In late January I attended two days of meetings with architects, facilities execs, corporate interior designers, and execs from the top office furniture firms. Much of the discussion was around the role played by physical space and collaboration. Then someone posed an even more interesting point, "shouldn't we also be considering the technical space?"

The question has been nagging at me ever since.

Think about it. How do you spend most of your day? I spend mine staring at this screen. I have one of the best -- I claim the best -- office in our new building: 3rd Floor, corner, view of hills and lovely campus (#5 draw in the office lotto). My home office also has a good view. I do get to look out occasionally, but the vast majority of my time is very focused on this small patch of glass real estate.

Office View

We show off our offices to job candidates, but do we show off our technical space? It's never been part of an interview I've gone on, nor have I heard from students that it's become part of their process. Don Tappscott, author of Grown Up Digital (and Wikinomics), describes how the technical space can be perceived:

The Net Gener arrives at work, eager to use his social networking tools to collaborate and create and contribute to the company. For starters, he's shocked to find that the company's technological tools are more primitive than the ones he used in high school. The company he works for still thinks the Net is about Web sites presenting information, rather than a Web 2.0 collaboration platform (pp. 153-154).

While I have gone on tours of physical space (Intel last week -- thank you!), I have never been invited to view more than piecemeal portions of a company's technical space (e.g., their video conferencing capabilities, their wiki -- all separate tools, not a tour of the technical space overall). Reasons this may be (and looking for additional reasons as comments, please):

  • It's easier to control what you see in the physical space -- they don't show you areas where confidential work is done
  • Most of us can appreciate good physical space design quickly -- how long would it take for us to evaluate the technical space?
  • Thousands of years have gone into perfecting physical space design -- there are likely to be some impressive things to see
  • No one has thought to show the technical space

Tappscott's comments reflect the possibility of negative surprise. Negative surprise is something you hope to avoid when you practice hiring processes that include "realistic job preview." How can we provide a realistic job preview if most of the job is in the technical space -- without giving access to the technical space?

I had the chance to share a draft of this post with Carol McHuron of Pacific Resources Education Programs.  She hears from organizational clients that the [technical space] can be limited given the organization's own technology team, and security. Interesting point... while we may have the strength to move the furniture in our physical space, we may not have the same "strength" to move our technology.

One solution is to let people own their own tools -- in this case their own technical space.  However, I suspect that the next five years is more likely to show companies including their technical space in their interviews than broad acceptance of the own your own tools approach. And owning your own tools isn't a complete solution: Even if you own your own tools (come to work with your own laptop and/or "cloud" environment), in most cases you will still be working in the company's technical space at some point. Sounds like our best approach is to improve the technical space... and then show it off.

Open question: Have you ever been shown the technical space as part of the interview process? How was the "tour" managed? How did it help you in your decision making?