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    Entries in office space (5)


    The five kinds of office environments and what they really say about your company

    Caught the news this morning that Apple begun moving employees into its new, futuristic, spaceship-looking, and $5 Billion costing campus in Callifornia last week.

    The space (or space ship) seems to be by all accounts incredible, (and I suppose for $5B it had better be), and reading the article over and looking at some of the pics of the new Apple campus got me to thinking about the various office spaces that I have worked in or at least have visited in my career. 

    And honestly, while each office space is unique, and different in its own way, I think that they all can be broken down and places in one of just a few categories. Let's say five.

    Here are the five kinds of office environments as I see it,an example of a typical company with that kinds of office set up, what the company thinks their offices say about them, and what each type of office really says about you, the company, their aspirations, and maybe even their future.

    Here goes....

    1. We don't have ANY offices  100% virtual baby. I'm having a staff meeting from the beach in Majorca.

    Example: Automattic, Buffer, GitHub

    What the company thinks it says: We are progressive, we only want the best talent, we trust people to do their best work in the environment that suits them the best

    What it really says: There's a chance we may not qualify for a 12 month lease of decent space. And your Mom or Aunt Sally has almost certainly never heard of us. But if we disappear, it won't make too much of an impact, since we were never really 'here' anyway.

    2. Class 'A' space in the office park out near the airport

    Example: Tons of them - think logistics, insurance, regional telecom companies, pretty much anyone the developer can find

    What the company thinks it says: We care about our employees enough to have them work in a clean, bright, and completely non-confrontational place. If the space is comfortable and has ample parking, then it is all good.

    What it really says: We have just about zero personality or culture. Check that - we can add a 'culture' board to the break room wall, near the microwave. That will work. Class 'A' office space is like a Honda CRV. Sure, it will get you where you need to go, but you will remember exactly nothing of the journey. 

    3. Big city, downtown, high rise (especially when relocating from Class 'A' space out in the middle of nowhere)

    Example: Boeing, General Electric, McDonald's

    What the company thinks it says: We want to attract more millennials who want to live and work in large cities with lots to do and see - arts, restaurants, sports, night life, etc. We also like to see the company name on a big tower. We also want to attract a more diverse, technically savvy workforce while we are at it.

    What it really says: We can't recruit anyone younger than 40 to come to work in McMansionville 24 miles outside of the city. We also like to see the company name on the side of a giant building.

    4. Common plan! Exposed brick! Ping Pong! Kegerator! (Did I mention the exposed brick?)

    Example: Every Series A funded tech startup in San Francisco or New York

    What the company thinks it says: We are cool! We are fun! We like to work hard and play hard! We don't care about hierarchy here, the CEO sits at the same communal table we all do! And we like exposed brick!

    What it really says: Common plan spaces are way cheaper than building out personal offices, rent at the converted warehouse was almost nothing, (a lot less than in the McDonald's tower), after about 4 days everyone will invest in new noise cancelling/don't talk to me I am trying to work headphones, and my gosh are Josh and Tim ever not playing ping pong! I don't have a snarky remark about the kegerator. That would be pretty cool to have.

    5. Money is no object. I mean, NO object.

    Example: Apple's new campus

    What the company thinks it says: We have more money, power, influence, and gravitas than anyone. We can do whatever we want. We don't care what you think.

    What it really says: We have more money, power, influence, and gravitas than anyone. We can do whatever we want. We don't care what you think.

    $5B large on a new office? Must be nice.

    That kind of scratch would buy a lot of ping pong tables.

    And keep everyone's kegerator filled for a long, long time.

    Have a great week!


    Off Topic: The Home Office of 2001

    Even back in 1967, smart folks were thinking about work and life and how to balance the two. And as an aside, I get really annoyed when the work/life police go out of their way to constantly remind the rest of us that we shouldn't use the term 'balance', but rather something like 'fit' or 'blend' or essentially something they approve of. Quit it already. If the world wants to refer to the subject as 'Work/Life Balance' its you that need to adapt, not everyone else.

    But to get back to the topic, or non-topic as the case may be, back in 1967 none other than the 'Most trusted man in America', news legend Walter Cronkite gave viewers a glimpse of what at least of the part of the future of work might look like, all the way in the distant future, the year 2001. 

