Category Archives: Facilities


Moving, or changing offices by and large, is usually not very much fun. In business it entails gathering up all your stuff, putting it into standard moving boxes, which are not much more than over-sized, glorified shoe boxes, and going somewhere else. It can be in the same building or across the country. You are essentially out of commission from the time you start putting your stuff into the boxes, until the time that you have taken it out and reconnected to the network. It adds stress to an already crowded calendar.

Long ago, when I first joined the corporate world, I read that on average you moved or changed offices every two to three years. I actually tried to look up this article to properly cite it, but, alas I couldn’t find it. Perhaps it has passed from fact, to just something that everyone knows.

You either changed roles, or business units, or assignments, or were promoted, or any number of other events that resulted in you having a new place to sit while doing your job. This was back in the days when you came into the office to work. Everybody came to the office to work. Working at home wasn’t so much of an option then.

The idea back then was to generate synergy in an organization by having groups of similarly focused individuals sit together and regularly interact in the expectation that they would be more efficient, creative and powerful as a group then they would be as discrete individuals. It seemed to work, at least back then.

I think a lot of this idea was based on the sports analogy where it was demonstrated that having all members of the same team, working together and running the same plays, were far more effective than if they all acted as just talented individuals and did what each thought was best. It was widely accepted that the best teams won, not necessarily those that just had the most talented athletes. However, I think it was Roy Williams, the basketball coach at the University of North Carolina, who said: “I can coach them to play better basketball. I can’t coach them to be seven feet tall.” So, talented athletes are still very desirable.

There were many positives and some negatives associated with this co-located and hence almost constant office moving phenomenon, for both the individual and the business. As I said earlier there is a disruption to your ability to execute your responsibilities while you are moving. This affects your, and those that are dependent on your productivity. At least for a while. This was and, in some instances, still is debatable based on some roles and activities that I have seen.

On the business side there is the cost. There are two basic costs associated with all this moving. The lost productivity that I have already noted, and the cost of the team and staff of resources that were constantly planning and executing these moves. Depending on the size of the business location, there had to be a small army of people available to bring boxes, and then move and transport boxes to the new location. There had to be a logistics team working with the Information technology team to make sure that connectivity and communications were available, at the appropriate time at the new office (or cube) location.

Moving was not cheap. Therefore, it was expected that the synergy that co-location generated had to be good enough to offset this cost. For the most part it seemed that it was.

Another good thing about moving was that it presented the opportunity to go through your stuff, take stock of what you needed and throw away all the rest. It was sort of a forced purging opportunity. As an aside, I have a friend who used to take pride in the thirty to forty boxes of stuff that he took with him whenever he moved. He is an engineer and believes that there will come a day when he will need some of the documents or calculations that he has created over the last decade plus for something else he may be working on.

It hasn’t happened yet, but I am sure he will be prepared. Like I said, engineer.

The periodic purging associated with a move was the opportunity to get rid of stuff, primarily paper-based communications and documentation, when it was no longer needed. I have hit the point that if I haven’t looked at something in the last year or two, then I don’t need it. I think this is probably a good rule of thumb for everyone. Also, with the increase in machine and cloud storage capabilities, a hard copy of just about anything can seem to be a little bit of overkill.

You don’t know how much it pains me to say that. But just as I have had to change with the times and move from the tactical joy reading of actual physical books to using an e-reader, I have gone to reading a screen instead of printing a document. And they said that dinosaurs couldn’t evolve.

Organizations have also done their part in trying to reduce the costs associated with moving. Initially they started limiting the number of boxes that you could have / they would move. Now as we continue to move toward more and more of an “open office” concept, where no one has a defined office, there is also the requisite limitation on the amount of stuff that you can have based on what has now become a limitation on the amount of physical storage that is available.

If you don’t have any place to put it or store it, then you are forced to get rid of it.

The result is that what used to happen every two to three years, and cost both the individual and the corporation a lot of money in employee discomfort and lost productivity, as well as the maintenance of a staff the size of a small army to assist in making these moves, are now both essentially gone. In the open office environment there is no defined office to move either from or to. Storage for the physical accoutrements of an office have been so minimized, and document retention has now been virtualized that there is no longer any significant amount that ever needs to be moved.

The office itself has also been virtualized. There are now both remote offices and home offices in addition to the open offices. It seems now that if you want to keep any “stuff” you will probably have to keep it in your home office. I tried this once. Then my wife complained about all my clutter. I told her it was what I needed to captain industry. She told me to get rid of it.

