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DBL%20Hendrix%20small.png College chemistry, 1983

Derek Lowe The 2002 Model

Dbl%20new%20portrait%20B%26W.png After 10 years of blogging. . .

Derek Lowe, an Arkansan by birth, got his BA from Hendrix College and his PhD in organic chemistry from Duke before spending time in Germany on a Humboldt Fellowship on his post-doc. He's worked for several major pharmaceutical companies since 1989 on drug discovery projects against schizophrenia, Alzheimer's, diabetes, osteoporosis and other diseases. To contact Derek email him directly: derekb.lowe@gmail.com Twitter: Dereklowe

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March 18, 2011

Brave New Office

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Posted by Derek

Management fads are truly a bad sign. I don't think that there's anyone out there in the working world who doesn't realize this, on some level, but it's worth keeping in mind. When some higher-up at your company decides "You know, we'd make a huge leap in productivity if we just did everything totally differently than we've ever done them before - I read this great article!", then you really need to hunker down until the fit passes.

Well, some of the folks at GlaxoSmithKline down in Research Triangle are probably looking for somewhere to hide. Because according to this article, the company is (yes!) at the forefront of a movement that's (yes!) sweeping the nation: open office space. No assigned desks, no permanent locations, just everyone floating around in a cloud of happy productivity. Jim Edwards at Bnet is right when he calls this "slightly insane".

Um. . .haven't we been hearing about this wonderful innovation for years now? And haven't several companies tried it and abandoned it, because (strangely enough) their employees didn't like the idea of putting their possessions into lockers every morning, wandering (or scrambling) around for desk space, and being unable to leave the slightest sign of anything personal around their work area? Here are some tempting details:

All employees are assigned a storage unit where they can keep files, a keyboard, a power pack and a mouse. There will also be group storage spaces where files that need to be accessed by more than one person can be kept. Any files that are not accessed regularly will be stored off-site. GSK's document retention policy isn't changing; it just may end up being followed more closely.

Gosh, that does sound like what I've been yearning for all these years. Making the transition to this wonderful environment isn't easy, though:

The larger move will ultimately include an extensive education campaign to prepare employees for their new surroundings.

Employees will work in neighborhoods, each of which includes meeting rooms and quiet areas. They'll attend etiquette workshops, and each neighborhood will adopt a set of policies to deal with hypothetical situations that may come up.

The groups that are moving to the new layout are those whose managers embraced the change. (Admin Shelby) Bryant now sits at a desk directly across from her boss, David Bishop, GSK's director of site operations in RTP.

Bishop said as the move gets closer, more and more departments are expressing interest in unchaining themselves from their desk.

"I don't believe we will ever get to where everybody wants it," he said.

Maybe not! But that'll be their loss, won't it, not having to go through all that education, and attend those etiquette workshops, and then throw out all their stuff. Honestly, I think I'd rather chew on glass than attend a series of workplace etiquette seminars and get re-educated by someone who tells me that I'm not going to have a desk any more. And those meetings to set behavior policies, those will be delightfully excruciating, for sure. What on earth is the company thinking?

Well, they're thinking about how this will allow them to vacate several buildings, because housing the employees this way takes up less room. So once again, this conforms to a rule that has seldom let me down: any question that starts out with "I wonder how come they. . ." can be answered with the word "Money".

Comments (149) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Business and Markets | Life in the Drug Labs


COMMENTS

1. Chemjobber on March 18, 2011 9:09 AM writes...

This is for the front office folks, right? Not the lab types? (I hope?)

Permalink to Comment

2. GSK-er on March 18, 2011 9:09 AM writes...

yup, this has been "transitioned" for several years now at GSK sites, not only RTP. It even was applied to senior management in the office suite in the Philly area, where they are all to sit in a common area to promote interaction. The area is visible, and remarkably, there is seldom anyone every seen in the room.

It's a concept dreamt-up by consultants for two reasons 1) save money for the company that is sucker enough to buy into it and 2) make money for the consultant and construction groups that refurbish space.

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3. John Thacker on March 18, 2011 9:12 AM writes...

The only companies where I've known anything like this to work are ones that do this only for their substantial number of work-at-home employees, all of whom must occasionally come in to the location but not often. Needless to say, that doesn't really describe pharmaceuticals.

Permalink to Comment

4. Ricardo Ros on March 18, 2011 9:16 AM writes...

I can only add one thing:

http://lib.store.yahoo.net/lib/demotivators/consultingdemotivationalposter.jpg

As I said, sorry to see this practice spreading more and more.

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5. OldLabRat on March 18, 2011 9:20 AM writes...

I've seen this tried before. Those that start the workday early will vie for desks that have good access to necessities, comforts, good mobile phone reception and temperature. In about 2 weeks, the "neighborhood" residents will each be sitting at the same desk every day. A few personal items will appear from a knapsack, etc. in the morning and disappear at day's end. After a month, the storage compartments will be gathering dust as residents start leaving personal effects in place. More etiquette sessions will follow. Add one more non-productive cycle to the workplace.

Too bad employees can't force a recall of bad management practice ala the Miami mayoral recall vote.

Permalink to Comment

6. Henry's cat on March 18, 2011 9:22 AM writes...

This is not 'slightly insane'. This is drooling out of the corner of the mouth, catching imaginary flies-insane.'

When Pharma companies are staffed with robots (they wish) then this sort of nonsense is going to work, but when you are dealing with human beings, I give it two years before it is abandoned.

Permalink to Comment

7. Agilist on March 18, 2011 9:23 AM writes...

No surprises here, a typically cynical take on a genuinely innovative approach to encouraging greater staff interactions. On the one hand, GSK is panned for being overly hierarchichal, yet when it tries to deploy some known levellers, it still gets panned. How about some constructive input!

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8. David P on March 18, 2011 9:33 AM writes...

This could work, assuming that:

# desks >> # people

So I can see why GSK might use it.

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9. Jonathan on March 18, 2011 9:37 AM writes...

And people wonder why NIH wants to (needs to?) help out with the actual business of drug discovery... Everyone at GSK is obviously trying to find out where management put their cheese.

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10. wwjd on March 18, 2011 9:44 AM writes...

A lot of managers at GSK could use those etiquette classes.
Maybe GSK is doing this to make it more difficult to talk to recruiters while at work.

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11. Esther on March 18, 2011 9:48 AM writes...

I wonder if there will be an increase in shoulder and back issues, from carrying the laptop and various things into the office every day? Plus, I bet the storage space is too small for the shower supplies for a bicycle commuter.

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12. anchor on March 18, 2011 9:56 AM writes...

Can I empty my bladder? Somewhere please!!

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13. Rick on March 18, 2011 9:57 AM writes...

Time to dust off the Newspeak Dictionary. Those in Outer Party get to attend joycamps to learn to bellyfeel Newspeak!!! Ownlife is ungood oldthink. Crimethinkers will be sent to Room 101 at Miniluv.

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14. Kay on March 18, 2011 10:02 AM writes...

When I was working at GSK a couple of years ago, they were starting to try this out. It was not very popular. For lab people, I think the idea was to get people to do their work at their bench so they didn't need a desk - laptops were being moved into the labs and we were "encouraged" to do our work in the lab rather than at our desks.

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15. quintus on March 18, 2011 10:04 AM writes...

This is the crap that Novartis has introduced in the so-called campus. What a load of bull it is too, and the Campus

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16. johnnyboy on March 18, 2011 10:04 AM writes...

From #7: "...a typically cynical take on a genuinely innovative approach to encouraging greater staff interactions."

I see. So the key to increasing drug discovery productivity is to have people chat with each other more ?

"How about some constructive input!"

Here's some constructive input for ya: LEAVE PEOPLE ALONE SO THAT THEY CAN DO THEIR WORK !!!

Permalink to Comment

17. Rock on March 18, 2011 10:07 AM writes...

Pfizer did this years ago when they ran out of space in one of the office buildings. They called it 'hoteling'. I hear they are going to try something similar to the GSK model in research. Don't forget the other obvious benefit: Think of all the time saved when they ask you to clean out your office when more layoffs come.

