plus/minus epsilon

Better Office Ideas

15 Oct 2020

I thought it would be fun to write down my thoughts on how offices could be setup better for long-term post-COVID reopening.

While the office before was great in a lot of ways (and I miss it), there were some pretty big downsides that I experienced over time. For almost all of my time at my current job, I've had a >1h one-way commute, and at first a >2h commute as an intern. Spending all of that time commuting to an office where I felt distracted and regularly didn't talk to anyone, was definitely frustrating. I'd also often leave the office with a headache, feeling drained, with no energy left for the evening. I always attributed this being socially anxious, but in retrospect I realize I was probably mostly just allergic to something in the air.

In terms of how I would improve the office, all my ideas pretty much fall out of my belief that having long-term assigned desks is bad. Hotel desks, where desks are assigned for short periods of time (no longer than a week) and all equipped with the same "amenities", are the way to go and here's why:

Hotel desks allow mixed types of workspace, where different workspaces enable different types of work. What I want, in particular, is the option to work in a cubicle sometimes, in a specific part of the office that's designated for quiet individual work, away from my team. An open office space would still exist, that encourages face-to-face communication and team building, and where the system for assigning desks tries to keep teams together. But whether or not I'm there, would be a choice I make depending on the type of work I'm doing at the moment. Other teams might benefit from spaces which are even more open than they are now, with no worry of talking too loudly.

Hotel desks don't accumulate personal items and have a higher standard of hygiene. Since with long-term assigned desks the cleaning staff can't distinguish between trash and valued personal items, they can't clean the office as thoroughly. Almost everywhere I sat had a collection of abandoned personal items that nobody would throw away and one location was infested with insects that ate fallen post-it notes. With hotel desks, trash is everything that's left. Moldy cup of tea? Trash. Napkin with your startup idea written on it? Trash. Picture of your family? Trash.

Hotel desks are a source of novelty. Sitting in the same place by the same people for a long time is boring. If you like where you are, you get desensitized before too long. If you don't like where you are, you're stuck there for what feels like forever.

Finally, while hotel desks are unlikely to be cost-saving, they do have some advantages to management: First, they reinforce a remote-tolerant culture because just because your team is all based in SF doesn't mean everyone is always going to be at "their" desk. Second, you can measure how often people don't get the type of workspace they want and that tells you what types of space you need more or less of. Third, you actually have the ability to change the office layout without feeling like you're uprooting people.