Now Booz Allen workers have to call to reserve their desks

By Marjorie Censer
Monday, February 14, 2011

Forget minibars, free soap and room service. The newest hotels are Booz Allen Hamilton offices, equipped with computers, laptop docking stations and a different kind of concierge.

The McLean-based contracting giant is rolling out a concept the company says gives employees more flexibility and helps the firm make sure it doesn't outgrow its existing real estate. It's called "hoteling," and requires less-senior employees to give up traditional desks and offices and instead reserve a space if they want to come to the office. If not, they can work at home, at a government client's facility or at a coffeehouse.

Booz Allen began with a pilot program launched at one McLean building more than two years ago and has since rolled it out in four more locations. This year, Booz Allen will implement hoteling at four additional D.C.-area facilities.

Allan Shoulders, a software developer who started his career at Booz Allen in McLean in 2006, now reserves a desk in the company's Rockville office, much closer to his Gaithersburg home. Despite giving up a traditional office complete with family photos or snacks, Shoulders said the flexibility -- and skipping the occasional two-hour commute -- has been worth it.

Company leaders came up with the concept about three years ago, when they realized the firm was growing its staff faster than its buildings could keep up with, said Gary Lance, Booz Allen's vice president for core services.

At the same time, employees were becoming increasingly vocal about their time-sucking commutes.

"We thought, 'Let's just try to be creative here,' " Lance said.

Recognizing that on any given day about one-third of the company's employees aren't in the office, the company opted to give hoteling a shot. Under the policy, employees at the lead associate level or below -- about two-thirds of the workforce -- must book a desk if they want to work in a Booz Allen facility. Employees at senior associate level or above retain dedicated offices.

The company has equipped hoteling sites with concierges who help employees reserve a room or locate other employees. Booz Allen also added lounges, lockers and collaboration rooms, where hoteling employees can hold meetings. There are even small privacy rooms, like phone booths, which employees can use to make private calls.

Technology is key to making the policy work, Lance said, so Booz Allen has installed flat screen monitors that employees use to see a floor plan of available offices, make reservations and check in. The company also improved its video teleconferencing capability and established a phone number employees can call that allows them to simply say another employee's name and be connected.

Some employees -- such as receptionists and those who work in graphics rooms or print shops -- are exempt because they can't do their jobs from other desks.

Shoulders said he almost always works from the same third-floor office with a view, which he reserves in advance, while Booz Allen associate Dee Dee DeHaven, a 23-year employee, selects an office on the spot each morning. Before she started hoteling, DeHaven had to pare down to a single locker the files she had collected for years.

But now she said she prefers working this way. "I don't miss the stuff," DeHaven said.

Lance, who worried the program would hurt Booz Allen's culture, said he has been pleasantly surprised by the employee response.

"I'm from the old school [and] always had my own desk, my own office," said Lance. But for newer Booz Allen Hamilton employees, "you can be more mobile, you can be more flexible."

© 2011 The Washington Post Company