Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Office Space, Part 2

Brent's post on Office Space requires some additional commentary on my part.

Just to qualify, at an older institution like JPL there are some pretty cozy, and fairly randomly organized engineering spaces that were repurposed from older offices in 1950's era buildings. The older part of the Spacecraft Assembly Facility for example--where 10base2 snaked through the building and the wooden floors creaked.

Yes we've got the Dilbertian cube farm disease pretty badly here. It's unfortunate that most of the engineering office space decisions were dictated by the old owner--who was about as out of touch with the creative process as a human could possibly be. Additionally, pragmatic modifications to the layout or configuration require that you engage the highly bureaucratic facilities department that contracts the work out to an expensive outside company. The result: a soul crushing cube farm that cannot be easily tuned or improved.

Smaller companies and companies for whom creative work is a primary product (like Google) have it lucky in the creative worker's environmental department. This difference is a barrier to competitiveness that I don't think management really appreciates.

The solution isn't hard--simply recognize the differences in work environments required for different types of work. At a company such as ours which does manufacturing, we know that the production floor requires a different type of environment from (say) accounting. As should engineering work.

Just because a work environment is different doesn't mean it has to be more expensive. Start with a different set of goals--mainly to balance privacy with collaboration and provide enough variety to culture the muse. Then implement towards those goals at a reasonable cost.

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