    Check the video embedded below for what Uncle Walter had to say about the home office at the turn of the century (Email and RSS subscribers will need to click through)

    Some awesome points from the Kronk, (if you can ignore he is only referring to 'men' workers throughout the video). But think about it, back in '67 folks were already thinking about technology that would free the employee completely from the office. Throw in some connected computer terminals for news and weather reports, as well as one for catching up on your investments, (beats doing emails, right?). Mix in an odd-looking phone that connects to a video monitor to have video calls. Finally, yet another monitor for the business man of 2001 to see all the other rooms in the house, (and if you look closely, it seems like Walter is looking in on the Mrs. making the bed). 

    The funny thing about the home office of the future as imagined in the video is it really doesn't speak much if at all to the business man doing any actual work. And it doesn't at all speculate that work itself might change dramatically, just that there would be fancier tools to assist in the effort. And lastly, it continues to assume, like probably lots of men did in 1967, that complex work that would benefit or even require all this cool technology would only be done by men.

    Let's hope that those shortcomings or lack of vision from Kronk were just a product of a more old-fashioned way of thinking, and narrow point of view. 

    Because we know that in 2013 and beyond, the technology of the future will not just make things easier and more convenient, it will help make the world a better, more open, more equitable, better place.


    Have a great weekend!


    What's your workplace's signature scent?

    Ever walk into a high-end retail store or a fancy hotel lobby and suddenly feel compelled to think, 'What is that smell?' or ask someone nearby 'Do you smell that?'

    It could be that you actually do smell something faint, lurking in the background, and it also could be that what you are smelling is a 'signature scent' that has been purposely released into the building by the owners in order to achieve a specific impact and effect. This olfactory technology, created by companies like ScentAir, allows businesses to add to or augment their customer experience by (in their words), 'connecting on an emotional and memorable level with customers' via the release of specific fragrances into the environment at specific times and for specific purposes.

    I would not have heard about this if not for a connection of the ScentAir technology to the sports world - it seems like professional teams like basketball's Brooklyn Nets (a fresh smelling fragrance with citrus notes),  and the NFL's St. Louis Rams (cotton candy) have experimented with pumping in their own custom scents inside their stadiums. ScentAir offers solutions that scale to really large spaces like in these examples, but also smaller, more targeted scent solutions that can be deployed in more intimate business and office environments.

    The idea, then, is that since we experience and interact with the world using all of our senses, that organizations can benefit from purposefully leveraging one that is often ignored - the sense of smell, to create more complete and memorable experiences. 

    My question is, how about deploying these kinds of scent-delivery mechanisms into internal, or non-customer facing environments? What if you could set up a little personal 'signature scent' for your next all-hands meeting, product review, or even your managerial 1-1 meetings?

    Wouldn't we at work also like to be able to also 'connect on an emotional and memorable level' with our colleagues, employees, and bosses? Could a subtle 'vanilla with hints of alder and lime' scent wafting in the air make that next really uncomfortable 'You are getting placed on a performance improvement plan' meeting you have to facilitate more complete?

    Probably not. But I bet the vanilla and alder would be an improvement from what you normally smell in those kinds of meetings - 'despair, with hints of loathing and perspiration, and a final note of Copenhagen.'

    What's your workplace's signature scent?


    How much does the office furniture matter?

    Like most of you, I've worked in all kinds of office layouts over the years. Cube farms, open plan, private offices, 'hotel' desks for more transient workers. I am sure at one time or another I have spent time in all of them.

    And I probably don't have any really strong feelings about any of the office spaces I've worked in. They were, and are, mostly forgettable. Aside from the one consulting project years ago where my 'office' was a telecom equipment closet and an extra door propped up on some boxes was my desk. That one I still remember for some reason.Look like your office?

    But there is a growing awareness of the importance of design, intent, and function of things like desks, chairs, conference rooms, and common spaces in the modern office. While some think the future of work will eventually become almost completely virtual, (meaning everyone will work out of a Starbucks or Panera), for most desk jockeys today, the 'office' still is the central and most common place where work gets done.

