Excerpt from “Corporate Crap” – Chapter 7: Office Layout (Tearing Down the Walls)

Published December 7, 2018

At Walgreens, I worked in a cubicle. My next job, editing an eighty-four-page monthly magazine for the Hospital Financial Management Association, I just had a desk out in the open, although I spent most of my time in an enclosed work room. My third job I had a corner office on the top floor of Chicago’s Prudential Building.

In 1980, the Prudential Building, at forty stories, was one of the tallest buildings in Chicago. My office faced north, with Lake Michigan on my right. I could see all the way to Milwaukee. Today the Prudential Building is surrounded by much taller buildings. But back then, at twenty-four years old and just two years out of college, I had one of the most prestigious office spaces in the Windy City.

The only reason I did was the company I worked for — the accounting firm Alexander Grant — was based in the Prudential Building and took over the top floor when it merged with a London firm called Thornton Baker to form Grant Thornton International. I was hired to run communications for the new international firm, landing me on the top floor. At the time there weren’t many other people on the top floor. Most of the partners and principals of the firm were crammed into offices on more crowded lower floors.

I was at Alexander Grant/Grant Thornton for two years. My next job, as an editor-at-large for the American Bar Association Press, I was back in a cube. The point is that whether you work in a wall office, a cube, or somewhere else is based on many factors besides experience, salary, or job title. In fact, it’s based mostly on available real estate. There are only so many windows and so much square footage for so many bodies, and only so much budget companies are willing to invest in this stuff. While the effects of office layout on creativity, productivity, and employee satisfaction have been studied extensively, most recommendations are not realistic for most companies, so they make do with their available space…