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18. GSKer on March 18, 2011 10:07 AM writes...

I am a fan of not having walls between me and my colleagues. I abhor the idea of not having permanent space! With 8 desks for every 10 employees, it will be terrible. There are two issues here - #1 getting rid of walls and #2 h ot desking. Please do not confuse the two as they do not have to go together.

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19. Anonymous on March 18, 2011 10:13 AM writes...

johnnyboy, don't bother. Agilist is a GSK mouthpiece for the higher ups. See the comments in the following:

http://pipeline.corante.com/archives/2011/02/15/noted_through_massive_selfrestraint_with_almost_no_comment_whatsoever.php

Permalink to Comment

20. Rick on March 18, 2011 10:14 AM writes...

Johnnyboy (#16),
Someone sounds jealous that agilist (#7) is doubleplusgood at doublethink...

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21. Derek Lowe on March 18, 2011 10:14 AM writes...

Agilist, I haven't been complaining that GSK's too heirarchical. But I'm not convinced that using "known levelers" is the key to increasing productivity, either.

To be honest, this looks like a way for the company to save money, while putting a New! Better! Productive! face on it. I think that human beings tend to carve out personal spaces for themselves, and that messing around with that smacks of an unpleasant sort of social engineering.

Permalink to Comment

22. fmr-GSKer on March 18, 2011 10:15 AM writes...

I've heard they're using it in other depts at other sites as well, for things like Chem-dev and HTS, where there are relatively large, central lab facilities and separate office space. I haven't heard of it hitting (what's left of) discovery yet, where the cubes and offices tend to be arranged in a long line along next to the (smaller) labs. Have yet to hear joy expressed about this, or that anyone has gotten to know the boss better.

Permalink to Comment

23. Rick on March 18, 2011 10:20 AM writes...

This is NOT just about saving money! It's about increasing productivity! Reducing the denominator of the productivity formula (=output/spending) increases the quotient, ergo productivity goes up. It's called "denominator management" and it's taught at a fine business school near you.

Permalink to Comment

24. Rick on March 18, 2011 10:23 AM writes...

This is NOT just about saving money! It's about increasing productivity! Reducing the denominator of the productivity formula (=output/spending) increases the quotient, ergo productivity goes up. It's called "denominator management" and it's taught at a fine business school near you.

Permalink to Comment

25. Hap on March 18, 2011 10:23 AM writes...

#7: How about not trying something as policy that hasn't been repeatedly tried and has repeatedly failed? That might help.

You want people to 1) take up less space and 2) be more collaborative. You could do 1) by having more computer tools, particularly portable tools like tablets, and by allowing the access to documents to be free - otherwise, people will either have to save lots of paper or will not have access to useful information. From the statement, that seems to be pretty much what you're not doing. Money savings from lower rent are obvious, but the costs to employee productivity are probably real - you may not see them, but they are there. Short-term thinking in a long-term business will not win.

2) is hard, but forcing people to collaborate is pretty well known not to work. If you want collaboration, then you need to structure pay and incentives around team goals (preferably ones that actually matter, rather than just putting through compounds or candidates), but that's pretty hard because you need to assess individuals to see if they're actually doing what you're paying for them to do. You may also not know what matters (general information about a disease pathway or pharmacokinetics might help generate drugs later, but doesn't do much now). Of course, shipping people out the door rapidly is unconducive to having employees play well with others, as well, but you probably won't stop doing that either. If you're not willing to give some semblance of stability (with the risk that people will be selfish and game you), then 2) is not going to happen. Sorry.

Doing what you (should) know won't work so that you look like you're doing something is not managing your way to success.

Permalink to Comment

26. milkshake on March 18, 2011 10:23 AM writes...

Its great to sit next to your boss - they ought to remove the walls in the bathrooms too

Permalink to Comment

27. Agilist on March 18, 2011 10:25 AM writes...

Correction, #19, I'm just trying to bring some balance and perspective. Contrary to what is often written here, GSK is a refreshingly open company where its CEO, Andrew Witty, encourages informality and open debate. Our industry is going through an exceedingly tough time at the moment so it is easy to be negative and cynical but difficult to come up with solutions to the current malaise afflicting our industry!

Permalink to Comment

28. bbooooooya on March 18, 2011 10:26 AM writes...

Hilarious.

I wonder how many shareholder dollars were destroyed planning this crap, and how many more will be vaporized when GSK realizes how stupid this is? Maybe everyone will have been outsourced (I wonder when some moron from BCG or McKinsey will have companies rebrand this as 'right-sourcing'?) to the PRC by then.

It would be fun to sit in on an etiquette class and ask what the correct form is to belch/break wind/clip one's toe nails.

Permalink to Comment

29. Hap on March 18, 2011 10:27 AM writes...

#24: Managing the denominator only helps if you don't reduce the numerator at the same time, or don't reduce the numerator more than you reduce the denominator.

Maybe agilist is overinvested in GSK? At least it's better than Generex.

Permalink to Comment

30. wwjd on March 18, 2011 10:34 AM writes...

LOL Agilist,

When Moncef first took over R&D he said if you didn't agree with him you should leave the company.

Permalink to Comment

31. Rick on March 18, 2011 10:40 AM writes...

Hap (#29),
"Managing the denominator only helps if you don't reduce the numerator at the same time, or don't reduce the numerator more than you reduce the denominator."

The denominator can ALWAYS be reduced more than the numerator on a quarterly or annual basis. Longer time frames are irrelevant to the point of non-existence from an investor relations perspective, which is the only perspective that matters (right?). That's the beauty of denominator management!

Besides, if it doesn't work out, it'll take so many years to realize it that by then the consultants will have been paid in full, the management that implemented the policy will have received their golden parachutes and moved on to their next "improvement" and the new managers will have accumulated plenty of other "externalities" to blame the failure on. No harm, no foul.

Permalink to Comment

32. Chemjobber on March 18, 2011 10:42 AM writes...

a genuinely innovative approach to encouraging greater staff interactions.

Why are the tried-and-true ones not working? Not working or not tried?

Free food, alcohol, putting a white board next to the coffee pot, free time to think, hiring people who can work as a team. All of those, I came up with in less than a minute. They're probably cheaper than the cost of moving all that stuff around.

Permalink to Comment

33. sigma147 on March 18, 2011 10:43 AM writes...

We spend too much time teaching small children not to accept candy from strangers and not enough time teaching the same lessons to managers about consultants. Unfortunately, the outcome in each case seems rather similar.

Permalink to Comment

34. Anonymous on March 18, 2011 10:46 AM writes...

I love this idea! Now no one will ever know which scientists were terminated because there will be no assigned space to remind the survivors that the occupant has disappeared.

We are all just ghosts in the machine.

Permalink to Comment

35. Anonymous on March 18, 2011 10:49 AM writes...

Humans are territorial. We are also possesive. No etiquette class will remove that from our genes.

All this is is some overpaid consultant trying to justify his career choice.

Permalink to Comment

36. anotherlabrat on March 18, 2011 10:51 AM writes...

Folks,
GSK is not exactly leading the way here. Other Pharma like Lilly and Pfizer in research have already done this. It's an adjustment to say the least..

Permalink to Comment

37. Agilist on March 18, 2011 10:55 AM writes...

#30. wwjd, you've taken what Moncef actually said out of context. I was there in April 2006 when he used a phrase similar to what you've quoted and it was definitely meant metaphorically. He was trying to convey a sense of urgency by issuing a clarion call for change and few in the room disagreed with him at the time. Moncef has rarely beeen given positive coverage in this forum but he's remained steadfast in his resolve to reform GSK and implement a principle of subsidiarity where decisions are develoved as far down the line as possible.

Permalink to Comment

38. FriendofMoMo on March 18, 2011 10:56 AM writes...

No wonder chemists are being thrown into the streets and Pharma is in trouble. Look what you focus on, office space!

