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Starting a Business

Getting Cozy

Offices may become a distant memory once the wide-open workplace comes to town.
Magazine Contributor
2 min read

This story appears in the November 2001 issue of Entrepreneurs Start-Ups magazine. Subscribe »

The dotcom era seemed to usher in the wide-open workplace-with everyone from CEOs to interns working in the same space. That begs the question: Shall we proclaim the cube dead?

Elizabeth Scanlon Bils, 32, adopted a "no offices" policy when she founded her PR agency, Scanlon Corporate Communications, in 1998. She and her eight employees sat at desks grouped together, with Scanlon Bils in the middle. But, she says, "I did notice [my employees] needed a little more space to think on their own." In the company's new Chicago loft space, low walls offer more privacy.

Sitting among your employees is a positive step, though it offers difficulties such as loss of privacy, says David Russo, executive vice president and director of the Society for Human Resource Management and founder of HR provider Empliant Inc. "When you get in the trenches," says Russo, "it has to be understood that, as much as you are part of the team, when push comes to shove you're the decision-maker."

As a company grows, a wall-less work space poses challenges, such as modifying communications and arranging for private calls or meetings. Joseph Chung, 36, and Jeet Singh, 38, can attest to that. Founders of Art Technology Group, an e-commerce software provider in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Chung and Singh have watched their staff grow to more than 750 employees worldwide-and each satellite office has the same policy as their headquarters: no cubicles or private offices. Says Chung, "We always felt like cubicles were [not conducive to] creating a nice space-you feel like you're a rat in a maze."

Alone at last
Want privacy and a wide-open floor plan? Art Technology Group of Cambridge, Massachusetts, has conference rooms with doors and telephones for private calls, meetings or just quiet. Another alternative: If people need to have sensitive discussions, David Russo of the Society for Human Resource Management suggests they get out of the building for a few minutes. He says, "Go have a cup of coffee; go sit outside. [Just go] someplace else."

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