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Let Them Pick Their Own Chairs

May 31, 2013

It was an accident really. I wish I could take credit for it.

As part of spinning off RESMARK to be its own company, we were moving offices. I was being installed as president and entrusted with running the new company. While I’d been in management roles before, this was my first time being the top guy. Everyone looked to me for direction and they just expected that I knew what to do. I apparently appeared more confident than I felt.

We were supposed to meet the property manager at our new office at 9:00. At 9:10 I was still in the parking lot surrounded by 6 programmers who were anxious to get in and get their computers set up.

No property manager.
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Of course, his phone went straight to voice mail.

So, what are we going to do, Rodney?

Well, here was my first test as the newly minted “guy in charge,” and I had no idea what to do. In my head I did the calculation on how much per hour our little parking lot party was costing.

Tell you what, the new office has desks, but all we have is folding chairs right now. Why don’t you guys go with Dave to the office supply store and buy desk chairs. I’ll try to get us some keys by the time you get back.

It was a punt. It was something to keep them busy while I put out the current fire.

Rodney, is there a budget on the chairs?

Ah. . .

I tried to access the search engine in my head, “How much does an office chair cost?” I got back nothing. The prices are probably all within 20% of each other, so none of them can get too elaborate, right? Especially at Office Depot.

No. Just let people get one that’s comfortable for them.

I hoped I hadn’t just spent $1000 more than I needed to. Dave and the programmers headed off to go shopping and I tried the property manager again.

By the time they got back, I not only had the office open, I had my own set of keys. Dave and the rest of the programmers carried in their new office chairs. . .no two of them the same. Well, our office was already a hodge-podge collection. Mismatched chairs would fit right in. The prices were all within what I would have set as a budget anyway.

Over the coming weeks as we settled into our offices, a curious thing happened. . .well, didn’t happen. No one ever got their chairs confused. This might not sound like a big deal, but modern office chairs have more controls than an airplane cockpit. You can adjust the seat height, the arm height, the lumbar support, the tension when leaning back, and a bunch of other settings. Finding that someone else has changed the settings on your chair is distracting and annoying.

Also, if you’ve ever worked in an office where every desk and every chair is identical, you know that it can get confusing trying to keep track of exactly which burgundy colorer, fabric covered chair is yours. We never had the problem.

The second thing that happened was completely unexpected, although in hindsight I should have anticipated it. (Like I said, it was an accident.) Programmers sit for long periods of time. Any time they aren’t headed for the restroom or getting a diet coke, they are sitting at their desk. But, no one sits at a desk. They actually sit in a chair. By allowing the programmers to pick their own chairs, I allowed them to select the single piece of office equipment that would most impact their comfort at work.

My mother owned a CPA firm many years ago and she called me as they were in the process of upgrading their office equipment.

I need to buy chairs. What chairs does your company use?

Well, WordPerfect just outfitted their entire campus with Herman Miller chairs. They’re great. Really comfortable.

How much are they, do you know?

I think they’re about $800 each.

To a CPA that seemed like a lot. Even today, 20 years later it sounds like a lot. But, here’s the funny thing. After she got over the sticker shock, my mother went out and bought $800 Herman Miller chairs for her office. Because she realized that she was asking her staff to sit at their desk (in their chairs) for 12 to 14 hours per day during tax season. After she got the nice chairs no one complained about their back, or feet or legs aching from doing all that sitting.

I saw similar results with my staff. Our chairs weren’t $800, but they weren’t the $59 low end chairs either. By letting them select the chair that fit them the best, they naturally chose the chair that was the most comfortable to them.

The third benefit was that they thought I was the greatest boss ever. How many of you ever got to pick your own office chair? I know I never did. They thought it was a great way to start the new business.

I just wish I could take more credit for it.

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From → Team Building

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