The Paradox of Open Offices: What You Should Know

More and more companies – especially startups – are adopting open office floor plans. Startup teams tend to be more nimble, energetic and productive and many people assume that open offices contribute to those benefits. Moreover, for many companies, open offices offer an opportunity to reduce real estate footprint and costs – you can put more people into an open layout. In fact, as more companies embrace remote work, the need for dedicated private offices diminishes.

Despite this trend towards open offices, there’s a growing body of research casting doubt on the benefits of open offices. Researchers have found, for example, that the benefits of easy communication in an open office layout don’t outweigh the lack of privacy, and other disadvantages.

The chart below, from Harvard Business Review, summarizes the biggest complaints about different types of office layouts (based on a study of more than 42,000 U.S. office workers).


As you can see, people complain the most about open offices and cubicles.

The researchers, Jungsoo Kim and Richard de Dear of the University of Sydney wrote:

Our results categorically contradict the industry-accepted wisdom that open-plan layout enhances communication between colleagues and improves occupants’ overall work environmental satisfaction. The open-plan proponents’ argument that open-plan improves morale and productivity appears to have no basis in the research literature.

Should you sound the alarm and build private offices for your teams?


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True Leaders Focus On Leading, Not Job Titles

A leader’s job is to make it easy for everyone to excel at their jobs. When a team is working well, the leader is the least important team member.

If you micro-manage, give directions, create countless committees and meetings, or make busy work for your teams, you’re not leading.

Stop thinking about your job title and start thinking about leading. Titles do little more than give the impression of self-importance and achievement.

True leaders focus on leading, not job titles. A title doesn’t make someone a leader.

Book Review: Remote by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson


I’ve long admired Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson of 37signals. Among other accomplishments, Jason and David have created phenomenally useful software for better collaboration and project management (we’ve used Basecamp and Campfire at crowdSPRING for many years).

Jason and David have helped shaped my views on many topics, including remote work. If you haven’t read their blog, Signal v. Noise, I recommend that you do so.

Their prior book, Rework was a collection of short essays focusing on doing less and embracing constraints.

Their latest book, Remote, persuasively argues that companies should not restrict hiring to a small geographic region.

The book is a quick read. When working remotely, I  ride my exercise bike indoors for 75 minutes and use that time to read. I started and finished Remote during one ride last week.

Remote is directed mostly to companies that have rejected or that have only modestly experimented with remote work. Weaving through examples from their own experience with remote employees, and the experience of other big and small companies, Jason and David present  a compelling argument urging companies to ignore geographies and focus on skill and culture-fit instead.

You’ll recall the media storm when Marissa Mayer ended Yahoo’s work-from-home policy. To me and many others, Mayer’s decision seemed incredibly short-sighted. Among other things, Jason and David point out that:

  • work in an office is subject to constant interruptions.
  • commuting wastes a lot of time, energy and natural resources.
  • technology has made remote work functionally similar to being in the office.
  • people collaborate asynchronously and remote work is a perfect complement.
  • requiring office face time is often a red-herring masking deeper workplace problems.

I’m a fan of remote teams. Although we initially hired only in our Chicago office when we started in 2007, we quickly changed course and have, for the past five years, hired people from all over the world. Half of the crowdSPRING team is remote, and even those who work out of our Chicago office sometimes work remotely. By removing geographic constraints, we’ve hired the most qualified people and have made our team much stronger.

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Lead By Example, Not By Title

Leadership is not about titles, coercion, manipulation or force.

Good leaders inspire people to work hard. Great leaders inspire people to do their absolute best.

In a start-up with limited funds and small teams, it’s critical that people do their absolute best. Anything less is economic suicide.

As a leader, how can you inspire your team to do its best?

  • Lead by example at all times. You’re not a true leader merely because of your title.
  • Never stop learning – do whatever it takes to become a better leader.
  • Use the right words. What you say – and how you say it – as a leader always matters.
  • Appreciate differences. Use people’s differences as a source of strength for the team.
  • Motivate yourself. You cannot motivate others unless you motivate yourself.
  • Collaborate with your team to innovate instead of pushing ideas on them.
  • Empower people around you to succeed – give them responsibility and authority.
  • Treat others with compassion and respect. Don’t just tell them they are important. Show them.
  • Promote a collaborative culture where everyone is a leader.

