Office Hack: Move Your Desk, Change Your Life

Written by Meghann Wooster


Over the last year, our office has been going through a major renovation. A “rip out the walls, tear up the carpets and throw out the furniture” kind of renovation. Although the paint fumes and sound of drilling can get a bit tiring, the new layout (which is bright, welcoming and sunny!) is well worth these minor inconveniences.

Work together, or in solitude, with an open office arrangement.

As each floor gets its facelift, the other floors welcome a wave of refugees. When I sat with our accounting department, the peace and quiet let me power through my assignments, but I missed the ability to participate in on-the-fly brainstorming sessions.

On the other hand, when our software developers were relocated to the marketing department (where on-the-fly brainstorming abounds), headphones were on prominent display. (As this Computerworld article points out: “Many high-tech employees prefer to work in solitude, or at least in an environment quiet enough to foster intense concentration for significant chunks of time.”)

The cultural differences between departments were striking, and they led our management team to dramatically rethink our company’s seating arrangements. Here are four key takeaways from our office shakeup:

1. Tear down the cubicle walls to improve team communication.

Most of our departments have done away with cubicles, which has improved team communication, as we no longer have to get up and walk across the room to talk to each other. In the marketing department, this has resulted in more collaboration between writers and graphic designers, as well as a tighter alignment between the marketing communications and industry marketing groups. Being able to overhear surrounding conversations allows us to:

  • Learn from each other.
  • Gain ideas and insight from people we may not have formally invited to a meeting.

Although this setup isn’t ideal for every department (our accountants still have cubicles), it has definitely prompted more creativity within our marketing department.

2. Create cross-functional seating arrangements to facilitate inter-departmental collaboration.

Two departments—Sales and Presales—were meshed so that the sales team could more easily capitalize on the expertise of the engineers. Here’s how one of our presales engineers describes the change:

Back in the old floor plan, the presales engineers were on the other side of the floor from the sales team. As a result, the sales team was not always comfortable coming to us with questions or requests for help.

Sitting together ensures that when the sales team has questions, finding answers is a simple matter of asking one of the engineers in their pod. This allows the sales team to answer their customers and resellers much more quickly.

Presales benefits from being in tighter communication with the sales team and staying on top of opportunities as the regional managers work on them. Over the past year we have also built many new friendships, which have had a noticeable positive impact on morale and productivity.

3. Encourage desk swapping to get ideas flowing.

In addition to this new pod layout, there is also a desk within the sales department for marketing. Five of our industry marketers take one day each week to sit at the marketing desk and work alongside the sales team. This “desk swapping” serves a dual purpose:

  • It makes our marketing experts more visible to and accessible by the sales team, improving inter-departmental communication.
  • It disrupts the marketers’ normal routine, which provides fresh insight and has sparked some innovative ideas for improving the company’s competitive edge.

4. Build multi-purpose spaces that employees can use when needed.

Few people have the ability to swoop into another department and commandeer a desk at will, but one great feature that our management team built into our new office layout is an abundance of small conference rooms that we can retreat to when we need some quiet time with our laptops or the space to meditate on a new idea.

Although these rooms are sometimes used for meetings, they are also used as impromptu offices when we need a quiet place to take a phone call, work uninterrupted or simply look out at the world from a slightly different angle.