"Frank's skill in asking the right questions is un-mistakable, and is at the core of his leadership philosophy.

The power of these questions cannot be underestimated, especially if you want to lead and not manage."
—John Cave
Westhaven Worldwide Logistics

Cubicles or just Stables?

While working on one large scale software project the company moved.  It is already difficult enough to manage projects involving more then 10 people, legacy code and tables put together complimented with the name "database".  Plus the deadlines had been put together including resources which were not available at the time the project started.  But adding an office move to the mix was something many would name insane.

Well knowing the difficult time constraints management came up with what they called a "bright idea": Employees working on that project were not allowed to perform moving tasks during their normal working hours.  The majority of the programmers were working well above 50 hours a week.  Some repeatedly worked 80 hours a week.

Some programmers partially tele-commuted complained that no-one ever informed them that some of the moving task had to be performed by them.  Reason being that they were not supposed to spend "work time" on the move.  Consequently adding the task of moving those items to other programmers and the network guys.

The programming team used to be spread over three rooms with no more then 4 in one room.  Many felt already quite disturbed because some of the programmers also did phone support for other existing clients.  Imagine the surprise when introduced to the new office: One huge office space with the programmers side a side with the help desk.

Cubicles barely covering up the monitor on a desk.  One regulator for the AC/heat for the whole space and one light switch.  No room for any individuality.  And programmers are very picky about the work environment they work in!  In addition to that there was a policy that nothing could stand on the cubicle walls.

Some of the employees were facing the wall, having other people to their back.  We all know that this is the least comfortable position for us humans: Having someone behind us we always feel threatened.

Let's listen to one of the senior programmers:

This reminds me of the design department of a big manufacturer: One day one of the VP walks thru and sees one of the engineers sitting at his desk - feet on the desk.  Starring holes in the air.  Five minutes later the VP returned to check the engineer out and yes - still doing nothing.  So the VP complains to the manager of the engineer that the engineer is not working.  Says the manager: He thinks.

Now in opposite to the cubicles / stables that engineer had his silence!  How would you feel when you work and every few moment someone either looks over your stable walls or they walk thru the room - easily visible to you and everyone else.

A request of the programmers to change the situation to give them some kind of working privacy by extending the walls to the ceilings was immediately turned down by the CTO.  "Let's first see how it goes."  It didn't go at all.  Many complained about the loud music of others, the noise of phones from the help desk.

Within a year the two best senior programmers in the company were gone.  Coincidence?  Morale, quality of work and willingness to take the extra step which had helped the company to be become a big player all went downhill.

Yet, the fix would have been so easy:  Listen to your employees!

And don't create stables!  If you really have to go with cubicles let them have high enough walls to give the employees enough privacy.  And educate your people to show consideration for others.

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