How to Choose the Best Office

How to Choose the Best Office | CorporetteIf you could pick any office, which would you choose? What factors would help you choose the best office? Reader C wonders…

I’m thrilled to have accepted a new job! I’m an attorney in my late 20s making a lateral move to a mid-size boutique firm after five years with my current shop. Of all the things on my to do list, one is really stumping me.

In discussion with the office manager of my new firm-to-be, we arranged a day for me to come by in a week to deal with paperwork, etc. before I start. She told me I could pick my office that day, so it could be set up for me. I said, “Great!” Then I hung up the phone and thought, “What?”

Other than the obviously draw of bigger + more light — what should I think about or ask when I get to choose my own office? As a luxury I didn’t have at my first job out of law school, it feels like an opportunity that might (but not necessarily will) be seen as a strategic choice. There will be associates both senior and junior to me, and I’d hate to unwittingly end up in territory typically reserved for interns (especially because I look so young). Am I overthinking this?

Aaah, the pressure — I feel for you, Reader C. We’ve talked about whether location or size matters for offices, as well as how to decorate your first office, and what to keep in your desk, but we haven’t explicitly talked about this. Some considerations:

  • Who will you be working with, and where are they located? You may not know the answer to this (or the answer may be, “everyone!”), in which case, skip to the next question. If, however, you have a specific practice area or niche, there may be at least one or two likely people who you’ll be working with all the time. I would suggest discreetly finding out where their offices are before you go. This gives you more information; the next part of the question is whether you want to be near them, or far from them. Speaking as an introvert who hates to be bugged in the middle of a thought, I’d rather be a half a hallway away from someone I work with often rather than right next door — but being on another floor would feel like I was “hiding” in my office.
  • If you want to make partner at the firm, who will advance your career? Finding sponsors and mentors is only part of the game — the other part is making a name for yourself with the actual decision makers. At my old firm there was a very small Executive Committee that ultimately made hiring/firing decisions, even though there were 70+ partners. If I were trying to make partner, I’d try to choose an office somewhere visible to a member of that committee, and use it as an easy way to get to know him or her.

Of course, visibility has its pluses and its minuses — if you are punctuality challenged and tend to arrive late, or hope to leave on the “early” side a lot (even if you plan to work from home), you may want an office in a less visible location (and then just try to make yourself visible and known to the Powers That Be otherwise in the course of your day). After factoring in these job considerations, I’d ask myself the major questions — which direction does the building face; do you want morning or afternoon light; does one office smell (or is it located somewhere potentially smelly, such as near the kitchen); can you immediately tell that one office is located next to a screamer — and so forth. If you see five offices and one of them is much, much bigger than the rest and vacant, I would wonder what the catch was, to be honest. Finally, I’d ask myself what I needed to reuse pieces of existing decor I already owned — if you have a huge painting, you need a large blank wall. If you have a couch, you need a long wall not near a filing cabinet — etc., etc.

Readers, how about you — if you could choose any office, which would you choose? What factors would you consider?

Pictured: New office, originally uploaded to Flickr by Michael Kumm.   


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  1. Choose the one that is most centrally located and/or closest to the higher-ups. I had a choice between a huge office with multiple windows that was isolated from the rest of the office, or a small one with just one window that was smack in the middle of everything and I do not at all regret choosing the latter. Just being able to overhear and join in hallway conversations, being able to see my coworkers several times a day and have spontaneous conversations, has been a huge benefit. That said, if you don’t get your own printer in your office, also try to chose one that’s closest to the printer.

    • +1. I started off in an office tucked away. It was recommended to me because it was quiet. Turns out I don’t like quiet. When the opportunity arose a year or two later I switched to the most centrally located office on my floor, which most people cautioned me about because the noise, and I love it.

      • knittinglawfin :

        I had the opposite experience–my first year in this office i was central, right across from the lunch room, and totally unproductive due to the distraction of constant traffic. Know yourself, know what works best for you. I’ve moved down the hall (really, about 6 office down) and am getting far more accomplished.

  2. As for near to people or far from people: if you’re an introvert, you might lean towards an office that is quieter (but still allows some interaction).

    Temperature. Find one that has good climate control.

  3. Anonymous :

    Definitely agree to try to be near people you will work with and/or near people who’s job you’d want down the road.

