“IT MAKES THE COMPANY LESS CLIQUE-Y”
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.