Monthly Archives: April 2014

An Office of One’s Own

Office block at night with interior lights

Since I am currently a PR student, I have lots of homework and assignments in addition to my lectures. I often try to spend time in the library between classes to get ahead on my homework, but the results have been pretty dismal. I really don’t get that much done when I am sitting in the library. The general atmosphere of a library just doesn’t seem conducive to work. That is especially true when the library has other students who are talking to each other or watching videos on their smart phones. To really get work done, I need to be at home in my room.   I don’t usually work in total silence; in fact I almost always prefer to have music playing or at least the TV on in the background with something easy to ignore until it calls for my attention (news or sports). There is something different about having distractions that I have chosen, versus others that come uninvited. Of course one day I’d like to have my own office, not just a computer and desk in my bed room.

The idea of having an office isn’t just something I want for my home own day, but something that I desire in my place of work as well. Until the last few years where offices have changed significantly, the so-called “corner office” was something to aspire to. If you worked hard enough, you graduated from the communal space of the cubicle farm, to the private space to call your own. From there, you could maybe be lucky enough to end up in the C-suite, a separate space entirely where the offices are larger and provide insolation from everybody else. In those days the office space was a reflection of the hierarchy of the company, but things are changing.

My own experience

In my previous jobs I have worked in cubicles. I have often lamented the monotony of working in a cubicle farm. The experience makes it feel as though the company is specifically trying to destroy the morale of workers by putting them in a space that is as boring and drab as possible. An endless maze of identical squares and rectangles with minor distinguishing features between them is uninviting to say the least. Maybe I will live to regret feeling that way, as companies from every sector of the economy are trying to make their real estate more attractive to a new generation of employees. Cubicles are disappearing and open-concept is the new norm.

While I really enjoy the idea of having an office that creates a communal space with (supposed) flattened hierarchies, I am somewhat nervous about the prevalence of open concept spaces. Isn’t the idea of having everybody exposed to each other somehow damaging to creativity and quality work? It seems difficult to balance the need for open communications while also promoting a quiet and appropriate space for creativity and work.

It’s difficult to have all the good parts, without any of the bad. I like that Technology companies have led the way in transforming the office landscape. A communal kitchen, coffee corners, ping pong tables, cocktail hour? Yes please, sign me up! However the idea of knowing that I may never have an office to call my own is disappointing. I think plenty of people watch Mad Men yearn for the opportunity to have their own office in that 1960’s style. It’s not just the scotch bar next to the desk; it’s the comfort of having a little living room inside of your greater work space.

Like most office workers, I do want to work in a space that is inviting, friendly and generally some place I would like to spend my days (and occasional evenings/nights). One element that I find so attractive about the PR/Advertising industry is their ability to create and promote their own work places. When working previously I would google these organizations and become jealous of their amazing websites and offices. I like that the offices of major firms and boutique agencies have all of the forward-thinking elements of a technology company, with the professional sheen that a client service industry like law or finance demands.

A Tale of Two Offices

Over the last few weeks I have had the opportunity to visit two great Public Relations agencies that I am interested in working for: Edelman and Strategic Objectives. Though they are both celebrated agencies with impressive histories, accolades and clients, they were also very different in how their office space was organized. Of course they are also very different companies in terms of clients and the breadth of services, so I am sure that makes a difference, but both were alluring.

Edelman’s Toronto office a very attractive and contemporary (in fact it was featured in the Globe and Mail when it was re-done). The energy and vibrancy of their office is very inviting and reflects the demeanor of their employees. Because this open house for PR students had students from multiple schools, we were a rather large group and we didn’t get the opportunity to actually tour the office. We were there for an information session and some schmoozing. Despite not getting a tour, I tried my best to get a good look at my surroundings. Their work space was totally open concept, with everybody on the same level and no barrier between them. Coming from a cubicle farm myself, I am eager to experience that type of environment for work. It gave the impression that there was constant communication and collaborating between employees, which was also emphasized by the presenters.

Beyond that, they also had a great common area which happened to be full of an assortment of fruit, cheeses, meats as well as champagne, wine and beer. It just happened to be Thursday at 4:00 p.m. when our session ended, which is Edelman’s own “foursies” time, where all employees get together to eat, drink and discuss their work. I can’t say for certain that Edelman is poppin’ bottles every Thursday at 4, but they went out of their way to give us that impression. I sincerely want Thursdays to end on that sort of high note.

In contrast to Edelman, Strategic Objectives had more of a traditional feel to it. For our visit at Strategic there were only about 30 of us, so we were able to get a bit of a tour rather than just attend an information session. The office had the same clean and inviting style, but with a major difference: cubicles and offices. Due to the smaller nature of Strategic Objectives, the cubicles and offices felt more welcoming since their space is too small to be considered a “cubicle farm”.   I liked that the office was quiet and the workers seemed to have their own little private spaces to work at. The silence was a little surprising compared to the ambient buzz of Edelman, but at the same time I feel that their space might be more conducive to creative pursuits. The lobby of Strategic Objectives is literally littered with trophies, awards and plaques, so clearly they are doing something right in terms of their office environment.

Strategic Objectives also gave us a nice little information session where they showed off some of their recent client work. They were also kind enough to give us some professional advice on writing and media pitching. Though they did less schmoozing, I did come home with some expensive organic fair trade chocolate and a box of Froot Loops, so I felt adequately seduced.

On offices and productivity

I’ll end this post with a bit of interesting information that I learned from a recent CBC documentary called Office Land that looks at the changing world of office spaces. Specifically it looks at how the offices of Silicon Valley’s technology companies have transformed the office spaces around the world. The host interviews corporate real estate types, technology company office workers, professors and those who study how the office space impacts performance. Some interested tidbits from the documentary included:

  • In 1994 the average office work had 90 square feet of space
  • Today the average office work has 75 square feet of space
  • 62% of Americans in 2009 said that a better looking office meant better performing employees

And most surprisingly:

  • For every 3 minutes a worker is disturbed or distracted, it takes 23 minutes to get back on track

And lastly, research by Gensler from offices that changed from 2008 to this year:

  • Saw a 6% drop in employee performance
  • Employees said they spent 20% less time collaborating.