Exclusive CEO offices or start-up garage? The evolution of work environment strategies: part I

Innovation, agile working, war for talent, employer branding or new management models – these are today’s buzzwords, with reference to which most companies formulate their strategy for the future. More and more popular management trend is evolution towards participative management models, elimination of rigid hierarchies, emphasis on autonomy and employees’ sense of empowerment.

Today’s business world is defined, among other things, by the increasingly intense struggle to attract and retain the best employees. The key ingredient for success in a knowledge-based economy is the ability to attract employees and care for those we already have. This also means creating an environment for them to reach their full potential so that they want to stay with us. I don’t know anyone in a management position who would say out loud that they are not interested in the well-being, satisfaction and engagement of their employees.

This is reflected in the company’s officially promoted values, which most often include honesty, cooperation, mutual trust and support.

Expectations vs reality

And what is the reality? What do our decisions and behaviours, i.e. those of our managers, really say to our employees? The discrepancy between official declarations and the “subliminal” message can sometimes be enormous. One of the carriers of such subliminal messages is the work environment – understood both as a physical space, as well as a set of management norms and accepted behaviors.

Phenomena such as inflexible forms of work, micromanagement or rigid hierarchy emphasized at every step, are still common. Let’s take a look at one of the most obvious spatial carriers of such messages: boardrooms.

Chesterfield type sofa and calvados furniture or, depending on your taste, modern exclusive design? Either way, the best in the whole office, representative and perfectly lighted location on the top floor. 30-40 square meters of space located in a separate (in extreme cases closed) zone, access to which is additionally guarded by assistants. It is usually empty, because people on the highest positions are among the most mobile in the company. On the other hand, rank and file employees are crowded in a homogeneous, noisy and cumbersome open space, without any additional spaces, allowing for concentrated work, relaxation or building relationships with colleagues. The message of the “CEO’s office” certainly reaches them much more strongly than the officially declared care for the employee.

CEO in sneakers 

At the other end of the scale we have modern “start-up” companies (usually from the new technology sector). Flat hierarchies, informal atmosphere, managers in sneakers sitting among their employees. Directors and CEOs who look and want to be treated the same as all other employees. Shared food in the canteen, no ostentatious privileging, no separate offices.

It’s still a shocking novelty in most cases, but more and more companies in more traditional industries are looking tentatively in this direction and taking steps to somewhat mitigate the autocratic management model based on rigid hierarchies. Regardless of the adopted model and company culture, the best among managers strive to be for their subordinates not autocrats, whom fate and a lucky coincidence placed higher in the hierarchy, but mentors, guides and leaders, whom people follow because they believe in what they represent.

Thus, new, distance-shortening models of executive space are emerging. Glazed (and therefore at least visually accessible) offices simultaneously function as meeting rooms and are available to employees in the absence of their owner.

Indirect models, combining open space with the possibility of isolation for reasons of confidentiality or working in concentration, are also becoming increasingly popular. A shared, centrally located boardroom offers such a possibility – easily accessible to employees, at the same time giving the possibility for effective communication and ongoing exchange of information between people managing the company.

Which of the mentioned models is the best? It is impossible to answer this question unequivocally. Each of them has its advantages and disadvantages. What is important is the adjustment of implemented solutions to the nature of the company, the nature of its work and the needs of its employees as well as the cohesion of declared values with practice.

Read the second part of the story about the evolution of the modern offices ⬅

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