Great leaders inspire everyone on their team, regardless of title, to follow these principles.


Failure Is Rarely Permanent

If you do something that carries more risk, you are more likely to fail. That’s one reason so many people fear failure. But if you risk nothing, you risk everything.

The question isn’t whether you will fail – everyone fails at something. The question is what you do after you fail.

Here’s a wonderful short video showing why failure is rarely permanent. Michal Marosi was racing in a mountain bike race. He was in the lead and made a risky move on an aerial descent that got him into trouble. He could have easily stopped racing. Instead, despite the big setback, Michal got back on his bike and executed an absolutely incredible passing move that was even more risky than the one that caused him to fall.

It’s a great reminder that failure is rarely permanent. Your attitude can turn even catastrophic failure into success.

Repeat Your Successes, Not Your Failures. Failure Is Overrated

Some people believe that you can learn more from failure than success. But not every failure is a learning experience.

I believe that you can learn a great deal more from success than from failure.

Here’s why: knowing what not to do helps you focus and avoid setbacks, but doesn’t help you adapt to changes. You know what didn’t work – does that help you next time when you need to figure out what will work?

If you ask successful entrepreneurs whether they would rather hire someone who has failed or someone who has succeeded, I suspect most would prefer to hire the person who has succeeded. This is not surprising – scientific research shows that we learn more from success than from failure.

I would go even further. Some people are successful because they can repeatedly perform a task well. Others are successful because they know how and why something works. Hire people who know how and why something works, not just those who know how to do something.

If you’re looking for a marketing person to focus on SEO, you may be looking for someone with prior SEO experience. You can talk to thousands of people with SEO experience, many of whom will know the basics of SEO because they’ve helped other companies with SEO strategies. But you’ll be hard-pressed to find many people who truly understand how and why SEO works.

We’ve made the mistake at crowdSPRIGN hiring people who knew how to do certain things well. Unfortunately, those people could not scale as our company scaled.

Knowing how to do something is important, but it is limiting.

When you know how to do something, you have a skill that you can replicate to do the same thing again and again. But when you understand how and why something works, you not only have a skill, but you also can adapt your skill to changing situations.

In our SEO example, the person who understands how and why SEO works will be able to help you when search engines start making regular major SEO-related algorithm changes. The person who merely knew how to implement SEO will hit a wall – they will have a tough time adapting to the changes.

Learn to repeat your successes, not your failures. Failure is overrated.





The Secret To Building Great Teams


A great idea, without a great team, isn’t enough to build a successful company. The most successful entrepreneurs build a team of talented people and lead them in ways that allow the team to shine.

There are important things entrepreneurs should do to help a team to succeed: empower people to make decisions, encourage people to solve problems and not worry about revenue projections and profits, don’t micro-manage, celebrate success, remove bureaucracy.

But what makes a team great?

There’s a wonderful story about an anthropologist who proposed a game to children in an African tribe. He put sweet fruits in a basket near a tree and told the kids that whoever ran to the basket first would get all the fruit.

When the anthropologist yelled “Go!”, the children held each other’s hands and ran to the basket as a group. Then they shared the candy with each other.

The anthropologist was surprised. He asked the children why they ran together, when any one of them could have won and taken all the sweet fruits for themselves.

A young girl answered simply: “Ubuntu. How can one of us be happy if all the others are sad?”

UBUNTU in the Xhosa culture means “I am because we are”. Desmond Tutu explains:

Africans have a thing called ubuntu. It is about the essence of being human, it is part of the gift that Africa will give the world. It embraces hospitality, caring about others, being willing to go the extra mile for the sake of another. We believe that a person is a person through other persons, that my humanity is caught up, bound up, inextricably, with yours. When I dehumanize you, I inexorably dehumanize myself. The solitary human being is a contradiction in terms. Therefore you seek to work for the common good because your humanity comes into its own in community, in belonging.

Back to the question I posed above: what makes a team great?

The most important thing a leader can and should do is to encourage real teamwork. It’s impossible for people to come together as a team unless you clearly show them why it’s important to do so and set an expectation from the start. Successful teams don’t just happen by fiat – they’re nurtured. Encourage teamwork through feedback, recognition, conversation, you reward systems, and in any other way you can. Happiness is helping.