Now get back to work and make a drug for me that will prolong a erection, and at my command!

Permalink to Comment

39. Rick on March 18, 2011 11:04 AM writes...

"implement a principle of subsidiarity where decisions are develoved as far down the line as possible." buzzword BINGO!!!!!

Permalink to Comment

40. Hap on March 18, 2011 11:07 AM writes...

Maybe pharma management people are all believers in the "world will end in 2012" theory. This makes sense from that perspective.

#38: Well, if you have the appropriate appendages, and your coworkers are attractive, well, the open office space theory might help. It doesn't help the women, though, and it might be a harrassment problem, eventually, but I'm assuming the solution to that problem is "Fire them all, and let the (long-term) shareholders sort it out."

Permalink to Comment

41. Agilist on March 18, 2011 11:07 AM writes...

Derek,
my point about excessive criticism of GSK on this forum was not directed at you, rather at some of your contributors. Your blog is actually highly regarded and widely read at GSK where constructive criticism is generally welcomed.

Permalink to Comment

42. processchemist on March 18, 2011 11:10 AM writes...

@37

In a "naked king" type of situation your opinions are perfect for the court, but totally ludicrous for the rest of the world.

Permalink to Comment

43. Hap on March 18, 2011 11:11 AM writes...

I don't think most people have a particular dislike for GSK. When GSK does stupid things, though, then it should expect to be criticized. "Hoteling" is almost certainly on the "stupid things" list, for the many reasons listed.

Permalink to Comment

44. RB Woodweird on March 18, 2011 11:12 AM writes...

This reminds me of the story in The Emperors of Chocolate: Inside the Secret World of Hershey and Mars about the quirky Mars upper management who had all the desks of the bigwigs on one open floor.

Interesting read containing lots of real world SPC history and fun chocolate facts.

Permalink to Comment

45. milkshake on March 18, 2011 11:13 AM writes...

You need to understand that consultants are called in so as to support agenda of someone in the upper management. And the agenda is driven by self-interest - productivity or profitability is the stated reason for wrestling out more control over people and money, for sidetracking a rival while covering own ass. It is about sweeping the problems under carpet and identifying the bottlenecks anywhere but at the top of the bottle. Its about demonstrating a leadership and vision where there is none. And for $2000 an hour these bright young men will write it for you so you don't even have to bother inventing the baloney by yourself.

Permalink to Comment

46. johnnyboy on March 18, 2011 11:15 AM writes...

Rick, I believe the more correct appellation is "Bullshit Bingo".

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47. Nick K on March 18, 2011 11:15 AM writes...

This idea was tried out a few years ago at BT in the UK. It was an unmitigated disaster. Dozens of employees fell ill with depression and stress-related illness to such an extent that the company was obliged to hire several full-time psychotherapists to counsel them. I believe BT have gone back to the old system since then. Why does GSK think it will work for them?

Permalink to Comment

48. Simplement! on March 18, 2011 11:17 AM writes...

Agilist, were you the same person who tried to foist the term "simplement" upon us a few years ago? This is apparently a portmanteau of "simplify" + "implement", not sure if it ever gained "traction" but it probably got someone promoted!

Permalink to Comment

49. Rick on March 18, 2011 11:22 AM writes...

Amen to that Hap (#43)! If this blog is indeed "highly regarded and widely read at GSK", then it will have not gone unnoticed that "some of your contributors" (i.e. all them aside from agilist) seem to view this idea with great skepticism (to put it mildly in some cases). Whether or not that is construed as "constructive criticism" depends on your perspective. Those who follow this page and are scientists - which is probably a lot - routinely hear that our ideas are stupid, often from our own mouths or the mouths of our colleagues and deal with it.

Permalink to Comment

50. MIMD on March 18, 2011 11:27 AM writes...

Allow me to be blunt and direct.

Those behind this exercise in "management metaphysics" are idiots.

Permalink to Comment

51. Rick on March 18, 2011 11:31 AM writes...

#48
Actually, simplement is a word, in French. It translates into English as "simple" or "simply". In English, "simple" has a variety of meanings, but the consensus seems to be that there's just one that is especially apt for this management tactic: the one that often has the suffix "-minded".

Permalink to Comment

52. MIMD on March 18, 2011 11:32 AM writes...

Looked at ideologically, this whole "hoteling" mysticism strikes me as having much in common with communism.

Where's the peer-reviewed, RCT-based data showing the justification for such a move?

Turning the workplace into a commune is not the path to profound new drug discovery - unless you believe in the Tooth Fairy, that is.

Permalink to Comment

53. Simplement! on March 18, 2011 11:37 AM writes...

Rick, not sure the guy who asked us to "simplement" projects knew jackshit about French though he was fluent in jargon, he was also an "evangelist" for "agile" project management methodologies! Hmm!!

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54. Anonymous on March 18, 2011 11:43 AM writes...

OMG GSK LOL. This certainly gives new meaning to rearranging the deck chairs on the titanic.

Seriously, GSK is run by idiots.

If this even brought up at GE you would be laughed out the front door.

IMHO Pharma is reaping what it has sown. Trimming out older experienced folks within its ranks, it finds itself unable to effectively govern itself.

I'm in my 20's and realize this.

Permalink to Comment

55. Simplement! on March 18, 2011 12:07 PM writes...

#54, Chris Lipinski, he of the "Rule Of Five" fame, termed it as "loss of institutional mememory", he was referring to Pfizer outsourcing but it's just as relevant to other companies. But who needs chemists when you've got the likes of "agilist"!!

Permalink to Comment

56. wwjd on March 18, 2011 12:24 PM writes...

Pharmalot is running a poll on whether an open plan is a good plan, currently its 84-5 against. I know it's not scientific, but maybe GSK should have run a poll internally first?

Permalink to Comment

57. Anonymous on March 18, 2011 12:32 PM writes...

We have used this system in GSK for several years in the UK. I'm an early adopter and was very hostile to begin with, but when implemented properly, it works. We have a lot of smaller offices for private work and team working. I binned masses of rubbish, and wouldn't go back. I guess I'm now clutter-phobic. Those cubicles so prevalent in the US reminded me of battery hens.

Permalink to Comment

58. Hap on March 18, 2011 12:33 PM writes...

Any time one hears the word "re-education", it's probably time to run for the exits or the hills.

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59. Anonymous on March 18, 2011 12:48 PM writes...

Designing areas to encourage greater interaction is old hat. Has been done in many org's including Pharma's. As others note above, it does not often "take" Many other things like culture and incentives have to be changed to create the intended results, and there is no guarantee on getting them. Doing it adjoining labs is even more difficult - lab reconstruction is expensive as hell.

As the above techniques are 10-15 years old, one would think there would be proof of results. Anyone see anything like that documented?

It would probably be smarter to better leverage virtual collaborations, avoiding much of the physical costs, constraints, distractions and morale-killers.

On the down-side: Building on others' comments towards how this is more to set up telecommuting and cost reductions: I have seen this in other industries and it is just the tip of the iceberg of change. Second evolution will come scaling back of physical plants (window dressing to sell off divisions?)

But the third evolution will be even more painful. Other firms/industries did this "hoteling" in order to reform their remaining expensive staff to have a "virtual", "exchangeable" nature. Once the work and collaboration has no physical boundaries or limitations, a professional can be "swapped" for someone less expensive - far more easily. Is this in line with what YOU see as the industry future?

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60. carolinadude on March 18, 2011 1:04 PM writes...

Wow...don't get up to use the bathroom!

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61. Anonymous on March 18, 2011 1:06 PM writes...

I wonder whyu there seems to be little to no proof of the value of these changes. #36 above notes that Lilly and Pfizer have done this. Any results? I know it is far harder to prove causality there no opp. for double blind, but really any proof of increased innovation and collaboration? I recall they did this ages ago at another Pharma and folks avoided the formal collab areas.

