How to Save $ and Improve Engagement: EY’s Workplace of the Future

September 27, 2013 8:11 pm

By Barbara Frankel

Maryella Gockel, EY


What if you could save millions of dollars annually, improve engagement and trust, and create an easy conduit for your senior leaders to interact with employees?

With all those goals in mind, EY is one of a handful of organizations making the leap into the Workplace of the Future. The idea of communal, flexible office space solely as a cost-saving real-estate option has been around for more than a decade. What makes this different is the emphasis on corporate culture and technology.

“The new Workplace of the Future is really about the intersection of real estate, people initiatives [talent] and IT. How do we get those in sync—the sweet spot of integration of those three pieces?” says Maryella Gockel, EY Americas Flexibility Strategy Leader.

For a company that employs 167,000 people globally and leases 22.4 million square feet of office space in more than 140 countries, space considerations—and flexibility needs—are considerable.

EY started focusing on space efficiency in the mid-1990s and has reduced square footage per employee from 230 square feet per person to 135 square feet per person. But the current model workplace looks very different than what employees saw 20 years ago. It includes lounge walls with televisions, collaboration rooms with tools such as teleconferencing support, and desk space that is not permanently assigned but available by calling or logging into a kiosk.

“Our workplace stresses inclusiveness and flexibility; it’s more of a trust space. It allows teams to work together, and space is no longer based on hierarchy—it’s based on needs,” says Gockel.

EY's Workplace of the Future
EY’s Workplace of the Future

The space is very open, with a layout that allows for more ease in conversing with team members. Some desks can be reserved in advance; some are walk-up only.


A kiosk post and curved wall stand at one of the entrances to the floor.

Casual Seating
Casual Seating

Casual seating areas around the floor allow for just-in-time conversations and opportunities for teams to work collaboratively in an open space.

Internet Cafes
Internet Cafes

The Internet cafe is an ergonomically designed environment with a variety of temporary work areas and plenty of well-lit space along the windows. It serves as a great place for office activities such as town halls and recruiting events, as well as an informal meeting area for teams.

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Case Study: Atlanta Office

EY began three Workplace of the Future experiments within the last year in its offices in Atlanta, San Francisco and Sydney, Australia. Karole Lloyd, Southeast Regional Managing Partner at Ernst & Young LLP, a U.S. member firm of the global EY organization, felt Atlanta was a great choice for the experiment.

Karole Lloyd, EY

Lloyd and a colleague in EY’s Workplace of the Future.

“Our Vision 2020 [EY’s strategy to build a better working world] emphasizes exceptional high performance based on team-oriented work. … This gives us the ability to relax and be flexible, but our firm’s core values are written on the walls,” she says. She cites as examples the glass-top tables where employees can take pictures or write notes and send them to themselves or others; the kiosk where they can make reservations each day for space; and the circular collaboration areas.

The Workplace of the Future has enabled the Atlanta office to more than double the usable space it has on the floor where the experiment has been in place. The Atlanta office has 1,550 employees on five floors and, Lloyd notes, the Atlanta area has a “horrible traffic problem.” This caused many employees to decide to work from home more, especially those who travel to see clients during the week. Lloyd wanted to increase engagement by encouraging them to come to the office more. The office also was growing rapidly and space was a premium.

“You build culture by being involved with other people. People who travel Monday through Thursday now come in on Friday instead of working at home,” she says.

She notes that the Atlanta office identified 35 senior leaders/partners who spent less than 30–40 percent of their time in the office to participate. Although they were initially enthusiastic, as the physical change neared there was some nervousness. That included Lloyd, the most senior person in the building, who decided that “I would move first.” She left her corner top-level office and started going to the kiosk to see where she would sit each day in the office.

“Being a leader in the practice, I like to engage with the people who work there. I probably see four times as many people as I did before. Because I’m on the floor, people will grab me,” Lloyd says.

How does EY measure the results? Engagement and positive anecdotes from employees, including new hires, who see the space and are excited about working there.

What’s next? It is expected that 100 offices are moving toward the Workplace of the Future by 2020, including those in Prague, Czech Republic; Helsinki, Finland; Hong Kong; Singapore; San Jose, Calif.; and Indianapolis.

“Money savings can be put back into the development of our people and the technology we need,” Gockel says. She adds that there is a benefit with clients as well, who are shown the workplace and “are in awe of just how energizing it is. … It also helps employees to see how our leaders interact with clients on the phone. It’s a great way to learn from people more senior than yourself.”