more diverse, Mr. Gaudreau says.

Regus recently set up a hoteling program for Santa Clara, Calif.-based Intel Corp. The computer chip-maker wanted a satellite office in a San Francisco suburb where employees could drop in when they are unable to make it into the headquarters building.

Other technology companies with hoteling programs include Sun Microsystems Inc. and Cisco Systems Inc.

"The consultants, the sales people, they started using hoteling first. Now it's becoming popular with the high-knowledge workers, who can do their work no matter where they are," Mr. Gaudreau says.

Hoteling is another example of the changing face of the American workplace, he says.

In the 1990s, "telecommuting" technology made it possible for many workers to do their jobs from home. Later, casual business clothes replaced suits and heels for many workers.

Even one of corporate America's most enduring status symbols the executive suite has come under siege. Companies such as accounting firm Arthur Andersen and BF Goodrich Co. have stripped their senior managers of private offices and moved them into cubicles.

"People are becoming smarter about how they use office space," Mr. Gaudreau says.

In Accenture's case, hoteling remains a work in progress, Mr. Loehr says. The firm plans to give up some of its space in Reston so it can open satellite offices around the D.C. region, he says.

"It would be more of a hub-and-spoke model, with a central office and a series of smaller offices surrounding it," Mr. Loehr says.

Mr. Dugan of Ernst & Young expects hoteling at his firm to get easier as time progresses.

"We've been doing this long enough now that our employees have learned to accept it. I don't think all of them love it. But the people we hire now will never know the old way we used to do things," he says.

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