Culture & Competency

A Great Example of Collaborative Tools Being Integrated into an Appropriate Way of Working

Writing on the StackExchange Blog, David lays out an argument for private offices. This is at odds with many firms who are pursuing open offices. David’s reasons for private offices at Stack Exchange HQ include:
– it’s the way their smart people prefer to work.
– it allows people to find their own rhythm of work (including work hours, use of space, and using your attention, and by implication allowing / minimizing distractions).

What I really liked in David’s article was his explanation of how they have integrated their physical working world (and the use of private offices with collaborative physical places) with the use of online collaborative tools:

We are an online company: we’ve been remote from day one and still to this day over half of the team (aside from sales) works from home. The only way to make that work is to keep the nexus of activity online: in chat rooms, Google Hangouts, Trello boards, etc. This keeps everyone on equal footing, whether you’re in the office or working from home. Want to know what’s going on? Just check Trello and chat. Don’t go hang out around the watercooler.

This creates a magnificent culture of non-distraction. Whenever we get a new hire in the office, I make it a point to sit down with them in their first week and explain that they should not go to someone’s office when they have a question. Instead, ping them in chat and then jump on a hangout. The result is exactly the sort of culture that open offices are supposed to promote but better:

  • If someone else sees the message, they can chime in with the answer
  • If someone else is interested in the discussion, they can jump onto the hangout
  • And, crucially, if someone is working heads-down and doesn’t want to be distracted, all they have to do is close the chat window.

This really is the best of both worlds, and one of the reasons that I’m a big advocate of remote work culture even if nobody works remote. And a big part of what makes it possible if you’re working out of an office is having a door you can close so you’re not distracting your coworkers.

The result is that we get a lot of work done and individuals are fantastically productive. The only thing missing is to make sure that we’re facilitating those cross-team connections that open offices pretend to get you for free. We solve that in a few simple ways: daily lunch together in the office, weekly “Beer Bashes”, and an annual company meetup.

Nice. What an awesomely appropriate use of collaboration tools, in alignment with the priorities in their organizational culture.

(The comments to David’s blog post are very supportive of the use of private offices, and very negative on the current emphasis on open floors.)

Categories: Culture & Competency