MEREDITH Strategy + Design

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

Managers' spaces, Makers' spaces

Paul Graham makes an insightful distinction between maker’s schedules and manager’s schedules.

There are two types of schedule, which I’ll call the manager’s schedule and the maker’s schedule. The manager’s schedule is for bosses. It’s embodied in the traditional appointment book, with each day cut into one hour intervals. You can block off several hours for a single task if you need to, but by default you change what you’re doing every hour.

When you use time that way, it’s merely a practical problem to meet with someone. Find an open slot in your schedule, book them, and you’re done.

Most powerful people are on the manager’s schedule. It’s the schedule of command. But there’s another way of using time that’s common among people who make things, like programmers and writers. They generally prefer to use time in units of half a day at least. You can’t write or program well in units of an hour. That’s barely enough time to get started.

When you’re operating on the maker’s schedule, meetings are a disaster. A single meeting can blow a whole afternoon, by breaking it into two pieces each too small to do anything hard in. Plus you have to remember to go to the meeting. That’s no problem for someone on the manager’s schedule. There’s always something coming on the next hour; the only question is what. But when someone on the maker’s schedule has a meeting, they have to think about it.

For someone on the maker’s schedule, having a meeting is like throwing an exception. It doesn’t merely cause you to switch from one task to another; it changes the mode in which you work.

I think this is a good beginning point for thinking about the difference between makers’ spaces and managers’ spaces. 

Over the past couple of decades, almost all of the talk about the workplace has been about what I am calling “managers’ spaces.” These are the spaces that characterize the mainstream of the corporate workplace – offices, cubicles, conference rooms. Those are spaces about hierarchy, importance, power and control. They are spaces about worker segmentation, linear processing, and regular routines. These are spaces about their capacity to hold the hours in a day consumed in meetings scheduled in advance or having standing spaces on calendars satisfying the manager’s agenda. 

Most of our work these days, however, is for makers. We work with automobile manufacturers, suppliers to automobile manufacturers, equipment manufacturers and remanufactures, consumer product designers and developers, technology companies and more. Almost all of our conversation with them have been, at least in the beginning, about managers’ space. This may be because there is not much else out there to inform their requests for workplace design. It may be because their requests for space emanate from the CFO or CRE offices where managers’ spaces are the common lexicon. It may be because the organization design is framed in managers’ frames rather than in makers’ frames so that the request for space is shaped by the organization diagram. As Graham notes, "Since most powerful people operate on the manager's schedule, they're in a position to make everyone resonate at their frequency…” Since most managers define the spaces that their people work in, they define the workspace according to their own spatial “frequency."

In a current project for a leading global auto manufacturer, we have passed through the gates of on-site research that illuminate the fact that only 40% of their allocated workspace is being utilized on a typical day. That is, a shocking 60% of the office space – the “managers’s space” – that they allocate to their engineers, designers, marketers and others is  space that they don’t want to work in, so they just don’t use it. Trying to find them in the other spaces of the corporation, however, reveals that there is not much in the typical portfolio of places that satisfies them. The 2% of the corporate portfolio made of lobbies, cafeterias, atriums, and other non-programmed spaces just is not big enough for them. 

Our discovery does not lead to the inevitable conclusion practiced in other places, however. We are not recommending a reduction of the real estate footprint of the company under the faulty logic that since they only use 40% of the space they only need 40% of it. Nor are we taking this as evidence of a mass of “third-place” work to support for a “mobility” program imagining that Starbucks becomes the place where new product is developed. Instead, we are developing a new typology of space for much of the 60% of the portfolio that does not yet satisfy people who want to make great products. We are designing a place to support the type of work that these people do – a “maker's space.” 

We shape a different kind of space through conversations using a different lexicon of form. Our designs emerge from observations about workflow, about projects as the primary organizing unit of work, about the presence in the workspace of customers and culture, about products in the process of development, about time-based adjacencies, about the accessibility of great resources. While it is difficult to tug people out of their need for a cube, their participation with us in a conversation about how great work is done usually ends with their emergent demand for another kind of space. 

We’ll address this in another post as the project develops. In the meantime, think about what Maletz and Nohria call the “whitespace” of an innovative organization and imagine this in spatial terms – "the large but mostly unoccupied territory in every company where rules are vague, authority is fuzzy, budgets are nonexistent, and strategy is unclear — and where, as a consequence, entrepreneurial activity that helps reinvent and renew an organization takes place.”