"I would be wrong to sit here and say there isn't an economic efficiency dimension," Mr. Owen said. "In and of itself, that's not the reason to do it. It would fail on that basis. It has to be of value to our staff and our structure in the way we operate. There has to be a value there."
UBS spent two years preparing workers in London for the new mobile desk concept and addressing their concerns, Mr. Owen said.
The new metal-covered office building, designed by Ken Shuttleworth of Make Architects, had to overcome a variety of challenges to fit into the neighborhood.
It could not block the view of St. Paul's Cathedral in central London from King Henry's Mound, 14 miles away in Richmond. (Legend has it that the mound was the spot where Henry VIII watched a rocket fired from the Tower of London to signal the execution of his second wife, Anne Boleyn, but historians believe the story to be untrue.)
As a result, the 700,000-square-foot building is long and flat and rises only 13 stories, what Make calls a "groundscraper" rather than a skyscraper. UBS has a 20-year lease on the property.
Inside, UBS has significantly reduced the number of individual offices, by about 40 percent. None sit against the windows, allowing light throughout the building.
UBS first started a pilot project for mobile desks in Switzerland in 2010 — about the same time it was preparing for the construction of its new building in London.
It now has 25,000 to 30,000 employees using mobile desktops in Switzerland and is rolling out the concept to its operations in Nashville and India. By the end of 2017, the company expects to have about 72,000 thin desks globally.
"Working together, talking to each other, working in a more agile way. People are probably not so fixed any more in their working environment," said Harald Egger, UBS's head of group corporate services and sourcing. "They work much more in projects."
By The New York Times's Chad Bray. Read the original article here.