The Writing Is On The Wall

Posted by: Michelle Conlin on August 8, 2007

Writing on the Wall.jpg
There’s lots of chatter now about transparency and collaboration. About trying to get us to work and think together in a power-of-us, socially-networked, Facebook-MySpace kind of way. We’re told to think outside the box. But we work in the box.

On a recent trip to Microsoft, I saw offices—whose walls were smothered in workplace graffiti, mental riffs, and punch lists —that looked like something out of A Beautiful Mind. John Nash in Redmond.

Only these etchings parsed out; they were a fascinating window onto Microsoft’s workers’ minds. You got to see their brains on the wall.

That’s why savvy workplace planners of the future are all over the idea of turning all the vast unused real estate in our offices—our blank walls—into a new working asset. A place for the knowledge worker’s mental thrummings made visible.

At Microsoft, new offices have floor-to-ceiling whiteboards and glass walls where people can dump their work in a transparent and collaborative way. This is a much more efficient way to transmit urgent information to co-workers than email or IM. Consider this missive I saw on one door: “Do Not Wake Sleeping Product Managers. It Spoils Their Creativity.” Wall writing can also lead to new business models, such as the Microsoft thoroughfare whose wall was marked with the following: “Tollway. $10.”

Interesting. Most workplace codes at most big companies prohibit defacing pristine walls. Some even require permission for hanging up a picture. But think about it. The walls could be a great reflection of what’s on our minds. Isn’t such mental social networking the whole point? Also: what a branding opportunity! Isn’t the bandwidth of your human capital something you literally want to show off?

Reader Comments

Jeff

August 9, 2007 8:39 AM

Totally agree...even w/out going to the Microsoft degree, having a large whiteboard with a supply of markers in every office would encourage a degree of productive intimacy among co-workers, as well as a window into each other's minds and work habits.

Thomas

August 11, 2007 9:59 AM

Hi, the last time I had a large white board in my office I merely used it as keeper of my to-do list. Then I found out that paper works better. However, I do like the glass board especially for Microsoft since whatever they do you should do the reverse! :-)

Thomas

Kat

July 30, 2008 8:38 PM

I started using the windows in my office as a way of tracking projects on the go, to do lists, and brain dumps. It created a talking point for those walking past, they would stop come in read it and add their thoughts. It also was a prompt for me as it was in my face. Highly recommend it!

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