Crain’s Philadelphia features Hugh Braithwaite

About Braithwaite, Creativity, Culture

Crain’s Philadelphia features Hugh Braithwaite

About Braithwaite, Creativity, Culture

This interview originally appeared in Crain’s Philadelphia as an “If I Knew Then” feature, part of their ongoing series asking executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

The Mistake:

About ten years ago, we were growing very well and everything looked really strong, so we made the decision to take on some really signature, prestigious office space. It was in the old Wanamaker’s Building, which John Wanamaker built for his department store, and the office space was just spectacular.

We signed up for something like 16,000 square feet, and the way it was laid out, it had all of these soaring columns and big windows, and also perimeter offices. What that meant was, it allowed everyone in our company to have their own office.

In that first month, we were just giddy about it. We had more space than we knew what to do with, and of course we also had our privacy. But I learned pretty quickly that the privacy was working against us. People were spending less time with their team members and more time alone. The flow of information was minimal. And I saw that what seemed like a great perk was actually a big mistake.

The Lesson:

We made the decision to move to our current space, where we all have open, shared office space—including my own. There isn’t a single private office here, not even for me, and I sit shoulder to shoulder in the same open space that the rest of the team sits in. We’ve developed places where the concept of “the office” is changed, so that it’s not a place to go to work every day, but rather it’s a place where you start your day. Maybe you go over to the little area where we have our couches and do some writing, or maybe you sit in a little booth and do a client call or pitch the media.

But the difference in communication—it’s not even close. I haven’t charted it, but there’s an efficiency in this new setup. People can hear what’s going on without having to have a formal meeting, and that means you can start a conversation about a project at a much higher level than you would if you had to call a meeting and say, “OK, fill me in on what’s happening”.

In theory, the adjustment was a little bit painful. But in practice, in the first hour I could see the difference. I felt like I was in and among the team in a way I never was before—it was just so much better.

The way I think of things now, there really isn’t any reason for a private office. It’s almost irrelevant, and I just can’t see a good reason for one. So long as you have plenty of places for private conversations, you should be fine. But if you need to close your door for an extended period of time to get your work done, I just don’t think that’s part of the modern work ethic. Today, you need to understand how to work in a team and think out loud and still get your work done in a focused way.

Today, you need to understand how to work in a team and think out loud and still get your work done in a focused way.