13 May 2014

Belle vue

"Good morning!" - "Bonjour!" - "Hi there!". This is how my work days begin now. It is quite a change, and not because I'd just been grumpy in the past. Up until three weeks ago, however, I did not look into every colleague's face on the way to my desk.

All of this has changed when our company moved into a brand new high-rise tower in the heart of Montréal. It is modern, airy, and very open. Floor-to-ceiling windows flood the space with daylight, and offer panoramic views on downtown, the Old Port and the Financial District. And the transparency does not stop there: Gone are the dusty grey cubicles from the 80ies, in came an open-plan layout. Each desk, surrounded by a low glass pane, offers an unobstructed view of everything, and anyone, on the floor. There is not a single closed office left, not even for our senior executives (although they benefit from personal "enclaves" for confidential conversations).

Opinions on the new layout are divided. Some of my co-workers mourn the loss of their Dilbert-like cubicle and the sense of privacy it afforded. Most of us, however, are pleased by the sense of space and light, and the crisp contemporary surroundings. But even we have to admit that the new layout forces us to change the way we behave.

My cell phone is now on vibrate instead of on ringer, and when somebody calls my landline, I lower my voice in answering and politely offer to call back from one of the countless little phone rooms. Not because I have a lot of confidential conversations, but because I try to avoid distracting the colleague sitting an arm's lenght away. It's the same story for ad-hoc meetings. No more "have a seat", instead I offer "let's go to an Oasis and chat".

This is just being considerate, and following the guidelines established by the company as we moved in. Yet there are also finer points, on which the guide remains silent: Since you now notice everybody walking past your desk, do you have to acknowledge them? Do you have to say "hi"? Should they? All the time? Or just when they get there in the morning - as we now started doing? Time will tell.

One thing is certain: When I walk the halls of our shiny, smart new corporate headquarters, I do so with a certain poise. After all, I wouldn't want to ruin the view.

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