Office Space–Not The Movie

I’ve worked in a lot of different offices and office layouts over the years. Looking back I’ve been lucky (or not as you prefer) to not spend much time in a cube, almost always having my own workspace or sharing it with one other person. I’ve helped assemble furniture, move computers, and run cables from my own classroom for teaching SQL to big call centers.

Some of that work was done on the cheap. Sometimes IT did it all. Sometimes we boxed it up, movers moved it, then we unboxed it. Sometimes the furniture people did the cube and desk building, sometimes we did it. Mostly someone else figured out the where of the building and the general layout, then we helped with the details.

Most of the offices I’ve worked in have been ordinary. Not bad, not great, just ordinary, more defined by the work or the pace or the people than by the environment.

I was thinking about all of that recently, thinking of how I’ve changed over the years. One part of that is that my own style has changed. Ten years ago I spent most of my day in my office doing my work,leaving for the occasional meeting and for lunch. It was work space,refuge, and maybe a little bit prison cell. There was nothing unusual about that pattern then or now, it’s helpful to have your own space and helpful for people to be able to find you. It’s also rare – maybe less so now than years ago – to have other locations where you can work in the building without booking meeting space.

Working solo changed me. I’ve learned to vary where I work, even if it means moving from home office to dining room, or from back office to classroom. Different chair, different view, different noise all help me at times to focus or refocus. It doesn’t seem like moving should make a difference, but it does. Coding and detail work I want no distractions. Writing is better when there is coffee, music, background noise. Calls require quiet and room to pace while talking. Unless I’m truly immersed in something for the day I almost have to get up and move, take the laptop to a different location even if only for a half an hour.

The other part is I think for the first time I’ve been working in office space that is ordinary in most ways, yet not. The cubes and desks are all routine. What’s different is the informal meeting spaces and quiet thinking chairs where you can just grab a chair if its open (and there is almost always one). Combined with a “real” cafeteria downstairs that has the same wifi coverage as the floor I usually work on and I have a range of options for getting out of the office without leaving the office. That does sometimes make it harder for people to find me(good at times, bad at others) but I’m not that hard it to find via phone or email or IM.

I think it’s the first time I’ve been in a a professionally designed space. Lots of little touches that elevate normal. It was also the first time I had seen a completely hands off move – you put your knick knacks in a box, the movers did all the rest. I’m sold on both, at least as long as I’m not paying the bill and maybe even then. It was interesting to watch everyone explore the new space. Big enough you could get turned around and that some hand written arrow signs were needed the first few days, people soon adjusted and life was back to normal in a matter of weeks.

No office or work space is perfect. The list of things I want or prefer varies based on a lot of things, but here is a start:

  • Natural light. I truly dislike being in an office that doesn’t have a window or is close to a window.
  • Good (emphasis on good!) cafeteria on site, within a couple minute walk, OR a nice set of restaurants close by. I worked with one client that had neither, was not fun – I like to have the option to take a lunch break.
  • I prefer a parking lot over a garage. Covered parking is nice, but when returning from lunch it’s a pain to scroll upward hoping to find a space – by comparison it’s a breeze to scan a parking lot for a vacant spot.
  • Well maintained, but not over zealous about tape and pins on the wall. I’ve had the range of this, and it’s not fun – though it sometimes pays well – to work in old beat up facilities.
  • Free coffee. Or a good coffee place close by. Why make everyone bring their own coffee maker?
  • Ice machine too. Life is too short to want ice to find out that some other knucklehead used the last ice in the tray and didn’t fill it.
  • Wifi everywhere. I only connect a cable if I need to move a large file from/to my laptop, which means almost never. I don’t want to carry a cable and hunt for jacks.

I won’t always have the option to make job or client choices based on the office space, but it’s something I pay more attention to now. I’m a lot more likely to take work where the environment is comfortable and supporting. It’s never the only factor – money, commute time, work all matter, but I don’t think I thought about the environment at all ten years ago. Now I do.