On the other hand, IT tech firms seem to have found this to be very successful in stimulating innovation (e.g., Apple, Google, and many others.) What is different here? Is this the proof I wonder about above? If we need to solve harder problems or be more innovative, should we look at other's path to success?

If not why? Are we in Pharma too entangled in a complex process? Are we overly trained to think independently and therefore cannot adapt to co-creation models?

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62. dearieme on March 18, 2011 1:07 PM writes...

@#14: "... and we were "encouraged" to do our work in the lab rather than at our desks." I can remember when we were encouraged to do desk work at our desks outside the lab, so that we didn't needlessly spend time in a hazardous environment.

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63. Anonymous on March 18, 2011 1:09 PM writes...

I wonder why there seems to be little to no proof of the value of these changes. #36 above notes that Lilly and Pfizer have done this. Any results? I know it is far harder to prove causality there no opp. for double blind, but really any proof of increased innovation and collaboration? I recall they did this ages ago at another Pharma and folks avoided the formal collab areas.

On the other hand, IT tech firms seem to have found this to be very successful in stimulating innovation (e.g., Apple, Google, and many others.) What is different here? Is this the proof I wonder about above? If we need to solve harder problems or be more innovative, should we look at other's path to success?

If not why? Are we in Pharma too entangled in a complex process? Are we overly trained to think independently and therefore cannot adapt to co-creation models?

Permalink to Comment

64. Hap on March 18, 2011 1:11 PM writes...

If we are exchangeable (or close to being so), with little loss in productivity, then that model seems inevitable. If employees aren't exchangeable (the replacements aren't as productive), then it will fail badly (because no drugs = no money, and countries without pharma jobs have no reason to spare pharma profit to keep their drug costs high).

Of course, even if your bus goes really fast, it won't do well if the drivers can't drive or benefit from driving it over a cliff. Hoteling doesn't change the quality of management decisions.

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65. Anonymous on March 18, 2011 1:12 PM writes...

I wonder why there seems to be little to no proof of the value of these changes. #36 above notes that Lilly and Pfizer have done this. Any results? I know it is far harder to prove causality there no opp. for double blind, but really any proof of increased innovation and collaboration? I recall they did this ages ago at another Pharma and folks avoided the formal collab areas.

On the other hand, IT tech firms seem to have found this to be very successful in stimulating innovation (e.g., Apple, Google, and many others.) What is different here? Is this the proof I wonder about above? If we need to solve harder problems or be more innovative, should we look at other's path to success?

If not why? Are we in Pharma too entangled in a complex process? Are we overly trained to think independently and therefore cannot adapt to co-creation models?

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66. myma on March 18, 2011 1:18 PM writes...

As someone who now works in an open office, I agree with OldLabRat #5, that after a while people permenently camp out at a particular place, and personal effects do start to accumulate (like coffee mugs and kids pics and cell phone chargers), and a desk becomes de facto assigned.

People really do collect too much shite, and it is an opportunity to clean out all the crap. Who ever really reads physical paper papers anymore? The physical reference books are missing and missed, but they are nearly all my personal ones and I think in these days it is best to keep them at home anyway.

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67. Rick on March 18, 2011 1:26 PM writes...

#61,
You ask good questions at the end of your post (e.g. "IT tech firms seem to have found this to be very successful in stimulating innovation (e.g., Apple, Google, and many others.) What is different here?"). There is probably no clear, one-size-fits-all answer to any of our questions. If there were, a lot of management consultants would be out of work very quickly! Of course, maybe there is and it's in management consultants interests to avoid finding or disclosing it.

There does seem to be a lot cutting and pasting of management ideas from software/IT industry to biotech/pharma. Like you, I haven't seen objective analysis that shows it's worked in pharma. (It would not be in the interest of consultants or pharma execs to share such data if it did exist!) Certainly, the two industries differ significantly in the cycle time and probability of success between idea and marketed product, the difference being about an order of magnitude. From there, one could could construct lots of hypotheses in which ideas that are smashing successes in IT/software would be catastrophes in pharma/biotech.

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68. Chrispy on March 18, 2011 1:34 PM writes...


It seems like collaboration would decrease because you wouldn't know where to find people. After the Sirtris gaffe you'd think GSK leadership would be sensitive to moves which would invite ridicule. Hey, Guys, everyone's laughing again! I feel sorry for the people working there -- clearly management is either not listening or they don't give a damn. That's a sorry situation destined to get worse.

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69. Mutatis Mutandis on March 18, 2011 1:51 PM writes...

At J&J, a facility recently received an award for exploring the same idea. Last time I saw them, they were actively looking for volunteers willing to try it... I fear the worst.

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70. James on March 18, 2011 1:51 PM writes...

It's a mind game folks meant to destroy the worker's sense of place. It informs you in no uncertain terms that you are such a worthless replaceable piece of cr**p that you don't even deserve a desk.

It creates dissension amongst employees who are now envious over who got the best desk 'today'. Hostility grows and now employees are even less cohesive as a group (no Unionization).

This also fragments any notion that the workers are professional and makes them more emotionally pliable and easy to force into unpaid overtime.

But most of all, when people are fired and jobs outsourced the x-chemist leaves no trace at the company.

This is wickedly evil.


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71. James on March 18, 2011 1:54 PM writes...

It's a mind game folks meant to destroy the worker's sense of place. It informs you in no uncertain terms that you are such a worthless replaceable piece of cr**p that you don't even deserve a desk.

It creates dissension amongst employees who are now envious over who got the best desk 'today'. Hostility grows and now employees are even less cohesive as a group (no Unionization).

This also fragments any notion that the workers are professional and makes them more emotionally pliable and easy to force into unpaid overtime.

But most of all, when people are fired and jobs outsourced the x-chemist leaves no trace at the company.

This is wickedly evil.


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72. johnnyboy on March 18, 2011 2:17 PM writes...

To be fair, the open-plan office does have its place. My wife is in advertising, where this arrangement is the norm, sometimes all the way to the top executives, and 'closed office' is viewed as retrograde and sterile. But this is in a business that thrives on talk, constant exchange between players, and a quirky, ludic sense of work. I cannot for the life of me see this being applied to serious scientific research as anything less than a disaster. I'm not a chemist, but in my own particular work, there is not a chance in hell I could concentrate more than 5 seconds on a problem if i'm surrounded by talk, music, people tapping their feet, chewing gum, or any other of the manifold things that can be insanely distracting to my thinking. When exchanges with others are indicated, there's a really tried and true approach that can be highly efficient for information exchange, if not exactly 'innovative': it's called a meeting. God knows there are plenty of opportunities for those already in pharma. Email is also good, I don't know if the management consultants have heard of that one.
But maybe i'm a freak, I don't know. Maybe I just need a good re-education session.

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73. Bruce Hamilton on March 18, 2011 2:27 PM writes...

Paradise is becoming a parking lot because employees have no effective method of disproving consultants.

The problem is management - being compliant, clueless, and arrogant are prerequisites for managers in large companies not meeting shareholder/market expectations.

Managers are tasked with "improving performance" and will still hire and believe expensive and well-spoken consultants because that looks like effective action to their bosses. After all, the existing employees must have created the problem.

The consequences of loss of institutional knowledge depend on the knowledge, but what is more tragic is the loss of personal worth when managers impose irrational change.

Instead of treating employees as " the asset that arrives at 0800 " ( as one CEO called us ), employees have become the liability that leaves at 1700.

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74. DrSnowboard on March 18, 2011 3:37 PM writes...

My understanding is that Andrew Witty is well regarded within GSK, to an almost messianic level. Partly because he speaks plainly and with committment.
I'm not sure 'remained steadfast in his resolve to reform GSK and implement a principle of subsidiarity where decisions are develoved as far down the line as possible' would pass his bullshitometer.
People who comment on here (including some ex-GSKers) tend to be scientists, tend to prefer facts to wishful verbiage. And funnily enough SO DO YOUR EMPLOYEES. Treat them like the intelligent adults they are, tell them waht you think is wrong and back it up with some facts.

