DOI: Doug Menuez. Atria, Another day, another urgent deadline. In a white stucco office park with perfunctory geometric green trim, the year-old division president of our IT firm paused during a staff meeting. In , Menuez, a seasoned photojournalist, was burned out from covering catastrophes such as the AIDS crisis and the — Ethiopian famine.
Seeking a new subject—one he hoped would be more imbued with optimism—he looked toward Silicon Valley and reached out to Steve Jobs, recently ousted from Apple. Jobs was interested in documenting his latest venture, NeXT, an IT company focused on revolutionizing the education sector. Soon Menuez was in. The project proved so riveting that Menuez began approaching leaders at other young tech companies including Adobe, Microsoft, Apple, Intel, and Sun Microsystems, requesting the same full, behind-the-scenes access.
Learning of his work with NeXT, they agreed.
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I maintained distance but was no longer able to remain completely neutral. The resulting , images, now housed at Stanford University, document a burgeoning industry from an exceptionally intimate viewpoint. There needs to be some projecting of empathy. What are some ways that we can make the best of it? You know, it might not be that big of a deal. But somehow you all managed to get your work done, because, in some ways, people thrive on that.
If you already spend enough time at your desk, take the lunch hour or take that time as an opportunity to get away. You know, if you are an introvert, you might not see your desk as that space of refuge, that maybe your more extroverted colleagues might.
And if you are in a newer open plan office that has other spaces available that may have been intended for privacy, for concentrative work reflection, or just simply getting away, take advantage of them. Or is it an issue of habit? Or is it a leadership thing? You know, is it something where the leaders set an example by —. You know, it might be something as simple as, if that is an issue, then maybe someone just tries something radical like leaving their desk at lunch.
We do think that this office does need some norms and some rules of behavior about when you can do certain things and when you can interrupt people. We think that noise-canceling headphones would be a good thing. We think getting up and walking away, especially during lunch, would be a good thing. We have five different functional areas with about 60 employees.
Each unit collaborates with each other at some level. The problem is, our campus has a fixed infrastructure. Our offices are physically spread out. Some are a few miles apart. Each staffer is probably collaborating on a couple of projects at one time with totally different groups of people throughout or organization. We usually come together for weekly, face to face meetings. We often divvy up tasks for individuals or pairs to work on between these meetings. Still, more beneficial ways we collaborate are unplanned. Connecting informally with people from different units helps us keep moving forward with unique issues that arise.
On the other hand, if my unit were all together in the same physical space, we could respond much more quickly and accomplish much more. Should we organize staffs around the unit in which they work? That way people can communicate with each other around their core responsibilities more efficiently. Or should we find ways to create cross unit collaborations by placing staff from different units in the same physical space?
So, the first question I would ask is, what percentage of time do they spend doing the sort of everyday functions, versus the project work? And that might give some initial sense of what the priority is. If they are thinking about how they could reorganize their office space, I would begin by going through an exercise that we call adjacency planning.
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We published great research from Sandy Pentland at MIT, where he put badges on people and tracked their movements throughout the day and their interactions. You can also do it through a survey. You can also do it through a workshop. The point about Agile is that teams are not fixed. And the spaces that support Agile teaming are also designed in a way that they can be very quickly reconfigured.
Because they have all these buildings distributed across campus? Or are you suggesting that they switch buildings every six months? And you and I have always fought back. So how does that jive with your suggestion, Pete, that people move around more often? You know, the workplace should not make work hard on people.
The campus makes it easy to physically get around. Some of this is not about one particular space. And they found that companies, not even by moving teams around or mixing teams or anything, but just by creating larger coffee stations, instead of sort of every ten people go to the same coffee machine, instead, they would have 50 people have to come to the same coffee area. They had more of those unplanned collisions, too, and as a result, sales rose.
And some of that could be a project share or some sort of knowledge share. You know, who comes to their offices? Are they a service point for the, for others on the campus?
They can redesign their workplace in a way that makes them very efficient, but also more creating and innovative. But they and the university could make flexible work more possible, encouraging people to go work at project rooms or war rooms in different departments, hosting more social activities where lots of people from different functional areas can get together and create these sorts of unplanned but highly productive interactions. We sit at desks with low walls or no walls and minimal space in a wide-open floor.
The company has not told us why they made this change. I assume the believe in the popular theory that casual, frequent encounters between coworkers can create magic and make us all super productive. However, my coworkers and I want office space that actually helps us do our jobs. That requires deep concentration. You know what makes it hard to concentrate? Noise and visual distractions. This open space floor plan is counterproductive. At times we do need to collaborate and talk among ourselves.
See the problem? To solve some of our woes, the company recently decided to move the sales staff to another building. I really feel for them.
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They have it even worse than we do. For them, the company decided to remove assigned seating and make every desk up for grabs every day. They call it hoteling. Many of our salespeople already prefer to work remotely. What can my colleagues and I do to convince our bosses to give us more traditional workspaces?
Help us reverse this awful industry trend. But they listened. You know, we had a lot of meetings. There was a lot of communication. There were surveys done.
At least they made some nominal effort to make it sound like we had input and we had choices. PETE BACEVICE: Yeah, to me it sounds like the process was not explained, and that people were not as involved, because it sounds like the writer is making assumptions about the sense of magic, but also asking questions around, well, there certainly were some cost decisions made. You know, Pixar, Apple, and I agree, it has been poorly communicated, but what this guy assumes is right. His organization wants people to be working in a more fluid environment where collaboration happens more easily.
The process is just as important as the outcome.