DATE: 03/02/2016

Hey, this isn’t rocket science.

Innocently enough, we’ve all made the comment at one time or another. Whether we were explaining how to draft a spreadsheet, how to program the DVR or how to tear off the Saran Wrap without it turning into a bunched up mess.

But for the folks at Boeing, the phrase takes on an entirely different meaning because sometimes – it IS rocket science.

The company, that ranks 27th on Fortune Magazine’s “Fortune 500” list, is the world’s largest manufacturer of commercial and defense jetliners and space and security systems. Boeing employs more than 160,000 employees in locations across the globe.

In 2001, a 6.8 magnitude earthquake virtually destroyed their Seattle office, prompting a swift relocation and redesign. What initially seemed like a huge mess ultimately turned into a great opportunity to restructure the way the company does business.

After finding a large leasing space located at the south end of Lake Washington, Boeing conspired a design, construction and architectural team to create a collaborative office space that would breed productivity.

"This isn't intended to be just a facilities move," said Carolyn Corvi, former Boeing vice-president and general manager, as quoted on the company’s Website. "Move to the Lake is an opportunity for us to do things differently. We want to change the way we work together, to create a linkage between builders and designers, and get people to connect in ways that will help us better communicate, operate more efficiently and become even more competitive."

And that’s exactly what Boeing did. The company went to work, recruiting 35 engineers to participate in a 12-week pilot project that required them to leave their offices and temporarily set-up shop in the new location. After overcoming some initial doubts, the engineers found being close to the airplanes made it easier for them to discuss issues affecting quality, installation and assembly with mechanics.

Armed with data in hand, Boeing went full-steam-ahead designing a fully functional collaborative workspace that would unite previously separated departments.

The completed space now features grouped office areas with translucent window walls that allow workers to see into factory space, plenty of “lounge-like” workspaces with WiFi and themed color palettes that allow employees and visitors alike to easily identify types of spaces (ie. conference rooms, arrival zones, restrooms and so on).

But the most dramatic change was the installation of dozens of windows along the building’s east side wall. As previously mentioned, natural light has been proven to increase feelings of well-being and enhance productivity.

The final results were nothing short of astounding – a reported 50 percent gain in productivity due to the creation of a collaborative workspace.

Boeing subsequently sought to replicate the success with the planning and redesign of their Everett factory. And it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say the space is collaborative work at its finest, including office blocks, restaurants, exterior walkways, skylights, shared work areas and storefront-style windows that once again offer views of all the action. Who wouldn’t want to look up from their computer screen and take a break watching airplanes being built everyday?

In what is the largest building in the world by cubic volume, the factory seamlessly brings together 30,000 employees under one roof. While Boeing is impressive, it is far from unique.

Companies across the globe – and right here in San Antonio – are combining open office furnishings with collaborative redesigns. Innovative ideas, increased efficiency and greater perceived brand value are just some of the benefits companies are experiencing with open offices.

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