April 8, 2016 3 years 6 months ago

Cartt.ca EXCLUSIVE: How the company Ted built is transforming to serve the next generation

Sharespace aiming to make Rogers workers, customers, happier

“WE WANT TO WIN!” Guy Laurence says unreservedly, when asked why he and his leadership team have undertaken what must be one of the largest corporate culture makeovers ever seen in Canada.

As employees of Rogers Communications are already well aware, there is massive change going on within the walls (and to the walls, some of which are now gone) of the wireless, cable, television, radio and publishing giant – and Cartt.ca recently got a first hand look at how and why the company is not only blowing up the old way of constructing offices, but also pushing its corporate culture into the next century. The company calls the initiative Sharespace.

Laurence’s ebullient mood betrayed the dreary March day in which we toured the Rogers Brampton campus, nearly one million square feet which houses about 20% of Rogers 27,000 employees. The CEO bounded about the sprawling building (while some employees stopped him for selfies) showing off both the shiny and new – as well as the decrepit and old. The comparison between the two is stark.

Rogers bought this building in 2006 from the Nortel Networks liquidator and then relocated its network operations centre here, along with most of its IT and network engineering team, a call center, finance and other teams. The building is undergoing renos as Sharespace is expanded, so in many areas, the remnants of some of the worst in office design is still being used: The dreaded so-called cube farm that divides everyone into their own little pen, highlighted with dim yellow lighting, tired furnishings, tattered carpet and decorations; and in one corner, a huge, on-its-way-to-the-dump eight-foot-tall sign (right) that commands: “Shhhhhhh! People Working”.

Imagine being a bright-eyed, fresh-from-university new Rogers hire and you’re plunked down at a dingy beige cube under a sign telling you to shut up, with an office phone that was new when you were in grade school and a leftover laptop that takes 15 minutes just to boot up. Your own personal technology would likely be better than that.

That’s not a winning environment to a CEO who aches to not only be number one in the consumer marketplace, but to win the best employees, too. “We want everyone in Brampton to want to work here,” he added. So, Laurence wants his people to have the best technology in their hands and the best corporate culture in which to thrive. He even wants them to have the best food in the office canteens because Laurence believes that to “win”, a community must first be built and maintained – an open, flexible, collaborative, positive working community where all the barriers standing in the way of a Rogers employee doing a great job are removed. (Rogers folks can even send their personal Amazon orders to the office and get a text message from the mailroom when it’s delivered. A doctor and masseuse is on site in Brampton, too.)

This corporate culture shift is not corporate guff, where a new guy comes in, talks change and preaches about serving customers better, then does little to rock the boat. Huge change really is under way and from all accounts (and we talk to lots of Rogers employees regularly), they love it. People are now lobbying hard to get into the completed Sharespace neighbourhoods and out of their old offices “ahead of other departments,” says Doug Jeoffroy, VP, corporate real estate, and the guy directly in charge of implementing all of this.

Since the first thing Laurence did when he arrived was to go out and talk with to people – and is now acting on what he heard and actually making things better – people are adjusting to Sharespace very well, says Rogers human resources chief Jim Reid. “We built a multi-year people plan… focused on making Rogers one of the best places to work in Canada. Our focus is ‘how do we make Rogers the place to work,’ in terms of the opportunity to grow and develop, the challenging work we give, the career development support – and an environment that's modern and collaborative,” he said.

It was the working environment Laurence heard about most (such as the claustrophobic old setup we see here) when he did is now-company-famous listening tour in early 2014. During the first few months of his tenure, he went just about everywhere around the country, and heard one theme repeated over and over: “People told me they loved Ted, have huge passion for the company, loved everything we were doing, hated their working conditions. They would say things like, ‘I can't get meeting rooms. My laptop is four years old. It takes 20 minutes to start up’,” recalled Laurence.

It is this kind of stuff which severely gums up the works and drags down the performance of a company the size of Rogers, which must constantly adjust and adapt to the ever-quickening pace of their customers. “If you take the customer that pays our wages, their expectations are far faster than they used to be,” he said. Back in the day, it was okay for a company to take a few days to respond to a customer complaint or query. “Now, a customer sends in an email, if you don't reply to it within an hour they email you again to ask why they haven't had a reply.

“As time's become more important to the consumer, they're not prepared to trust brands that waste it. All companies, all sectors, not just telecom, have to go faster in order to keep up with the customer,” he added.

"Their boss doesn’t need to know where they sit, as long as they’re focused on their tasks," - Guy Laurence, CEO

However, most mature companies are built around a structure that dates back at least a century which is based on hierarchy, where the boss has the corner office and his or her direct reports are in their own walled enclosures down a corridor – and as you get more junior, you’re physically farther and farther from the decision makers and the decision-making. That, in turn, can cause employees to feel their contributions are rather less than important, which is damaging to productivity. Plus, since everything was physically organized by department, rare was it that legal and marketing and engineering and customer service mix and then when they had to, it sure wasn’t easy for mature companies to make it happen.

