If home is where the heart is, then what is in your office.

One last post on work environment for a while. This one describes my
own experiences and invites you to think about yours. Especially if
you are an executive making work environmnet policy. Try to remember
what mattered when you did not have the corner office.

My first two “work environments” were two-man cubicles, seated back to
back with a small common area in between. By cubicles I mean the 6
foot gunny sack walls with integrated desks and overhead cabinets. We
used to refer to them as the Herman Miller office. Still could. If you
were lucky, and I was, you had an office mate you could get along with
and for the most part share the space with only an occasional incident
of annoyance.

Fairly early in my career I worked for an employer that built a new
and modern research headquarters. We called it the flash cube. Look up
instamatic camera for the reference. They decided that if two-man
cubicles was good then a four-man “bull pen” environment would be even
better. They were wrong. What they discovered is people problems grow
exponentially and with engineers it is a very large exponent.

Many more years of my career was spent in the now traditional 6 by 8
cubicle farm trying to get the coveted and larger manager’s cubicle by
the window or even better be promoted to a “closed door” office. I
remember a time when I was paying a lawyer to compose a will, an
insurance agent for my auto, home and life, a stock broker for my
measly 401k investments and an accountant to do my taxes. I had
visited them all in a short period of time and after visiting the last
and returning to my cubicle I realized that although I was just as
professional as all of them, I was the only one working in space with
less space and privacy than my laundry room.

Once, when an employer decided to eliminate a storage slash library
closet, a 7 x 10 interior room with a door I convinced the president
of the company to let me have it as an office. Although I had been
promoted to lead engineer for a large project I was not a manager or a
“principal” and therefore not authorized to have a manager’s
cubicle. At first everyone laughed at the idea that I wanted to work
in a storage closet. But after occupying the office a short while I
was actually forced to move to the least of the windowed cubicles
because my colleagues considered it more of a breach of order to have
a door than a window. The closet was left vacant. And I was eventually
promoted to Principal, I hope to reward me for my accomplishments and
not just to justify the office space I had acquired.

My employment positions after that were in management and I had
doored, windowed offices large enough for my desk and a conference
table. And in the one case where I was sufficiently empowered to
define not only my work space but those that were in my charge, I
worked hard and succeeded in give everyone an office with a door and a
window even if some of them were a bit small, even smaller than the
traditional cubicle.

Since becoming an independant my work environment has been a large
dedicated room in my house, with doors, windows and enough room for 4
monitors, 16 feet of desk, two 5 drawer file cabinets, a guest chair,
a conference table and a corner with two guitar amplifiers and a rack
of guitars.

So which of the work environments were the most effective? which was
the most efficient? which is the environment being adopted by the best
employers? Which environment would you prefer?

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2 comments

  1. Very cool. One of my failed projects was to build my own DVR. I actually got 95% of the way there, so it’s even more embarrassing that I spent the time and money, and didn’t follow it through to completion.

    Maybe your project progress will inspire me to finish it!

    Similar to your project, it mostly involved downloading, installing, configuring, and some hacking. It’s amazing how much time you can spend just getting someone else’s stuff to work, never mind building your own from scratch.

    If you’re ever interested in custom Ubuntu-based DVR (or PVR):
    http://www.mythbuntu.org/

  2. Martin,
    The office story is well done.Your blogs capture a changing America.
    And you demonstrate the difficulty of a one man band consultant to generate backlog. From my experience this is hard to overstate.
    My advice: Sign up with an a design/IT contracting outfit and write a book.

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