This is a picture of my workstation in the Design + Engineering Building on our Charleston campus. It is my favorite workspace. My workstation is in the middle of a bunch of smart people; I can hear all sorts of activity, people can stop by and say hello or ask a question and it is open. I love all of that.
I also have a desk in our main building. I bought it several years before we started Benefitfocus. Rather than spend the money on a new desk, I just brought my old one with me. It is a traditional design made of wood with leather inlay. It sits out in the open as well. I have some half-height partitions around it and a conference room with a glass wall so anyone can see in.
I am not a private office sort of person. I get bored sitting in a room by myself. I need to interact with people. It has been my experience that the best ideas come from sitting around talking, sharing thoughts and even disagreeing. Bouncing ideas around in real time, in person, is the factory of software success. The word "collaboration" has been a bit overused I suppose, but the concept is correct. People interacting. That is where great products come from.
It seems right to me that the CEO should be accessible. One way to ensure that is to have an open environment. We call it our "Social Workplace." In our newest building, our Design + Engineering building, we have taken the concept to a new level. There are huge couches, various seating areas, long library tables and big coffee bars. Having my own workstation in that environment stimulates my creativity. I am right there with the people who are designing our software, tackling the tough engineering problems and pushing our platform forward. To me that is so much better than having a corner office.
To be fair, I do not think that private offices are a bad idea for all companies. As I visit other businesses, I see all sorts of great office designs. Many are a great fit for their geographic location and company history.
At Benefitfocus, we feel that our open and social work environment fits our company culture the best. It also fits the software design process well. As we design new office spaces, we tend to create an even more open and social workspace. We are trying new concepts, taking inspiration from places like art galleries, outdoor parks and grand libraries. We don't have any walls to tear down per se, but we definitely don’t plan to add any. We like open and social. It fits our culture and accelerates the flow of ideas.
As I write my blog, I try to answer questions I have had about other companies but have been unable to ask. The thoughts behind office design, including private offices, have always been of interest to me. So there you have it, a window into how we think about our workspaces. I hope it is helpful.