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Chris LoCurto

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September 6, 2011

Could Your Office Be Better This Way?

September 6, 2011 | By | 28 Comments">28 Comments

I recently watched a great video from Inc. about Menlo Innovations, a software development company in Ann Arbor, MI. It was about the way this unique company set their workspace. There are no walls, no offices, and no desks per se. Even the CEO sits at a table among the staff. The video is about three minutes, so check it out and let us know what you think. Click the picture below.

How against the grain is that?! I would like you to answer any or all of the questions below.

  • Is this just over the top for your office?
  • Could you see an environment where a lack of “barriers” could make the team stronger?
  • Would you be willing to give up your office if it made your company more successful?
  • Is this all too awkward and uncomfortable?
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  • http://www.whitneysparks.net/ Whitney1

    We have a school in our area with this same “open” concept.  I couldn’t imagine trying to learn in an environment without doors and only one wall separating two classes.  But it seems to work.  This school is a Blue Ribbon award winning school and they have been deemed exemplary on their tests for years.  Then I got to thinking about it.  Isn’t this what their workplace might look like?  Won’t there be distractions that they may need to overlook and stay focused on the task at hand?  I kinda like the concept after thinking about it that way.

  • http://lgthaxton.wordpress.com Louise Thaxton

    It IS over the top for me for most of my office – but it could be “doable” – one of my offices is “similar” to this in that there are two processors and they are separated by NOTHING – they work perfectly together.

    Lack of barriers would help communication “Hey, you, I need…..” – But I remember working as a paralegal with another assistant for 18 years – we were in the same room – but it was only 2 of us – but the work flowed very well.

    Too awkward – not really. Give up my office…..(can I think about that?!?)

    Ok ok – I love my office – but if it helps the team – TAKE IT!

  • http://ginasmom.wordpress.com ginasmom

    Sure would love to.

    I’m a Database Engineer and Security Architect within the database group for a fortune 500 company. My customers are mainly the application teams, that i support who then support the business teams that use those applications in their day to day dealings with external customers. I typically work with different project teams when they are looking to bring in some new functionality, a new tool, or they want to change something, or they want to upgrade their database software. In this projects i end up playing a big role in how we design the database and what type of configurations we end up with (hence my reference to the design meetings above) .

    As the security architect it’s my job to ensure that all the databases we support are in full compliance with the current industry security standards like PCI, SOX etc, as well as making sure the company’s security standards are well defined, well documented and are up to date at all times.

    On weekends,i teach little kids how to play tennis. Has nothing to do with the post, but figured i would mention it anyway:):).

    • http://Chrislocurto.com Chris LoCurto

      HAHAHA….good to know!

  • http://ginasmom.wordpress.com ginasmom

    I like to think of my doorless “cube” as my sanctuary. The place i come back to recuperate after those 1-2 hour long planning and design meetings, a place where i can figuratively put my feet up and let my hair down as i ponder on my next project and figure out how to put everything together. It’s possible i’m set in my ways, since i’ve worked like this for so long, but i really really like having a small place to call ‘my own’ especially in a big company, so i would struggle with this concept.

    • http://Chrislocurto.com Chris LoCurto

      Can you share what you do?

  • Jon Wolski

    Like @AccuContrive, I would find it difficult. There’s a great book called Peopleware: Productive Projects and Teams which covers among other things the effects of cube-land on knowledge workers. The chapter “bring back the door” pretty much says it all.

    For my work, I would need to reconcile two conflicting forces: the need for isolation for focusing (establishing “flow-time”) and the need for collaboration. While it seems boring and conventional, I think tall cube walls strike a good balance.

    • http://Chrislocurto.com Chris LoCurto

      Great point Jon. Do you think it depends on what you do for a living? Like a marketing group as opposed to sales people….or web developers?

  • http://www.citylightministries.com Dave

    Kids underfoot, not so much. I love the idea of no cubicles. We use a similar approach at our graphics design/publishing company. It’s great to lean back in your chair and brainstorm with the guy across the room.

    • http://Chrislocurto.com Chris LoCurto

      Any problems with it?

