At Citi’s new sharing office, staff are assigned lockers, not desks
Weber Lo, country head of Hong Kong of Citi, isn’t the typical career banker. He was born and grew up in Hong Kong, graduating from university in 1993 with a degree in social science. He started his career in Procter and Gamble for a few years before moving to Coca Cola in China.
He joined a start-up briefly at the turn of the century, but the firm went bust shortly after the dotcom bubble burst. It led him to join Citi in 2000 as head of Citigold in the global consumer group. Lo rose through the ranks and was promoted to his current post as Citi country officer and chief executive of Hong Kong and Macau in 2013.
Under his leadership, Lo led the team to move its headquarters across the harbour from Central to East Kowloon last year, a move which he described that not only saved costs, but also offered a chance to create a new office environment in which management and staff have more room to collaborate and more space to enjoy their working life. Welcome to Citi’s new sharing office where staff are assigned a locker, not a desk.
Lo told the South China Morning Post that the Citi office which houses 3,200 staff, has a gym, canteen, 170 carpark spaces, a garden and numerous gathering areas for staff to have formal meetings and casual catch-ups.
Why did you decide to buy your office?
The decision was made after the calculations, that is we considered the buying cost was value for money, and it also helped to remove the uncertainties of rising rents.
We needed only two weeks to get the US headquarters to approve the deal. We considered this a good move as buying our own office could show our commitment to Hong Kong.
By having our own properties, we can also invest to install the latest technology equipment and design the office in a way that fits the need of our staff.
What is the style of the office?
We design the office in a way to allow staff to have more collaboration and more common areas. There aren’t any more complaints from people about not being able to book a conference room as they have a great variety of meeting spaces, and formats and breakout areas, and can even have a meeting in the garden or have a quick chat at a sofa area. They can always talk to their bosses easily.
The new Citi headquarters opted for a sharing concept that is favoured by young staff, where no one has his or her own desk, but they have a password to log on and off any computer on any desk to do their work. They have lockers to keep their personal belongings.
Most floors have an open office design with a 270-degree sea view for all to enjoy.
Without a desk, how can the female staff receive flowers?
Not a problem. We have a concierge at the lobby and because of the mobile technology (wherever the employee is logged on in any part of the building, he/she is contactable by phone) in place, we would be able to contact the recipient employee right away and she can proceed to the lobby for collection.
What were the concerns of the staff when they learned that they have to move to Kowloon?
Many of them were concerned about transportation. But in fact, the time for one to come from the MTR station to the office in East Kowloon is shorter than in Central. We have arranged shuttle buses for travels from Central to Kowloon headquarters, and as well as between the MTR station to ease their worries.
They were also worried about restaurants, but now East Kowloon has started to become a hotspot and there are more restaurants opening.
Nine months after moving in, what is the response of the staff?
Our staff survey showed that over 80 per cent of the staff considered that the new office environment boosts productivity , 83 per cent believed it encourages greater collaboration, and 87 per cent considered it to allow easier access to their management.
There are 75 per cent of staff who said they would not like to go back to the old way of a traditional office but like the current sharing office style. So overall, I would say our staff is happy with the move .
How was your family’s response to your office move to Kowloon?
I live in Happy Valley while my wife works in Central. I have a six year old daughter who has no idea where her father is working. I found that transportation time doesn’t take that long and every morning, I can bring my daughter to school at 7am and then go to work in Kowloon and arrive in the office at 8am. There may be more teething problems for business events at night as most of them are still in Central or Admiralty.
What do you think the government could do to further enhance the East Kowloon area?
We would like to see transportation facilities improve as there is a lot of traffic jam in the Kowloon area.
We also want to see more hotel accommodations as there is a lack of high-end hotels and accommodation in East Kowloon. We have to house our guests or visiting executives in hotels on the Island side.
What is your dream office?
Our new headquarters fulfilled my dream. It has a spectacular sea view, open space, nice garden and canteen. Our staff can collaborate easily. I think a dream office is where everyone enjoys working there and I think our new office has achieve such a goal.
After hearing from Lo, here is what one staff, Belinda had to say about the sharing office:
The unassigned seating arrangement was new to me as we used to be assigned a desk, so it needed some getting used to at the beginning.
The change was a good thing to begin with as there was a big clean up exercise before the move and I had cleared out some 80 per cent of personal belongings and old filings that honestly have not been touched for over a decade.
It’s like going back to university where we clean up everyday and store our belongings in the locker. This new work mode gives me more flexibility in deciding where I sit depending on the job on hand.
The locker is big enough to fit in a gym bag and there is a cloak room on every floor for coats, rain boots, umbrellas, etc.