Back in the day, being the boss meant you had the biggest office in the firm. Over time companies realized that walls were keeping people apart, not allowing them to be collaborative and creative together, so they took down the walls. And thus, the modern open office cubicle structure was invented. Mike Bloomberg was the poster boy for this movement when as Mayor, he had his desk in the middle of a space in City Hall with all his staff around him. But let’s be honest, those environments are hell to work in, aren’t as productive as they were made out to be, and really just saved the City space and money on offices.
Recently, a little experiment I got involved in started to take off, and my partners realized we could no longer afford to be virtual anymore and we decided to get office space. Having been out of the work world for a while, we weren’t sure where to look. We had been at a couple of meetings at a site called WeWork, which we thought was cool. This company was only formed in 2010, a few short years after the 2008 financial meltdown, but they are now a $16 billion company. What do they do, what is their product? Office space! They gobbled up real estate very cheaply after the financial crisis, reconfigured the space and put up glass dividers. You can rent one desk space, two desks, four desks, whatever you want. They have conference rooms, and “phone booth” type spaces for meetings and phone calls. They have a common area that has coffee, tea and get this – free beer! And it’s all very affordable and easy and – well, kinda cool.
So, because we work in the financial markets, we got space at a downtown location, one of more than 30 locations in NYC. But get this, they have them all over the U.S., and by the way, you can go use any of the conference spaces for a nominal fee. It’s like being in an exclusive club! Our location is overwhelming! It’s the old Goldman Sachs building on Broad Street, with Stone Street pubs literally out the back door. We now sit in our space looking out from the same vantage point that those Masters of the World once did: Goldman Sachs!
And the space attracts young, hip entrepreneurs who are starting their own businesses. It’s like a beehive or incubator for ideas and collaboration. It freaks me out a little to be coming up the elevator next to a kid about 20 years old with ripped jeans and a tee shirt and skateboard who might be the next Mark Zuckerberg (he’s the Facebook guy, btw).
Of course we refer to our little part of this environment as the “geriatric ward” and look for our medications to be dispersed around 2 p.m. daily, but it is still fun. One downside to this arrangement was the unhappy discovery by my son, while starting his new job one bright Monday morning, that he now works in the same building again as his father. Some kids have no luck!
In addition, rather than collaborate with my partners by phone in my pajamas, denying that their phone call actually woke me up at 10 a.m., I now find myself face-to-face with them in an office. As they are younger than me, this is tougher on them than me. But the free beer in the morning does round out the edges a bit.
So I have discovered that this is now how the world works. I spent way too much time in one building during my career. The future is here. Now all I have to do is learn how to text with my thumbs! A new beginning, now let’s get to work.