My team at crowdSPRING is much stronger – and can accomplish far more – when each person puts the success of the team ahead of their own personal gain.

Create a culture of ubuntu and you’ll empower your teams to succeed beyond your wildest dreams. When people put the good of the team ahead of their own personal gain, great things can happen.


Collaboration and Security

A few days ago, I hosted a Google+ Hangout. Dell paid me to host the Hangout, but the opinions in this post and in the Hangout are entirely my own.

I’ve previously talked about ways that companies can promote better collaboration among their employees. Collaborative teams are typically more successful, more agile, more innovative, and happier than teams that silo people.

But collaboration isn’t without risk. Smart companies encourage collaboration and also look for ways to ensure that collaboration doesn’t compromise the security of the company’s systems, devices and data.

Ultimately, IT security is a balancing act. Too much security can hinder innovation and collaboration. Too little security can create unacceptable risks that important information can be easily stolen or lost.

Which collaboration tools can be trusted with your company’s data? How can you secure client systems and devices while providing flexibility for collaboration and innovation? How can you ensure that you don’t lose important data?

A few days ago, I hosted an informative Google+ Hangout with experts from Dell and McAfee focusing on collaboration and security. You’ll find lots of good insight in their conversation. Here’s the full video:

Hire People Who Make Things Happen

There are three kinds of people: Those who make things happen, those who watch things happen, and those who ask, “What happened?” – Casey Stengel

You have the opportunity, every single day, to decide what type of person you are, and what type of person you want to be. In everything you do. You can choose to make things happen, to sit comfortably and watch things happen, or to be lazy and simply ask “what happened”.

Your choice impacts not only who you are and how you perform, but the people around you.

The most successful teams share a common trait: they are composed of people who make things happen. You see these teams all around you – Apple, Tesla, Facebook, Google, and many more.

Think about your own teams and companies – and other companies you know. You’ll often see people who are too complacent, too comfortable, and too lazy to make things happen. They complain about their jobs, their pay, and their lives.

If your companies are full of employees who watch things happen, or even worse, who ask “what happened”, you’ve lost. If you want to succeed, get rid of such people. Immediately.

There are three kinds of people: those who make things happen, those who watch things happen, and those who ask, “What happened?”

Which are YOU?

You Cannot Learn If You Are Not Willing To Listen

Listening should be easy. We do it every day. But there’s a very important distinction between actively listening, and simply hearing when someone is talking.

Most advice about listening urges people to limit their own talking – and to listen instead. This is good advice, but limiting your own talking is not enough: not talking is not equivalent to listening. If you’re not talking but instead, are thinking about what you will say next, you are not listening. In fact – that’s the reason many people interrupt so often during conversations.

Here are four simple techniques that can help you become a better listener:


Paraphrasing what another person said is a good tactic to make sure that you’re hearing the other person correctly. It’s impossible to paraphrase accurately if you’re not listening. Therefore, developing a habit to periodically paraphrase what the other person is saying is a good way to push yourself to become a better listener. A quick paraphrase might not only make the speaker more comfortable, but will also help you avoid confusion.


When you summarize what you heard, you have the opportunity to show that you listened carefully not just to the words, but also to the concepts and ideas. This is an important technique because it forces you to identify the most important points the other person was trying to communicate to you. It also quickly tests your understanding of new terms and concepts introduced during the conversation.


It’s rare that we understand everything we hear. In most cases, we might be unclear about certain concepts. Many people assume that they’ll figure it out later, or that those concepts are less important.

Don’t assume. Ask questions. You can clarify by simply letting the other person know that you didn’t understand something they said, or you can use another technique – such as paraphrasing – to make sure that you correctly understand what the other person said.


Reflection is different from paraphrasing because reflection involves feelings and empathy. This is your opportunity to show that you understand what the other person said and that you understand WHY what they said is important to them. Learning how to reflect during a conversation pushes you to listen carefully not just to the words, but to the mood of the conversation – and the feelings the other person is attempting to communicate.

If you apply these four simple techniques to your conversations, you will become a better listener.

Remember – you can’t learn if you are not willing to listen.