Investment Bank UBS Switches to Open Offices

March 10, 2017

UBS-Reinvents-WorkSpaceOver the years, Silicon Valley startups have become famous for developing open work spaces free of personalized desks or big corner offices. The idea is to allow employees to gather together and collaborate rather than leave them enclosed in their cubicles. While other companies avoided this unconventional approach at first, more firms have switched to open offices as the concept has become more popular. Still, these companies have tended to be smaller operations as many big businesses remained skeptical that open office plans would work for them.

That’s not the case for the Swiss investment bank UBS, however. The major financial firm recently announced that its new building in central London will have no assigned desks or landline phones for the 6,000 employees located there. Instead, staffers can have their choice of “thin” desks located throughout the office, each equipped with a computer and headset that connects to the user’s mobile device. Employees can log into their virtual desktops from any of these stations, giving them the freedom to work wherever and with whomever they like. “For me, it’s opening up and allowing people to work in different ways on whatever project, whatever activity they’re working on,” said UBS managing director Andrew Owen. “Being chained to a desk in a singular environment is restrictive.”

Along with encouraging collaboration among employees, UBS also stands to save a lot of money from its office overhaul. After all, real estate prices have skyrocketed in London in recent years, leading even large firms to scale down. UBS has consolidated space by eliminating 40 percent of individual offices. What’s more, none of the remaining offices sits by a window, enabling sunlight to shine throughout the new building. Not only does this save on heating costs, but it also improves morale by keeping employees’ work areas bright and open to the outside world. UBS has so much confidence in its new office plan that the firm is expanding the idea to its branches in Nashville and India.

Questions:

 

  1. Which environment would you prefer to work in: an open office with no assigned desks or a traditional office with cubicles?
  2. Why have large companies been more reluctant to adopt open office plans?

Source: Chad Bray, “No Laptop, No Phone, No Desk: UBS Reinvents the Work Space,” The New York Times, November 3, 2016.

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