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… And How SAP is Re-Inventing It for Ourselves and Our Customers

The way the workplace is constructed — physically, virtually, and managerially — can have a critical impact on employee productivity, passion, and innovation.

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The statement above is the main thesis in a new report from the Deloitte Center for the Edge titled “Work Environment Redesign.” 

SAP was asked (and we were honored) to contribute to this report, as the SAP Community Network (SCN) is viewed as a best practice in how it uses community to accelerate talent development and performance improvement.

While over 75 companies were researched for this report, SAP was one of only 9 companies to be featured as a case study.  (The other case studies included prestigious brands such as Zappos and the Mayo Clinic.) 

Check out the full SAP story here which was based on interviews with Chip Rodgers and Christopher Kim.

The entire report is a fascinating read for anyone interested in employee development and higher levels of company performance. Deloitte’s distinguished authors (John Hagel, and John Seely Brown, and Tamara Samoylova) argue that the work environment — not just the physical space, but also its management systems and practices, and its connectedness to spur collaboration through virtual means — should be redesigned with three overarching goals in mind (see graphic below).

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“Work Environment Redesign” — SAP and SCN on the Forefront

At the risk of over-simplifying, please allow me to highlight each of the three key goals of a best-case work environment (physical, virtual, managerial) as defined by Deloitte.  To make it real, I’ll give examples of how SCN and other teams at SAP are embracing specific design principles to achieve these goals.

Goal #1 – Define High-Impact Challenges: Help workers and teams to focus on areas of highest business impact, learning, and sustainable improvement

  • Real-time feedback – SCN’s discussion forums and blogs are an organic source of ongoing feedback for both SAP and our customers and partners. In addition, SAP Idea Place allows customers to submit product ideas to SAP teams, with over 380 ideas already implemented and hundreds more on the way.
  • Rapid experimentation – AppHaus is a new development team at SAP with a deliberate startup culture based in Silicon Valley. They’ve been building consumer-focused apps with 90-day development cycles including Recalls Plus and My Runway. Who knew that SAP built apps for parents and fashionistas?

Goal #2 – Strengthen High-impact Connections: Enable workers to connect with people who matter, both inside and outside the organization

Goal #3 – Amplify Impact: Augment worker impact with the right infrastructure

  • Adaptable space – This week we are celebrating the opening of three redesigned buildings on our Palo Alto campus.
    • The buildings have essentially been gutted and reconstructed to include features such as modular partitions, open workspaces, and writable surfaces and walls.
    • The renovation will serve as a model for workspace flexibility and will help break down silos, support design thinking approaches, and encourage serendipitous collaboration. 

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You can access the full Deloitte report on “Work Environment Redesign and their library of case studies to read additional stories behind Zappos, the Mayo Clinic and others who are reshaping the future of the workplace.

What other ideas do you have for improving the work environment? What have you seen at other companies that is working well or not working well? 

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12 Comments

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  1. Andy Silvey

    Hi Mark,

    interesting blog.

    What other ideas do you have for improving the work environment? What have you seen at other companies that is working well or not working well?

    I don’t know if this fits that bill, but I think it’s worth mentioning anyway.

    As an external I was engaged in the Basis Team at the datacenter of a leading pharmaceutical company a few years ago, and that company which is known for it’s credo invested a lot of money in events to get people from different teams to know each other.

    There were regular all day events (during the working week), where for example we would be bused to a different city, and this was externals and internals, no differentiation, and then at the different city, split into teams made up of people from Basis, Unix, Networking, Security, WinTel etc etc you get the picture, we were mixed up and sent out to complete a list of challenges. So then we became friends with our colleagues from other teams and when we needed to work together the cooperation was smoother.

    I found this approach to getting people from different teams from the same building to work together very progressive and very rewarding and very beneficial for the company as it succeeded to break down the barriers between teams who depended on each other and bring them closer together.

    I also admired that there was no discrimination between internals and externals.

    My opinion now, having been an external for over a decade, I think it is very poor in different companies where there is a policy of discrimination against externals, ok, it doesn’t bother me, but all the same I think it is not healthy and the company itself in the long run does not benefit from discriminating against externals.

    The pharma company known for its credo was very strong in being inclusive towards externals, this is something I will take with me when I become an internal later this year.

    All the best,

    Andy.

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    1. Mark Yolton Post author

      Thank you, Andy, for your thoughtful comment, and for sharing your experience.

      I think the point you hit on here

      it succeeded to break down the barriers between teams who depended on each other and bring them closer together

      is really key to the value you derived from the experience.

      Amazing, isn’t it, that we can work for the same company, organization, and even in the same office, and still there are barriers to collaboration. 

      I think the pharma company did itself a great service to provide a means by which colleagues could get to know each other, and to collaborate more fluidly afterwards, which I would guess showed-up in the company’s productivity, efficiency, and innovation. 

      M.

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  2. Tim Clark

    Mark, this is a great topic and reminds me of two other workplace related blogs:

    1) When Does It Make Sense to Kill the Cubicle – Written by me which compliments what you mention about the re-construction on SAP’s Palo Alto campus

    2) You Can’t Work at Work – Written by Jonathan Becher and is kinda true.

    Based on the data you have provided, sounds like more open, flexible, collaborative workspaces are really working and will be the norm. And these types of workspaces (while not for everyone) will certainly keep more employees engaged at work.

    SAP’s Newtown Square and NYC offices certainly feel open and collaborative but lack the writable walls and other goodies that Palo Alto has. Wonder if teams in these offices would have the need for these same tools?

    Would love to see others come forward and share their experiences here.