I personally think she was in cahoots with the corporate Workplace Resources group in this regard. Though, admittedly the home office does look cleaner.

But, I can’t help but wonder, if businesses saw such a value in the concept of having everybody actually physically work together, to the point that it outweighed the costs associated with making sure that they could work together, what happened to that value? Economics teaches us that there is no free lunch. The cost – benefit analysis of business is based on the same principles. There is a cost or investment for every benefit you get. 

Has someone, somewhere gone through the analysis associated with virtual / home / open offices and compared the hard, recognizable cost savings with the somewhat softer and much harder to quantify lost synergy values. In the past it was believed that the synergies outweighed the costs. Was everyone wrong for so long and now those ideas no longer hold true?

I think the answer lies in the “hard” cost and “soft” value equation that I mentioned earlier. It is easy to define how much is saved when most of the costs associated with moving offices are eliminated. It is a number. It exists in a budget. When it is reduced or cut, it can be tracked.

The same cannot be said for the values generated by having people work together in the same office as opposed to “virtually”. I think everyone believes there is a value associated with that type of working environment, but I is almost impossible to quantitatively put a hard number to that value.

You can estimate it, but that is never as good as a well-defined cost reduction. The result is that a definable cost has been reduced, and an undefinable value has also been reduced. But since the value was undefinable in the first place, the amount of reduction to it is also undefinable.

I really didn’t like moving offices all those times that I had to do it in the past. I think that we are going to dislike what we may have lost by not having to move anymore.

The Territorial Imperative

“The Territorial Imperative”, or more correctly, “The Territorial Imperative: A Personal Inquiry Into the Animal Origins of Property and Nations”, was written in 1966 by Robert Ardrey. It along with the “The Naked Ape”, or again more correctly “The Naked Ape: A Zoologist’s Study of the Human Animal” which was written in 1967 by Desmond Morris, are probably the first two books I read that were not written by Theodor Geisel, more commonly known as Doctor Seuss.

I didn’t choose to read them at that time. They were assigned to me one summer. I was getting ready to enter the fifth grade and attend a new school. I was told that they were preparatory work that needed to be completed before I could go to the new school.

I personally thought this concept sucked at the time, as summers were supposed to be school free, and here I was being required to read a couple of books.

What is interesting to me is that now, all these years later, these books and the topics that they covered are now coming back to me in the business world.

Initially both of these books were considered somewhat ground breaking in that they sought to explain the source of some human behaviors. Till then man (man as homo-sapiens the species, not man as a gender, for those of you who might have been getting ready to go full scale gender bias ballistic on me) was viewed as primarily a cognitive creature. What these books examined was the idea that man was also driven by certain instincts which also affected its behavior.

This was pretty radical and somewhat heady stuff for that time period. I’m pretty sure that as a would-be fifth grader I didn’t fully grasp a great deal of what the authors were trying to get across. I knew that it made me feel somewhat funny though. That is funny-strange, not funny-haha.

For those of you who have not read The Territorial Imperative, the following is a quick synopsis:

“It describes the evolutionarily determined instinct among humans toward territoriality and the implications of this territoriality in human meta-phenomena such as property ownership and nation building. … Ardrey posited that man originated in Africa instead of Asia, that he is driven by inherited instincts to acquire land and defend territory, and that the development of weapons was a fundamental turning point in his evolution. The Territorial Imperative further explores these ideas with a special emphasis on man’s distinct preoccupation with the concept of territory. It goes on to elucidate the role that inherited evolutionary instinct, particularly the so-called “territorial imperative”, plays in modern human society in phenomena such as property ownership and nation building.”

More simply put Ardrey posited that one of man’s driving instincts is to own and defend territory.

With that idea in mind, now look back at every business organizational structure and office / cubicle arrangement and apply this thesis to it. It ought to be somewhat enlightening. It also ought to explain why, when we are hired on, we are given “our space”, be it a desk, or cubicle, or whatever. It is now our physical, as well as metaphorical territory. We instinctively know that we must “work” in order to defend it.

As we matriculated up through management we acquired larger physical territories (bigger cubes and eventually offices) as well as larger spans of control over others and their cubes and offices. These territories were then defended against both internal and external competitors.

