November 2, 2004 11:00 AM PST

Office space gets new meaning at NEC in Japan

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sits down again. If an interloper sits at the desk or tries to log on to the computer, an alarm sounds and the camera snaps a picture of the person, too.

While most NEC customers are in Japan, the company reorganized its North American divisions in April to boost its overseas presence.

Numbers to back it up
On statistical grounds, the organizational ideas embodied in the center seem to work. Paper costs are 20 percent lower than those of other NEC groups of comparable size, thanks to fewer printers and copiers, and greater reliance on collaboration software.

Conference room time, measured by the number of hours employees reserve, is down 70 percent, while the average length of meetings has dropped 20 percent. Travel expenses are down 15 percent, in part because of videoconferencing.

Besides the direct cost savings, reducing travel likely cuts down on carbon dioxide emissions, an overall goal for many companies in environmentally sensitive Japan.

Another big cost savings comes in office space. Although 500 employees work in the center, there is only desk space for 400 of them. The desk space, often a section of a larger table, comes on a first come, first served basis, and no one has an assigned, permanent desk.

"A 30 percent office space savings--that is big in Tokyo," said Tomoaki Ikezawa, assistant manager of the international sales department in the second enterprise communications solution division.

The deskless 30 percent aren't tapping in from their kitchen, he added. The work-at-home concept is still not big in Japan. Instead, the lack of space is prompting sales representatives to visit clients more often, he said.

Sun has deployed a similar strategy. Employees at Sun put their personal possessions in a locker; NEC gives its employees a bag. And as at Sun, Ikezawa acknowledged, some employees do try to outsmart the system and maintain control over a piece of real estate by leaving equipment in a spot overnight.

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