Rogers, however, was quickly able to build a team for its 1-Gigabit Ignite Internet rollout, assembling needed folks from engineering, marketing, communications, regulatory and so on in a single Sharespace neighbourhood at the Brampton campus where they are all working together lighting up 76,000 households per week. The project is slated to be completed in November, then the people on that team will be reassigned and since everything is task-focused, they may not have to move anywhere.

Of course, Rogers is not getting rid of the hierarchy. No company can. People still need and have roles and departments and supervisors and bosses, but in the new Rogers structure, you can’t see it. “Everyone you look at has a boss and they have a boss and all the rest of it, but their boss doesn’t need to know where they sit, as long as they’re focused on their tasks,” said Laurence.

There are no corner offices. Once all of the renovations are completed across the company, which will likely take another three years, there will be no personal offices at all. Every square foot of Rogers’ largest spaces across Canada will be Sharespace, highlighted by modern, airy architecture and colours, high-tech lighting, multiple flexible meeting spaces and workspaces, coffee shops, an IT resource area (right) that looks like the most modern electronics retail store, desks that can be raised or lowered, inspiring photos and quotations, and multiple additional improvements all geared towards making the company much faster than it had been – and much faster than its competition.

With the hierarchy invisible and with people working wherever they want to, junior people end up mingling with more senior Rogers employees, and good things happen. “Conversations happen spontaneously where they wouldn’t have before,” added Jeoffroy

“If you put people in an environment where they collaborate and where it's very agile and they can get stuff done, and decisions are made at the highest point of competence not the highest point of hierarchy, then you get stuff done faster,” said Laurence.

He pointed to Roam Like Home, the company’s $5 or $10 per day roaming plans to illustrate how the change in working environment can improve the agility of a corporation. “It took us a year to introduce the first country (the U.S.) on Roam Like Home,” he said. “It took us one year to get all the departments together and deal with all of the challenges. It's technically quite difficult, which is why others haven't copied it by the way. Then, we had a pilot version of Sharespace called swingspace that we put the team in to open up the rest of Roam Like Home and we did 99 other destinations in the next year. So we did the U.S. in one year, and then 99 the next year. How could that be possible? If you put people in an environment where they collaborate and where it's very agile, they can get stuff done.”

"If you put people in an environment where they collaborate and where it's very agile, they can get stuff done.” - Laurence

Going a step further, this has already shown an impact on customers, too. Roam Like Home was one of the main reasons Rogers saw the number of complaints to the Commissioner for Complaints for Telecommunications Services drop dramatically.

The girders underpinning the culture change within the company is its expanded use of technology – as well as relying on those new tools support employees and gauge their happiness. This isn’t just about an office going to an open plan. Employee essentials are a laptop and mobile phone (all fixed line phones have been or are being removed), but it goes much deeper than that. Each laptop is loaded with Microsoft One Drive because the company has completely shifted to the cloud so that needed documents are now always available, but also secure and encrypted.

“The security of this place, even though it is very egalitarian, democratized, and all the rest of it ... The security is actually much higher than it would be in a normal office environment,” added Laurence (pictured with Cartt.ca editor and publisher Greg O'Brien in a loft meeting room with a bit of stadium-style seating).

The company’s use of Microsoft’s Yammer also significantly clears out communications bottlenecks and leads to action. Yammer is the company’s private social network and Rogers has Yammer groups for any number of things which people can contribute to (or complain about), from the quality of the coffee and whether or not a bathroom is out of toilet paper to the company’s ongoing 1 Gig Internet rollout or marketing plans. And, since it’s an open social network within the company that any and all can see, problems are addressed and questions are answered immediately because everyone is accountable to it. “I can see it in real-time because I can see all the groups, so I know what's going on. If I want to get the latest update on a particular issue, I just post a message on Yammer,” said Laurence.

“Yesterday, I was asking about modem stock, how many modems we have to rollout for 1-Gig. I put it onto the Yammer project group. The guy in the warehouse in York Mills answered, not someone who reports to me.” Back in the old-style office structure, this query could have taken days as the request meandered through channels down and back up the line.

WHEN EMPLOYEES ARE moved into their new spaces (while they are free to move about anywhere in Sharespace, they do have designated lockers and “home” neighbourhoods, complete with a wall of selfies so they can get to know each other), there is a playbook to follow. People aren’t just let in and left to their own devices. “This change playbook starts a couple months before the move where we do an information session with all the employees then we do a separate one for all the leaders,” explained Reid. “Then five weeks before we move, there’s another step, then two weeks before we do some of the technology training in terms of Yammer and Skype for Business, and Sharepoint Online, etc. So by the time they move into the space it's so smooth… they go straight to their locker and are ready to go.

“Yesterday, I was asking about modem stock, how many modems we have to rollout for 1-Gig. I put it onto the Yammer project group. The guy in the warehouse in York Mills answered, not someone who reports to me.” - Laurence

“When people feel supported, they’re less anxious about change.” The company now also has a three-day onboarding program for new hires where they learn about Ted and the company’s history, how things are done at the company and how to use their technology and so on, so they’re ready to work when they officially begin.

