Archive for May, 2012

New Way of Working

Friday, May 11th, 2012

Codex Manenssisy company moved to a different location a few weeks ago. Google is determined to build GooglePlex on this side of the town and they are getting their hands on every building east of the 101 in Mountain View. And when I say every building, I mean it. That even includes the old, blue building that has jinxed every company that has owned it with the most horrible of the corporate deaths that exist… Will Google be next? We’ll see… Point is that they also bought the campus that my company inhabited for the past years and they kicked us out. Nothing bad, to be honest with you. Shoreline is definitely a nice place for a company, but the Google traffic was a horrible addendum to the whole picture.

Again, I don’t care about moving between offices. With all the different places and countries I have worked on during the past years I can definitely say “being there, done that”.  But this time is different. Some genius mind up high in the hierarchy of my company had a acute case of mental diarrhoea and decided that we were to implement a New Way of Working in the new campus. With the ultimate goal of improving communication and cooperation among co-workers, as well as adding agility to the whole organization they came to the following conclusions:

  • All the offices have to follow an open space concept, without walls, cubes, or divisions of any types. Only labs are to be delimited by walls and doors.
  • Nobody has assigned desks. When you arrive in the building you can seat whenever there is an empty desk.
  • All the desks are equipped equally and look the same and there is no room for personal customization (this means, for example, no picture of one’s wife, dog or gold fish on the desk).
  • There is no personal location for employees except a roll bag for your personal belongings and a drawer with a lock.
  • The basic idea on how all this works is: you get in the building, go to the drawer, get the roll bag and look for a place to seat. Once you’ve found it, you take out your keyboard, mouse, laptop and other working artefacts from the bag and set up your desk for the day. When it is time to go home, you reverse the process.
  • Since there is no assigned seats you don’t get a physical phone. All the phone communication is implemented with VoIP and therefore your laptop is your phone too.

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After having worked in such an environment for a few weeks, these are the highlights and the drawbacks of the new working environment:

  • SUPER-DUPER: world-class meeting rooms. Somebody noticed that such an open environment will have to provide lots and excellent meeting rooms if they wanted to have a silent office. A cube can hold a conversation between three people without disturbing the neighbours. In an open environment you can hear the ziiiiip if somebody opens his fly 5 tables away. Therefore we got a lot of meeting rooms with all sort of facilities: huge flat screen for projections, walls to write on as whiteboards, ergonomic chairs… It is definitely a pleasure to grab someone by the arm and say: let’s have a meeting. :-)
  • EXCELLENT: light and openness boost optimism. One thing California has plenty of is SUN. And you have to take advantage of it. The new building has huge windows with shades, and the lack of walls makes the light be everywhere. The tables are white, and all the colors used for interior decoration tend to be light, so the whole environment irradiates optimism and positivism. It is definitely no pity to go inside in the morning.
  • GOOD: Quality of desks. All the desks are ergonomic with the possibility to make them higher or lower. You can even bring them all the way up and work standing - a great pleasure for your back. All the desks have two huge monitors that you can customize in all possible ways. The chairs are also super ergonomic and the only problem they have is the huge user manual you have to read to be able to understand all the things you can adapt in them.
  • FAIR: communication/cooperation improvements. I have definitely seen some improvement in the way people communicate and cooperate, but not a whole lot. The new building has plenty of working corners with sofas and coffee tables so that people can use those as communication centers, but I have not seen many people using them. Many people thought that without assigned desks many people would sit in different groups every day (say a marketing guy sitting one week with the engineering group and the next week with the service teams) and that would improve the internal awareness… but the truth is quite different. People are sitting in different places but always within their area, so no additional inter-group communication is happening.
  • BAD: noise. Some people are very noisy at their working place. Either on the phone, on when they talk to themselves, or even when they move stuff around their working place. We have a few of those and everybody is avoiding them. When two or more of those noisy bastards gather in one particular area of the office then say goodbye to productivity. Noise-cancelling headphones have been in great demand lately. I hope this will get better in the future and people get more and more used to the openness.
  • UGLY: VoIP phone. The phone is useless. The software you have to install in your computer to have the phone functionality seemed to have been designed by a drunk monkey. It is slow, trouble-prone and not intuitive at all. Sound quality is actually not bad, but the rest is a joke. I am never running the software and rely totally on my cell phone. Man, I really miss a good ‘ol phone with real keys to push…
  • FUGLY: unassigned desks. The worst part of my day is when I have to look for a place to sit down every morning after I arrive. I hate it with all my heart. I am not an early bird and since I am riding my bike I arrive later than the majority of the other people. So that means that I always get the shitty places. I knew that from the very beginning, so I gave up on the good places and took two of the shitty ones as my my go-to desks. Well, there are some morons that are incapable to see some very clear behavioral patterns and they always take my places -even when there are better ones available. The problem of changing places is that you have to spend a lot of time customizing and setting everything up in the morning: the desk, the chair, the monitors, wiring up the cables for the mouse and keyboard, connecting all the power supplies, headphones… A pain in the lower back. Sometimes the desks are dirty and you don’t know from what. Disgusting. So you have to go and clean it - more time wasted while I could have been reading my emails and doing productive stuff. And then before you go home you have to put everything away. More time wasted. Another annoying thing is not knowing where everybody is. 95% of all the phone calls start with the question: “where are you today?” 90% of the conversations start with: “have you seen Fulano today”? Very aggravating.

So in general it has been a very positive change, except for the phone thing (which is easily avoidable - enter cellphone world), and the unassigned seats. Let’s hope that the morons settle down a bit as time passes and everybody has a go-to desk sooner or later.