Beyond the Build

Construction Trends

How Big is Your Lunch Table?

In the 1960s, the amount of office space allocated to an individual was a direct indicator of your status at a company. Bigger was better, with CEOS working in sprawling square footage, and folks lower on the totem pole being relegated to large “bullpens.”

Furniture maker Herman Miller made a dent in this philosophy when they introduced systems of adjustable partitions, desks and files in 1968. We know it now as the cubicle. Cubes made sense at the time, giving all employees at least some degree of privacy. But lately, furniture makers and companies have done a great deal of research to determine what these dividing walls are doing to productivity. According to two recent Wall Street Journal articles, the findings mean cubes are quickly falling out of favor. A synopsis:

Office use is trackable.  To make better use of their space, a handful of larger companies are requesting some of their teams to wear personal badges that track their movement and note how often a space is used, by how many people, and for how long.

People aren’t at their desks all that much.  A compilation of research shows that cubicles are empty more than 60 percent of the day, and individual offices in some cases as much as 80 percent of the time.

Collaboration leads to productivity. The most productive workers in any given workplace are a part of close knit teams that communicate frequently. There seems to be  a correlation between productivity and face-to-face interactions, rather than email battering. Companies are focusing more on huddle areas and  their lunch areas, encouraging employees to “break bread” together rather than sitting at their desks to eat or going out solo. Larger lunch tables are better, since they allow more people to interact.

Smaller meeting spaces make more sense. At times, larger conference rooms are used for smaller meetings. These are being cut down into “huddle rooms” for 2-4 people.

I’ve seen similar things happening around our place.  A few things things we have been doing because of I’ve what learned and observed:

  • I try to take all of our project managers & estimating group to lunch once a week–my treat–with no agenda, just to talk. I have found that people just like this, and I do too.
  • We have two large community tables in our kitchen, with long benches for sitting.  The benches require that everybody works together to sit down and get up, and the larger tables have plenty of room for all to eat together. At these meal times, everyone is equal in the organization.
  • We have 4 conference rooms and 5 conference tables. The most popular ( and my favorite)  is a 7’ x 22’ stand up conference table in the center of the project management offices. Each day I see multiple conversations and team opportunities take place here. Lots of collaboration.

How has the change in work style and office culture may have changed the way  you do business?



Merrill Stewart Jr.

Merrill Stewart is Founder and CEO of The Stewart/Perry Company, a commercial building contractor based in Birmingham.