Purpose This paper examines two related articles focused on the interaction of information technology and “structure” in an organization that initiated a “technology-driven” change and continues to adopt and practice an apparent radical business model grossly supported by the current state of information technology.
Considered in this paper are: (1) the points raised by one of the authors of the two articles used in this paper, Wallace (2000), about office design and the degree to which IT can or should drive decisions about the structure and functioning of workplaces; (2) some of the points discussed in the above said two articles regarding technology choices made by certain companies aligned with their corporate philosophy; and (3) the opinion of this writer/student whether <he/she> would enjoy working in a company like the restructured Oticon.
Objective This paper answers this question: Is Oticon a good model for effectively integrating information technology into the office? Introduction How would one react today to an interviewer’s opening remarks, like this: “No titles. No offices. No paper. ”? Welcome to Oticon—a company that “thrives on chaos”! A company that has demonstrated it is possible to create such an organizational environment and yet capable of producing impressive results. The Oticon organization People at Oticon are “given freedom to do what they want,” quotes LaBarre (1996) of Lars Kolind, the leader of Oticon Holding A/S.
Inside Oticon’s “150-person headquarters” are plenty of workstations, but no one is sitting at them … hardly anyone is sitting anywhere. ” And yet, the signs of “subversion” and “revolution” are manifested in the “quiet chirping of the company’s ‘internal’ mobile telephones; footsteps tapping up and down a three-story circular staircase; the rumble of wheels on hardwood, a signal that employees are moving their ‘offices’ … and forming new self-managed teams.
” The workforce is expected to develop “products twice as fast as anybody else”; however, “not fast on the surface” but rather “fast underneath. ” The company enjoys an enviable record today, like, a “shares … trade for $100 — 50% above the IPO price. ” All it took to initiate the revival of a “deeply troubled company” was a “four-page memo”—a “declaration of dis-organization” aimed at “reinventing the company” forever. The revolutionary leader of Oticon believed a “breakthrough” was needed that required the “combination of technology with audiology, psychology, and imagination.
” Behind this conviction is the “ability to ‘think the unthinkable’ and make it happen. ” People in this kind of organization “would be liberated to grow, personally and professionally, and to become more creative, action-oriented, and efficient,” quotes LaBarre of Kolind (1996). The “formal organization” of Oticon was “abolished. ” “Projects,” but not the typical functionaries that create bureaucracy in an organization, “became the defining unit of work. ” In Oticon “teams form, disband, and form again as the work requires….
Project leaders … compete to attract the resources and people to deliver results. Project owners (members of the company’s 10-person management team) provide advice and support, but make few actual decisions. The company has a hundred or so projects at any one time, and most people work on several projects at once. It is, essentially, a free market in work,” observes LaBarre (1996). Each project is treated like a “company” itself and the Project Leader can feel like a true “CEO.
” Plenty of “freedom” is allowed; “use of more resources than planned” are not an issue; but “Deadlines are what really matter” in Oticon. The physical environment at Oticon is atypical—“uniform mobile workstations consisting of desks without drawers and state-of-the-art networked computers”; “office spaces” are nothing but a space to “park” one’s work tools during a project duration that could be within a “few weeks to several months”; the “environment” reinforces “walking, talking, and acting.
” What enables the maintenance of the delicate balance of “dis-organization” and a highly productive, coordinated, and efficient functioning at Oticon is the number of technologies that support this business environment. One is a technology-based mechanism that allows employees freedom to “move around” without having to “drag lots of paper with them”—each morning, people enter the “paper-room” to take their individual mails; scan them; then “throw the originals into a shredder.
” Another is the extensive and mandatory use of “mobile phones”—these gadgets are “small, sleek …a permanent appendage to the waists of Oticon’s employees. ” A third is a technology that supports “shared creativity”—a “large, computer-filled conference room [that] includes groupware systems for electronic brainstorming and electronic whiteboards connected to videoconferencing equipment,” notes LaBarre (1996). Furthermore, these “tools ‘speed up our intellectual process by a factor of five,’…. We can do in one day what we used to do in one week.
We use them whenever we come to a critical decision-making point. We also use groupware for collective writing of technical manuals. It’s fascinating to watch 10 people simultaneously working on one document” quotes LaBarre of Kolind (1996). But what if people fall back to old habits? Well, when it did prevail in Oticon at one Christmas time, a decisive executive said “I exploded the organization” (LaBarre, 1996). And in a “rare top-down intervention” at Oticon, the CEO “instructed people and teams to relocate based on the time horizons of their projects.
