Sun Microsystems is the epitome of a company without walls, boundaries, or mandatory cubicles. There are employees around the world—from Beijing to Boston to Buenos Aires—working wherever they please. The issue of where an employee might live barely comes up in job interviews. Live where you want. Just get the job done.
Greg Papadopoulos, the chief technology officer for Sun Microsystems, laughs when we suggest that all California companies surely operate that way. Not so. There are plenty of California cultures with the attitude that “if I don’t see your butt in the seat, or don’t see you staying late, then you are not working hard enough,” he says.
Papadopoulos says Sun embraced its Open Work Plan almost by accident, for practical reasons. They were growing so fast in the middle of the dot-com boom most managers realized it was literally impossible to fit everyone into their office space.
These days the plan is critical to company culture. Sun’s Barbara Williams, a senior manager at the company says, with a perpetual smile on her face, that she works harder than ever because of her freedom. “People are just passionate about the workplace and the teams and what they do,” she says, sparkling. “It’s what drew me to Sun—the flexibility—and the amazing opportunity to thrive. So what if my boss is there at 10.30 a. m. I don’t feel I need to be. If I’m more creative at 9 p. m. at night— great!”
The program was revolutionary for the company, critical not only in terms of cost-saving, but also in terms of productivity and talent retention. “It’s all about gathering talent,” says Papa – dopolous. “Technology creation is an art form.”
Even today, as Sun tries to weather the economic challenges, it believes its Open Work Place Program is essential. “Our Open Work plan helps to define the company,” says Ann Bamesberger, vice president of Sun’s Open Work program. “More than that, it ensures that our fixed costs, like real estate, for example, remain reasonable, and that productivity stays high. It’s exactly the sort of program that helps in a challenging economy.”