Liverpool Group:Hot Desking and Teleworking

August 31, 1998

The Liverpool Group enjoyed one of its most interesting and successful meetings since its inauguration in 1994. Simon Holmes, a partner at the Liverpool office of PriceWaterhouseCoopers, introduced the session which described his firms move into new, purpose-designed office accommodation which enables the local staff of approximately 150 to occupy space available for 80.

John Conner, PWCs UK accommodation manager, described the theory behind what he now calls ‘hoteling’ and the administrative and practical arrangements which had to be made. The concept helps to control and minimise the cost of property which is a very expensive overhead. Firms locked into long leases of 25 years or more have very different perceptions and requirements in the late 1990s to those which they had when they took their leases in the mid-1980s. A period of expansion has given way to a period of caution and downsizing. Powerful technology which is physically much smaller than that available in the mid-1980s allows office staff to communicate easily and seamlessly wherever they are. The old hierarchical use of space has given way to a non-territorial open-plan way of working. A new culture pervades the office marketplace allowing the introduction of features such as clean desk policies. John emphasises, however, that, for a concept like this (which involves an element of home-working by choice) there must be ownership at the very top of the partnership.

Lee Marriott, a manager in PWC’s Liverpool Tax Department, gave the viewpoint of the staff. A new telephone system, Virtel, allows staff to be easily accessible to clients, whether they be in the office, at home, at the end of a mobile or with clients. The conversion from desktop PCs to portable laptops gives much greater flexibility in where and how work is carried out. ‘Touch Down Zones’ are available for the likes of audit staff who require only a small period of time in the office. ‘Monks’ Cells’, ie rooms set aside for quiet use, give some respite from the open plan philosophy. The concept is that staff book their time in the office and are allocated space within loose interest areas. Some, like Lee, whose tax practice keeps him in the office more than out of it, tend to occupy the same desk week in and week out but others occupy whatever space is available when they require it. Lee described the ‘clean desk policy’ which is monitored nightly by the ‘Paper Police’ who remove any paper or other items left on desks in black plastic bags! Items can be retrieved by a personal visit to a service desk. Personal storage space is limited. However, the open-plan layout gives rise to greater social interaction and the ability to swap ideas on work-related matters. Lee’s verdict, after six months, was that the concept was a good one.

After completion of the speakers’ talks, a lengthy period of questioning and discussion took place which reinforced the serious interest shown by the audience in the subject. It remains to be seen who will be next in Liverpool to follow suit.