” For example, “Teams devoted to short-term business goals (sales, marketing, customer service) moved to the top floor. People working on medium-term projects (upgrading current products, for example) and long-term research went to the second floor. People focused on technology, infrastructure, and support moved to the first floor,” notes LaBarre (1996). This kind of situation makes Eticon’s business environment a “total chaos,” and “[w]ithin three hours, over a hundred people had moved,” quotes LaBarre of Kolind (1996).
Finally, LaBarre highlights Eticon as a unique company with this quotation of the company’s CEO: “To keep a company alive, one of the jobs of top management is to keep it dis-organized” (1996). The role of office design in an organization The Eticon case illustrated above demonstrated the successful firm resolve of a CEO to implement a plan—that is, to “dis-organize”; however, with the appropriate support mechanisms—that is, the adoption of appropriate information technology support base.
LaBarre (1996), however, gives less emphasis on the significant impact of “office design” in the article although a 3-storey “headquarters” edifice implies something although lacking in details. Wallace’s (2000) article rather provides more emphasis on the role and impact of “office design” in today’s organizational and work environments where people, machines, tools, equipment, and various technologies particularly “information” inevitably interact.
“Technology is creating a huge evolution in office design, affecting where, how, when, and what work is done,” writes Wallace (2000). And “[c]ompanies’ business models and technology needs must be identified for architects and designers to design appropriate solutions. ” Wallace points out that “corporations are investing in people and what makes them more productive—including redesigning the office work environment” so that “[b]efore moving furniture and walls around, a company must assess its corporate philosophy and either confirm it, rework it, or adopt a new one” (2000).
In presenting the “three basic business philosophies reflected in office design,” Wallace (2000) stresses on a “rank or job title equals square footage” model which implies that the size of offices allocated to employees is based on currently-held position; the other end of this model is the “pay-for-performance”-related philosophy in which the organization is characterized by its “flat”-ness and office space does not really matter much so long as targets are achieved.
In the middle of these two extremes lies the third philosophy which is a mixture of the two extremes that influences the varied designs of office spaces. Another key emphasis of Wallace’s article is that “technology drives new office design. ” Gone are the days when a manager- or a Director-level position, for instance, would be provided with specific office space design. Today, as what Wallace writes, high consideration is given to the integration of technology-based infrastructure in “office designs” like where to strategically place a conference room that is quickly accessible for everyone.
This conference room must also contain all the requisite IT-supported machines, like, phones, video conference boards, projectors, computers and printers, among other. One side bar in Wallace’s entitled is “A Tale of Two (Virtual) Offices. ” It mentions about Oticon, thus: “In spite of the best of intentions and contrary to rumors, the paperless office still hasn’t arrived. Closest to making it a reality is Denmark-based Oticon” (2000). In another side bar in Wallace’s article, the author writes: “Sounds cool, doesn’t it?
Before you consider a paperless office, be forewarned that the reality of going virtual requires more than a top-down management decision” (2000). Wallace (2000) concludes her article with: The past: You were in the office. The present: Your desk is office. The future: You are the office. Conclusion The answer of this student/writer to the question “Is Oticon a good model for effectively integrating information technology into the office? ” is: Yes. However, not all companies in the world are Eticon.
Some key factors are important to be considered—the decision-makers; the workforce; the office design; and specific IT-based support mechanisms. This student/writer would enjoy working in a company like the restructured Oticon. If there is Eticon of Denmark, there is also a GE of the US that spurred the creation of its e-Business and influenced global e-commerce from its inception in 1999. GE’s e-Business created a corporate culture known today as “Destroy Your Business” driven by then GE’s CEO, Jack Welch, Jr. (see General Electric Company, 2007).
1. General Electric Company (2007). GE 2006 Annual Report. Retrieved March 20, 2007 from http://www. ge. com/ar2006/ltr_stakeholders. htm 2. LaBarre, P. (1996). This Organization Is Dis-Organization. In Fastcompany. com Issue 03, p. 77, retrieved on March 19, 2007 from http://www. fastcompany. com/online/03/oticon. html 3. Wallace, M. C. (2000). Complexity of New Office Designs: Thinking Through Your Future Workplace. In Searcher Vol. 8, No. 10, retrieved March 19, 2007 from http://www. infotoday. com/searcher/nov00/wallace. htm