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American Express marries work styles with work spaces

Wednesday, January 20, 2010  
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Diversity is driving innovation at American Express Co. as its Blue Work program marries work style preferences with workspace, according to the company's Chief Diversity Officer Kerrie Peraino, who was recently interviewed by the editors of DiversityInc.

The project, being shepherded by the financial firm’s human resources, global real estate and global technology teams, is lowering costs while improving productivity and innovation, Peraino told DiversityInc. in a video interview.

"We’re dealing with a very real business issue that has a cost-save opportunity,” she said. "There is not a business today that isn’t wrestling with the high price of real estate. Our motto is ‘Let’s get rid of space, not people.’ That is a driver for us.”

The Blue Work program has identified four types of work spaces: Hub, Club, Roam and Home. Hub-based employees have jobs that require face-to-face time in one of the company’s office locations. Club employees go into a hub office no more than three times a week, either because they work part time or work some days from another location, such as home or another American Express campus. Club employees check into a hub office and are given space to use that day.

Increased innovation

"Our Sydney, Singapore and London offices who have some Blue Work space [dedicated to Club employees] are finding it really increases collaboration and innovation among team members, who are seeing each other more frequently in shared space,” Peraino noted.

Company leaders who were initially worried or uncomfortable about losing control of employees not assigned a permanent space have been swayed by increased productivity, engagement and idea generation, she said.

Roam employees are "road warriors,” such as sales people or someone with client management responsibilities, who have no office. "These are employees we are paying to not be in the office. They are out closing deals and meeting new customers, so why should we be paying for office space,” Peraino said.

Home-based employees are given a stipend to work from home "and we are not paying real estate for [them],” she said.

"Blue Work helps us deal with multiple generations in the workplace today,” Peraino told DiversityInc., noting on any given day, American Express offices have an occupancy rate of approximately 50 percent, as people are out of the office working.

"[This program] helps us meet people where they want to be met, in terms of preferred work type, and we marry that with what the job requires. Not every job requires you to be sitting in a corporate office or for the company to bear the expense of company space. Plus, you have people across generations who want a different [working] arrangement.”