Why I will never have my own office again

by jeffhilimire on May 19, 2010

It was a weird move, I know.  And I heard a lot of “Why would you do that?” and “Are you crazy?” comments when I did it.  And even when I was in the middle of it, I wasn’t sure it would be the right move.  But it was.

See, somewhere around December of last year I moved out of my personal office – a corner office on the 17th floor in midtown Atlanta, complete with couch and fridge – and back into a cube.  I felt like I needed a new start and felt like I had been disconnected from the company.

But perhaps I should back up.

I started Spunlogic in 1998/99 with Raj Choudhury and Danny Davis.  In 2003 we moved into a large(r) office on Zonolite Road.  It had 2 private offices.  I took one, Raj took the other.

Since I was the CEO/President, and since the company only grew from that point, every office we moved into had private offices, and I always moved into one of those.  It was the normal, safe, expected thing to do.  I had the need for more private meetings than other people did.  I had to have private phone calls.  I needed time to close the door and work without interruption…or so I told myself.

But what I didn’t realize was that with every passing year, I was becoming more and more disconnected from the company.  I was losing sight of what was really important.  The culture.  The ideas that our staff had.  The pain points they were dealing with.  The product we were producing.  What made us unique and special.  All the “stuff” that made us great.

In March of 2008 we were acquired and became a part of Engauge.  It was a great move and I’m extremely proud to be a part of Engauge.  It’s no secret though, or at least it won’t be after this post, that somewhere between the sale and the end of 2009 I was lost.  I struggled as most entrepreneurs do after selling their company with what my role should be in this new organization and with the lack of control I suddenly had.  Being “trapped” in my office, I felt even more alienated from the staff and found myself drifting into this weird place that I think many executives find themselves as they move up the corporate ladder.  In too many closed door meetings and in some kind of private club that doesn’t have access to the rest of the company.

In fact, toward the end of 2008 I created a rule that required anyone that had their own private office to never close their office doors.  I even considered taking the doors off the hinges.  But after a few months doors started closing again and the effort was lost, probably because I was the only person that needed to have an open door.  And boy did I need it.

And then it hit me.  I needed to get back to what I enjoyed the most.  Being a part of a team, getting my hands dirty, learning from the truly smart people that are a part of Engauge, and leading again the way only someone in the trenches can.  There is a place high above that leadership is needed, but that’s not where I get my energy and that’s not where I’m best suited to help move a company forward.

I got approval from the CEO of Engauge to move into a new role focused on innovation – we call it DIG (Digital Innovation Group).  I would put together a team of people focused on testing and understanding new technology in order to help our clients maximize their marketing efforts.

And I would move out of my office for the first time in 8 years.

Many, many people told me it would be a mistake.  That I was crazy to do it.  That I should “sleep on it” and if I wanted to work in a cube I should also keep my office, that way I could return if I wanted to.  I finally relented to that last suggestion but after a week I had moved everything out of my office and officially moved out.  I was released back into the wild :)

It was one of the most liberating experiences of my professional career.  I’ve learned that for me, there’s nothing more powerful than feeding off the energy of people around me.  And I’ve got some awesome people around me (here’s a list of some of their blogs).

Also, while visiting Twitter headquarters recently I found out that Ev Williams doesn’t have his own office.  No one does at Twitter.  I loved to see that.  I hope he hangs on to that so he can always hear what the people around him are thinking.  That’s so key for a company like Twitter.

So it might be a bold statement to say that I’ll never have my own private office again, but at this point in time I can’t see any reason to do so.

=====================
Note:  This post is NOT meant to discredit anyone who has their own office.  Not by any stretch.  I’m fairly certain that almost every person I look up to and consider a mentor has their own office.  This is a personal decision for me and one that is more about my personality than anything else.

Send to Kindle
  • http://twitter.com/MeganJaneHickey Megan Hickey

    I love this post! I've always admired Danny for wanting to be in the “trenches” with the Balser team instead of hidden away in an office. I think the entire team has respected him and appreciated him as a leader because of it. I am sure your team feels the same way.

  • http://twitter.com/MeganJaneHickey Megan Hickey

    I love this post! I've always admired Danny for wanting to be in the “trenches” with the Balser team instead of hidden away in an office. I think the entire team has respected him and appreciated him as a leader because of it. I am sure your team feels the same way.

  • http://merchantstand.com Bob Williams

    Great post Jeff and thanks for sharing. My experience is that even in a cube, we can become “cube rats” if we don't purposefully make time to be “in” the culture of the company. Your observation about being part of a team is spot-on. Too many times I've seen the silos of workers vs management. The lesson is stay team focused and stay nimble. If working in a cube gets you there, then do it!

  • http://www.jeffhilimire.com Jeff Hilimire

    Actually I should have mentioned that in my post, thanks for bringing it up Megan. Danny absolutely served as an inspiration in this decision and he deserves a lot of credit for showing me the benefits of doing it.

