Those wide open spaces

Many years ago, before I was an agent, I directed all book and magazine publishing for a large newspaper syndicate.  While those of us who didn’t work directly in editorial for the syndicate—publishing, licensing, sales and the executive suite—had our individual offices, some of them very spacious, the heart of the staff worked in an open bullpen.  There, they communicated easily with each other as they edited the writers with whom they worked.  In fact the editorial staff who worked in my division also worked in an open bullpen-like area, writing and editing material and sharing their ideas with each other.

Last Tuesday, many, many years later, Miriam and I attended a party held by HarperCollins to celebrate the relocation of their offices from Midtown to the Financial District downtown. The layout was open and airy with people sitting in bullpen-like settings.  Some, who previously had window offices still had offices with glass walls so that they could see out and those passing by could see in.  This layout, we were told, was meant to foster a spirit of collaboration.  In addition, I would guess that there was an overall downsizing in terms of the number of square feet the company now occupies, which will enable the publisher to spend money on the titles they are publishing rather than on rent and maintenance of the many floors they took up at 10 East 53rd Street.  Bottom line, my general impression was a very positive one.

Fostering a spirit of collaboration and cooperation in this publishing climate can produce nothing but solid results, in my opinion.  Sure, there is some resistance to this layout—those who previously had privacy don’t have it any more, certainly not as much.  But the benefits include a sense of team building and a  collegial environment.  I think growth will be the ultimate result here and I think this kind of organizational layout will become the norm in the years to come.

Of course, I am always curious as to what you, our readers, think of this idea and I look forward to your comments.

3 Responses to Those wide open spaces

  1. I’ve worked in a private office, bullpen, and cube farm and I have to say that I felt most productive in the private office while the bullpen was the most disruptive layout. That said, it really depends on the kind of work we’re talking about. If the work is collaborative by nature including a fair amount of information exchange and brainstorming in groups, I can definitely see the benefits of the bull pen. If, on the other hand, the work involves a lot of reading, editing, and writing individual work products, both the bull pen and cube farm are poor fits. Unfortunately, my work involves the latter and is conducted, currently, in a cubicle, surrounded by people whose work largely involves talking loudly on handsfree headsets, so that when I really need to get something done, I need to wear headphones cranked up to hearing-damaging levels. (As a side note, when we were being sold the cube farm — so to speak — we were told there’d be a white noise generator that would take care of all the ambient chatter. Seems that never really happened, though, while we’re still stuck with the cubes and the noise.)

  2. D. C. says:

    I’ve had the private office (the glass wall of which faced a blank wall, so I couldn’t actually see the team-members I supervised). I’ve had the cubical. I’ve had an open desk facing out into other open desks. I’ve had a desk behind a makeshift wall, on the other side of which my subordinates were changing out engines and transmissions. And I’ve had a home office in my bedroom suite, behind three sets of looked doors.

    My work was always interesting enough that I never really noticed where I was.

  3. Lynn says:

    Jane, I can see both Dave and D.C.’s point of view. I think it all depends on the person. Some people work better surrounded by colleagues in a noisy atmosphere where they can bounce off ideas with one another. On the other hand, there are those who need silence to be able to think, to concentrate, and to get any work done. I’m sure many at HarperCollins will be happy with the changes, but there will be just as many who will not be.

    I do hope this downsizing will benefit authors in the long run.

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