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Avoid “The tyranny of the new office” syndrome.

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One of the most obvious observations I make with growing company CEO’s is that planning for a new office is done with an optimistic view of the future, incorporating planned space that compromises only slightly the measured needs for the next three or more years as outlined in the financial forecast.

The result, signing a lease for space enough to handle the growth called for in the plan, is a predictable group behavior I’ve come to label “The tyranny of the new office.”  The company plans a move to a new facility with plenty of space that is probably built out but not planned for use until the company grows to the next stage of need.  Employees move into their new cubicles and offices, spread out far more than in the previous facility.  The excitement and noise of working in too-close proximity to cohorts suddenly becomes an unexpected near silence, as everyone notices that they do not have to raise their voices any more to be heard above the din of noise.

[Email readers, continue here…]  The exciting sounds of an office filled to capacity functioning in a growth environment are exhilarating to most that have experienced it.  The distractions are dealt with using earphones with smartphones, concentration and tolerance; but they are dealt with by all.  The change to a near silent environment is so startling that, many times, employees express a bit of resentment or even depression, masked by the common statement that “it is so much easier to get work done without the noise.”  It is the excitement of activity that generates more and better output for most, not the isolation of silence.

But back to “the tyranny of the new office.” Two predictable outcomes almost always follow a move into an office much larger than today’s needs. First, you’ll find subtle moves by employees into the unused, reserved space.  After all, it is there and unneeded for now.  Why not make use of the space until needed?  And second, management sees the open space and often finds it easier to justify acceleration of one or more new hires since the facility is available and infrastructure complete.  Unconsciously longing for a bit more of the excitement from the noise of the previous office, managers often make subtle unrecognized moves to fill the void with new hires earlier than plan.  That’s why the label, “tyranny” even if the word seems out of context.

If and when asked, I always recommend more frequent moves as opposed to longer term leases.  It seems from experience that both the company and the employees gain from such staggered moves.

  • True wisdom–very insightful. Office environment is crucial–and new environments can have unforeseen consequences. I have also noticed that newer swank offices also (unconsciously) signal that a company does not have to be as scrappy or making sacrifices for the team. Thanks David–you articulated a truth that is rarely discussed

  • Ed Setzer

    Your post on the tyranny of the new office, brought back thoughts from the mid point of my career. I then worked for TRW and was just breaking into the upper ranks. The company headquarters had for decades been located in relatively modest quarters in front of a large manufacturing facility. The new Chairman decided to build a new headquarters more befitting the Fortune 500 status the company had then reached. Some of us out in the far reaches of the company thought he was going overboard when the costs escalated for this 100 acre park-like, ultra modern facility complete with an estate guest house ate up our corporate allocations. On my first visit to the facility, one colleague thought out load that if it didn’t work as a headquarters, it could be turned into a mall. As we rode up the escalator, another quipped that he needed a new tie and started looking around for the appropriate shop. I marveled at the perfectly matched wood paneling and the story that an executive had gone to S America to oversee its selection. To cut the story short, that facility, the staff added to fill it up, and the inward shift of focus of that larger HQ staff, was one of the milestones leading to the the end of the century-long story of TRW about 15 years later.

    I enjoy your posts.

  • Barry Yarkoni

    Hi Dave,
    Here is a link to a sketch by Chris Espinosa of the layout of Apple’s first real offices:

    I was one of the first to occupy the space marked as “production” in 1979 after production moved across the street. It was never all that quiet since Steve was about 20 feet away. But your point about creeping use of reserved space was humorously handled by Chris who labeled the unused space as “Tennis Courts?” Chris, by the way, is still at Apple!


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