Anyone who thinks that cutting costs is the only reason to give
employees less space should consider what Facebook did when it moved
into the old headquarters of Sun Microsystems. Sun, one of the tech
stars of the 1990s, designed its headquarters with private offices for
software engineers. Not large offices, but offices with walls and doors
so programmers could have quiet while writing code. That strategy was
intended to make employees more productive while helping Sun recruit
software talent, which was also being courted by other tech companies.
Sun is gone, and Facebook now owns its old headquarters building.
Gone too are most of the private workspaces. Instead, the floor plan is
dominated by pods made up of four small desks pushed up against one
another. The primary reason isn’t cost control — the company doesn’t
scrimp on perks for employees. What drove the design is collaboration.
Like many other companies, the social networking giant believes that its
employees are generally more productive working together than in
isolation. (See Open To New Ideas.)
That strategy would go nowhere if employees didn’t buy in, especially
in companies that face competition for the best talent. To get that
buy-in, companies have to give employees something in return. Things
like compensation and company status are a big part of that “something,”
but so is the image of the workplace itself.
Younger employees in particular are often looking for a cool place to
work. A workplace alone can’t make a company “cool,” but the work
environment has an impact on the way employees feel about their
employers. That point is worth considering even for companies that are
only looking to slice real estate costs when they pack more people into
less space. If denser workspace is in your company’s future, there are
many steps — from offering views of the outside to providing
LEED-certified space — that may help turn the negative of less space
into the positive of better space.
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