Workplace Migration, Caves to Commons

3018104-slide-s-4-office-summer-subletRecently I watched a video detailing an interesting annual ritual conducted at Conover Tuttle Pace, a Boston ad agency.  Each summer everyone in the firm packs up and moves to a new workspace for three months.

Each of the 55 employees blindly draws a number and hopes to draw a low number so they can pick early in the process. They fear picking a high number and being left with the least desirable work locations.  The caves go first leaving the open common space for the unlucky.

From all accounts this process works well for this organization.  The goal … to establish new collaboration, find inspiration, discover fresh creativity, and create new friendships.

I invite you to watch the video yourself showing the process in action (see below).  Fast Company Magazine also has a nice story on the process (read here).  As I sit back and observe from afar here are a few of my thoughts:

  • This is a stake-it-in-the-ground event for this company that breaks the routine of everyday work-life.  Make no mistake, much of what we do each day is routine.  Generally this is a good thing for us humans.  Yet, it is important to shake things up at times and place us in new and uncomfortable places.  This leads to breakthrough thinking, ideas and even relationships.
  • There is a real sense of loss and gain with these employees.  A nice office is a gain; to sit in the so-called commons is a loss.  This highlights the importance we all place on our need for privacy and for community.  Everyone has a different balance point.  Each of us needs to discover it.  Innovative organizations allow the flexibility for employees to operate in both realms.
  • While an organization can share a roof they can be separated in so many ways.  Many employees relate primarily, and sometimes exclusively, to their work team, spending most of their time working in the same area with the same people.  Every organization of any size houses many smaller societies if you will.  Exceptional organizations understand that we need to also link everyone to the larger sense of community … a common connection throughout the entire organization.

The reference of Caves or Commons as a means to describe the workplace comes from an excellent Harvard Business Review blog by Leigh Thompson.  Indeed flexibility in where we work is emerging as an important factor in organizations.  The technology helps, but is not the driver.  That drive was always within us – a need for time in our caves and time to collect in the commons.  Sometimes a migration is needed.

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