But it seems that times are changing. At least when it comes to office space. Business organizations have started to move away from the concept of the business territorial imperative. Office size and location are seeming to be done away with as companies move to the “Open Office” concept.

In the open office structure, no one has any more territory that anyone else. In fact, there are no specific assigned locations of any kind. Instead of having “your” desk, cube, office, territory, it is first-come first-served in the seating arrangements. Desk, or more accurately table-space is shared. There is no distinction between levels and spaces. It is positioned as egalitarian and a better office structure for all those involved.

It seems to me that the more things change the more they stay the same. I was looking at some old pictures of office spaces in the 1950’s. It was some pretty interesting stuff. Below is one that caught my eye, primarily because it was in color. Most of the rest of them seem to be in black and white. For comparison’s sake, I didn’t want to try and compare a black and white photo to a color one. Take a look.

This is the modern office, circa 1958. That’s more than sixty years ago. It’s neat. It’s orderly. It’s “open”. What is not to like about it?

Now let’s fast forward a little more than sixty years to today. Here is a look at what is called a “Mezzanine Floor” open office design.

Except for a little better photography and perspective use, I’m not seeing a whole lot of difference, read “progress” here.

The difference is that in the 1950’s you had “your space”. You were assigned a desk. As small as it was, it was your territory. That is where you went to work. Now, you don’t. In the “open office” you can come in and sit anywhere. If you are promoted and given more responsibility, or assigned a new role, you still come in and the same rules apply. You come in and sit wherever you choose.

I don’t know how good or bad, this new (or in this case “old”) open office concept is going to be. I haven’t had the opportunity to try it out yet. But it appears that I will have this opportunity soon. I am going to be interested to see how this return to the past is going to work and how it will affect a workforce that has not been in this environment before.

Many people I know have said that they have in the past or are now currently working in such environments. I also notice that a very high percentage of them now “work at home” in a home office. This high correlation between open office environments and working at home is probably just a coincidence.


It is probably also a coincidence that “your” home office is a fixed location within “your” home.

The Territorial Imperative was a ground-breaking book. It submitted that man, while being a reasoning creature was also driven by certain instincts, one of which was to define its own territory. It was shown that the defining and defending of these territories was one of the basic drives, and a significant driving force in human growth and evolution.

Maybe I am reaching, but I find it interesting that the same principles could be applied, to a greater or lesser extent in organizational and office dynamics. I also find it interesting that we seem to be in the midst of a period where organizations appear to be actively removing this behavior driver.

In the past, the “trappings of office” were recognized as one of the driving forces that was a cause for people to input that extra amount of effort. You wanted the bigger office. It was a symbol of your success.

I guess on the other side of the coin, your bigger office might have been a symbol of someone else’s lack of success. In today’s age of participation trophies and ninth place ribbons, the desire may not be so much to remove the symbol of success, but to remove the symbol of the lack of success of others. I guess if everyone sits at the same sort of desk, with the same amount of space, with no predefined location, no one can feel bad, or good about their territory, or their apparent lack of it.

On the other hand, in today’s hyper-competitive business environment, reducing the office space allocated to each employee, regardless of relative organizational position, might be a pretty good way of reducing what was once thought to be a relatively expensive fixed cost.

It is interesting that the reintroduction of an office environment that was evolved away from, more than half a century ago is being viewed as a “new and improved” (to borrow from most new products advertising mantras) step forward. It will also be interesting to see how it changes office behaviors.

Will there be an increase in the flight from the office to the home office? Will there be a reduction in the commitment to the assignment and the company on a greater level since there will no longer be a defined territory associated with the office? Despite these and other potential questions, as well as the recent research that shows such open office environments are not particularly conducive to organizational productivity, (“The impact of the ‘open’ workspace on human collaboration”, Ethan S. Bernstein and Stephen Turban,  Published:02 July 2018 I think we are all going to get the chance to experience the open office for ourselves. We have seen that man is an adaptable species. He lives in igloos in the arctic and grass huts in the rain-forests, and just about everywhere in between. I guess he can try working in an open office as well.

Turn On The Lights

Sunsets are nice. They have beautiful colors and signal the end of the day. They inspire poetry and song. All in all though, I think I prefer sunrises. They signal the onset of a new day. They also inspire poetry and songs although I don’t think quite as many poems and songs as sunsets. Apparently the preponderance of poets and musicians are not up early enough to see sunrises, but do manage to see the sunsets. Go figure. I like sunrises because it is nature’s way of turning on the lights.

