May 01, 2015

Inside Contactually: Our Failed Experiment with Mixed Team Seating

In the 3.5 years since the company has started, we've had four offices. Our office prior to where we are now was a cluster of individual offices. As we grew and started putting more people into each office, the offices ended up getting separated by teams A couple rooms for sales, one room for engineering, one for marketing, etc.

In October of last year, we moved to an office space 4X the size of the previous.

And it is all open seating -- a startup's dream! Transparency, openness, freedom! There has recently been a backlash against the open seating movement, but we haven't found that to be an issue.

However, as a company grows, there's a nasty trend that can develop -- silos between departments. As teams get bigger, each team member gets compartmentalized and doesn't interact as much with other teams, leading to lack of transparency, no best practice sharing, misalignment, and in-office re-enactments of Jets v. Sharks.

We followed a suggestion, which seems pretty obvious -- just mix up all the teams. Have everyone physically sitting with people from different teams. Made total sense, right?! Let's do it!

Here's what happened...

... well, engineers need focus, and sitting next to sales people on the phone all day long can be distracting, so engineers still have their own area.

... well, this person just started, and they are going to be working with me, so they should sit next to me.

... hrm, we still need to talk about this one issue -- let's find a time in each others schedule, find a conference room, sit down, and talk

... well I'm on team X and I don't talk much with the people around me, and I don't know what's happening on my team

It became more and more apparent that mixing desks just does not work for us. It was nice to physically be around people with different jobs, but it's much more important for you to be engaged with your own team.

So earlier this month, we let all the teams re-arrange back into their own areas. We hear a lot more talking in the office now, which is awesome. If you have a question, you can ask across the table, not walk across the office. Those little things matter.

We have and will find other ways to ensure the teams intermingle -- other than their day-to-day, everything else is mixed up. People eat lunch together. Happy hours are together. We just had our company retreat -- and it wasn't just about the activities we did during the day, but it was more so who you shared a room with, and who was in the car with you driving down. At the end of the day it's the individual people that make up our team and even if we sit in different places, we try and make sure our team is always on the same page together.