MEREDITH Strategy + Design

We design the places and spaces where people come together to do great work

I deeply appreciate the delight...

2012-08-21-fb-west-campus-4-1 …of learning from the creativity and insights of our members at work and through work. There was a nice convergence this week that has me reflecting on yet one more of the very rapidly changing conditions in our clients' worlds. This one's about seating charts...but hang on for a minute for the setup.


We have a new member of our team who brings a set of experiences and expertise from other places. She had clever insights that were undervalued in those other places but were observations that we thought could be valuable to the businesses that we serve and build.

She had made a commitment to present her ideas to a regional organization before she came to join us, and delivered her presentation after she joined us. We asked to see it.

What a delight! I was scribbling notes continuously through her presentation. These were subjects I was learning about through her, and subjects I wanted to learn more about through their application in other areas of our practice.

This is just one of those two dozen items on my list – Let the "users" leave their "fingerprints" on the space.

Let the people who use a space modify it for their current purposes. After they are done, don't put it back as it was. Leave it as they left it and let others learn from it, and then others modify that progressively. (Remind me later about how to make "the room the smartest person in the room.")

Let the users leave their fingerprints on the space.

Assigned seating

We have a truly great collaborator who makes moves to new places effortless and satisfying. In a recent chat, she asked, "Hey, what about systems and concepts for assigning seating in the next workspace?" How can we help an organization of hundreds or thousands of people put names to the seats in their new workspace?

The question was fantastic in its implications.

First, it implies that the designer of the new space  has made a great mistake. It implies that seating in the new organizational office is appropriate to be "assigned" and fixed. That is, whoever designed that space for the organization was working from a paradigm or template of work that is archaic and anachronistic. Work and organizations are fluid, now.

It then implies hierarchy. It implies a higher authority who will define to a finite level the organizational footprint. It denies the fact that the real work of leading organizations is, besides being fluid, about teams, which is about projects, which are about temporary but unique and differently scaled settings.

It also implies the most authoritarian of practices – standards. People will be assigned to the stations that reflect their place in the organizational design.

Time, space and architecture

So we answered and discussed the question in a variety of ways.

We looked at the benefits and delights of the social (knowledge) network to assign initial seats base on network roles – hubs, gatekeepers, pulse takers. Is this durable? What are the parameters of communications effectiveness that signal a change in the seating chart?

We looked at what I've called "time-based adjacencies." I am fascinated with the different durations and cadences of work and how they may define who has what kind of setting and where. How do we define projects? How do we define project teams? How do we accommodate expertise that moves to many teams?

We reflected on job roles and their supportive technologies and assets. We see some who are "tethered" and some who are "mobile" and some who are alternating or "agile." How do we accommodate the evolution of roles over time?

We looked at different professions or industries and recognized that there is an emerging new landscape of work that is shaped by considerations of product, proximity, presence and process, and where the "monuments" of equipment shape the arrangement of people dependent on those devices. When the scale of product (automotive, for example) implies stability or durability of place, how do we accommodate teams (design teams, for example) who move between product programs?


There is a very good survey of the management literature at Forbes right now, and how that literature advises and reflects a revolution of management thinking and practices into the future.

I am now more curious about the relevance of workplace standards and the [potential and eventual] irrelevance of the seating chart.

So, for our friend who moves big organizations, what do we advise? Her client expects 1,000 people to have a physical place to check into in a month.

Who sits where?