When I was a younger person, a long, long time ago, I used to enjoy the night. The sunset would happen (very nice) and then life would begin. As I have gotten older I have now found that the nights are a particularly nice time for sleeping. Perhaps I am fortunate in that I usually have no need for any type of sleep aid other than turning out the lights. My children don’t seem to share this affinity for sleep and hence I don’t seem to be able to sleep as much at night as I would like.

I do get up earlier than them though. Most of the time I get up before sunrise and despite some of my more mischievous urges, I do not go and wake them up as early as I have awoken just to get even with them for keeping me up the night before…..usually.

It seems to me that there is now something of a direct relationship between my energy levels and the amount of light present in my environment. I don’t think I am entirely unique in this respect. I think everyone has had discussions with their friends regarding low energy levels and “blah” days when it is rainy or cloudy outside as opposed to bright sunny days. I know my kids do, but I normally attribute this to the fact that they have probably been up most of the night surfing the internet, playing video games or talking to their friends on the cell phones instead of sleeping like I was trying to do.

Even plants, I guess especially plants do better in the light since their vital link in the ecological chain is to convert light energy and carbon dioxide into chemical energy and oxygen. I find I am very partial to that oxygen thing. The key here is the use of light energy to enable the performance of a necessary task.

Now you may wonder what this relatively long harangue about light in its various forms has to do with business. I will now get to that. After travelling to multiple domestic and international locations over the last several years, I have arrived at significant question:

Is it just me or do our work environments seem to be getting darker?

To this point I am going to make what I think is a subtle but necessary distinction between “sufficient light” and “necessary light” in the office environment. Sufficient light is the amount of light required to conduct day to day functions in your office (or cube) without straining or otherwise causing damage to your eyesight. Necessary light is the amount of light required to generate a brightness or energy in the office environment that adds rather than detracts from your emotional state.

There is obviously sufficient light in our physical business environments for us to conduct our work. This is not a question. Perhaps I am getting older (obviously) or it may just be my imagination but I don’t remember offices being this dark last century.

I threw that “last century” remark in to give a little more feeling to the idea of in times past.

I understand the ideas associated with energy conservation and the high cost of utilities, but could we actually be dimming our office environments in an effort to save money? I have been in many different buildings over time. I seem to remember a time when most office ceiling light fixtures contained the larger (slightly over two inches in diameter) fluorescent tubes. We used to complain about how the bright fluorescent light made us all look so pale.

Now when I look up I see fewer of the larger brighter bulbs, or I see them replaced with the new one inch diameter bulbs, or I see even fewer of the one inch diameter bulbs. I looked it up. The new bulbs use about twenty percent less energy, but they produce about ten percent less light. From an efficiency point of view getting a twenty percent cost reduction while suffering only a ten percent performance reduction is a good trade to make, initially.

It seems that businesses are using fewer light bulbs, and the bulbs that they are using are producing less light.

Now this is a little thing, but in a business environment where we want to capture every iota of efficiency have we possibly missed something here? I understand the hard dollar savings associated with lower energy consumption for lighting the work place. What I am concerned about is the potential soft dollar loss associated with reduction in the efficiency of our teams by making the work environment just that little bit less friendly, appealing, and yes, energetic.

I am not saying that adding lights or generating / providing more lumens in the office will immediately improve productivity. I am saying that it is probably one of the steps that will need to be taken in addition to many others if we are serious about reenergizing (there is that “energy” word again) our work places.

When people started working from virtual offices instead of the standard brick and mortar office we seemed to have lost some of the human interaction and energy that made our organizations vibrant. When we started to implement the energy cost saving measures that seem to have further added to the darkening of our offices (possibly because it is believed that there are not as many people there now so not as much light is needed) we seem to have further reduced the overall energy level of our offices.

I think it is time to turn on or turn up the lights and brighten our work places. I have said in the past that I also believe we need to find ways to get people out of their virtual offices and back into the business environment where they interact face to face. We need to put energy back into our office environments, the light energy that even plants need, but especially the people energy that the business needs. If you are going to try to put the people back in the office, you will need to turn up the lights for them.

Not to go too far overboard here, but I do seem to recall a pretty important quote on this topic. I think it went:

“Let there be light.”


