Toyota's management reform begins with new office design
Automaker hopes for some 'chemical reactions' at Texas headquarters
YUICHIRO KANEMATSU, Nikkei staff writer
DALLAS -- When it comes to work, Japan still tends to value what comes out of the office more than the workplace itself. By contrast, in the U.S., notably in Silicon Valley, creating an office environment that does not hinder innovation is an increasingly important management chore. Toyota Motor has taken up the task at its new North American headquarters.
At a press conference on Thursday to mark the opening of the new headquarters in suburban Dallas, Texas, CEO James Lentz, CEO of Toyota Motor North America, emphasized how a workplace can spur innovation. He also expressed hopes that the new office will speed up cross-departmental decision-making, foster new ideas and help transform the automaker into a mobility company.
The new headquarters has a lot of open space. An atrium staircase and the limited number of interior walls, mostly glass, are intended to create more eye contact between employees as they walk around -- and maybe even provoke some chatting. The idea is to stop people from clustering in their own sections.
The previous headquarters had a layout typical of the 1980s, when Toyota's North American operations rapidly expanded. About 90% of the office was made up of individual, partitioned spaces. The rest was mostly conference rooms.
There was little public space, which tended to discourage people from leaving their cubicles.
Those "walls" between employees are increasingly disappearing from modern offices as they are now thought to discourage communication and hamper innovation.
At Toyota's new headquarters, individual spaces have been cut by half to make room for communal areas. Employees are expected to freely discuss ideas about improvements and new projects. The new layout is designed to drag out those holed up in their cubicles, mix them up and create chemical reactions. The company worked especially hard on how to blend unique corporate cultures, such as those of the manufacturing and sales departments, Lentz said.
Simply creating an open office layout, however, does nothing. A good balance between personal and public spaces must be struck. Look what happened at Facebook. The king of the internet built a new headquarters consisting of large rooms only to later realize there were not enough booths where confidential information could be discussed. The company added separations to address this need.
The offices of Silicon Valley tech companies, including Facebook, are becoming more like playgrounds, filled with game machines, bars, even toys. Companies there feed their employees for free, hoping to keep their people in the office as long as possible ... and foster stronger internal cooperation.
Toyota, albeit more modestly, has adopted some of Silicon Valley's ways. Its employees at the new headquarters can wind down on a rock-climbing wall, nap on a special chair and take advantage of other therapeutic office infrastructure.
The headquarters is filled with furniture made by Steelcase, a company once led by James Hackett, Ford Motor's new CEO. Steelcase designed a lot of Silicon Valley's hip offices. In addition to the nap chair, there are height-adjustable desks, which allow office dwellers to concentrate more by standing up -- and to more easily make eye contact with their co-conspirators.
Ford is counting on Hackett's know-how in creating office environments that invite rather than obstruct innovation. Executive Chairman Bill Ford, who promoted Hackett to the top job, has said that with Hackett in the top seat, he hopes to destroy the automaker's bureaucratic and overly hierarchical culture and speed up decision-making.
Although Toyota employees don't need a fancy office to cooperate, this may not be the case abroad, where workforces are not as homogeneous as they are in Japan. For Toyota to make further progress as a multinational, it needs to focus on the work environment. And the design of the new Texas headquarters appears to show that Toyota is aware of this.