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75. Anonymous on March 18, 2011 3:47 PM writes...

Witty is certainly more impressive than Vallance, Baldoni, and Slaoui but that doesn't say very much and "messianic" is stretching the point a bit though! As for verbiage, it's the stock-in-trade of whole swathes of GSK middle management!

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76. KRJ on March 18, 2011 3:51 PM writes...

Of course the real reason for going down this road is so that the same management consultants (possibly in a renamed company by then) can come back in five years (or less - depending on the staff turnover in the interim) and propose the radical concept of 'personal space' and 'offices'. Cool!

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77. sutemi on March 18, 2011 3:53 PM writes...

How in the world would you ever track someone down if they don't have an assigned desk and are not currently at their assigned lab bench? I'm not a chemist and I don't want to wander amongst 50 of them looking for the one chemist with whom I need to speak. Do I have to email her to ask where she is sitting today?

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78. haha on March 18, 2011 3:58 PM writes...

What if you like to eat cheetoh's at your desk?

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79. SSpiffy on March 18, 2011 4:09 PM writes...

Oh man, I would have such fun with this!

As #66 Myma said, people are territorial. For a couple of years I commuted between Port Orchard and Bremerton, WA on a small foot ferry. I watch people and noticed that certain people sat in certain seats on the same run every day. Just to see what would happen (and to amuse myself) I got there early and sat in one of those "claimed" seats. This succeeded far beyond anything I thought was possible; the woman who seemed to think she owned that seat stood in front of me and fumed at me the entire 12 minute ride. Her friends with whom she chatted took their normal seats and helped her fume at me. I continued to sit in one of that group of seats for about a week; every day they got there earlier and earlier until they were arriving just after the previous ferry departed to get "their" seats.

I see the same sort of thing happening at GSK; people will "claim" certain desks and think they are entitled to sit at the same one every day and people like me will amuse themselves by moving around to the claimed desks.

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80. ex-chemist on March 18, 2011 4:29 PM writes...

Hearing Aglist's cheerleading of management in Pharma has cause me to cleanse my stock portfolio of pharma stocks. If this guy is what's left, then there's no value in these companies anymore. What a total b@ll-licker.

The only thing this hot-desking is going to facilitate is workplace sh@@tings as it gives people fewer walls to hide behind and collects them all in one room.

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81. Anon1 on March 18, 2011 4:56 PM writes...

Unfortunately, ex-chem #80 has captured much of today's ills in Pharma all-too-well.

It's fascinating how many comments have been made on this seemingly truly business-trivial blog posting topic. Not that I support cosmetic attempts to hide the woes of the industry by promotion of silly seating re-arrangements, but this demonstrates that too many who are employed worry too much about trappings of work environment with distraction from the presumed purpose of why the positions were created in the first place.

By the way, thanks so much Derek for once again picking on GSK, as the number of your postings that deal wiht this particular company seem always disproportionate to others. What's your problem, or intrinsic beef?

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82. Anonymous on March 18, 2011 5:17 PM writes...

I once worked at a famously productive site now closed. People there really did talk, collaborate, and work hard together.

The only thing that management did was gently encourage us to eat lunch together.

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83. Me on March 18, 2011 5:36 PM writes...

Everything carries a risk: stocks or bonds etc. When one with high authority has to consider back and forth many times (> 10000 times) before making A DECISION. Imagine a president of the US hastily jumps into a decision and the consequences are unthinkable. GSK jumped into Sitrius affairs without considering the consequences. Now the desk-share affairs. Where will my supervisor seat today in case I need ...?

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84. Rick on March 18, 2011 5:57 PM writes...

Anon1 (#81)
"... too many who are employed worry too much about trappings of work environment with distraction from the presumed purpose of why the positions were created in the first place."

Can you clarify what you mean by the statements "... worry too much about the trappings of the working environment" and "distraction from the presumed purpose of why the positions were created in the first place."? Perhaps I'm misunderstanding you, but your comment sounds a lot like scolding I've heard from executives along the lines of "Stop complaining about not getting what you want you naive, vain scientists and remember that I can replace you with someone younger with the stroke of a pen."

By the way, I am unemployed and I still think this is a lousy idea.

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85. Rick on March 18, 2011 6:07 PM writes...

Anonymous (#82)
"I once worked at a famously productive site now closed..." This is a tangent from the discussion at hand, but I've heard something like that many times lately. It makes me wonder how often successful R&D is rewarded with unemployment for the front line researchers and developers due to M&A. Unintentionally I'm sure, it seems to happen often, especially for VC funded companies.

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86. Dan on March 18, 2011 6:37 PM writes...

“Why is it when I hire a pair of hands, I get a human being as well?” -Henry Ford

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87. Dan on March 18, 2011 6:39 PM writes...

“Why is it when I hire a pair of hands, I get a human being as well?” -Henry Ford

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88. Dan on March 18, 2011 6:39 PM writes...

“Why is it when I hire a pair of hands, I get a human being as well?” -Henry Ford

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89. Dan on March 18, 2011 6:39 PM writes...

“Why is it when I hire a pair of hands, I get a human being as well?” -Henry Ford

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90. Dan on March 18, 2011 6:40 PM writes...

“Why is it when I hire a pair of hands, I get a human being as well?” -Henry Ford

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91. Dan on March 18, 2011 6:40 PM writes...

“Why is it when I hire a pair of hands, I get a human being as well?” -Henry Ford

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92. Luvyurnmr on March 18, 2011 6:42 PM writes...

I'm not sure this is going to work for everybody. When I first started work in pharma, my desk was in the lab and I had to share it with someone else. It wasn't a biggy then because the work was pretty routine.
Then I switched to comp chemical and where I sat mattered a great deal. How much glare was on my monitor? How many people could sit around my monitor at one time? How much noisy distraction was happening in the room? Chemists banging on the color printer can really wreck concentration. Now that I'm back in a cubicle, having gone back into the lab
to learn something new, I wear iPod earphones all the time
when I'm at my desk. There's so much noise in the corridor
when I'm trying to solve structures that I can't hear myself
think. So, the hoteling thing is probably not going to work so well for those of us tied to a Linux workstation when we're at
our desks. Modelers will still need their own workspaces.
Which will feed their egos. As if they need more feeding.
I predict pettiness, resentment and non-collaboration for GSK, human nature being what it is.

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93. Luvyurnmr on March 18, 2011 6:44 PM writes...

I'm not sure this is going to work for everybody. When I first started work in pharma, my desk was in the lab and I had to share it with someone else. It wasn't a biggy then because the work was pretty routine.
Then I switched to comp chemical and where I sat mattered a great deal. How much glare was on my monitor? How many people could sit around my monitor at one time? How much noisy distraction was happening in the room? Chemists banging on the color printer can really wreck concentration. Now that I'm back in a cubicle, having gone back into the lab
to learn something new, I wear iPod earphones all the time
when I'm at my desk. There's so much noise in the corridor
when I'm trying to solve structures that I can't hear myself
think. So, the hoteling thing is probably not going to work so well for those of us tied to a Linux workstation when we're at
our desks. Modelers will still need their own workspaces.
Which will feed their egos. As if they need more feeding.
I predict pettiness, resentment and non-collaboration for GSK, human nature being what it is.

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94. Dan on March 18, 2011 6:52 PM writes...

Oops.

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95. Someone on March 18, 2011 8:03 PM writes...

Anon1 (#81)
"... too many who are employed worry too much about trappings of work environment with distraction from the presumed purpose of why the positions were created in the first place."

What do you expect people write on a post about work environments? Personally, I would considered someone mentally ill if they started randomly talking about, let's say their new dog, when the conversation was about a hurricane. Most of your post makes me wonder...

