The CEO Without An Office

Do you actually need a door to close?

The CEO Without An Office

I walked into a business environment recently and was stunned to find the CEO sitting out in the middle of the office surrounded by his staff.  His feet were up. His laptop was in his lap.  He was working on a presentation for an upcoming business meeting.

“How in the world do you get anything done?” I had to know. I didn’t tell him, but, if my door is open at work, it’s a constant stream of people in and out all day.  If I want to get anything substantial done, I actually have to work my hours after everyone else goes home or goes to bed.

His response was interesting. He said, “Sitting out here means that I can see and know everything. People can ask me questions.  I can use that information to make things better and more efficient. If there’s something that requires a lot of intense focus, I should probably be hiring someone else to do it.  By the way, I don’t need a corner office to do my job. Do you?”

“If there’s something that requires a lot of intense focus, I should probably be hiring someone else to do it.”

He did have a designated room where he could retreat for meetings and phone calls, but the culture in that office was so interesting.  People were actively working with each other or on their projects.  They were focused.  The atmosphere reminded me of something that I saw at and again in the Zappos offices.  Glass walled conference rooms line the outside of both company’s office areas, but everyone sits in a low-walled cubicle where they can see everything going on.  Collaboration is the upside of that work environment.  The possibility of lost productivity is the downside.

Cotton Babies used to fit in one room.  When we moved to two rooms, my office was a 2×4 pop-up table in the same room we packaged diapers.  On the other side of the wall, we stored product, picked orders, and handled all of the phone calls.  Things are bigger now.  The offices are separated from the warehouse. There are dock doors and things that beep.  It’s impossible to hear what’s happening on the phones.  I can’t watch orders being filled.   There’s a piece of me that misses the days when it was so easy to be aware of every little thing.  On the other hand, there are so many days that I barely get out of my chair because I’m in wall-to-wall closed door meetings. If it’s quiet, I’m checking my daily boxes.  If it’s not, I’m in the middle of everything because I love it. There’s definitely a balance needed.

That said, broad awareness is cheap.  Inefficiency is expensive.  Innovation is important.  Awareness and innovation feed growth.  Growth is essential.

His words left me thinking more about how to rethink my task list.  Being present and aware is certainly more appealing than being hyper-focused and unaware. When I do the job I love (which requires presence and awareness), good things happen.

It might be amazing to be the CEO without an office.

Jenn is the Founder and CEO of Cotton Babies. She holds an Executive MBA from Washington University. She was awarded Ernst & Young’s Entrepreneur of the Year award in the Emerging Category for the Central Midwest Region in 2011. Among many other awards, she recently received a 2017 YWCA Leader of Distinction Award for Entrepreneurship. Jenn holds many patents on various inventions in a number of different countries and is listed as one of 50 Missourians You Should Know. She is particularly fascinated by languages, chickens, and children (she has four) when she’s not reading economics journals. Jenn offers mentorship to product developers at any stage in the journey from idea to shelf.