HP Execs Move From Offices to Office Cubicles

meg-whitman-2009-coverThe rank and file at Hewlett-Packard are getting new office cubicle neighbors thanks to a decision by President and CEO Meg Whitman.

Now when they wax poetic about Zooey Deschanel’s eyes in last night’s episode of “New Girl” or complain about that guy in accounting who took the last cup of coffee without making a new pot, their musings can be heard by HP executives.

Before you jump to conclusions, no, HP didn’t install hidden cameras to monitor the day-to-day activities of its employees. Instead, taking a page from Facebook’s office setup, Whitman has directed that all HP Executives (herself included) trade their sweet, cushy offices for humble cubicles, according to CRN.

Yup. Right now, there are VPs sitting next to Jan in sales who talks so loud her phone conversations can be heard by everyone in Palo Alto, and Damian, who cracks his knuckles every 30 seconds much to the annoyance of all those seated in his vicinity.

In addition to ditching the formal offices, Whitman also directed that the barbed-wire fence separating the executive parking lot from the regular employee parking lot be taken down (seriously, they had a barbed-wire fence?!)

These changes were made in part to return the embattled tech company to the vision of its founders, in which openness and equality reigned.

“You can see the teamwork already. The conversations over the cubicle are the ones that really matter,” Whitman told CRN.

The HP execs aren’t alone in the realm of cufflinks meeting cubes. Plenty of leaders in major corporations have given up offices in order to promote communication and be more accessible to everyone in the company.

According to Forbes, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg sits in a bullpen with his staff. In the Zappos Las Vegas headquarters, chief executive Tony Hsieh has a cubicle. And nobody at Facebook’s new campus in Menlo Park, Calif. has an office – including co-founder Mark Zuckerberg.
tony_hsieh_zappos_hq
(Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh in his cubicle at the company headquarters in Las Vegas.)

While growing eBay into an internet powerhouse, Whitman herself worked in a cozy 8-by-8 cube.

In an article for CBS News, former tech executive Steve Tobak summarizes some of the obstacles companies that adopt a more open model encounter:

  • Lack of confidentiality and privacy – There are some conversations – from personnel to legal issues – that shouldn’t be privy to the rest of the office. Likewise, employees might need to have a private conversation from time to time and shouldn’t have to duck into the nearest bathroom stall to have it. To compensate for open floor plans, most companies include plenty of conference rooms for everyone to use.

 

  • No place to park big egos – What employee doesn’t equate a big office with success and entitlement? Ditching the big office means that potentially big egos don’t have a place to hang their hat – it’s a clear demonstration that narcissists need not apply.

 

 

  • Highly visible management practices – Managers who make a habit of dressing down employees for their own amusement will quickly find that such practices aren’t suited for open workspaces. Their bad habits will be on display for co-workers and bosses alike.

 

 

  • Noise factor – Working among the masses is a lot noisier than sitting behind a wall with a shut door. Sure, there’s more of a din, but most employees try to be courteous of others by keeping their voices down. And for those who just can’t concentrate – noise-canceling headphones should do the trick.

 

For those employees lucky enough to be sharing a cubicle wall with a CEO or vice president, we offer a few dos and don’ts:

 

  • Don’t waste time. Unless you work for Facebook or using Facebook is part of your job description – avoid checking status updates every 5 minutes. It’s an indication that you don’t have enough work to do.

 

 

  • Don’t overshare. Skip the daily half-hour phone conversations with your sister about your latest dating woes. Not only is it unprofessional, but nobody needs to know that last night’s hookup smelled like seaweed. Likewise, be aware of how much you complain about your job. You want to be known as a team player, not the whiney guy.

 

 

  • Do eavesdrop strategically. It’s hard not to overhear conversations when you work right next to someone – but be careful about dropping your two cents into every interaction the boss has. Speak up when you have information that is of potential use to the exec, but don’t feel the need to offer parenting advice when you overhear that your bosses kid just got detention (unless she asks for advice, of course).

 

 

  • Do be courteous. Even if you’re not a morning person, make sure to greet all your cubicle neighbors in the morning – including the boss. It will only improve relations. Just be careful to be friendly, not fawning. Nobody likes a kiss up.

 

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