Also, though if you are an M&A type you might not know, that when you have to think critically, being in a good mood is much better than being agitated by your new and constantly rotating neighbors quirks. When you need to solve difficult problems, solving them stressed leads to more mistakes and is highly inefficient time wise. While satisfying every employee is impossible, agitating a LARGE proportion of them at once in hopes that they may settle down and accept it eventually, which a good many certainly will not, because it may save some money is only causing things to move slower in a way that will have a good chance of never speeding up back even its original levels.

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96. MoD on March 18, 2011 8:14 PM writes...

As a GSKer in the medicinal chemistry "trenches", this movement to open space is ridiculous. It fits well with the policy initiated earlier this year that personal plants are no longer allowed and will be discarded. It was interesting that the memo went out in late December when everyone was on vacation.
Where the hell did they come up with that idea? Must be part of the open space plan. I guess the morons making those decisions don't know that having a plant in your office or on your desk enhances the work environment and productivity.

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97. Pfeeed on March 18, 2011 8:57 PM writes...

They did that in Pfizer Sandwich 2009. Clock is now ticking - good luck.

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98. Rick on March 18, 2011 9:05 PM writes...

97: Judging from the recent news out of Pfizer Sandwich, that's not a good omen for GSK RTP.

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99. pharmadude on March 18, 2011 9:11 PM writes...

Any idea that requires an etiquette class should automatically be discarded. It’s a revolting idea on so many different levels. I understand that perhaps MBAs, human resource types, etcetera are the type of people that need and enjoy lots of human interaction. But scientists? Has it become a crime to do your best problem solving in a private office away from distractions, phone calls, and petty conversation? They say that more ‘ideas’ will be shared. I’ll tell you what will be shared, worthless crap about who will win American idol, petty BS about traffic, and endless stories about your coworkers pet fish. Even as an undergrad I had a decent private desk in lab. Granted, I didn’t have one in highschool, but highschool sucked. Who would want to go back to that? I can kinda understand moving everyone to cubes, but the idea of wandering around every morning trying to find a place to sit, sounds hellish. A geez, everyone's gonna be asking you how's it going all the time and going on and on about personal crap. Nothing will ever get done.

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100. Anon GSKer on March 18, 2011 9:21 PM writes...

I'm in one of these open plans, and honestly I really like it. It's marginally better than my old office and way better than the cube I had years back.

It's true, you have no privacy, but what do I care about that? I'm there to work and then leave as quickly as possible, not dally and surf the web all day. The tradeoff is that the added interaction keeps me from getting sleepy in the afternoons, which makes me work faster....which gets me out the door sooner. As I rarely use paper anymore I don't need a filing cabinet - just a large hard drive.

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101. John on March 18, 2011 9:42 PM writes...

@61: "On the other hand, IT tech firms seem to have found this to be very successful in stimulating innovation (e.g., Apple, Google, and many others.)"

I'm not sure where you picked this up, but it's categorically untrue. Tech companies that take away engineers' offices tend to lose their best staff very rapidly. Conversely, tech companies founded by engineers often make an effort to give everyone an office with a door. At Google, the founders were barely convinced to allow phones with ringers in offices.

On the other hand, these companies do make an effort to get everyone talking to each other, usually with perks (employee cafeteria, bus service, leisure events, trips, etc), internal collab systems, lectures, and so on.

The larger job market provides more employee leverage, and I've personally witnessed several attempts like this blow up within weeks.

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102. Rick on March 19, 2011 5:43 AM writes...

AnonGSKer (#100)
I appreciate you sharing your view, especially considering the skepticism expressed by most of the commentary here, including mine. I'm sure a defender of GSK's plan would say "See! This shows it could work if only the rest of you luddites would be more open to trying something different!"

However, I think your post raises an important point: differences matter in creative environments. Some very accomplished people do their best work with privacy, quiet, a philodendron, a picture of their kids and maybe some music in the background, whereas others thrive only in an environment of constant stimulus and activity bordering on the frenetic. Attempting to homogenize or emulsify or co-dissolve of 'level' creative people (as GSK clearly intends to do), no matter how well-intentioned or theoretically elegant, consciously underestimates the importance of this diversity and risks destroying, not fostering, creativity. That doesn't mean that a workplace for innovation should be an architectural Frankenstein - anarchy is not the goal either - but it should be able to accomodate the needs of the creative employees, not the management consultant's idealized view of the world. As the saying goes, "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds."

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103. Eric Jablow on March 19, 2011 7:17 AM writes...

In my IT job, I'm isolated because I accidentally have my own office. But without a dedicated location, what would I do with all my books?

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104. Anonymous BMS Researcher on March 19, 2011 9:55 AM writes...

I hope BMS does not pick up this idea, as we have picked up on so many management fads over the years. I like having an office where I can leave piles of papers reflecting the current state of my projects (though, since I have been in this office since the 20th century and am not exactly a neatnik, the lower strata of my desk may be turning metamorphic by now).

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105. z on March 19, 2011 10:46 AM writes...

Ridiculous idea. People need a sense of privacy, a place to leave personal items, etc. Open door policies are good, readily available meeting spaces are good, opportunities to interact are good, but this idea is bad. As scientists, we don't interact with people all day long--most of our time is spent alone working in the lab, on the computer, reading papers, thinking, writing. Yes, we do spend time interacting with each other, and we need to do that, but it cannot be continuous.

We are not robots, we are not completely interchangeable cogs. We are people. How can we work in an environment where are not treated as such?

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106. DCRogers on March 19, 2011 11:29 AM writes...

Regardless of whether this system works well or not, I couldn't but help pick up a strong vibe that the stated reasons ("increased collaboration among colleagues, which cut down the time it took to make decisions") weren't the real ones.

Taking the reason at face value meant that Someone High Up had been sitting around deeply worried about the 'long time it took to make decisions'. (Imagine the executive meeting: "If we don't find a way to make decisions faster, we're sunk!"). Somehow, I can't imagine it.

Even accepting this, one must then suppose that this sincere executive then noodled on how to genuinely help employees through this critical lack of fast-decision skills, and came up with this open-seating idea as the best of the choices. Lots of suspension of disbelief needed here, too.

The real bottom line is the feeling of mistrust this cognitive dissonance causes, a belief that workers are being asked to take-one-for-the-team for reasons kept private from them, and possibly not even to their benefit. Not healthy.

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107. PHA-away on March 19, 2011 12:08 PM writes...

At Pharmacia (Chicago), with Celebrex money rolling in, they built a beautiful new lab building (the good part) with an open office plan (the bad part), and an atrium (the kiss of death), using "green construction techniques" and lots of input from the scientists ("lots" is management-speak for "zero". There was a glossy C&EN story).

The open floor plan was in no way superior to offices, but we got used to it.

Two years later, when PFE bought us, they put a Pfizer sign out in front. The sign was much smaller than the one they put in front of the St. Louis and Kalamazoo sites. You could say the writing was on the wall. For once, the messaging was clear.

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108. Fat Old Man on March 19, 2011 1:25 PM writes...

You guys are reading way too much into this strategy. It's simple, management has found a way to save money on overhead by reducing structural support. All the platitudes about improved productivity/enhanced collaboration are their spins to make it sound good. Get used to it, Pfizer is moving most of its New London staff into renovated Groton building(s) with the same seating plan. It's called the office of the future. I don't really care as long as I am still there (and no garantee of that). Stop whining and suck it up.

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109. trisomy gsk-(baldoni moncef witty) on March 19, 2011 3:58 PM writes...

These guys could f'up a free lunch with consulting fees on which silverware to use...

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110. Fernando on March 19, 2011 4:58 PM writes...

Lilly has transitioned much of IT, Stats and some other non-lab functions at Indianapolis HQ to this open workspace model. Predictably people hate it. The saddest thing I've seen is people putting up pictures of their kids on their lockers since they have no more desk at which to display them.

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111. drug_hunter on March 19, 2011 9:53 PM writes...

Anyone from GSK please answer this question:

Do the managers still get to keep their offices?

(And why am I sure I already know the answer...)

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112. Hap on March 19, 2011 10:58 PM writes...