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    1. Andy Silvey

      SAP’s Newtown Square and NYC offices certainly feel open and collaborative but lack the writable walls

      Hi Tim,

      there cannot be enough white boards where projects and project teams are working.

      White boards are worth their weight in gold, how many challenges have been overcome, concepts conveyed, projects planned, solutions designed, knowledge shared, thoughts mapped, and openly and collaboratively using the white boards.

      In terms of roi the whiteboard / writeable wall is a difficult no.

      Andy.

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      1. Mark Yolton Post author

        … or napkins!

        How many companies were “invented” on a napkin, in some restaurant or bar?

        It doesn’t take fancy technology and models — often it’s a matter of just the proper environment — physical space to connect and increase the likelihood of serendipity, virtual space to collaborate and capture and iterate, and management policies and practices to encourage and reinforce and value and sometimes to focus. 

        I believe that this place — SCN: the platform, people, culture… — provides much of that environment, and therein lies its value and ROI.

        M.

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  3. Caroline Lewis

    I once heard that when Steve Jobs masterminded the Pixar offices, his approach was to promote collaboration through unexpected encounters.  By shaping the campus around a large atrium it forced people who would otherwise be isolated from one another to come to one place to take advantage of employee services such as the cafeteria,gym, screening rooms and all the other cool stuff.  There is a great article about Jobs’ legacy at the Pixar Headquarters where you can also learn about how Jobs personally approved the steel used for the beams.

    SCN is a great example of taking the Pixar Atrium and making it virtual.  But, we do need more of those co-collaborative central spaces in our physical offices.  Lower cubicle walls if we must stay with cubicles or an open floor plan, writable surfaces, drop in mini-conference rooms and more centralization around one hub for employee services are some ideas of where to start.  The more places to congregate, the more “unplanned encounters” – and that is where the innovation is unleashed.

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    1. Mark Yolton Post author

      Thank you, Caroline, for this added insight. John Hagel (one of the authors of the report) talks a lot about “serendipity” in other forums and encourages business people to increase the likelihood of serendipity (chance encounters that yield positive outcomes) by changing our habits, physical space, etc.  Small changes, inexpensive items, thoughtful and purposeful actions, can make a big difference.

      M.

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      1. Andy Silvey

        Hi Mark,

        reading this blog, and the quality of the qualified comments and the same for other blogs, I keep wondering, with the total combined wealth of the knowledge and experience in the SCN community, why isn’t the knowledge and experience harnessed collaboratively on subjects like this one.

        I mean, imagine if there was a space/wall/room/blog where a subject was chosen eg:

        Ideal Workplace

        And everybody would be welcome to contribute there the greatest components of the Ideal Workplace which they have seen in their career, what works and why.

        Imagine the value of such a collaborative exercise and what would come out the other side, the resulting product of such an exercise.

        And it doesn’t have to only be Ideal Workplace, there can be collaborative exercises across a wealth of subjects where everybody is invited to contribute positively the greatest things they have seen in their career on that subject.

        The resulting products of such exercises would be very interesting and a best of breed collaborative work on any chosen subject.

        Such a community, such high quality experienced people, so much to contribute and share for the common good to find excellence in all areas.

        I’ll put it on the Idea Place.

        Andy.

        p.s. done

        https://ideas.sap.com/ct/ct_a_view_idea.bix?c=81549A64-E595-46B4-9270-0390812DE260&idea_id=693C8314-7650-43C1-82DD-3D7B8CA230BE

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        1. Mark Yolton Post author

          You’ve hit on the “hidden” value of SCN: the collective wisdom of literally millions of people with diverse backgrounds, shared openly, about a wide range of topics, which – when applied and realized – can lead to extraordinary results.

          The missing piece is the execution and discipline and drive to take the best of that wisdom and experience and insight and expressed needs, and to build / deliver a product or service to fulfill the promise and potential.

          The beauty is that anyone — any individual or company that is engaged here in this community, who spots an unmet need, and has the focus and drive to apply the best ideas of the community to provide a solution — can be the innovator to capitalize on it.

          M.

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          1. Andy Silvey

            Hi Mark,

            You’ve hit on the “hidden” value of SCN: the collective wisdom of literally millions of people with diverse backgrounds, shared openly, about a wide range of topics, which – when applied and realized – can lead to extraordinary results.

            this is precisely my point, there is so much ‘hidden’ gold in the SCN Forums and Discussions.

            There is an opportunity staring SCN in the face, to create a platform/forum/space/area where community members can discuss the best of any subject, it could be the office work space, where people share from there career what worked the best, it could be system upgrades where people discuss from their career what strategies were the best and why.

            Imagine the value of the resulting material from such an expert space focused only on collecting together the best of everybody’s experiences on any given subject, with the goal of sharing this knowledge and taking it further, harnessing the wealth of experience on the SCN and focusing it into tight subject areas of excellence discussions.

            That’s what I am talking about, that is the opportunity, the next level. This thread is an example and there are others, but imagine fine tuning the concept to contain only spaces discussing excellence and sharing the best of concepts, what works and why, what is successful and why.

            That’s the idea I’ve put on idea place.

            That’s the value.

            SCN has proven people are happy to share, the next step is to take all of this potential excellence energy and focus it and harness it and consolidate it and make it accessible.

            Andy.

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  4. Tom Van Doorslaer

    Great read!

    I would also add the SAP mentors under “high impact connections”. They’re the archetype of ambassadors that can bring people together.

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    1. Mark Yolton Post author

      Tom:

      There is no higher-impact group I know of than the SAP Mentors.  High density too: the amount of impact (leverage, influence…) per person, with just a small incremental investment in time/energy to engage them, then exponentially multiplied through their contacts and echo effect, is extraordinary.

      M.

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