A Great Summer Activity: Trading Work Spaces (Even With the Boss)

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Jul 21, 2010

Here’s a great idea you still have time to put into place this summer: getting the staff to swap work spaces.

I saw a story in The Boston Globe about a company (the advertising and public relations firm Conover Tuttle Pace) that does this, and it seems not only like a way to have a lot of fun in the office during the hot months, but also, a new way the engage and re-energize your employees.

Here’s how the desk swap works, according to the story about firm in The Globe:

To determine who was going to move where this year, the firm held a draft at the end of June. The lower the number drawn, the better the pick. Almost every desk is up for grabs during the swap, and the managers all have to give up their offices. If a department head draws a prime pick, he or she has to surrender it to a non-office dweller — but it often comes with a price. Public relations director Brian Heffron rejected an offer for two nights of babysitting for his three children in exchange for his number six pick; he ended up giving it to an interactive account executive with the number 21 pick in exchange for lunch at Neptune Oyster. Last summer, two account executives worked their way into a shared office by offering to buy the creative director coffee every morning.”

Called the Summer Sublet,” executives at Conover Tuttle Pace came up with the idea last year as a way to get departments to interact better.

“Normally, the creative types sit on one side of the room and account executives sit on the other, and the hope is that employees will find inspiration in the integration,” the newspaper said. “That exchange of ideas happens organically,’’ said Amara Bassiri, the company’s workflow, wellness, and broadcast guru” (well, less pretentious-sounding job titles seem to be one area Conover Tuttle Pace still needs to do some work).

Here’s another benefit of this desk swap arrangement – managers and department heads find that they enjoy sitting next to their employees. “The president of the company liked the experience so much last summer that he stayed out on the floor all year. ‘I just become a little bit more aware of what’s going on here,’ (Fred) Conover said.”

Take it from me – sitting closer to the workforce has definite advantages.

Years ago when I was Editor at a small daily newspaper in Montana, I made it a point to come out of my office and sit in the newsroom when I was doing routine paperwork or just scanning the computer looking for wire stories. And you know what? I found that I not only was more plugged into what was going with the staff because I heard them talking, but I also found that my presence out in the middle of everyone made them much more likely to approach me and let me know about something that was going on.

I felt more plugged in and closer to my employees, and the action, when I sat out among everyone, and my guess is that this is a big upside for Conover Tuttle Pace managers too.

Yes it’s late July, but it is not too late to make something like this happen in your organization for a few weeks. It’s not only a great idea, but my prediction is that anyone who can implement this idea at their organization will come off looking like an HR or management hero.

Take a look at The Boston Globe video (you can find it here) and see what I mean. It’s a great idea just waiting for you to make happen.

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