Young workers in a coworking space. BizBasics Online.

Every new boss should realize that physical systems count, big time!

A few years ago, the world celebrated the 50th anniversary of the discovery of the office cubicle, of which corporate America seems to have a love-hate relationship.

Is a cubicle the right way to have people work?

It depends.

It is a matter of fit.

If the work is highly independent, a cubicle environment is probably okay. If the work is true team-type work, where communications are important, maybe an open concept (or bullpen) workspace is more appropriate.

Some people think a cubicle is a positive status symbol. Some think of a cubical as a negative status symbol.  Either way, get over it. A commodity trader on Wall Street is in a bullpen work environment. They need constant eye-to-eye communication with their peers. They can make more bucks in a few days than most engineers do in a year. Forget the status thing. Do what makes sense for your organization.

Young workers in a cubicle work space. BizBasics Online.

Physical systems refer to more than office space and the layout of the desks.

One project manager decided to “go old school” and put an old bench in the middle of the office where everyone could see it. Seven old plastic “in” baskets were lined up on the bench. Each represented a particular phase of the process. When team members would finish a step, they would place the folder in the appropriate in-basket. The administrative assistant would process each folder and move it to the next in-basket.

Everyone knew by looking at the bench what work needed to be done that day. Each field person would simply take the next folder and leave for the field. The supervisor knew exactly where bottlenecks were as he walked into work.

This physical system allowed the supervisor to work in the field with his people more. The administrative assistant really ran the daily work assignments.

Today, we have plenty of digital tools to help coordinate and manage projects.  From Dropbox to Google Docs, and from Asana to Todoist, there are plenty to choose from to help manage all those balls in the air.  But even with today’s digital environment, a physical system might be easier to implement than a digital one.  Choose what works best for you and your team.

Proximity also counts. The relative location of offices improves or attenuates the communications between departments.

While at USC, the Biz Bucks Guy was taught that studies show a mere one hundred feet is the key distance. If you want two departments to have better communications between themselves, locate them near each other, no more than one hundred feet apart. After one hundred feet, they may as well be in another county.

A leader of a large coal mining organization had a power plant as his only customer.  Communications between his mine and his customer was strained. On learning about the one-hundred-foot rule, he visited the plant that was over a mile from his mining offices. He asked if the spare room next to the plant manager was still open. When the plant manager said yes, the mine manager asked if he could occupy it for a few hours each day! The communications between the mine and the plant
opened up and improved.

In the end, don’t forget to take a look at the physical systems you have implemented in your company/department and see if they are working like you want them to.  Are the work spaces optimal?  Is there a problem with our project management that we may need to change? And, is our space optimal for good communication between team members? 

Maybe a change is in order to get the team functioning like the well oiled machine it can be. 

Young worker in a coworking space. BizBasics Online.