How wifi changes the workplace

Following up on both my last post and Jeremy’s, I’ve been amused and interested to see how wifi (and other connecting technologies) has changed my working environment – especially in ways that no one was anticipating when they constructed the building…

I work in one of those buildings that have floors full of cubicles, with conference rooms at the edges. There are very few offices (even very senior execs have cubes, and sometimes even share them). There are implicit assumptions in this architecture: that most people will be working away most of the time on semi-isolated work, but that groups of people will also congregate occasionally in the conference rooms and talk (aided by things like whiteboards and projectors). People in the cubes don’t want to be bothered by the talking, so the conference rooms have doors, etc.

I’m an engineering manager, so I spend more time lately in the rooms than in the cube. And very recently I started doing what all the other people in that situation have been doing for years: taking a wifi-equipped notebook with me everywhere, including to meetings. Maybe because it’s new for me, I’m seeing a lot of funny little phenomena – mostly good, some bad, but a couple just odd.

o It no longer annoys me at all when I show up on time to a meeting and no one else is there yet. I just work, sending email and whatnot, until there’s critical mass and things get started. (Good)

o If I’m one of the late ones, I’m likely to walk into a room holding a bunch of people, all looking at their notebook computers and tapping away, not talking to each other. These are people who have all agreed to meet at this time and place for the purpose of talking to each other. (Odd)

o Sometimes someone has to come to a meeting who is not really involved, but is there to answer questions about their special expertise. This person can just work (or… whatever they’re doing on that machine) until the expertise is needed, and then jump in. (Good)

o People who actually need to pay attention get sucked into their machines. They can be at least as tuned out as someone who is dialing in. Sometimes it’s necessary to say: “Time to close the notebook”. (Bad)

o When I meet with my manager, and he realizes as a result that he needs to send someone a 1-line email, he does it then and there. I’m doing this now too. (In a former life it would have been a reminder note-to-self on a scrap of paper.) (Good)

o If we’re in a room with a projector and everyone has a machine, you can swap the cable around (I know – it’s clumsy), and anyone can drive and show anyone else anything on the intranet, docs, personal email, their local disk. (Good)

o Every so often you pass by a conference room, and see a solitary person on the phone. What are they doing? Either having a confidential conversation (job interview?) or more likely “dialing in” to some meeting in a different building, city, or continent. Alternatively, you’ll see and hear someone sitting in their cube and talking loudly and at length as they dial in to a meeting. I don’t think anyone anticipated this when they built the office – neither cubes or conference rooms are the right thing. (Bad).

o Every so often, you pass by a conference room, and see a solitary notebook-owner in there, not on the phone. What are they doing? Working. It’s a nice, spacious, quiet office, though unfortunately temporary. (Odd)


2 Responses to How wifi changes the workplace

  1. Joe W. says:

    Yahoo doesn’t give engineers offices with a door? How quiet is it in the cubes?

  2. It depends how good your headphones are…

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