  • http://www.jeffhilimire.com Jeff Hilimire

    Actually I should have mentioned that in my post, thanks for bringing it up Megan. Danny absolutely served as an inspiration in this decision and he deserves a lot of credit for showing me the benefits of doing it.

  • http://www.jeffhilimire.com Jeff Hilimire

    Ha, well cubes are about the only option at this point but I hear the new office is going to be more “desky” ;)

  • http://www.jeffhilimire.com Jeff Hilimire

    Ha, well cubes are about the only option at this point but I hear the new office is going to be more “desky” ;)

  • http://www.cubicleman.com Douglas Knudsen

    cool! Nice to hear bits and pieces from you folks at, well from, Spun Logic from time to time. I've left all that for 100% telecommute, talk about disconnected! :) We use Yammer heavily to maintain a sense of community. I absolutely must get out of the office at home from time to time though, hear people and ideas as well as see living humans walking around.

    Keep on keeping on!

    DK

  • Pingback: Engauge has a new Atlanta office

  • Pingback: Why I like small teams

  • http://www.gorankem.com adamwexler

    awesome & inspiring post, jeff. i love “huddling” with my team for a brainstorming session. throwing out stupid ideas can be a lot of fun…and you never know which one might stick :)

  • Pingback: Analyzing my blog to see what we like talking about, when and via what medium

  • V. S. Hertzberg

    Hi Jeff, This post has stuck with me for a while. Since my (university) department is about to undergo a big move, I’ve even given some thought about asking for a big room where I can house my staff and my students and me. The only downside I can see is that sometimes I need to be able to close the door when counseling students or dealing with staff. I can’t count the number of times that students have broken down crying in my office (and, no, not because I’m the mean professor). You must have situations where you have to deal with staff in a confidential manner – how do you handle that in your setting.

  • http://www.jeffhilimire.com Jeff Hilimire

    Great question Vicki. Giving up your office to sit with the team does have some limitations, particularly in the situation you’re talking about.

    We’re fortunate at our office to have many conference rooms and offices that we can book in order to have private meetings. There will ALWAYS be times when that is necessary. One of additional perks of not having a personal office is that when you do want to meet with someone one-on-one, often times you’ll need to do that outside of the work environment (like at a Starbucks) in order to have some privacy, which gets you out and walking around (which I love).

    The other possibility would be to keep your office for meetings like that, but also sit with the team on a day-to-day basis. I did try that at first but quickly realized I didn’t need to hold the individual office so I let it go.

    Good luck!

  • Pingback: My visit to Facebook HQ

  • Tony

    Good read Hill, makes a ton of sense.

  • http://twitter.com/LearnHowToExcel Casey Drummond

    6 months later, how is yammer working out for you? 3 friends and I recently started using it as we are all still students and not able to devote our full attention to our start-up. Our President suggested it as a tool to provide accountability in getting our work done while having fun at the same time. Kind of like our own private facebook feed.

  • http://www.jeffhilimire.com Jeff Hilimire

    Hey Casey. We actually don’t really use Yammer anymore. Instead, I really like SocialCast. You should check it out.

  • http://welcometojmart.com/ Josh Martin

    Setting up Socialcast at Arby’s today. :)

  • Edhillseo

    This is a revealing blog post. ApartmentGuide adopted a similar mode where all the exec offices became meeting rooms. All the leaders are right there accessible to their teams. The CIO, said he didn’t get it at first but then realized he was getting more insight from being with his team.

  • http://www.jeffhilimire.com Jeff Hilimire

    Thanks for the note Ed. Yes, it takes some people time to get there and not everyone needs to get there, some work better in an office than outside. For me, the path is clear.

  • Pingback: Social is not a job for specialists anymore

  • Pingback: Never get comfortable OR comfortability is the enemy of innovation

  • Pingback: 9 Things a Leader Has To Do

  • Pingback: What advice would you give the younger you?

  • Pingback: 12 characteristics of a great place to work

  • Abc

    If you can do your job as well in a cube as in an office, your job must be piss-easy.

  • http://www.jeffhilimire.com Jeff Hilimire

    Starting to understand why some bloggers prefer not to allow comments on their blogs. Stay classy and anonymous, “abc”.

  • http://twitter.com/laurieinseattle Laurie

    In 2004 when I was a receptionist at a Redmond based software company one of the Marketing VPs wanted to convert an old server lab in the building to a co-working space with his directs. They would all for-go their offices and sit together. Everyone including his direct reports thought he was insane. He pushed ahead, it happened, and ended up starting a trend at the company.  Kudos to you for re-connecting. :)

  • Pingback: Get back in that cubicle and start thinking outside the box!

  • Pingback: What you can learn from a symphony conductor

  • Pingback: A new use for Evernote – store your greeting cards

  • Pingback: More on why personal offices generally suck

  • Pingback: Top all-time posts for this blog

  • Pingback: Two weeks in, here are the 10 things I love about working in the Atlanta Tech Village

  • Pingback: The standing desk experiment

Previous post:

Next post: