Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Life in a Cube

Our office space is pretty traditional: hard-walled offices surrounding a sea of 8x8 cubicles. About 5 months ago I moved out of my office and into one of the cubes...I'd forgotten what it's like sitting in a fish bowl and wanted to experience it again. Some coworkers thought I was nuts (actually, more nuts describes it better). Here's what I've learned so far:

1. When I was in my office, it seemed like I had frequent 'private' conversations. That frequency has dropped significantly, to almost none. My theory is those conversations happened out of convenience, not necessity. Open conversations are quicker, healthier and less messy.

2. I don't need nearly as much "stuff" as I thought I did. I left most of my files, books and other items I've collected over the past 15 years in my old office; whenever I need something, I grab it and find a place for it in my cube. Turns out, I don't need 80% of the stuff I had.

3. The office made me lazy; I could hide behind email, the door, the phone.

4. The loudness of a conversation is conversely related to the attention it garners. Two people standing 6 feet away talking loudly to each other is far less noticeable than two people whispering a conversation in an office 10 feet away. Are they talking about me? The company? Why are they whispering? I wonder if a cube makes you naturally paranoid?

5. A well-aimed, well-timed koosh ball can ease a coworker's tension without giving away the identity or location of the trouble-maker.

6. There is a natural superior/inferior connotation that happens in cube conversations. If you're sitting in a cube and someone stops by to talk, you're trapped and you can't escape. The person standing over you has the natural upperhand. We'll be changing our cubicle configuration in the coming months to help.

It's been an interesting lesson so far.

Monday, July 2, 2007

If you want to be happy, act happy

I love this. Seth Godin is one of my favorites because he takes over-complicated problems and applies under-complicated thought to it. So simple.

I’m a half-subscriber to the theory that we are a product of our environment. I agree with the premise, but I think it’s half-right (or, for you pessimists, half-wrong). What’s missing is the impact we have on our own environment.

Earlier this year, our firm was in a funk. In a meeting with our leadership team, there was an undertone of negativity and general crabbiness. So we challenged ourselves. For the next week, we agreed to leave that mood in the parking lot. Walk in with a smile. Greet each other with a friendly ‘hi.’ Be overly positive. Supportive. Even if we had to fake it, the forced-happiness test would last a week.

Guess what. By week’s end, it wasn’t forced. It was genuine. And it spread through the firm. It lead to better ideas for clients, greater productivity and a stronger sense of urgency. And a lot more laughter.

So, are you a product of your environment? Or is your environment a product of you?