Over the last couple of decades my “office” has dramatically changed. Has yours?
My first “office” was an architectural drafting table in a vast warehouse-like room full of drafting tables. It was an architectural sweat shop. We all sat right next to each other with not one inch in-between each table – all jammed into this big open space.
There was a mix of people – architects, sitting next to landscape architects, sitting next to illustrators, sitting next to mid-level managers. We were all crammed into this space.
It worked, but most of us were so bored with what we were doing that the social aspects of this environment became more important than the actual work (designing the Washington DC Metro system). I don’t know what would have been a better solution, but being that close to everyone did not promote efficient work. It did promote social interaction.
There was no personal space so people like Fred, my neighbor, would get under his drafting table during lunch and take a nap. It was his way of claiming some personal space – everyone knew not to go near Fred’s desk during the lunch hour.
This open plan worked for the firm I was working for. No one needed an office with walls because we weren’t doing anything that required privacy and in fact, it did promote easy communication amongst the staff.
My next office was a traditional office in an historic old office building downtown Washington, D.C. for the city government. This office building was designed back when every employee had their own large office. I was part of a 2-person team, so 2 of us shared one of these large offices. It worked well because we were a team and needed to communicate with each other often.
Everyone else who worked there also shared offices; some as many as 3 to an office. Most of them were not connected and were just thrown together to maximize office space. Only the “bosses” got their own private offices. Even the board room was used to house 4 or 5 employees. The arrangement didn’t promote collaboration or communication, but it worked for the government.
Then I worked as a “director” in a non-profit trade organization and had my first open office experience, ….each of us having a low-walled cubicle and desk.
Depending on your status, the size of your cubicle was bigger or smaller, and if you were mid-level management, you got a desk and a round mini-conference table for meetings. I had one of those.
My secretary and assistant sat within 10 feet of me in smaller cubicles. It worked, but it took some adjustment to get work done because of all the distractions that naturally occur when that many people are jammed together.
My way of getting my work done was to work late, way past when everyone else had left.
Moving on, I became a partner in a development firm and got a beautiful office with antiques and access to a landscaped courtyard. Big and not necessary unless you had a big ego and most of my partners had huge egos.
My office was a secluded, private space, but I’m a social guy, and I felt isolated. So I would wander around talking to other people in the firm. Most of what I had to do was outside of the office, so my office didn’t get used very much. That was the beginning of the era when our phones started to play a big role in our work. We didn’t have to be in the office to get things done.
I had my first experience of not having an official office. I had a construction/remodeling company and my Suburban SUV was my office.
My “office” had a portable desk on the passenger seat with elastic straps to keep all my papers, bids, receipts, etc. from slipping off. The center console had tape measures, stapler, paper clips, rubber bands, etc. This continued through 3 Suburbans, one even having a built in ice chest so I’d always have a Diet Coke handy.
I relied on my mobile phone as my connection to all my sub-contractors, suppliers and clients. It worked and I liked it. I much preferred being out and about as being in an office. It also was necessary to be mobile, in case I had to go pick up something from the supply house for the on-site crew.
After the experience of working out of my Suburban, my view of what worked for me as an office changed permanently. I didn’t feel like I had to be in a room with a phone plugged into the wall with a copier down the hall. I’ve never gone back.
I work from Starbucks and various other coffee places. I’ve been doing this for years, and Starbucks has been my office for several businesses – custom home design, online sports equipment and now commercial office design and furniture sales.
I find that the commotion in a coffee shop becomes a white noise that is beneficial for getting my work done. That’s not true for everyone. Some people have to have a completely quiet environment to get anything done, but I suspect that a lot of people want some activity in their environment to stimulate the working juices. I know of a famous author who had his favorite movie going on in the background constantly……on a loop so it plays over and over.
Starbucks (and all the others) has become a workplace for not only solitary workers like me, but has become the office-away-from-the-office for many businesses. The most frequent activity I’ve seen is job interviewing. It provides a certain degree of privacy for the job candidate who may not want to have their current employer know they’re out looking for a new job. It also lets an employer conduct a more casual interview to decide some basics about a candidate, and also lets them maintain a level of privacy about their hiring intentions.
Not uncommon are staff meetings and community group meetings. Coffee shops have become the inexpensive alternative for groups that may not have a permanent office or just to conduct meetings out of the office, in a casual, non-corporate setting.
It makes me wonder where I’ll be conducting business in another 5 or 10 years. I like where I currently work. I don’t think I could go back to a traditional office, and if I did, I’d have to have some working time in a casual setting where the creative juices flow better.