#110: Of course - how could they do their jobs effectively without privacy? Errrrrr...what I meant to say was that the managers don't need to be out on the feedlots with the cattleXXXXXXemployees.

Wait, that came out wrong....

#81: If they'd stop making expensive and counterproductive mistakes loudly (Sirtris?) while mimicking a strenuous session of Buzzword Bingo with their management statements, they'd not be getting criticized so much.

#108: I thought the offices of the future were in India and China. If only they have room for management, too...

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113. RTP Hobo on March 20, 2011 12:21 AM writes...

I've been in the open working arrangement for three months; it still feels like a temporary situation. If you've ever read the disaster recovery business continuity plans, that's what it feels like - you're camped out in a library-like space while your permanent space gets repaired; there's no identifying landmarks that tells you what the department is; it's just an anonymous space. The reason management did it is simple; they're selling all the other buildings (at RTP) and in order to shoe-horn everyone onto Moore Drive, they had to pack the staff (& their cars) into tighter space. And yes, it's true, it's meant to make you feel like management is watching you, and if someone isn't present, you don't know if they're working in a different space, or have lost their job. It will be interesting to see how the annual employee survey rates this change.

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114. Commissar on March 20, 2011 2:42 AM writes...

Comrades, the disposable labor units are displeased with the new commune we have so graciously designed for them. Surely, they realize that 10-20 sigs on a paper and the alphabet soup of bioscience (molecular biologist, medicinal chemist, biophysicist, biochemist, geneticist, etc) allows we, the central planners, to exploit their naivete and divide and conquer. Now please erect the giant sign stating "WE ARE WATCHING YOU!".

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115. Rick on March 20, 2011 7:35 AM writes...

Dear Commissar (#114)
Doubleplusgood goodthink! Time for all ungood oldspeakers to report to the Ministry of Love to learn to love Big Brother.

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116. AlchemistOrganique on March 20, 2011 2:46 PM writes...

Derek and Chemjobber have already discussed the open-plan "Labs of the Future" envisioned by the "Inner Party Members" at Novartis:

http://chemjobber.blogspot.com/2010/11/labs-of-future-or-chemists-are.html

I wonder if the new GSK office spaces will also have "orgazmatrons" for "brain-storming sessions" (see rendering at Chemjobber's link).

Gee, instead of being an organic chemist, perhaps I should have been an interior designer for office spaces!

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117. Anonymous on March 20, 2011 4:44 PM writes...

The open lab space with individual offices for most lab employees model worked very well for SP. Very productive arrangement. There was plenty of space to run experiments, plus private office spaces for thinking. This apparently worked too well, as SP was acquired...

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118. Chinabonding on March 20, 2011 10:08 PM writes...

Is this what happens when you let HR and business managers run discovery?
Maybe we should try letting scientists run the business instead.

The added interaction goal is good, but the competing philosophy of workplace interruptions would be a big concern...see Jason Fried's TED talk on why work doesn't get done at work.

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119. polymer bound on March 20, 2011 11:48 PM writes...

I'm at my most productive and innovative with my door closed and e-mail turned off. Seems difficult to avoid chatty colleagues and needy direct reports if they always have line of sight....

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120. Dan (Not That Dan) on March 21, 2011 12:33 AM writes...

Opening up the office to promote interaction might be a good idea - emphasis on "might". (The optimal layout is probably highly group-dependent - some will work best if they can shut out distractions, in which case this will hurt; others need to be able to bounce ideas off each other easily and would benefit. I would hazard a guess that most science/engineering types would fall into the former category.)

Removing permanent desk space, on the other hand, is as dumb as dumb can get. People are instinctively territorial, and not having a "home" space at work would be seriously disconcerting. Treat your employees like they're temps, and you'll quickly find that they ARE temps if they have any other options at all - and if they don't have so many options, are you sure they're the people you want?

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121. mothership on March 21, 2011 4:28 AM writes...

I recently rejoined GSK, and am now in an open plan, hot-desking office in the UK. Everyone from the SVP down "hot-desk" which in reality mean we all sit at the same desks each day with few exceptions. I do have to resort to ipod to "tune out", especially as I sit near the Medical Information and Safety call centres (who are in the same open plan area).
We do have quiet rooms (large cupboards) where we can hold teleconference calls, or to work in peace, but its very much frowned upon to hibernate in them!
As I have just reached the stage in my career where I would have had my very own office for the first time - I can't help but feel that open plan hot-desking really sucks!

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122. Anon GSK on March 21, 2011 6:04 AM writes...

#111 No managers do not have an office. Offices that seat 4-6 with whiteboards are for private work, thinking, TC's, 1:1's, group discussions. Having somewhere private to go is what makes it successful. In our office we have a rule - "quiet outside and noisy inside". As for UNIX workstations, we have dedicated desks with larger monitors. Nobody's used a physical UNIX box for years.

I would be disingenuous to say that there is no territorialism. But there is no sense of entitlement either.

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123. Erik on March 21, 2011 7:07 AM writes...

I love the implication that my collegial productivity bonus is a constant factor induced by sitting next to X other meatbags, and has zero relation to oh, I don't know, sitting next to other meatbags who work on the same projects I do. I will derive zero value from sitting next to Edward from accounting (sorry, Edward). I might be a lot more productive if I'm sitting next to Sally from my own research group.

It's almost an argument for concentrating groups of people based on how much they share the same job and even project.

Hmmmmm.

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124. FMFDOC on March 21, 2011 7:13 AM writes...

From a point of view of managing staff and seeing this "tried", I saw only the gleam in senior management of saving $$ as already mentioned. However, the downside of this relates specifically to the industry and those that do not work home based and are in the office rarely. When staff are not traveling, they want the security of coming to "my space" knowing where everything is and not have to worry about having a desk or sitting in a conference room and locking up thier gear nightly. Quit taking the personal out of your personnel. With the industry as competative as it is, staff will leave for this or salary, so anything a manager can do to provide some structure and security to staff goes well appreciated.

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125. robopox on March 21, 2011 7:49 AM writes...

@79 - In a documentary about filming "The Planet of the Apes", Heston described how each group of apes always sat together at lunch. Without direction, the chimps sat with chimps, the gorillas all together, the orang's united against the african hegemony....

And they sat at THE SAME TABLES everyday.

Between takes, they even stood together.

Tribal... and territorial. even in costume.

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126. Anonymous on March 21, 2011 8:30 AM writes...

See the comment posted here to a British national paper:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/discussion/comment-permalink/10032584

Is it true that this site is "a sounding board for disaffected former employees and sundry malcontents"?

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127. Hap on March 21, 2011 9:32 AM writes...

Of course, thanks to their actions, there's an awful lot of people in the "disaffected former employees" and "sundry malcontent" categories. And while their businesses flounder, wondering exactly how to develop products without...erm, products, the people who drove the ships into the rocks are still at the helms.

Can't imagine why anyone would be disaffected by that.

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128. Anonymous on March 21, 2011 9:43 AM writes...

Hey #126, GSK are in PR overdrive at the moment it seems:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2011/mar/20/andrew-witty-glaxosmithkline-big-firms-detached-society?INTCMP=SRCH

I love reading these articles whilst actually knowing the truth.

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129. anon on March 21, 2011 9:44 AM writes...

Is it true that this site is "a sounding board for disaffected former employees and sundry malcontents"?

They forgot the usual descriptor, favorite of HR departments, for employees screwed by their employers:

"disgruntled"

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130. DrSnowboard on March 21, 2011 9:58 AM writes...

Clearly GSK PR, to paraphrase Brian CLough, would like an informed debate as long as we agree wit hthe GSK line.

They've clearly never wandered into the BioFind rumor mill or CafePharma to get an idea of the lowest possible denominator

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131. Hap on March 21, 2011 10:22 AM writes...

You know, if they'd spent less time calling people who think what they're doing is dumb and counterproductive "malcontents", perhaps they'd have to spend less time burnishing their public image. Of course, then we'd have to focus on their product development, which doesn't seem to be going well for them (or for anyone else) lately.

