Phonebooths and Mailboxes

Mobility and technology together have created great benefits, not just for businesses, but also for their workers and the world.

01/30/2013 By Steve Delfino

PIXAR: This extraordinary company doesn’t encourage telecommuting—quite the opposite. Instead, it encourages people to come to the workplace and makes it as inviting as possible. The campus has several buildings but no desks are assigned. Instead, co-workers gather in small meeting spaces, and the mobility occurs as people circulate carrying their laptops, tablets and cellphones. A large hallway directly in the center of the main building is meant to draw employees together, creating a true sense of community. Workers also have access to a lap pool, racquetball and basketball courts and a wellness center. It’s a truly mobile and magical place to work.

GOOGLE: Like Pixar, Google practices internal mobility, even though with more than 10,000 employees worldwide, telecommuting would seem like a perfect fit. Instead the Googleplex complex in the Bay Area is sort of a self-contained city, where interaction is encouraged and “office flow” keeps creativity alive. Lunch and dinner are free, and by all accounts, gourmet in quality; employees can also get a massage, swim laps and relieve tension on the volleyball court. But most telling about this company’s approach to workforce mobility is its 32 free shuttle buses that ferry 1,200 employees daily to and from work. Once at the Googleplex, workers are highly mobile with shared spaces, break rooms and restaurants. People can relax and share ideas literally anywhere.

SKYPE: The ultimate in electronic communication, this company employs both teleworkers and internal workers. Those who come to the Palo Alto location sit at open workbenches and meet in comfortable spaces. There are touchdown areas for teleworkers, media stations designed for small groups and a cozy lounge for quiet time. And whiteboards are everywhere, hanging from pegs. Workers can take the boards down and move them around—a low-tech way to share ideas in a high-tech company.

IBM: At more than 100 years old, this endlessly innovative company employs about 6,000 people at its Toronto office complex, yet there are only 2,500 workstations—and only 1,200 of those are used on a daily basis. This is a company that truly thrives on distributed or mobile workers. There are very few private offices and most people work remotely at least 2 days a week. By sharing desks and allowing employees to work from home, IBM reduced its Toronto office space by 40 percent and cut energy costs significantly. When teleworkers arrive at the office, a touchscreen kiosk indicates which desks are available to be booked. To promote communication and connection, the desks are arranged in a pinwheel format so that employees are always able to see one another.

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Technology has changed the map of the workplace itself. As I mentioned earlier, offices are now designed for groups, not individuals. Office design today is about people and culture, rather than machines. For mobile workers, the most effective spaces are those that create proximity and eliminate barriers to communication. It’s about creating a place where people want to be—a place that encourages companionship, collaboration and community. But who are the workers in this new office landscape?

the new demographics
If we look at the new work paradigm, there are essentially four main groups of workers who require some type of accommodation in the physical office space. Each has a varying degree of, and attachment to, mobility.

FIXED-FOCUS/IN-OFFICE WORKERS: These are the traditionalists, the workers who spend most of their time at a designated desk in a designated place, whether it’s a private office, a cubicle or an open space. They may carry their smartphone, laptop or tablet from one area to another, but they are essentially static.

IN-MOTION/ON-SITE WORKERS: These workers come to an office or campus to work, but they may not have an assigned desk. They likely work at various sites within the office, sharing space or joining their colleagues in informal collaborative spots. Although this seems to be a recent phenomenon, these types of mobile workers have been around for a long time; we just didn’t call them mobile workers. We called them nurses or plant superintendents or facility managers—people with jobs that never allow them to remain in one place for any length of time.

EXTERNALLY MOBILE WORKERS: These are your company sales reps, tech reps and consultants, the nomads or “road warriors” who are always on the road, but come to the office for meetings. Extremely dependent on their mobile devices to stay connected with the office “base camp,” they often interact with the IT team. They may or may not have a designated workspace, but as long as they’re able to connect within the office space, they’re fine.

DISTANCE WORKERS: Whether you call them distance workers, distributed workers, teleworkers or mobile workers, these are the people who perform their work at a single offsite location—usually their own home. They visit the office to participate in team meetings or just to realize some valuable face time with colleagues.

design for the future of work
Before you draw up the plans for new or reconfigured office space, you need to identify the kinds of workers that will inhabit the space. You have to assess your organization and your people. What tools do they need, how much space does each worker need and for how long? Does your design mirror the culture of your company and your workers? It is critical to create a work environment that attracts, motivates, enables and retains the talent a company needs to stay ahead of the competition. Offices that have a mix of workers should offer a mix of settings; a variety of open and enclosed spaces with the frame of the office architecture. Phonebooths & Mailboxes offers ideas on how to create an engaging and adjustable workplace, one that fosters a lively collegiate culture and delivers a superior level of innovation. It should be a place where people forget they are “at work” and experience a rewarding creative, intellectual and social life.


Phonebooths and Mailboxes was written and researched by Teknion, designed by Vanderbyl Design and illustrated by Ric Carrasquillo. A digital version is available for downloading free of charge at


1 Telework Coalition web site,

2 Lynda Gratton Investigates: The Future of Work, Business Strategy Review, Q3-2010.

3 Telework Research Network,

4 “Telework Under the Microscope,” a joint study by the Telework Exchange and the National Science Foundation. March 2008.

5 The Network, Cisco’s Technology News Site, Cisco Study Finds Telecommuting Significantly Increases Employee Productivity, Work-Life Flexibility and Job Satisfaction, San Jose, CA June 25, 2009.

6 Research: Telecommuting a Win-Win for Employees and Employers, Penn State, Smeal College of Business, University Park, PA (November 20, 2007).

7 Karen Sobel Lojeski and Richard R. Reilly, Uniting the Virtual Workforce: Transforming Leadership and Innovation in the Globally Integrated Enterprise, Microsoft Executive Leadership Series, April 2008


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