Upon graduating law school, I joined a law firm and was excited because I had my own office complete with a large window and massive oak desk. I recall spending hours arranging my various certificates and diplomas to ensure that everyone was impressed with my scholastic accomplishments. As my career grew, the size of my office did as well. It was an important component of my recognition. And, it wasn’t just me that felt that way. When I was a hiring manager at a local law firm, I recall many conversations with candidates in which they asked pointed questions about the size and location of offices. Sometimes, this was of more importance to them than compensation. (There’s an intelligence test.)
Nowadays, I am so over the “office thing”. In fact – I don’t have one. Let me let that sink in for a second. I’m General Counsel of a Fortune 500 company with approximately 35,000 employees around the world. And, I don’t have an office. When I mention this to my peers at other companies, I generally get two questions: “Why would you want to give up your office?” and “How can you do it?”.
As to the “why”, there are several reasons:
1. You become a better manager. I believe that as you lead larger and more geographically dispersed organizations, the value of a dedicated office diminishes and can even be a hindrance. Where I work is dependent on who I need to meet with (assuming a face-to-face meeting is necessary). As a result, I work in multiple locations. Last Friday, for example, I worked out of six different offices. While that may sound hectic for me, it significantly increases the of number informal connections I make with clients and employees. It may be just a hallway conversation, a quick cup of coffee or spontaneous meeting in a conference room, but all are opportunities to exchange information and increase social connectivity. It’s a valuable way to identify and resolve issues before they become more serious.
2. You can get rid of all your “stuff”. Attorneys are by their nature – pack rats. I have many ideas on why, but my point is that we tend to save every professional periodical or treatise. Look up on the shelf in your office. See that manual on copyright law that you received when you attended the CEB class in 1986? Trust me on this – the law has changed since then. All you are doing by keeping these materials is taking up office space and providing an opportunity to commit malpractice.
3. Your family will remember who you are. For years, our Chairman has been saying that there’s no such thing as work/home balance – it’s just “life”. He’s absolutely right. As technology increasingly enables more people to be connected to the internet with mobility, where and when you work matters less. For me this means that while I’m waiting for my son’s 5th grade school play to begin on a weekday afternoon, I can be sitting in the audience working. Or, when the traffic on Highway 101 has brought the morning commute to a standstill, I can connect from home instead. I work more hours now than at any other time in my life. But, it doesn’t feel that way.
The answer to the “how” question is technology and a progressive thinking employer.
For over two years, I’ve been participating in a program at Sun called “OpenWork” that allows employees to work from home or drop-in offices located throughout Sun facilities. A key component of this program is our SunRay technology. These systems are located in all our offices, cafeteria, conference and break rooms around the world. I also have a SunRay at home. I just insert my employee ID card, type in my password (it’s a dual authentication system for greater security) and up comes my user interface complete with whatever I have been working on. I also use this system to retrieve my voicemails and forward calls to the office in which I’m working on a given day.
I use a smartphone as well. In my case, it’s a Treo 680. When I’m on the road, this is how I check my email. As a result, I no longer use a laptop for business travel. It’s great. I don’t have to worry about lugging around the extra weight or, worse yet, losing it. If I have a business trip, I pull my card out of my SunRay, use my Treo to check e-mail while I’m in transit and then when I arrive at my destination, for example, Tokyo or Moscow, I go to our nearest Sun facility, find a SunRay and log in again.
The other tool I use is my MacBook Pro. With its WiFi capability, I find it is a great way to sit in the back yard on a nice winter day and write a blog.