“There's a moment of sheer terror when I discover Paul's apartment overlooks the park”
― Bret Easton Ellis, American Psycho
“Where do you sit in the office?”
“How big is your desk?”
“Do you have a window seat?”
Three questions that resonate with many people that spend their career in an office. It has always been seen as an important factor to career progression, importance, seniority and length served in a company as to where you sit in an office, right from the very start of offices being used in the 18th century. Did you have the small pokey office that was cramp and stuffy, or the big corner office with windows on two sides, huge desk and sofa?
Position has always been important. Even today where companies employ a hot-desking strategy they are coming up with problems such as staff turning up early to claim the best seats – Very much like the ‘German towel syndrome’ that affects so many holiday goers from around the world. The position you occupy whilst at work can boost or lower morale, and therefore have an effect on productivity and efficiency. It is very dog eat dog.
On top of seat location there are the ‘items of power’ that make you stand out above the rest of your peers. Things that you are given as you progress through your career.
A great example of the ‘seen power’ comes from the book American Psycho written by Bret Easton Ellis in 1991, which was later turned into a wonderfully disturbing film in 2000 starring Christian Bale as Patrick Bateman, a New York Investment Banker. His world revolves around making sure that everything he has makes him appear better than the people he works with and the people he knows, from secretary, to business card to the office space he has and the floor he is working on. Of course there is a lot more to the story, but I won’t go into that. Here however is an extract from the film that I think sums up the point perfectly:
"New card. Whaddya think?"
Bateman slides his card across the table; it's off-white, with the words PATRICK BATEMAN: VICE PRESIDENT centred and embossed in black.
The assembled party gasp in admiration.
Bateman leans back in his chair.
"Picked 'em up from the printers yesterday."
"That's bone. And the lettering is something called Silian Grail."
Another broker interrupts.
"It's very cool, Bateman, but..."
He whips out his card, laying it next to Bateman's on the table. Off-white with the words ROBERT VAN PATTEN: VICE PRESIDENT centred and embossed in black, it is basically indistinguishable.
"Egg shell, with Roman."
Bateman smiles bitterly.
Now a third broker pulls out his card. It looks exactly like the first two, except it reads TIMOTHY BRICE: VICE PRESIDENT.
"Raised lettering, pale nimbus."
"Impressive", Bateman mutters. "Let's see Paul Allen's card."
The room falls silent as the third broker produces an absent colleague's card.
Bateman speaks in voiceover.
"Look at that subtle colouring. The tasteful thickness."
His face creases in horror.
"Oh my God. It even has a watermark."
Take away the psycho killer part and there is probably a little bit of Patrick Bateman in those of us with a competitive nature. Wanting to be seen to be successful in the office, to outshine our peers and to effectively win at work can produce higher levels of productivity in order to gain status and more power. Success at work for many people is the biggest motivational challenge that they face between their 20s and 60s.
Times though have moved on.
Instead of comparing business cards employees are more likely to get jealous of technology in today’s office. Smartphones and laptops are the items most likely to be seen as status symbols. Fortunately these are seen as essential for most workers in larger businesses and as such the majority of staff are issued with them from day one, with little level of seniority involved. So perhaps there is less competition than a decade or two ago?
Still however, there is the thought that everyone wants a window seat.
Thanks to technology, this is now possible.
Video conferencing has enabled businesses to apply flexible working practises that benefit both the company and the staff. Using their latest smartphones, tablets or laptops employees can work from locations of their choosing, still able to have full face-to-face collaboration, sharing documents and holding meetings.
The ability to ‘Defy Distance’ as Polycom shout is improving year on year. Improved mobile network speeds, more and more Wi-Fi hotspots and overall improved bandwidth allows for higher resolution imagery, better audio and higher levels of content sharing.
So today everyone can have a window seat, with a view that changes to suit their needs. Working from home, from a coffee shop, on the go.
If everyone is working where they want to, is there need for offices anymore? The answer of course is still yes, for now. So for those working in the office, fighting it out for the window seats, is it possible to create the perfect office environment?
Read more in our white paper – Does the Perfect Office Environment Exist?
American Pyscho - AM Pyscho Productions & Paul Warchol Photography