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Grouped by Department at the Office? It's Time to Shake Up the Seating Plan

November 12, 2000|MATT VILLANO | FAST COMPANY

Q: Who?

A: Jane Mount, 29, executive vice president for empowerment at Bolt Inc., a New York-based online forum (http://www.bolt.com) for high school and college students.

Q: What's your problem?

A: Organizing an office can be tougher than deciding who will sit where at a wedding. When you seat entire departments in their own separate areas, you run the risk of creating cliques and jeopardizing teamwork. How do you get your employees to focus on the mission and goals of the company, not just of their department?

Q: Tell me about it.

A: In January of last year, we had about 15 people working out of a small office on Hudson Street. We sat together; we worked together. As the company grew--there are now about 175 people in the New York office--the atmosphere changed as well. We took over additional space in the building and were forced to seat entire departments on separate floors. While these employees were close with each other, they complained of feeling disconnected from their colleagues in other departments. We needed a strategy that would bring everyone back into the fold, one that would revive that all-together-now start-up feeling.

Q: What's your solution?

A: We developed what we call the "hive mind" seating system. In any given area of the office, a sales rep might sit next to a programmer, who might sit next to a Web producer, who might sit next to an accountant or even one of the company's founders. More than 80% of our New York staff sits like this. I myself share a small work space with a copy editor.

This approach has worked wonders. First, probably 95% of the employees know their co-workers on a first-name basis. Second, those workers understand what their colleagues do, so there's no us-versus-them attitude. Third, it's helped with brainstorming. Finally, because everyone is intermingled, they've adopted a common, overarching goal. And this isn't the goal of Bolt sales or Bolt marketing: It's the goal of Bolt Inc.

*

Copyright Fast Company

Matt Villano is a freelance writer based in New York. He can reached at mjv@whalehead.com. Contact Jane Mount at jane@boltstaff.com.

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