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Kraft Foods foretells how we will work in the digital age

I’m used to working from anyplace and (sigh) anytime. Getting to work usually involves guzzling coffee rather than driving my gas-guzzler to the office. But I am employed by a publishing company that was born in the digital age and produces content for online consumption. When a business the size and maturity of Kraft Foods ($49 billion in revenue, 108 years old, operations in 75 countries) decides that it’s in the company’s best interest to untether its employees with mobile devices and virtual communities, how we work in the digital age is no longer about some future state of knowledge workers. It’s mainstream.

If you have any doubts, this maker of real things (Oreos, Oscar Meyer hot dogs, Trident and Tang) is trying to turn this digital state of working into a commodity with its own internal brand name and slogan — as you’ll read about in my story next week on Roberta Cadieux, director for information systems service delivery at Kraft, recounts the IT department’s efforts to harness the mobile gadgets and ubiquitous networks that employees increasingly take for granted into a coherent IT-business strategy — and the difficulty of selling the strategy (as opposed to the gadgets) to employees.

The transformation of how work gets done at Kraft extends to its physical offices, where “open innovative spaces” are replacing traditional cubicles and offices. The rank and file no longer are assigned desks. Employees can work from wherever when they are in the office. Wall-huggers — people who have worked at Kraft for years and feel they’ve earned the right to a corner office — have been given glassed-in rooms — fishbowls — but the occupants are increasingly “being challenged why they need them,” Cadieux said. Persuading people to change how they work has been hard, she added — so much so that she said she would like to go into the change management field.

One of the aspects of Cadieux’s job that does not get much play in my upcoming piece is her involvement with Kraft’s facilities people. She told me she worked hand-in-glove with Steelcase, the office furniture giant, to design the space, even walking into the office on Fridays to see how many people were there (usually almost half empty). As Cadieux was telling me about working with office designers, it occurred to me that one interesting spin-off is that IT will play a bigger role in the design of not only the IT architecture but also the physical space that employees inhabit.