The Corner Office, the Cubicle, and Starbucks


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The workplace has evolved over the years. At one time, most people worked from their homes as farmers or craftspeople. A few were merchants. Then the industrial revolution changed everything. Many people left their homes and trades to live in and around cities and work in factories of all sorts. In the factories people repeated the same task over and over with many co-workers doing the same thing. People now had a home separate from their place of work. As industrialization matured, there was more and more paper work, administration and ultimately the advent of professional managers.

In the last quarter of the twentieth century, as manufacturing began to recede, information workers came to the forefront with the rapid growth of technology in telecommunications, computers and ultimately the internet. During this period, globalization began to squeeze American companies to be more competitive. Companies consolidated and launched wave after wave of layoffs in both the blue and white collar ranks. Few industries or companies were immune from this trend.

Where does this leave us today in 2006? Today there are fewer office-based white collar workers working for large corporations in the same way that there were fewer craftspeople working out of their homes after the industrial revolution. We have experienced the information revolution and in many ways, the effects have been much more staggering than what occurred in the nineteenth century. This can be seen clearly when viewing the current variety of working environments. Some white collar workers gain the few cherished slots for the executive corner office. Many more are finding themselves spending their mid and late working years typing on a computer and talking on the phone in a cubicle. And an ever increasing number are home-based. Where they work for corporations, small businesses or themselves. They find the kitchen table, the local Starbucks or if they are fortunate, a home office, as their workplace.

Whether one is in the corner office, a cubicle or working from Starbucks, there are a few office “rules” that you should consider.

- The most important tools for every business person are a cell phone, a notebook computer with wireless capability, a legal pad, a pen or pencil and business cards (and yes, you do need access to a printer too from time-to-time).

- Everything else, whether it’s a desk set, bound organizer, clocks, manuals, journals, photos, certificates, Post Its, paper clips, boom box, manila folders (I admit – I have a thing for manila folders; always have) or calculators should be considered ranging from nice to have to useless clutter.

- I have worked with some people who carry almost nothing and those who carry more than enough for an Arctic expedition. I have known executives who have only one piece of paper on their desk at a time. I have also experience co-workers who have mounds of paper, journals, sandwiches, utensils and other materials on their desk always – and yet somehow they seem to function quite well. And I count among my contacts business people who have more framed photos, memorabilia and mugs on their desks than a veteran politician. And finally, there are those I have encountered who believe that anything personal, such as a photo of the wife or kids, in a place of business is offensive – and tend to be quite vocal about it.

The point is this – it does not matter whether you work in an office, a cubicle, the kitchen table or Starbucks, surround yourself with only what you really need to do your job effectively. Everything else is clutter and will keep you from effectively accomplishing your objectives.

I look forward to your thoughts and experiences on this topic.

George F. Franks, III is the founder and CEO of Franks Consulting Group, a Bethesda, Maryland based management consulting and leadership coaching practice. He is a member of the Institute of Management Consultants and the International Coaching Federation. George's web site can be found at: His blog is:


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