Accenture’s high-tech, flexible office space designed with millennials in mind

September 1, 2013

When Accenture chats up millennial generation workers at recruiting events, the consulting giant has noticed that a few similar themes crop up.

“They’ll want to know about our environmental stewardship, they’ll want to know about our workplace, about the flexible work arrangements,” said Stuart Solomon, managing director of Accenture’s Washington area office. “Those are questions now that Gen-Y asks that we didn’t get a whole lot of out of previous generations.”

And so the firm set out to remake its local office space to be more conducive to the way these 20-something workers want to do their jobs.

“We wanted to make sure we were embracing the things that were important to them so that they’d be happy, that they’d be productive,” Solomon said.

Much of the design for its 90,000-square-foot office on North Glebe Road in Arlington is built around a few key concepts: Flexibility, mobility and connectivity. The space makes use of a set-up known as “hoteling,” in which staffers aren’t assigned a designated work space. They reserve one only on days when they plan to come to the office.

When employees arrive, they can stash their belongings in a brightly colored locker, each of which is outfitted with two electrical outlets for charging their gadgets. Instead of making their way to L-shaped cubicles with high walls, they can settle in at work stations set up in long, parallel rows with no partitions between workers. The layout is meant to encourage collaboration and give the office a more airy feel.

There are still some offices scattered throughout the building, but these spaces are intentionally smaller than your typical office.

“It’s not geared [for someone] to be in there eight hours. It’s geared to make that private call,” said Terence O’Connor, workplace lead for Accenture’s Washington area office.

It’s not just the spatial configuration that makes these work spaces distinctive: None of them come with traditional desktop phones, because Accenture employees are set up to do all of their phone communication over the Web.

If you were to walk through the rows of work stations, you might notice a low murmur that sounds like the whirring of a fan or air conditioner. But the hum is actually a white noise system, designed to muffle sound since it travels so easily through the open floor plan.

Katie Grubiak, 22, joined Accenture as a recruiter after graduating in May.

“I think it’s a great environment for collaboration,” Grubiak said.

Grubiak and her team will often grab a spot next to a wall of windows, but will occasionally duck into an office for a private call or sign up for a more formal conference room when a job candidate is coming in to interview.

And the lockers, in particular, didn’t take much getting used to.

“As a student in college, I was kind of always on the move and took my things wherever I went,” Grubiak said.

Aided by technology

Technology is crucial in creating efficient experiences for Accenture’s on-the-go workers.

Reserving a conference room or work station can be done using software called Event Management System. Workers can cancel or reserve rooms from anywhere that they can access via the Web. When they arrive at the room they want to use, they can sign in to that system using a Room Wizard, a touchscreen gadget mounted on the wall next to the meeting space.

The TelePresence room replicates the experience of an in-person meeting with colleagues across the globe. The space is equipped with a semi-circular wooden table that faces a wall of LCD monitors. The screens show one’s faraway colleagues in real-time sitting at a table of the same style and size, allowing for a meeting that feels natural.

Accenture says that all of the changes — both the smarter use of space and the increased use of technology — have helped it become a more environmentally-friendly workplace. The hoteling arrangement makes for smaller office space and technology such as Telepresence reduces the need for travel, both of which allow the firm to trim its carbon footprint.

Shift to Ballston

That Accenture’s revamped office is located just a few blocks away from the Ballston Metro stop is a reflection of the region’s changing business climate and the new face of its workers.

Fourteen years ago, Accenture moved its regional office from K Street NW in the District to Reston.

“That was in response to where the largest client base in the area was,” Solomon said. Major firms such as MCI, Sprint, Nextel and AOL were located there, and telecommunications was then the largest practice area for Accenture’s local office.

“As the marketplace has kind of reshuffled over the decade or so, what we saw is a larger population of our clients within striking distance of [Arlington],” Solomon said.

But it’s not just proximity to clients that made the location attractive. Accenture also realized that many of its workers now live much closer to Arlington than to Reston, a pattern which parallels a broader trend in which millennials that have flocked to the Washington region have largely preferred to be close to its urban core. And, like many new residents in the area, many of Accenture’s workers wanted to commute via public transportation, which was much more feasible with an Arlington office.

Sarah Halzack is a reporter and Web editor for Capital Business. She covers the local job market and the business of talent and hiring. Previously, she was a Web producer for the Post's daily business and economic news section. She occasionally writes for other sections at the Post, most frequently in the form of dance reviews, dance features, book reviews and obituaries.
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