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132. SeptimiusSeverus on March 21, 2011 11:10 AM writes...

It is evident that Witty is on a charm offensive and this newspaper article is all part of that. However, people working at GSK need to be careful when accessing site's like Derek's, it is a well known fact that even reading these sites, not to mention adding comments, is very much frowned upon. People there are very interested to read these articles and often agree wholeheartedly with the sentiments expressed but higher management usually suffer a sense-of-humor failure and HR also scrutinize web usage! So a word of advice to all, if you wish to share a posting with a current GSK staff member, use their private emails and warn them not to open the link at work. All this may be stating the obvious, but I know from experience that current staff prefer not to inadvertently open links such as these from their work email during office hours.

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133. JSR on March 21, 2011 11:29 AM writes...

I thought for sure this was an April fools joke.
It's not??

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134. Cubist on March 21, 2011 11:44 AM writes...

Of the possible options for moving away from the cube and office format, the unassigned, under capacity, clear desk, open range format is perhaps the most unimaginative, extreme version and the most likely (proven) to fail. It may also be the cheapest.
The conventional cube and office model is also a failure in most situations where interaction/ creativity is required due to heirarchy, inflexibility etc. Another unpopular format is a cube farm with peripheral ring of managerial surveillance offices like watchtowers.

Of the models considered within GSK, some very interesting concepts were developed including open space for all staff but with a variety of working spaces (open meeting area, phone rooms, 2,4,8,16 person meeting rooms, quiet spaces, do not disturb areas etc)...all were based on a small, dedicated personal space with additional options for all and a ratio of total spaces available to total staff of around 1.4:1.
This approach gives every person the ability to chose their own working environment as and when their work demands. It occupies about the same space as the cube/office layout, but is costly to reconfigure. No payback, no deal.

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135. Cubist on March 21, 2011 11:44 AM writes...

Of the possible options for moving away from the cube and office format, the unassigned, under capacity, clear desk, open range format is perhaps the most unimaginative, extreme version and the most likely (proven) to fail. It may also be the cheapest.
The conventional cube and office model is also a failure in most situations where interaction/ creativity is required due to heirarchy, inflexibility etc. Another unpopular format is a cube farm with peripheral ring of managerial surveillance offices like watchtowers.

Of the models considered within GSK, some very interesting concepts were developed including open space for all staff but with a variety of working spaces (open meeting area, phone rooms, 2,4,8,16 person meeting rooms, quiet spaces, do not disturb areas etc)...all were based on a small, dedicated personal space with additional options for all and a ratio of total spaces available to total staff of around 1.4:1.
This approach gives every person the ability to chose their own working environment as and when their work demands. It occupies about the same space as the cube/office layout, but is costly to reconfigure. No payback, no deal.

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136. SeptimiusSeverus on March 21, 2011 11:48 AM writes...

JSR, definitely not!! Some sites such as CafePharma were/are blocked, not sure about this one as it would be foolhardy to even try it! There are quite proscriptive guidelines now in place for internet usage and they take note of what people are doing on line. In the current climate, you best not give them the slightest excuse. Most people @GSK know this and are very circumspect about what they do in work time. This site is very different from CafePharma but senior management don't like it though they may pretend to be unaware of it.

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137. johnnyby on March 21, 2011 11:58 AM writes...

re #126: the guy who wrote the comment (ie. "sixsigmaninja" - enough said...) is clearly an industry leader in management buzzword usage optimization. Agilist, you should take note, you are clearly failing when compared to him. I think you're in need of a few re-eduction sessions yourself...

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138. Iridium on March 21, 2011 12:16 PM writes...

FANTASTIC!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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139. post-doc_for_Ever on March 21, 2011 1:11 PM writes...

Give me a job in GSK, i will take it right now! (even if i have to share a desk with accountant Edward or tele-sales guy John)

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140. Anonymous on March 21, 2011 4:13 PM writes...

Didn't a GSK employee just kill themselves at work??

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141. GSKzombie on March 21, 2011 10:41 PM writes...

140: yes, said but true. Don't know why - but I'd rather not relate someone's (yet unexplained) suicide to our usual bashing of GSK's follies.

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142. GSKzombie on March 21, 2011 10:53 PM writes...

re using this sort of open office set-up in lab buildings

For those ever dwindling (but increasingly overcrowded) GSK lab workers - the open office setup is coming.....

I work in GSK in a conventional lab building (mostly labs with narrow strip of offices & cubes just outside of the labs). Our building is recently underwent significant renovation to accomodate higher density of lab workers.

At the time lab renovations were being planned it was actively discussed whether or not to completely gut the peripheral offices/cubes outside of the lab to make way for the open office design that was being implemented for office workers in our other buildings.

The open office plan for the lab workers was ultimately not included in the lab renovation because it would have dramatically increased time and expense of the renovation. We were under tight deadline to accommodate scientists from other buildings and the open office approach did not fit in the time lines or budget.

But it was made very clear, that the open office approach was the ultimate goal that would be implemented in the NEXT renovation a few years from now.


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143. LabGirl on March 21, 2011 11:24 PM writes...

I'm a temp at GSK/RTP. The chaos at that place is mind-boggling.

In Development they've just been through some sort of reorg a few months back. Almost everyone is still trying to figure out who is doing what. Believe it or not, people don't even know what the names of their departments are - they can't decipher the acronyms.

Listening to these folks is like listening to Abbott & Costello do 'who's on first?'

These folks have no idea what's going on.

I've worked at better run mom & pop restaurants.

I'm sure I have no chance of permanent job at GSK - but honestly - that place is so messed up - its probably for the best.

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144. GSKzombie on March 21, 2011 11:35 PM writes...

133. JSR on March 21, 2011 11:29 AM writes...

I thought for sure this was an April fools joke.
It's not??

____

Yes it is an April fools joke. Problem is, at GSK, everyday is April fools Day (like Groundhog Day, but without the laughs).

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145. Anonymous on March 22, 2011 8:01 PM writes...

@143 - Wow, I thought you were talking about Merck...sounds just like it.

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146. GSK Unicorn on March 22, 2011 8:33 PM writes...

113. RTP Hobo on March 20, 2011 12:21 AM writes...
...The reason management did it is simple; they're selling all the other buildings (at RTP) and in order to shoe-horn everyone onto Moore Drive, they had to pack the staff (& their cars) into tighter space.

----

113 is exactly correct. No one in GSK really believes this is a good idea. It is simply a cost-savings strategy (BIG COST SAVINGS).

So everyone on this thread is wasting their time arguing the pros & cons. The only pro is cost savings. That's the point, the whole point, and nothing but the point.

But like most corporate cost saving strategy - it is short sighted and will ultimately decrease productivity because of obvious reasons.

But no one in GSK cares about the long term picture in US, GSK is moving to China & India.

The 'for sale' signs are already up on Cornwallis Drive.

!Viva the Unicorn!

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147. Alan on April 3, 2011 10:23 AM writes...

I hope no one bites my head off for saying this, but I've really been enjoying the new open-concept academic labs. The bio lab I used to be in (where there were rarely noxious fumes to worry about) had one big wet lab where each group had its own bay, with all the desk-space along the front wall facing out the window. It made me more comfortable that I just poked my head around a corner, rather than going through multiple doors into unfamiliar spaces, when I needed to ask a question to someone who'd been around longer, and more importantly to me, the shared-space approach made it much easier for me, as a new and temporary employee to get to know enough other people well enough to not feel uncomfortable in my workplace.
The chem labs at the institution I'm in now are in the process of being revamped, and desk space is being agglomerated into long rows adjacent to the lab. I'm really enjoying the shared space approach.
Part of the difference may be that as an undergrad (not too long ago) I got very used to being a transient working largely off a laptop and scratch-paper. When everything's in one electronic box, all that matters is a good chair, the right desk-height.

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149. Hap on April 18, 2011 2:42 PM writes...

And #146 gets it in one, I guess...

link

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