Office Layout Effects Office Culture

Right after Lauren and I left for California, HelloWallet moved into brand new offices on the West End of Washington, DC.  So, when I came back this week, it was my first time seeing everyone in the new space.  It really underlined for me how much the layout of your offices drastically effects your culture.

Our old offices had many different walled off sections or alcoves.  There was engineering, marketing/community, and business teams all hole’d off in their own parts of the office.   The people who you sat near are the people who you saw everyday.  They’re the ones that you socialized with and the ones that you became close to.

You could easily go weeks without seeing someone on one of the other teams.  Once, our director of engineering went on vacation for a week and I had no idea.  I just knew that I hadn’t made my way over into his corner of the engineering section in a while and I just hadn’t seen him.

It was bad.  Especially in an office of only 38 people, you want everyone to have the space they need to get their work done and be productive but you also want people to be bumping into one another.   There needs to be that cross pollination of ideas between people, teams, and departments.  Everyone should know what’s going on so we can all going about kicking ass to the best extent possible.

So I come back to DC this week and go into our new office, which is just one big open-pit with office along the exterior, and it’s a completely different vibe.  It really feels like a startup family.   Everyone sees everyone.   Everyone inevitably is going to walk past your desk throughout the course of the day.    Nothing can really happen in the office without you hearing about it or seeing it.

The executives who have offices only use them when they have meetings or calls.   Otherwise, they’re out at a big communal table in the pit with everyone else, which makes them feel even more accessible and avoids the ivory tower perception (which we didn’t have but is good to avoid).

Granted these large open pit-style offices presents a whole new set of issues.  I’d recommend it’s investing in a good pair of noise canceling headphones and having space in the office where someone can hole up when they just have to stick their head down & jam but net net… the office just felt different.  It felt like a different company.

As real estate developers and architects plan out what their new office spaces are going to look like, they need to think about what’s going to be best for the new workforce that’s cropping off.  Gone are the days of everyone having 700 square foot offices.  You now have a generation that more so enjoys working in noisy coffee shops.  In Washington DC a city known for its lobbyists & law firms, there’s especially a shortage of these kind open-work spaces.

What’s your office layout like and how does it effect your office vibe?

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