I’ve always been a bit suspicious of open plan offices. As far as I can tell, they’re simply a way of packing more people into limited and very expensive office space. It also drives the culture of “presenteeism” that I’ve mentioned before.
OK, so you might say that open plan offices encourage more collaborative working amongst employees, that they foster more communication and improve a company’s culture. But what you really mean is that they allow people to muck around, flirt and gossip. Anything, in fact, other than do their job. Which, being honest, I’ve been more in favour of than against during my career (I’m talking myself out of my argument here, aren’t I?). Yes, it’s true. I’ve always quite liked office distractions. Hell, I even married one of ’em!
But with my serious head on, Aunt Sally, I’ve always felt that open plan hinders rather than helps productivity. But I’m like King Canute against the tide of open plan office solutions. Until now, that is.
Reading this week’s Economist last night, I find a comrade in the battle against workplaces without walls. It’s only Jim Goodnight, co-founder and boss of SAS, the world’s biggest privately-owned software company. And what a brilliant name too! The only other Goodnight I know is Britt Ekland’s character in The Man with the Golden Gun.
(Pause while Mark finds video clip of Britt Ekland in Get Carter. But can’t.)
In his profile, Jim says: “You are so much more productive in your own office than when you are being distracted by the people either side.” Right on, Jim.
And how about this for a knock-on effect of Jim’s decision to give almost everyone of his employees their own office? All that additional wallspace needs filling, so Jim started buying pieces of art and the company now boasts a collection of more than 5,000 pieces! What a smart cookie.
SAS is clearly a company that treats its people very well indeed. For me, it’s partly a function of being a company that has remained privately-owned, some of the advantages of which Jim sums up rather neatly: “We don’t have to deal with Sarbanes-Oxley or minority shareholders suing us every time we turn around, or 25-year-old Wall Street analysts telling us how to run our business.” Rock on, Jim.
Anyway. Who else wants to join me in POOP?