How much is all this costing? Laurence won’t say, but added that it doesn’t matter because collaborative, engaged, workers are more productive and customer-focused, benefits the company will feel on the bottom line. Besides, for every dollar spent on transforming the company to the Sharespace format, it saves a whopping $0.87 in operating expenses. By the end, the company will have reduced its real estate from 6 million square feet to 4.8 million, realizing millions of dollars in cost savings, without reducing head count – and everyone will actually have more space.

“You know where we visited first, where we looked at those cubicles. That corridor that everyone has to walk down to get to those cubicles, basically no member of staff has that corridor, so it is basically wasted square footage. Up to 20% of your office can just be wasted on the corridors.”

THE FIVE SHARESPACE HOUSE RULES:

  • Be prepared to share
  • Put your stuff away
  • Use meeting space effectively
  • Eat hot food in designated areas
  • Be a Sharespace Ambassador

Jeoffroy examined the company’s real estate across the country and figured that at any given moment, 57% of the space wasn’t being used – be it empty meeting rooms or empty offices when employees were away, or those corridors. Thirty percent was utterly dead space – permanently empty offices, warehouses of needless paper and so on. All of that inefficiency is being wrung from the company.

There is science to all of this transformation, too. People are not all the same and have different needs in order to perform at their best. While most in Sharespace work in the open plan spaces, each neighbourhood also has a library (right) where the lighting is lower and no talking is allowed. It’s stocked with actual books, too. Jeoffroy buys them in bulk by the metre and employees can take them – as long as they bring another back. In a nod to the Rogers family, the libraries across the country are decorated with paintings by Ted Rogers’ wife (and Rogers board member) Loretta.

There are also small “phone booths” where employees can make a private phone call, coffee shops and lofts (pictured below), restaurant-style seating – just about any way to sit and work, or stand and work – you could want. “Maybe some don't wake up so quickly, so they like to have a cup of coffee and chill downstairs. Or they can come up here (to a loft). What we try and do is provide people with choices. Light choices in the case of the loft versus the (darker) café downstairs, and then, if you're an introvert and you want to sit in the library all day no one's going to object to it as long as you don't talk or take phone calls in there,” explained Laurence.

Meeting rooms have also been constructed to be flexible and some are even task-driven. One style of meeting room is unbookable and is tech free – with only rolls of brown paper at each end of a long table. This is for engineers to brainstorm and scribble their ideas out. Another style is a “data-focused” meeting room with no chairs, just a tall white table in the middle, a screen, whiteboards and “bum-bars” to lean on (pictured below). This, too, is an unbookable room meant to force a focus on data and quick decision making.

“You make decisions faster if you’re standing up,” said Laurence. “What happens is when you sit down, the body decides it’s got time to make decisions and so therefore your adrenaline levels go down and all the rest of it. When people are standing around the table looking at facts, because the body knows it can’t stand and stay like this forever, it energizes the brain so people make decisions faster, because you can’t stand here for an hour.”

Many meeting rooms have round tables, which is democratizing, because there’s no “head” of the table, which makes for more open conversation – and larger meeting rooms have what Laurence calls “lieutenant seating” or seats behind those at the table so that more junior folks can be invited in to observe to see what their bosses say and more importantly, added Laurence, how things get said and done.

Of course, it does take some getting used to for employees wired to doing things the old way, but Rogers’ Sharespace playbook has an answer for all of it – and most of the answers are coming from people policing themselves. Noise, for example, hasn’t been an issue because people will self-regulate. They’ll either realize they’re too loud, or someone will gently let them know.

How about assistants setting up “virtual offices” for their bosses by booking meeting rooms? There’s a remedy for that too, thanks to technology. If the system recognizes that a certain assistant has booked a meeting room three times in a month in which no one showed up for an actual meeting, that assistant is blocked by the system from booking any meetings for 30 days. “So, there’s no way on this planet she is going to book rooms for a boss who wants to have a virtual private room,” said Laurence.

Sharespace is greener, too. For example, the workspaces are not dotted with blue recycle bins because most of the paper is gone. In Brampton, for example, Rogers has cut its paper usage by 83%, says Jeoffroy. Energy consumption is down, too.

Then, at the end of every workday, Sharespace is 100% reset. Desks are all returned to one height. Whiteboards are erased (employees are encouraged to use their phones to take pictures of their work) and personal items left behind are removed. If it’s not reset, the whole thing falls apart. “If you come in here tomorrow morning, it will look identical every single day,” said Laurence. “It's important that you don't leave it so it looks tribal, that somebody owns that desk, somebody owns that meeting room."

That way, every day is brand new - and Rogers folks are cleared to continue to do their best for their Rogers community and move at the speed of their customers.

Photos by David Leyes, Toronto. Please click to enlarge.