      • http://ginasmom.wordpress.com ginasmom

        Maybe he is not the guy i want to be brainstorming with:), or maybe he is one of those that wants to brainstorm all day, and not do anything else:):). It would be nice to be able to excuse my self back to my ‘office’

  • http://twitter.com/mahez007 Uma Maheswaran S (@mahez007)

    I think it depends on the culture of people and nature of task. Like introverts and extroverts, these kind of office with open door and close door styyle co-exists.

    • http://Chrislocurto.com Chris LoCurto

      I totally agree Uma. Although it just might bring out some great stuff from the introverts. What do you think?

    • http://twitter.com/mahez007 Uma Maheswaran S (@mahez007)

      That’s true ! However, I have seen extroverts moving up the ladder faster than introverts in many instances.

  • http://ericspeir.com/ Eric Speir

    This would be very difficult for me as a leader. I tend to be an introvert so being with groups of people all day can be draining for me. On the other hand, I’m paid to be with people. I do wonder how this type of office environment contributes to confidentiality and how does it build trust in an environment. I could see how it makes people work as a team barrier. It gives new meaning to having an “open door” policy. In fact, this type of office has a “no door” policy! Talk about being transparent!

  • http://twitter.com/AccuContrive AccuContrive (@AccuContrive)

    As an IT guy, I strongly vote against this. Even though some parts are beneficial, but the noise! OMG, I don’t understand how people can write code this way. With babies crying all over the place??? come on…

  • http://twitter.com/tbric Tom Brichacek (@tbric)

    We’ve had the open office and teams going for 35 years! (note: we are a custom cabinet shop) The employees have to work in teams every day and are working on different parts of the projects as they move through the process. Each team builds everything from start to finish, so when you’re done, the credit (or failure) is the team’s. This seems to work for us.

    • http://Chrislocurto.com Chris LoCurto

      Could your sales people work in that environment?

      • http://twitter.com/tbric Tom Brichacek (@tbric)

        Considering I’m the sales people, I think I could!!! :) We have been fortunate that we haven’t needed sales people. Word of mouth is our advertising and we couldn’t be busier.

  • http://www.cabinart.net Jana Botkin

    Looks chaotic – even the video was hard to watch because the captions below the photos kept changing. I couldn’t decide whether to listen to the narrator or read the words! I would love the honesty and openness but probably have to wear earplugs at work.

    • http://Chrislocurto.com Chris LoCurto

      It would be interesting to see it in effect for one week. I also wonder if it would be to chaotic, or if it would create a rhythm.

  • http://jjedlin.wordpress.com jjedlin

    No hierarchical titles, guaranteed no more than 40 hours a week, no employee evaluations, everyone knows what everyone else makes, interview so that your partner looks good, peer reviews, peer hiring, bring your kid to work everyday….this company has my head spinning!

    • http://Chrislocurto.com Chris LoCurto

      hahaha…I hear ya!

  • Chris Johnston

    I think it will depend on the culture and task. Some tasks lend themselves to be very open. Others don’t.

    In some cases, quiet reflection is necessary. In others, the energy and flow of ideas is needed.

    • http://Chrislocurto.com Chris LoCurto

      I agree. I think this can, and obviously does work most of the time. I can see some situations where it doesn’t make sense. I couldn’t see sales teams sharing a computer.

  • http://twitter.com/anthonydimarzio Anthony DiMarzio (@anthonydimarzio)

    Very interesting! It definitely seems like it would be an initially uncomfortable environment, but the payoff could be huge. Like many workplace issues, it all comes back to two things: the company culture and the hiring process. If you develop a culture where everyone is invested in the company itself and everyone has an interest in helping others to succeed, and you bring on only those people who you KNOW will fit into that culture, this can be a great environment. Employees are often too scared to speak, get involved and take risk because of potential failure and consequences, but when we’re invested in a project together, there’s no cause for any of that. Would love to see where this company is 10 years down the road!

    • http://Chrislocurto.com Chris LoCurto

      I absolutely agree Anthony.