On Creating a Customised Office Environment

I run a medium-sized business that develops software. Our offices have three rooms - one for sales, one for production (software development), one for admin and management.

Three very different rooms.

It wasn't always that way though. In the beginning, all three rooms looked very similar. Everyone works with a computer, so they were similar in all but number of computers and chairs. All three looked like a typical office space. I am very relaxed about dress code and allow people to fairly much wear what they like - so long as they're comfortable and it's smart enough to not put off any visiting clients. I figured that making my staff comfortable is a good move and helps their productivity.

About a year ago, a friend complimented me on my attitude to my workers in terms of dress code, but said I could take it a bit further and see if you couldn't customise each room to best suit the staff who worked in them. I called everyone to a meeting and I put this idea to them, and for each team to come to some agreement on new designs for each room. If no consensus could be made on an idea, then that room's design would remain unchanged. To my surprise, everyone thought it was a great idea, and within a few days every room (including my own management room!) had reached consensus on specific designs for each of their respective rooms.

What amazed me was how different each design was from one another.

The sales team prefered to crowd their workstations around one end of the room, making space for a big table that they used to role-play client pitches and meetings. They requested a huge whiteboard for one wall that they called "the brainstorm" - sales staff would write down ideas and feedback from clients they'd just met. It was a wall of words that made no sense to me, but I was told it made send to the sales staff - I guess I have to believe them!

The developer room looked like a living room. A carpet and sofa were installed. The plastic tables were replaced with wooden ones. The whole place had a homely feel to it, very relaxing. I asked the developers why they picked this kind of environemnt. "It's just relaxing and we can concentrate better" was the general feedback. They also came up with an ingeniously simple idea of forcing silence in the room: a stuffed teddy sat on the sofa most of the time, but when it was picked up and put next to someone's monitor, it mean that that person demands the room to be silent. It's a great unspoken (literally) rule they have setup. One bug bear of this room is that every once in a while, we need carpet cleaners to clean the carpet. I guess such a homely setup requires a bit of extra cleaning, though.

The management room is largely unchanged. Perhaps that's typical of us businessheads here!

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