Seating arrangements move ahead for time

Updated: 2012-06-24 07:41

By Tong Hao (China Daily)

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How can an office with 272 seats hold 1,100 employees?

The Beijing office of Accenture, a global management consulting, technology services and outsourcing company, has the answer. Most of its workers are consultants who usually spend their time traveling or working at clients' premises, so they don't need their own seats and desks, according to Gloria Ge, director of workplace solutions for Accenture Greater China.

Except for those in static departments such as human resources and finance, Accenture workers have to reserve a seat at the office in advance, either online, by phone or at office reception. Conference rooms need to be reserved in the same way.

"Online booking is encouraged," Ge said. "A worker can reserve a seat not only in the local office, but at any of our offices worldwide.

"You can also see the location of the seat online, how far it is from the window, printer or the coffee room."

Ge said the average seat occupancy rate in the Beijing office is currently 67 percent, while the ideal rate is about 90 percent.

But Accenture is the only one using the seat reservation system among the interviewee companies, and it seems unlikely it will become a trend in the consulting industry. Two other international consulting firms, McKinsey and Bain & Company, said they had no plans to introduce the system.

At major accounting firm Ernst & Young Great China, some employees such as auditors who travel a lot and work at clients' offices long-term, do not have permanent seats at their own office, while others do, according to Huang Wen, the company's human resources managing partner.

"We have no plans to adopt such a reservation system because we have enough seats for our employees," he said, adding that he believed the other major accountancy firms were in a similar position.

Ge said the reservation system is not suited to every company or industry.

"Before adopting the workplace reservation system, a company should first consider the working style of its employees. It's the key factor," she said. "The system is not suitable for a company in the manufacturing industry, for example. The company should know what its employees require, and if its technology is well-enough developed to support such a system."

Ge believes the seating policy not only reduces the cost of the office itself but also saves on energy and other running costs. She said senior managers as well as general staff had to reserve seats in advance. A seat can be taken by anyone, although senior managers usually booked seats in more private areas or rooms, due to the importance of the information they dealt with.

At Accenture, these separate sections and conference rooms have an electronic pad at the door where seats and rooms can be reserved. A red light means the seat or room is taken, while green means available.

Roger Zhang, who works at Accenture's Shanghai office, said he thought the reservation system was strange at first, but now he's used to it. "I like the system, and because of it, the company can invest more money in employees' training and welfare."

Lyann Li, a worker in the Beijing office, also praised the seating arrangements and said, even without her own seat and space, she didn't feel like a guest.

"If there is a fixed seat for someone who seldom appears in office, it would be a waste," she said. "A fixed seat doesn't create a sense of belonging but good personnel management does."