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On Offices And Office Space

May 24, 2018

Andy Grove was the CEO of Intel Corporation. He worked in a cubicle. I don’t mean sometimes. Andy Grove didn’t have an office. Like all executives at Intel his desk was in a cubicle. This isn’t a post about “open workspace.” In fact, I think the “open” concept where everyone sits in the bullpen has tons of problems and I would rarely use it.

So, I think Grove was doing his company and himself a disservice by insisting everyone be in a cubicle. But, it seemed to work for them, so who am I to criticize?

As an employee and as a manager, you can use Office Space to your advantage. The trick is you have to not care.

Microsoft had a policy where the most senior person on the team got to pick their office first. Not by position, but strictly by who had been at the company the longest. My buddy was on a development team. They moved into a new building. My friend had seniority over everyone. He picked the large corner office. His manager was two doors down in a (much) smaller office.

It was a mistake for my friend. In fact, it was too much longer before he was forced out of that team. But, if he hadn’t cared he could have turned it to his advantage. If he’d opted for a smaller office and arranged for his manager to get that office, the manager would be happy and would see my friend as a valuable team contributor. The key would be that my buddy would have to not care.

The same thing can happen as a manager. If you get to assign seats in your group, put some thought into it. My role at my company is unique. In a company of 150,000 I’m the only person with my title. I answer to a Senior VP of IT. But, he basically assigned me to report to a VP over Operations.

IT has a very utilitarian view of offices: if you have direct reports you get an office, if not, you don’t. It’s a very “IT” sounding solution; easily tested for and requires very little human decisions.

In the Operations world, they are much more about personal circumstances of the position and the person. On the IT side of the building I get a cubicle. On the Operations side, I get an office.

But, my office is small, interiior and has no windows. Across the hall are the Operations Managers. Their offices are huge, easily twice the size of my office. They all have windows.

Let me describe the heirarchy of the Operations department. The Operations Managers answer to the site directors. The site directors answer to the VP of Operations. The same VP of operations who is my effective boss.

If I’m a peer of the highest ranking manager in the building, why don’t I have a big office with a window? Mostly because I don’t want one. I think I could probably get one if I really tried to pull weight. I would burn a huge amount of political capital to get it. And the offices are full. Someone would have to give up their seat. And it’s a seat they’ve been in for months. How would they feel about me after I kicked them out of their office?

I need stuff from these guys. I need them to help me. I need them to like me. And, despite the fact I chose to write a few hundred words on the subject, I honestly don’t care. I’m sure there are times were people think, “Wait, isn’t Rodney the equivalent of a senior manager?”

If they think that, I want them to also think, “I like working with Rodney, he’s approachable and very helpful.”

Whether I push for a big office or not is not the make or break decision of how successful I can be at my position. But, it’s one of dozens of smaller decisions designed to help me get what I need to be successful, while helping my coworkers feel good about my role.

And that may be the biggest benefit that Andy Grove garnered from his misguided “Everyone in a cubicle” policy.

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren. 

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(c) 2018 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved

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