Business Today - - MANAGEMENT -

Katie Burke is the Chief Peo­ple Of­fi­cer at HubSpot, a Bos­ton-based mar­ket­ing-soft­ware com­pany, with nearly 2,000 em­ploy­ees. She re­cently spoke with HBR about her firm’s ap­proach to ro­tat­ing seat assignments. Edited ex­cerpts fol­low.

Q: How does HubSpot’s of­fice space re­flect the or­gan­i­sa­tion’s cul­ture?


From the start we wanted to be col­lab­o­ra­tive and an­ti­hier­ar­chi­cal and to prevent “cor­ner of­fice syn­drome,” where ex­ec­u­tives are iso­lated from em­ploy­ees and cer­tain teams don’t en­gage with oth­ers. So we’ve al­ways had open of­fices. We also do a seat reshuf­fle roughly ev­ery three months, though that can vary by team and of­fice lo­ca­tion.

Why make peo­ple switch desks so of­ten?

Our founders re­alised that in ev­ery of­fice there are good seats and bad seats, so they set up a lot­tery in which ev­ery­one, in­clud­ing them, par­tic­i­pated. If you drew num­ber one, you had first choice, but in a few months some­one else would get the top pick. The point is to elim­i­nate per­cep­tions of power im­bal­ances. The reshuf­fles also em­pha­sise that change is con­stant, so you need to be adapt­able. And we want peo­ple to get out of their en­trenched so­cial pat­terns so that they will col­lab­o­rate and learn. If I’m in mar­ket­ing, on our blog team, and sud­denly I’m sit­ting next to a sales rep and lis­ten­ing to her calls, I’m go­ing to know a lot more about how to ex­plain what we of­fer.

Do you move teams to­gether, or mix up the func­tions?

We keep teams to­gether, but we change ad­ja­cent groups and mix up the peo­ple within each team. We also try to put in­terns and new hires near peo­ple who have been here awhile so that they can learn more about how we work.

How much time does your team spend on reshuf­fles?

It’s a pretty time-in­ten­sive col­lab­o­ra­tion among our em­ployee ex­pe­ri­ence, ad­min­is­tra­tive, and fa­cil­i­ties teams. But we think the ben­e­fits far out­weigh the costs.

Given the im­por­tance you place on seating assignments, are em­ploy­ees al­lowed to work from home?

Ev­ery­one has a lap­top, and we do pro­mote flex­i­bil­ity and re­mote work. We have some peo­ple who have never come into any of­fice; but some teams en­cour­age folks to come in at least three or four days a week. We try to be trans­par­ent about what is ex­pected in each group. We also have spa­ces in our of­fices that peo­ple can move to for calls or in­ten­sive in­di­vid­ual work: no­mad desks in less busy ar­eas, quiet rooms, and sound­proof pods.

Don’t peo­ple get tired of pack­ing up their desks ev­ery quar­ter?

There are peo­ple who ques­tion the prac­ti­cal­ity of it for a com­pany at the scale we are at now. Some see it as an­noy­ing or a nui­sance to move away from a friend or some­one they’re work­ing with on a project. But it’s been part of our cul­ture since the start. It makes the com­pany less clique-y. And it keeps us all from get­ting com­pla­cent. One of our strong mes­sages to em­ploy­ees is: The day you think you’ve got it all fig­ured out is the day we lose as a com­pany. Phys­i­cally shift­ing your seat is a good vis­ual re­minder of that.

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