The Seating Plan Shuffle

Recently, my team moved to a different location in the office.  On paper, this has two major benefits:

  1. We are now closer to the Product Management team
  2. I am no longer the closest person to the door, so I no longer have to open the door a half-dozen times a day for people who had:
    1. Forgotten their pass
    2. Their hands full of things other than their pass

So, double-bonus.

Quite coincidentally, shortly after our move I saw an article in (on?) The Wall Street Journal called, The New Science of Who Sits Where at Work (written by Rachel Feintzeig).  Apparently, moving people around and waiting for the productivity to kick in is quite in vogue.  Scientifically, I think it goes something like this:

The foolproof plan...I think I've seen something similar on the Internet.

The foolproof plan…I think I’ve seen something similar on the Internet.

It all actually sounds quite interesting, provided the overhead of shifting around isn’t enormous.  If you consider the whole thing on a spectrum, on the one end you have “hooray for randomness!” and on the other you have “let’s carefully plan where people get moved to maximize synergy“.

You can go and read it if you like (it’s short, interesting and filled with fun stats about our neighbourly interactions in the office), but here’s my favourite quote:

“If I change the [organizational] chart and you stay in the same seat, it doesn’t have very much of an effect.  If I keep the org chart the same but change where you sit, it is going to massively change everything.” – Ben Waber, chief executive of Sociometric Solutions

Now, thinking about seating plans and such, I realized that I’ve actually had perhaps an inordinate amount of experience with seating arrangements in the office.

Many years ago, when I was a young(er) pup working diligently (the only way to work, really) at my sixth co-op term, I was tasked with developing a new seating plan for the office.  In my role of Project Management Assistant, I helped manage software development projects and other miscellaneous initiatives championed by the executive team.

For my final assignment, I was asked to come up with a new seating plan.  It was actually quite a strategic final task, as the fact I was leaving gave me free rein to just do what was right rather than cater to political or personal requests – after all, I wouldn’t be around to feel the fall-out!  Based on what I had observed in my four months (really an excellent and enjoyable four months, I must say) and a number of consultations with people throughout the organization, I proposed some significant changes.  I never did follow up to see if the changes were implemented, but I can hope.

More recently, I’ve personally and professionally gained from good seating fortune.  When I started at Sandvine, although I was on the Product Management team I wound up sitting with Marketing Communications due to the physical realities of available seats.  As it turned out, this had some tremendous benefits:

  • I learned a great deal about Product Management, due to my job
  • I learned a great deal about Marketing Communications team, due to my proximity
  • I met my wife (then not, but now yes), who joined the Marketing Communications team shortly after I started at Sandvine

(those benefits were not necessarily listed in order of importance)

Seriously, though, sitting with the MarCom team calibrated my career trajectory.  Through the luck of proximity, I came to understand the nuances and appreciate the importance of branding, graphics, PR, advertising/promotion, lead generation, awards submissions and all the other things that people have no idea the MarCom team does (and not to mention some great friends).  Plus, since I knew our product at a technical level, had no restrictions on my travel availability, and seemed to do well in front in front of customers, the MarCom team had me zip around to quite a substantial number of tradeshows in all sorts of exotic (and not) locales.

These tradeshows accelerated my development, as there is really no substitute for practicing your pitch and talking directly with customers…especially in as low-risk an environment as you’re going to find, professionally.  Today, we have a much larger marketing team and only slightly more tradeshows, so the per-person opportunities are in significantly shorter supply.

Once the word got out that I could present and talk to customers, the frequent flier miles grew mightily.  Finally, for several years I found myself serving as the primary interface between the Product Management team and the Marketing Communications team, so by the time our organization got to the point where a dedicated Product Marketing team came into being, it was a natural fit.

So now here I am, heading up a Product Marketing team…and while it’s at least partly due to competence, things might have turned out much differently if the open seat had been somewhere else.

Coming full circle, how has the recent move worked out?  Well, you’d have to ask the whole team to find out for sure, but I like what I’ve seen so far.  This is mostly qualitative, but I believe we’re interacting with other non-marketing teams more (we’re in a more central location now), there’s more natural light (I’m sure that’s linked to productivity…or maybe I’m just thinking of plants), and since we’re near some hotelling hot-desking seats we get to see our remote folks more; but perhaps best of all, I haven’t had to go open the door once since we moved.

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Posted in Everything, Management
One comment on “The Seating Plan Shuffle

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