    We don’t usually change furniture out, so I’d pay attention to arrangement. I hate having my back to the door, for example.

    If choosing between two equally good windowed offices, I’d go with eastern-facing over western-facing to avoid afternoon glare and greenhouse effect.

    I’d listen for ambient noises, which may be a pro or con depending on your temperament and the specific sounds.

  4. Proximity to the toilet. My old office was great, except that I could hear everything happening in the men’s toilets, from awkward conversations to zipper pulls.

    • +1000. I have an office far from the ladies room and more than once, I didn’t quite make it. It was very embarrassing.

      • I think office location is not the primary problem here.

      • Hug’s. It is important to be close enough for your issues, but it can be a problem if others are using it all the time like Frank did in our old office. He used to stink up the toilet while we waited to use it, and when he finally got out, we had to air the place out for 20 minutes. FOOEY!

        Now, we go down the hall to seperate toilets, so he can stink it up all he want’s b/c I use the ladie’s room across the hall. YAY!!!!!

  5. lawsuited :

    Your first priority should be being close to your boss. This is invaluable because you know when they’re in their office, what kind of day they’re having, etc. which can improve your access and relationship with them.

    After that, proximity to the bathroom and temperature control are neck-and-neck in my book. I could not care less about my view or the size of my office.

  6. Shopping challenged :

    “discreetly finding out where their offices are before you go”.
    I don’t think you need to worry about being discrete with these things, as long as you aren’t saying you want to be far away from x because they irritate you. But wanting to be near people who you work with, needing to be able to concentrate, or to jump right into what’s going on are all perfectly normal, acceptable things. Why hide them?
    My favorite office was in the stairwell. It was big & had a sink in it. I left the door open to say hi to colleagues as they came in, they went through the steel door to the rest of the offices, and I shut my door and happily curled up to work, made myself tea, whatever I wanted in my own little world.

  7. Just not across the hall from the copier. The number of times at my prior office that I fielded the slow, awkward, “….Hey…. do you know how this thing works?”

  8. A nice office out of the way can also look like you are confident enough to not feel like you have to be near someone else. I would consider noise levels, bathroom locations, climate control and then choose where I wanted to spend most of my life. You will find good and bad about everything. Pleasant, quiet surroundings help make the best of the inevitable ups and downs.

  9. Anonymous Associate :

    I don’t see why, as an attorney, you need to be close to those partners who will be supervising you. If you like the idea of being close, cool. If it isn’t your cup of tea, don’t sweat it and do what seems right. Attorneys communicate a LOT by phone and email, even if just down the hall. I would think convenience trumps being close.

    Other factors:
    -Climate is important. Choose the warm (or cold) side of the building, depending on your preferences. Do you want morning or afternoon sun?
    -View can be a deciding factor if there are different views from different sides of the building (city view vs. ocean vs. mountain etc.)
    -Proximity to coffee room and ladies room.
    -Proximity to elevator/stairs if your office is multi-floored.

  10. I disagree with most people here. As a new associate (even a lateral), out of sight is often out of mind. You want to be in a place where you get foot traffic by your office, where people stop in and say hi and tell you about what they’re working on, and where they can see that you’re in the office and engaged.

    I’ve seen more than one associate choose a quiet, isolated office and end up marginalized–in part, I think, because the type of person who chooses that office has a tendency to isolate themselves already and that’s worth fighting against, but also because spontaneous office interactions really are pretty important. Especially in a law firm where work may not come through official hierarchies the way it does in some organizations.

  11. And another thing :

    Another factor to consider is how far you are from your assistant — particularly if your more senior. Not only does it make day to day work easier — she (or he) can then run point for you if you’re out of the office and someone stops by I’ve been halfway across the office from mine, and it sucks for both of us.

    Also keep an ear out for noise levels –not just from the other offices, but if it looks likely that people will congregate near your door and chat — near the coffee maker or candy bowl, for example.

  12. Magdeline :

    I would just choose the nicest one, unless it REALLY seemed far away from everyone else/isolated. I highly doubt that the nicest one will be an office normally designated for interns. I also don’t think that a mid-size boutique law firm is going to have such a large office that some offices will be totally isolated from others, unless there’s really a strange floor plan.

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