    So while work is changing a lot, where we do work doesn't seem to be changing quite so rapidly. And while this is seems like it will continue, at least for the time being, creating spaces that are adaptable, comfortable, and effectively support the shifting demands of workers and organizations is still important and still should be something HR and talent professionals think about when designing spaces, creating work environments, and procuring office furniture. And if you are still trying to manage that balance between work that wants to be more fluid, collaborative, and virtual; and workplaces, that want to be more, well, static, rigid, and boring, then I suggest you check out this piece from the Workplace Design Magazine site.

    The article, a take on the challenges facing workplace designers, is valuable not only for some of the practical design ideas it might provide, but for the approach to design decisions it advocates. Namely, to think about design issue as more that tables, offices, and furniture. To think bigger. From the piece:

    In contrast, I believe your job as workplace professional is to support work, wherever and whenever it takes place. And for me “support” means focusing on the work itself, and how it’s being done, almost more than the workplace.

    Nice. A more expansive way to see the job of designer. In a way, it is a good piece of advice for any of the classical support functions - facilities, finance, IT, even HR. Focus on the work and not on the tools you want to bring to the table. 

    It is a really interesting way to look at things, and kind of instructive. If the best workplace designers don't start with blueprints and fabric swatches, what does that say about the way us technologists and talent pros approach our challenges?

    Are you thinking about the work first? Or your toolkit?


    Feel like the walls are closing in around you?

    Have you ever gotten the feeling at the office that the walls were literally closing in around you?

    That you barely have room to spin around in your chair without bashing into something - a file cabinet, a cubicle wall, or an office door?

    That at the end of the day when you climb in to your hip, new, and uber-green Smart Car you think to yourself, 'Man, it feels good to stretch out a bit'.

    Well, you are not alone in having that shrinking feeling.  According to a recent report from the International Facility Management Association, the office and cubicle walls are truly closing in on most American workers, with the average office worker seeing their allotment of space shrinking from 90 square feet in 1994, to 75 square feet in 2010.

    By way of comparison, the average size of a prison cell in a supermax facility is about 100 square feet. But admittedly, you'd make some pretty serious tradeoffs swapping your tiny cube with bad flourescent lighting and no windows for the extra leg room in the supermax. Not to mention some potentially dodgy neighbors.

    So why are offices and cubicles shrinking?

    The International Facility Management Association offers some expected explanations; desire for organizations to control and reduce real estate costs, the rise of virtual and telework schemes making larger office spaces less important, and the technological progress that has made computers and monitors smaller, and reduced the amount of paper that is generated and stored in offices and cubes.

    Those explanations certainly make sense, costs for real estate are a concern, at least some people have flexible schemes that render permanently assigned large office spaces at least a partial waste of space, and laptops and flat screen monitors take up a smaller footprint that even a few years ago.  

    But by shrinking the size of offices, and more importantly cubicles, are organizations sacrificing their employee's comfort and well-being to in order to shave a precious few feet of floor space?  At some point one would think this trend would have to cease, as there does eventually become a minimum amount of space needed to hold even a small desk, chair, and workstation.

    But I think the better question is, if organizations are finding it either necessary or prudent to continue to compress and shrink the space assigned to office workers, and technology continues to render the tradtional concepts and approaches of office design antiquated, then when will we see organizations start to eliminate the office altogether?

    For back office functions like HR, accounting, communications, legal, etc. is there truly a compelling case for the people in these functions to congregate daily, in a central building, sitting in personal spaces of ever-decreasing size and comfort, while generating excess costs, using energy, and with workers in their cars contributing to traffic and pollution reliably each morning and afternoon. How many days to so many information workers make the commute only to hunker in their tiny cubes all day, headphones on, coats hanging from a hook on the wall not more than a foot away from the computer?

    Costs, technology, changes in the attitudes and working preferences, particularly amongst the younger generations really should be changing more of how we work, and how our organizations design and coordinate this work.

    Closing in the walls around workers seems to be about the weakest response possible to these trends.


    Postscript - The Smart fortwo pure coupe model is 8.8 feet long, and 5.1 feet wide, for a footprint of about 45 square feet.  So at lease most of us can still park one in our cubes.