How Flexibility Supports Function in the Modern Workplace

Inspired by the dystopian world depicted in the pages of the Divergent literary series, Citi’s Managing Director and Chief Operating Officer of HR Susan Catalano, modeled her group’s offices after the fictional books.


Image via HBR.

In order to foster collaboration and autonomy in Citi HR’s new workplace, the floorplan was segmented into “neighborhoods - a compensation neighborhood, a learning and development neighborhood, etc. — to help individuals feel they ‘owned’ their space, even though no one has a designated workspace and no one has a private office,” Catalano explains. This pilot concept – of assigning employees areas instead of actual seats – encouraged a sense of belonging, while also enabling a healthy sense of identity.

The concept also addressed two practical problems facing Citi: First, people had been scattered in different offices throughout the metropolitan area, creating a fractured feeling. Second, an internal study showed that some offices - like most workplaces - were underutilized because of travel, vacation, illness and flexible working arrangements.

In a HBR article, Why Citi Got Rid of Assigned Desks, the authors offer a comprehensive summary of the results of this flexible workplace concept, the challenges faced and lessons learned. By consolidating 150 workspaces for 200 people into a single office, Citi saved millions of dollars in overhead costs. In turn, they were able to invest more dollars into making the space functional, eco–friendly and pleasant for employees. Another significant benefit is employee innovation through new social interactions. Read more valuable takeaways from this project here.