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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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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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.





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.


How To Break Bad Habits And Create Good Ones

If you understand the science and psychology behind habits, you can learn how to break bad habits and how to create good ones.

Habit is at the heart of our successes and our failures.

For example, for many years, like some of you, I unsuccessfully made a New Year’s resolution to lose weight. Last year, I decided not to wait until the end of the year and instead, looked at my exercise and eating habits. I worked hard to reprogram my brain to love exercise and to focus on post-exercise rewards. This is not easy to do, but if you take small steps, anyone can do it.

Rewiring your brain and creating good habits pushes you to do things that you otherwise might ignore. For example, in the past, I came up with many excuses why I should skip exercising on a given day. But once I developed a habit of exercising nearly every day (I now exercise 6 days per week), I no longer permit myself to come up with excuses. Having lost nearly fifty pounds during the last year, I now ride my bike 175 miles every week and am in the best shape of my life.

If you have difficulty correlating habits and rewards, find other ways to push yourself to create good habits. For example, when I started my exercise program last year, I wanted to be sure that in addition to my normal exercise, I performed 150 stomach crunches every day. I knew that I could not rely on serendipity, so I created a forced habit: I had to do crunches on the bathroom rug before I took a shower in the morning and I could not take a shower until I did 150 stomach crunches (nor could I leave without showering). This routine forced me, for many weeks, to do crunches even when I wasn’t in the mood. And yes, there were a few days when I was on the rug for an hour mad at myself but nonetheless, not moving until I finished. After several months, I created a habit and now I never question whether I should or should not do the crunches – I do 150 every single morning.

New York Times reporter Charles Duhigg, in his book The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do In Life and Business takes a close look at neuroscience and behavioral psychology. He examines why habits exist, and how you can reprogram yourself and teach yourself good habits. The video is short – just over 3 minutes – and well worth the time to watch.

Do you have any tips on how people can create good habits and get rid of bad ones?

How to Turn Your Startup Into a Lean, Mean Marketing Machine

Marketing is expensive and often doesn’t work. Yet products and services rarely sell on their own. How can businesses market their products or services without spending a lot of money or time developing comprehensive marketing plans?

The answer lies in a concept called “lean startup”, pioneered by entrepreneur Eric Ries and popularized by professor Steve Blank. Lean startup favors experimentation over planning, feedback from customers over best practices or intuition, and quick iteration over the up-front investment of time and money.

In my latest article for Entrepreneur Magazine, I discuss the three key elements of lean startup and how businesses can apply those elements to market more effectively and efficiently. Read the full article here.

Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are And How You Feel

You probably know your body language affects how people see you.

But did you also know that your body language impacts how you see yourself?

Social psychologist Amy Cuddy gave a fascinating TED talk on how we can, in very small ways, change our own body chemistry and how people perceive us, simply by changing our body positions.


How To Pick The Perfect Name For Your Startup

I’m often asked by young entrepreneurs whether it’s important to find a strong name for a new startup.

The name is important, but the process to come up with a unique name can easily distract you. For example, it took us nearly 50 hours to come up with “crowdSPRING” – time that would have been better spent focusing on developing the core business.

If you don’t have time too invest in coming up with a great name for your new company, you can leverage crowdSPRING’s community of more than 87,000 creatives to come up with your company name or a product name.

Whether you work on your own to come up with a name or leverage crowdSPRING’s community, let me offer 10 useful tips that should guide this process:

1. What do you want your company name to convey?

Your company name is an important part of your company’s identity. The name will appear on your business cards, letterhead, website, promotional materials, products, and pretty much everywhere in print to identify your company or your company’s products and/or services.

Service oriented businesses should consider whether it will be easy for their prospective customers to recognize what services the business provides, based on the name of the company (example: Friendly Dog Walkers or Bright Accounting). This is especially important early in the life of your new company, when your brand is not well established and people don’t know who you or your company are.

Businesses located in rural areas and serving rural communities may want to project a smaller, hometown feel with their name. However, businesses planning to focus on bigger markets or bigger customers might want to project a larger, more corporate image with their name.

2. Brainstorm to identify name possibilities.

Start by thinking about words that describe your industry or the products/services you plan to offer. Think about words that describe your competitors and words that describe the differences between your products and services and those of your competitors. Consider too words that describe the benefits of using your products or services. Finally, think about words (and phrases) that evoke the feelings you want your customers to feel when they see your company name.

Tip: while brainstorming, look up Greek and Latin translations of your words – you might find new ideas from doing that exercise. Look at foreign words too (we spent some time with a Swahili dictionary looking for strong names).

3. Short, simple, and easy to write and remember is best (and consider acronyms of the name).

Obscure business names are often difficult to write and even more difficult to remember. This is a problem because for most startups and small businesses, word-of-mouth advertising is the most successful form of marketing. If your customers can’t remember your name or can’t spell it for others, it will make it difficult for them to help promote your business.

Think about the names of companies you admire. They typically have a few things in common: their names are short, simple, easy to write and easy to remember. (Examples: Apple, Google, Virgin, Southwest).

While it might be tempting (some startups think it’s cool to do), avoid using a “K” in place of a “Q” or a “Ph” in place of an “F” when coming up with your company name. Such letter substitutions makes spelling the name very difficult and will only cause confusion.

Also, don’t forget to consider the acronym of your company name (an acronym is composed of the first letter of each word in a phrase). You might not use an acronym, but your customers might refer to your business by an acronym. A name such as Apple Support Services can result in an unfavorable acronym – ASS.

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