Lexmark sees benefits of dramatically redesigning offices

ssloan@herald-leader.comNovember 18, 2012 

Lexmark International employs 2,800 people at the printer giant's global headquarters in Lexington.

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During the past two years, workers at Lexington-based Lexmark International have been at the center of a major renovation.

The facility that was built decades earlier as an IBM typewriter factory has had more than 300,000 square feet updated to become the most modern of offices, and the process is continuing as it works on redesigning its software development workspaces.

Gone are the floor-to-ceiling closed-door offices, replaced with a desk layout designed to stimulate conversation. Long gone, too, are the signs of manufacturing, which hasn't been done on site since 2004.

"What you see is a modernization going on within the walls with an open environment that will enable more teamwork and close collaboration," said Paul Rooke, CEO of the company, one of Lexington's largest employers. "We're making investments to make this a more inviting, attractive site for us."

The moves also are part of a plan to locate the vast majority of the company's roughly 2,300 workers on one side of its sprawling north Lexington campus, which is split by New Circle Road.

The North American sales, marketing and operations teams served as the test for the complex project; they moved from a building outside New Circle Road that has now been partially leased to Xerox.

In its former location, "we had an array of hallways, very little natural light, and just about every employee had their own office," said Ron Binkauskas, vice president and general manager of imaging solutions and services for North America. "An office ranged from anywhere in size from a phone booth to a large executive-type office, and everyone had a door that they could close.

"As you can imagine, the morale took a dip because people were losing what they felt was their personal space."

But once the employees moved across the street, they were pleased, he said.

"We went from a rather dark hallway to having so much natural light that our employees were wearing visors and sunglasses," he said, adding that an automatic sun shade has been installed.

There also was a concern among employees about what to do when they needed to have private conversations. Lexmark turned to technology for the answer. Employees were given headsets that would allow them to walk to a conference room to continue a call without hanging up.

But another addition has seen the conference rooms go largely unused. The company installed a white noise machine "that cancels out noise so it's not an interference for others," said Everett Jacobson, manager of corporate facilities engineering.

The company also turned to technology in planning the workspace for its workers focused on what is called supply chain. In general, supply chain workers oversee how a business obtains supplies for its products, plans how many of each product to make, transports them among various stages of production and ultimately delivers them to customers.

At Lexmark, its workers are constantly in touch with foreign factories that build its printer hardware and supplies such as toner.

"It's the loneliest feeling in the world when you're in a factory and you have a hundred workers looking at you wondering if you can fix the problem so they can keep working," said Dan Fusting, engineering manager for global supply chain operations.

Fusting and others are finding it easier to work with their overseas counterparts using the Web conferencing technology emphasized in the redesigned conference rooms.

The division's workers hold conference calls with factories and can use SMART board interactive whiteboards to make comments on documents that are being viewed by the people at both locations. The marked-up documents then can be saved and distributed.

"It's like riding a horse versus driving a car," Fusting said. "In the past, just one misunderstanding — 'what I heard you say on the call was' — could mean they would work on the wrong thing and lose a day."

The improved communication is what the company is striving for in Lexington, too, with its redesigned workspaces for roughly half its staff.

"They're leaning over their cubicles, or, if they have a question, they can see their colleague," Binkauskas said. "They get up and go over and have a face-to-face conversation."

He said people now are more used to talking than calling or sending emails.

"What this has really increased is communication," he said. "Communication increases collaboration. Collaboration is leading to innovation."

Scott Sloan: (859) 231-1447. Twitter: @HeraldLeaderBiz.

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