I have never worked in an office that was so, well, portable.
The software company where I work as a Technical Writer has 70+ employees. We are currently over-crowded and have been waiting for the other half of the floor we rent to be made into usable office space. (The company started out renting half the floor with the option to later expand into the other half. It exercised that option a few months ago but it has taken awhile to get the unimproved space ready.)
In the meantime, we have a constant desk sharing, leapfrog sort of system in which people share desks. It somehow works out. It’s a little “first come, first served.” If you get to work and someone is sitting at “your” desk, you can look around and see if someone is working from home that day or on paternity leave or in permanent meetings or something like that.
The reason it works is that nearly everyone has a laptop computer. Most desks have a monitor and you can plug your laptop into the monitor if you want a larger screen. There are no land line phones. Everyone has a work cell phone.
So, you see how mobile everyone is.
There is no such thing as having your own pens and sticky pads and notebooks, etc. If you have to staple something, you look around and see whose desk you can nick one from. Remember the movie “Office Space” in which one character was very protective of his red stapler? That would never work here.
The one thing that I still haven’t figured out is where people keep files and things like that. Other than the CFO, who has file cabinets for all her financial documents, I can’t see that anyone is storing many paper documents. Most of my work is in electronic form but there are certain kinds of editing, etc. that require me to print out in order to do the job well. So far, I stick them in these plastic folders and sometimes in a binder but I don’t think this system will work for a long time.
Because we work in large rooms and the desks are very near each other, phone conversations take place elsewhere. If someone’s phone rings, they carry the phone with them to an empty conference room. If they can find any empty one, that is.
There are lots of very small conference rooms—some would be crowded with more than three people. Some are currently being used informally as people’s offices only because there is a table there they can use. With the completion of the new space, I think there will be enough conference rooms so that finding an empty one “on the fly” won’t be the challenge it sometimes is.
I think it’s quite a good system. It reminds me of an article I once wrote for a magazine about something called “cohousing.” Cohousing embodies the idea of a community of private homes that share amenities and common space, such as a central kitchen, work, and entertainment spaces, etc. Cohousing communities are committed to the idea of community and also the idea that you can share space instead of everyone having their own private version. It’s like taking the condo idea, where you might share a laundry room and a pool, and going a few steps further.
Cohousing is, not surprisingly, a concept originating in Denmark.
I’ve worked in offices where I felt I really needed my own workspace and I cherished having a cubicle (the more private the better) that I could call my own.
But lately, with the addition of earphones and Spotify (when things get too distracting), I don’t mind at all being right out in the middle of things, sharing a desk, and taking my phone calls wherever I can find a quiet corner.