Company Culture

Q. Tell me a bit about the culture of your company.

A. We mix the seats up occasionally so that everyone gets to sit next to other people. And I’ll move my seat around so I’m sitting next to different people. They can ask me questions, and I get to know everyone better.

I started to feel a bit disconnected from our San Francisco office, so we got two big screens with cameras there and here in New York. They’re on all day long, so you just walk by and say: “Hey, Pete, what’s up? Can you get Ben?” It works so well.

This is from a Times interview with Dennis Crowley about company culture at Foursquare, and as someone who spent much of my twenties working at various startups, I’ve experienced exactly this. It’s as if all the founders met up at a conference or at a Meetup and decided how they should create a fun workspace. We also had a screen so that our developers in South America could see us, and so we could see them, and that was cool, but in my experience, the mixing of the seats never really did anything except interfere with our workflow.

As part of the editorial team at one of the last startups I worked at, I didn’t really have much to say to the development team or the financial team other than telling them that something was broken on the site, or when one of my writers had a problem with their invoice. So what happened when our CEO decided to shake things up and have everyone mix seats was that A) people were upset that they had to move because they liked where they were sitting and had already made themselves comfortable, and B) It interrupted the workflow that we had established, and we had to start all over again.

For example, originally, everyone on the editorial team was sitting in the same cluster of desks and we could all just look up at each other, ask questions and plan the calendar without very much effort. When the company decided to shake things up and reseat everyone, I had to resort to email or instant messenger to talk to people on my team which slowed things down quite a bit, or round up everyone in a conference room so we could plan things out. The developer that I was asked to sit next to was great, but he spent most of his day with headphones on and with his eyes glued to the screen, because that’s just what developers do. About 95 percent of my conversations with him occurred at happy hour—not in the office.

So: In my experience, mixing up seats can be a good thing if you’re trying to figure out how to get everyone as productive and happy as possible. But once that happens, let everyone stay put.

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