Over the years in my career, I’ve had the chance to work in many different office environments: Main Offices, Field Offices, and Collaboration Offices. I’ve been thinking a lot recently about what I liked and disliked most about each environment. My conclusion was: it’s more about the social environment than the physical one. To me, it’s more important that the space be filled with collaborative, supportive and fun people than what the layout is, how much space I have and where it’s located.
One of the most fun times I’ve had over my career was the year I spent in Sacramento. This was a project office that was set up as a co-opetition (yes, that’s a word) space for a large project. Three IPD teams had to cohabitate and share our ideas, even though we were competing against each other. The space was on the second floor of a suburban bank building along a stretch of highway that looked like Anytown USA. We worked on plastic tables, on folding chairs with mobile cork board dividers between the teams… and I loved it. We were all thrown together and we had to figure it out along the way. After a couple of false starts, the teams really fell into a great rhythm. The people I met there were fantastic and I still consider some to be close friends.
When we started working together, we were asked what our personal goals for the project were. There were of course some very serious “life and death” comments. One even likened it to rock climbing and how you could die if you made one mistake. I, on the other hand, wanted to make the process like an amusement park: crowed, hot… feeling nauseous, scared, dizzy and excited… and man, I just can’t wait to do that again!
One of my least favorite spaces to work in was in one of the most prestigious buildings in downtown Chicago. In a past life in my career, I worked for a small company. The people there were nice, but they were yellers. I don’t do well in those environments. Not a day would go by when there weren’t knock-down, drag-out, table-pounding, yelling arguments between a couple of people. In my opinion, there’s no reason for that in the professional world. Life’s too short. So even though the physical space was cool, the social environment wasn’t.
I remember 15 years ago, I was within the first 10 people hired in Chicago when the HDR was first opening their Chicago office … and the space was HORRIBLE. It featured multiple floors of high cubicle walls (in yellow, no less) and no collaboration. But what brought me to HDR was the people there; I had worked with four of the staff members before and they were great people. And as we grew the office, we brought in other great people that we had worked with in the past. So despite the physical environment, we created a wonderful supportive and creative environment to work.
Now don’t get me wrong, if you want me to work out of one of Google’s offices I’d be more than happy to do that. Cool space is cool space after all. However, for me, if you fill that space with people who aren’t supportive and collaborative, then I’m not going to last long.
Image (of the Sacramento co-opetition office) courtesy of Dave Redemske