Over the past year, multiple studies have observed an effect whereby employees who work in close proximity to high performers tend to do a better job themselves, generating a lot of interest in the concept of “strategic seating,” or maximizing performance and collaboration merely by rearranging employees’ desks. This notion has led the mobile payment company Square to post a job listing for a “capacity coordinator” for whom workplace seating management” will be a full-time job, as Quartz’s Sarah Kessler discovered earlier this week:
The person in this role will maintain seating records in Office Space, Square’s workplace management tool, perform capacity analysis, and manage cross-functional seating projects in collaboration with a wide range of people, from facilities vendors to team leads. … Square, which did not immediately respond to a request for comment on this story, will be far from the first company to agonize over the optimal placement of its employees (and managing a large seating chart can be a thorny challenge, as anyone who has planned a wedding can attest). But it may be one of the first to need a full-time worker to tell people where to sit.
This role may look silly at first glance, but there seems to me to be a valuable lesson here about how Square is approaching the development of its organizational culture.
Most organizations look to the symbols of a more innovative culture—such as free lunch, or an open-plan office to encourage collaboration—and conclude that putting these in place will automatically create the culture they’re looking for. However, cultural symbols derive their power from previously ingrained behaviors and mindsets. That’s why they’re symbols: Only when they’re taken away are they fully appreciated.
This is what makes Square’s approach so interesting. They are actively managing the symbolism of the office floor plan and now even using the floor plan as an active management tool to foster certain behaviors. It’ll be fascinating to see what they come up with. Here’s to their success.