Doors are great inventions. Ever since the first cave man rolled the big rock across the opening of his cave to keep the saber-toothed tigers out when they were rummaging around for a late night snack, doors have served a purpose. They keep the undesirables out. They can let people in. They help turn on the light in the refrigerator when you want to get a late night snack. I do however think we have crossed into a questionable area on the relative utility of doors when we decided to put doors on cubes in the office.

That’s right, doors on cubes.

A closed door can present several messages. It can tell the world that you are busy and don’t want to be bothered. It can say that no one is home. It can say that I don’t want you to see what I am doing behind this closed door. I just can’t figure out what a door on a cube does. Especially a door that has glass windows in it.

Cubes were invented in the nineteen sixties by the Herman Miller Company. Until that time working space in the business consisted of rows of desks in an open room, very similar to the classrooms within schools, only with bigger desks. It seems Herman Miller was not satisfied with selling just desks to businesses so they came up with a modular arrangement that allowed them to sell walls and desks to businesses, thereby creating and expanding their market. It is rumored that they got the idea while watching a behavioral study in which a rodent was challenged to make its way through an ever changing labyrinth to get to its cheese.

However business was not entirely happy with the initial wall arrangement and required that the walls be lower so that management could continue to actually see employees doing their work. Hence the birth of the cube. A work area that gave the occupant the impression of having privacy while giving management the ability to continue to monitor the occupant.

The cube has evolved over time. Initially there were just cubes. Now there are low walled cubes, medium height walled cubes and high walled cubes. There are cubes of different sizes and various pleasing pastel color combinations. The idea here is that as you advance up the ranks of the organization, the height of the walls and the size of your working area advance along with you. Eventually, hopefully you reach a station in your business where your cube walls reach all the way to the ceiling and the size of your working area can support (gasp) the same stand alone desk that people had before there were cubes. When these work area standards are met, this is now called an office. Offices usually have doors, not cubes.

The doors on offices are usually solid with no windows. If you have walls to the ceiling and you close the door it is because you want something called privacy. Having a door with windows would seem to defeat this concept; hence most office doors do not have windows. We have all walked past closed office doors and wondered if anyone was in there, and if they were, what were they doing? If they had wanted you to know they would have left the door open.

Which brings me back to my original questions. Since when, and why, are they putting doors on cubes? We have already stated that the walls of the cube do not reach all the way to the ceiling, so putting a door on them cannot appreciable increase the privacy. This is especially apparent due to the fact that it seems that most of the doors that they are putting on cubes have windows in them.

So let’s review: the walls of the cube do not reach all the way to the ceiling so there is not much privacy when it comes to sound or noise containment. The doors that are being put on the cubes do not reach to the ceiling either so no help there. The doors that are being put on the cubes consist of a basic frame, the center of which is entirely made of windows. Windows made of transparent glass.

They are adding a door, something that can be closed as a sign of desired privacy, to a work area with walls that don’t reach the ceiling, and putting windows in it so that you cannot in fact get any privacy by closing it.

These guys at Herman Miller are brilliant.

What else can you say about a company that convinces their target market that they need to buy something that does not in fact deliver the functionality that it was designed to do, since the first cave man rolled the rock across the opening of his cave? These guys are now selling desks, walls and doors that still achieve the same functionality and privacy that was present when they were just selling desks into large open environments.

Now the only other explanation for this door on a cube concept that I have been able to come up with is that companies have come to the conclusion that the leap from open cube to closed office was just too great for most employees to be able to make. Having to go from low walls and no doors, directly into an area where the walls reached the ceiling and the doors shut out both the sights and sounds of the business, where there could be privacy, may have just proved to be too much for some.

Businesses must have recognized this facility based chasm and worked out a step whereby managers would not have to hurtle directly from the no privacy at all of a cube into the privacy rich environment of an office. The solution was simple: put a door on the cube as a mid way point in the transition. Besides after all those years in a cube without a door, the inhabitants could probably use some practice in how to properly operate a door anyway.

Have you ever heard the phrase “Dumber than a door knob”? I am sure that businesses didn’t have to hear that description about their management too many times before they took action to assure that their management members had the requisite training, practice and abilities to successfully make the cube to office transition.

It seems that either through the marketing brilliance of modular furniture suppliers, or business management process doors for cubes is here to stay. I was not around for the truly open environment of just desks in a work area. I am sure that I did not enjoy the maze where my cube was located when I was looking for my cheese. I am just not convinced that the solution is to put doors on cubes.