6 months after i came to ys, back in 1998, we moved from a motley collection of crappy little buildings (actually, two crappy buildings, a double-wide trailer, and — when i came, they didn’t have space for me, so they added — a horrible little single-wide construction trailer with metal stairs that wobbled when trod upon) to the current ys office. our current space was a 50s bore; but yaconelli had a vision, man, and he wanted us to be more professional. so he had the place gutted, and tricked it out as a really nice space, complete with some accents that make it slightly less stodgy (like, nice colors, a 50s diner for our breakroom, and a few other doo-dads).
these days we are merely tenants in this building (our corporate parents only lease space, so the building was not part of the sale of youth specialties a couple years ago). and we’ve come to realize that our space is killing us. it has these central hallways on both floors that are load-bearing walls, which forces us into suites on either side of those hallways. and we have to go outside to go between the two floors (which isn’t a weather issue like it might be in less gorgeous climates, but further drives us to separation). we have to be seriously intentional in order to even see the people we work with. it’s anti-collaboration. and, in the end, it’s just too corporate for us.
so we’re moving. we don’t have the new place picked yet; but i’m working with a realtor to find a space, and we made three non-binding offers this week. our new space will be 100% different. we’re going with a completely open workspace. none of us (myself included) will have private offices. we’ll have a variety of shared work spaces: some of them furniture groupings, some conference tables, some enclosed for privacy, some out in the open. the architect i’ve met with clearly got excited when i said, “these are the words i want to capture our new space: open, fun, collaborative, energizing, casual, youthful, playful, shared.”
it will likely be january 1 at the earliest before we actually move, and could be as late as may 1 of next year. but i am seriously buzzed about this, and chomping at the bit to get into this new space. our staff seem genuinely excited about it also.
i was thinking about this today because my friend (and new ys CORE team member) brian berry posted this patrick lencioni e-newsletter bit about open offices:
The biggest problem with traditional office space is what it suggests about the importance of individual versus collective work. By placing greater emphasis on privacy than openness and collaboration, companies unconsciously encourage people to see their work as being primarily individual. Whether we‘re talking about line employees in cubicles or senior executives in walled offices, workers are almost trained to seek out greater separation and space.
On first glance, this might seem understandable, even natural. Human beings crave their own territory, or according to Maslow, shelter. But is that something we want to honor at work? In some cases, the answer is ‘yes’. A few professions certainly lend themselves to individual focus and privacy and separation. But outside of writers and inventors and monks, not many come to mind.
Most jobs, and especially those that revolve around leadership, are social by nature and should be done in groups. Which means that the higher you go up the food chain within an organization, the more true this should be. And yet, the higher a manager rises in most organizations the more likely he or she is to be allocated an office, suggesting that his or her job is primarily about doing isolated thinking or planning. Or perhaps communicating via e-mail.
So, am I suggesting a radical departure from tradition, one in which executives sit in big, open areas with their teams, going into private rooms only on occasions when it is necessary? Well, I guess I am. Frankly, I don‘t see a better option. Until leaders are forced to interact with one another as a rule rather than an exception, they will continue to under-communicate and under-collaborate, creating cascading problems throughout the rest of the organizations they manage.
What I‘m not suggesting, however, is the creation of funky offices with coffee bars or ping pong tables or spiral slides that connect one floor to another. Those are gimmicks which don‘t address the real problem created by too much privacy and separation. Neither am I suggesting that restructuring our offices become some sort of protest against hierarchy. The reason to move away from closed offices to more open designs is not about aesthetics or rebellion against authority. It is simply about creating an environment of where communication and teamwork have the best chance to thrive.