I have a confession to make: I’ve been eavesdropping. Not like the NSA kind of eavesdropping, but the kind that happens organically when you work at a startup that has an open seating plan.
When I started at Infinio, I thought I’d hate the open floor plan. No offices, no cubes, no half-wall separators. I really liked the team and the product, and most of the other startups I interviewed at had a similar layout, so I figured I’d have to just deal with it. But as it turns out, I’m reaping all the advertised benefits.
My desk is next to the alcove where the salespeople sit – so I can lean a little to the left and clearly hear their conversations with customers – I hear what questions they are asking, what questions they are answering, and if our MQLs are well-Q’d.
If I pay attention to the reflection in my monitor, I can tell when our SEs (@mjbrender and @jklick) are whiteboarding something interesting behind me and I can roll my chair over to crash that conversation. Last week I caught one on write caching – very helpful.
Just yesterday we had a customer issue during an installation and I watched and listened as Sales, Support, and QA negotiated among themselves as to how best handle the issue. (And by Sales, Support and QA, I mean about 5 people total.) At my last company that would have been a 20-person conference call that would have taken several hours to organize.
Over my right shoulder is the strangest co-worker I have: a telepresence robot – no, seriously – who is our Director of Product Management (@peter123). He’s always available, and people tell me it’s easy to forget he’s remote after a while. [Fun fact: during the interview process, I met him as a robot before I met him as a person.] You can sort of see him in the shadows on the far left of the photo.
So I’m learning a lot from listening and inserting myself. Another benefit is a complete lack of any personal conversations. I don’t mean that we don’t talk about our lives outside work – we do – but without the illusion of privacy that a cubicle offers, there’s no inclination to have a protracted personal phone conversation in the middle of the office.
The other benefit is that people eavesdrop on me. I’m getting used the “oh, are you guys talking about X?” “oh, is that the new Y?” A few times, someone has come over to offer some information or ideas and it’s stuff I wouldn’t have thought of from someone I wouldn’t have thought to ask.
I’m not sure how this can scale as the company gets bigger – or how you would replicate the value of it in a large company, but I’m definitely getting a lot out of it for now.