Jack Dorsey, the billionaire co-founder of Twitter and Square, likes to work standing up, typing on an iPad at a navel-high table in the dead center of the open-air floor plan.
When we imagine a powerful CEO, we typically picture a secluded corner office. “I’m much more accessible this way,” Dorsey said of his setup. “People can come right up to me and ask me questions if they need to.”
There are countless ways for managers to shape the psychological environments of their employees. Designing the physical workspace may be easy to overlook as a means of dictating corporate culture, but it is in some ways the most fundamental of management choices. The tenor of meetings, the ease of collaboration, and the frequency of serendipitous colleague interactions can all be deeply affected by the landscape of an office.
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Bloomberg, the financial data and media company founded in 1982 by Michael Bloomberg, is a case study in the integration of corporate mission and corporate headquarters. Bloomberg’s lucrative proprietary finance software was launched with an eye toward creating more transparency in markets, and so the company’s offices are meant to elevate transparency as a goal.
To tour the Bloomberg offices in Midtown Manhattan is to witness the open plan aesthetic taken to its logical extreme. Row upon row of workstations fan out along endless tables in massive atriums with nary a divider to break up the space. On the rare occasion when some sort of partition becomes necessary (for example, to delineate a conference room) the favored material is clear glass that may block noise but does not obscure vision.
Even top-level employees work out in the open. That sixth-floor area—known as “the link”—is a purposeful means of creating forced interaction. Every Bloomberg employee and visitor is initially routed through this space, before continuing on to a final destination. Whether you work on the fifth floor or the 23rd, you must first go to the sixth and catch an escalator or elevator from there. All workers great and small pass through the bustling environs of “the link,” and the many buzzy conversational clumps there attest to its effectiveness as a watering hole.
The purpose of all this engineered mingling? It encourages something that a Bloomberg spokesperson terms “institutional eavesdropping.” Employees get a sense of what’s going on in every part of the company—almost through osmosis. It ensures that everyone is attuned to the broad mission, and encourages curiosity between people who work in different disciplines. So the art department and staff writers—who at most magazines are separated—end up mixing and lingering whenever they spot something of interest.
Of course, there are drawbacks to working in an open-plan office. Some employees may find it harder to concentrate when in close proximity to others’ chatter and phone conversations, and with no barriers to sudden visits from annoying, time-wasting colleagues.
Still, the utopian appeal of the open plan—its ability to mold office culture—remains a siren call that startup entrepreneurs find hard to resist. (Image via Shutterstock)