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Cognition

MegaDesk Today. MegaHotDesk Tomorrow.

Assuming you’re at work, it’s very likely you spend more time at the very desk you’re sitting at right now than you do anywhere else. However, if your employer has followed some of the latest trends in office design, you may have more opportunities to break free from that chair. As we in our Philadelphia office prepare to move to a new work space, I can’t help but wonder what the effects will be on the projects I manage.

Even before I joined Happy Cog, I heard rumors of the “MegaDesk.” Visitors all seem to share that “whoa” expression when they first encounter our setup. It’s one 1500 sq. ft. room full of a long, single dual-sided desk (and a little brother version on the opposite wall we call “Lonely Island.”) We fit 20 people in this space. Our CEO Greg Hoy describes its origin:

“MegaDesk spawned from trying to fit too many people and furniture in a single room. Before our current setup, we had traditional desks, and getting to your seat was like a game of Tetris. Plus, the ergonomics were horrible. MegaDesk was intended to use our space more efficiently while improving posture and reducing fatigue.”

Philadelphia Office

Our Philadelphia Office


It works, don’t get me wrong. As a project manager, it gives me a closer connection to members of my team, and I like that they can reach out to one another easily, as well. As Greg said, MegaDesk is also ergonomically correct. We have keyboard trays, monitor arms that move the display closer to you to prevent slouching, and most of the clutter is elevated off the work surface by a rail system. Each person also has a stack of drawers to stash essentials, and the lack of hardwired phones keeps noise manageable.

The best thing about our current setup is the buzz around the room. We really are your stereotypical “big happy family,” and things like announcing the departure of the “Fro-Yo Train,” highlighting the greatest memes of all time, and sharing an audio system create a kind of energy we wouldn’t have if we were more secluded. Earlier this week, Brett announced that the inaugural Digital PM Summit had just sold out, and the room burst into a round of applause. Awesome.

What makes MegaDesk a real challenge is the lack of alternative space. Currently, there are four cushy reception chairs to escape to in another room, and that’s about it. Even those have become an ad hoc meeting space these days. While MegaDesk works well as a “standard” workstation, it’s important to be able to find some room to spread out, stretch your legs, or just retreat to a quiet place for those times you really need to concentrate. When we move to our new office in a few months, MegaDesk will be retired will full honors.

In our Austin office, the setup is a bit different. President Greg Storey explains:

“Our space was designed to have multiple places for people to work and interact aside from their individual desks. We have a living room with comfy seating and a kitchen featuring a huge farm table that is used during lunch, company meetings, and ad hoc work space during baseball games. The two conference rooms were designed to be multipurpose and have also been used to host Girl Develop It sessions and record podcasts and Mijingo courses. The result is that no one is bound to work at the same place throughout the day, which helps a lot during long days.”

Austin Office

Our Austin Office


There is no shortage of “hip” offices that go above and beyond your standard agency foosball table. At Google, you can slide from one floor to another. Pixar has a secret lounge accessible through a crawl space. Our neighbors at Urban Outfitters have things like dog-friendly spaces and putting greens. Infosys has its own bowling alley. Facebook has a video game room. Then there’s this spot for meetings.

While few take things to these extremes, it’s safe to say that most creative companies shy away from the “cubicle” approach in favor of more open and collaborative spaces. I lived the cube life for a while. It was comfortable to have that much personal space, but I felt like I worked in a bit of a hole. I found myself stocking up on the good candy just to get people to stop by.

Of course, everyone’s work style is different, which is why “hot desking” is such a trend. Hot desking, or Activity Based Workstations (ABW), is where employees can choose to work in a variety of work areas. What makes this a great concept is that it helps break up the day, allows for versatility, and enables productivity and collaboration. There are standard desks similar to MegaDesk where you can plug into a monitor and tackle the day. Many companies have standing workstations and meeting spaces that range from standard, conference-room styles to more plush, lounge-style seating.

But, here’s the question: are these spaces really making a difference in the creativity, productivity, and well-being of their employees? Most would agree the answer is yes. However, there are plenty who don’t like the open concept, citing reasons like lack of personal space and increased spreading of germs. Additionally, some argue that it encourages conformity and gives employees a sense they’re being watched.

To make it work, you need to find a good balance of public and personal space. While the versatility of hot desking is appealing, it’s important to remember that we are creatures of habit and need some consistency. We want to start our day in the same space, even if we do drift. We need a home base. Many ABWs are full public spaces that require you to pack up everything and take it with you. Do these open concepts make people too available? As a project manager, followup is a huge part of what I do, but it’s important to respect a person’s space, no matter how open it is. Just because someone is right there doesn’t give you the right to interrupt them throughout the day.

There are also efficiencies to consider. How much time will it take to plug in? I dread the thought of starting every meeting 10 minutes late because it took too long to reconfigure settings or cables from station A to B.

Finally, don’t discount the comfort of knowing your space is your own and the guy with the black lung didn’t cough all over your keyboard.

What’s Next for Happy Cog

Our new Philadelphia office will be ready (fingers crossed) in September. Greg Hoy shares his vision for the new office:

“We’re aiming to fix everything we’ve grown to be annoyed by in our current space in our new one. We’ll be expanding by 3000 sq. ft. We’ll have ample meeting spaces, both walled and informal, and we’ll be completely untethered. All power will come from the ceiling, and all desks will be completely mobile. We can configure and reconfigure as much as we want. We’ll also have whiteboards and tackboards everywhere, and LED mood lighting that changes with the time of day.”

Construction on New Philadelphia Office

Construction on the new Philadelphia Office (That chandelier!)


When asked about how they think the new office will affect productivity and creativity, most here are optimistic. I am too. And most aren’t going to miss MegaDesk.

What’s your work style? Do you crave open space or a space of your own? Share your thoughts with us here and tweet us some photos of your space.

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