Office of the future (no wonder some folks want to work from home)
Just last week, I saw two – count' ‘em two – articles on hipster office space.
There’s just so much to say, that I’ll have to devote a separate post to each of the articles, starting with the one that appeared in The New York Times.
For starters, I will observe that I suspect that offices of The Old Gray Lady are nowhere near as hip and happenin’ as the workspace occupied by ?What If!, a hip and happenin’ firm that’s “unlocking the promise of innovation”, starting with its hip and happenin’ moniker – a moniker which uncannily reminds us hip and happenin’ folks of the hip and happenin’ abbreviation WTF.
The new interiors recall the whimsies of larger creative campuses like Google. There are “stimulation” shelves for employees to display objects; white boards in the elevators (“Smiths or Cure?” read one line of graffiti the other day); a “library” with no books (just wallpaper that looks like books); and vintage stereo components that play vinyl. (Source: NY Times)
Well they do say that there’s nothing new under the sun. Even in the way back, we used to have shelves in our offices where we could display objects. We just didn’t call them “stimulation” shelves. (Which actually sound like they might be displaying items of a certain kind. Oh, never mind: let’s not go there.)
But in the way back, we weren’t all that collaborative, and we displayed our objects in our own private offices, or our own private cubicles, for our own private amusement, and the private amusement of our very own friends. (Which reminds me, I wonder where my foam statue of Dilbert’s Pointy-haired Boss got to.) We were way too self-centered and focused on the “me” instead of the “we” to put our objects out there for communal stimulation.
White boards on the elevator strike me as somewhat dangerous. You never know when a subversive will write something on it. Then again, maybe hip and happenin’ workplaces don’t have subversives. So there’ll be no one like the fellow who taped up a paper bag in a prominent spot in one place I worked. Written on the paper bag were there words “Try managing your way out of this, why don’t you.”
As for the question Smith or Cure.
Is this really a question that someone under the age of, dare I say, forty would pose? Or are today’s hip and happenin’ millennial innovation promise unlockers into retro, in much the same way that I might have asked colleagues to choose Glenn Miller or Benny Goodman.
Then there’s the wallpaper in the library that just looks like books. Ho, ho!
Wouldn’t want to distract an innovation unlocker to actually open a book at random just to see what’s in it. (And love the wallpaper on the ceiling, by the way. Couldn’t unlock that particular promise with real books, unless you glued them on.)
Most significantly, there are no private cubicles, as this company is keen on what is known as hot seating, the practice of roaming a space and grabbing what’s available. It’s a way to foster “creativity through collisions,” Bart Higgins, the director of ?What If! and the overseer of this renovation, said recently. Mr. Higgins, 42, ducked into a private phone room on Monday to answer a reporter’s questions about the place.
Hmmm. Mr. Higgins is 42? My bet’s on him for Smith v. Cure.
As for hot seating:
“This space is forcing us to collide and sit next to people. In so doing, we’re reaching out to people we wouldn’t ordinarily reach out to. The other thing about being able to move around is there’s knowledge in your head, and it’s selfish to keep it locked up in an office.”
Nice to mix it up with new folks on occasion, I’ll give you that. But just because you’re sitting next to someone doesn’t mean you’re going to have to socially collide with them, does it? Couldn’t you just block out all the noise and distraction and get some solo work done?
And that riff on it being selfish to keep your knowledge locked up in your head, or your office…
WTF, sorry, What If!, is no place for introverts, or people who get energized by having more whitespace than whiteboards in their lives. I might be able to hot seat once in a while, but the thought of hot potato-ing each and every moment of the working day. I’m tired just thinking about it.
All I can say is I never thought I’d be quoting Maurice Chevalier, but “I’m glad I’m not young anymore.”
On the other hand, by being a cranky old fart, I miss out on stuff like this:
We were given this painted cow years ago, and we look to it now as this kind of fun factor in that we’re empowered to do stuff for no other reason except to just do it.
So it’s things like who can jump the highest, or who’s got the biggest head. So let’s measure each others’ heads. It’s not contrived. It’s just using the space the way we want to.
I am such a dullard.
It would never have occurred to me to unlock the promise of innovation by measuring someone’s head.
From my tiny little home office, which – despite its compact size – features a couple of bookshelves with actual books on them, and a chair with a back, I thank my sister Kathleen for pointing out both these articles on offices to me, and for not grabbing the topic for her own new blog. Kathleen is now blogging M-W-F on the wonderfully acerbic and pretty darned funny My Rolled Trousers. Thanks to Kath, I now know what a Chantenay is, and have given thought to what might make for a Vatican-based reality show.
Hey, look, we’re unlocking our minds without having to hot seat anywhere.