Office Space

Whenever I get the opportunity, I always like to take a tour of an orchestra’s office. I’ve been through more than my fair share and can say that no two are alike. Nevertheless, there are some trends worth noticing…

Larger budget organizations will have more uniformity throughout the office with regard to equipment and layout while their smaller budget peers tend to gravitate toward a hodgepodge approach.

You can get a pretty good sense of where an organization is and the ingenuity of their managers by the shape of their office. One of the situations which stands out the most is the office of a middle budget orchestra which looks like the last time anyone put any effort into the actual workplace was in the 1980’s. They have bad carpet, bad curtains, bad furniture, and the variety of office machines resemble an approach that could only be favored by Doctor Frankenstein.

Of course, budgets are always tight and orchestras can rarely enjoy the luxury of enough funds to properly outfit an office. Nevertheless, some of the more clever managers I’ve run across have found some interesting solutions to those problems.

For example, in one orchestra, they were able to take advantage of an unusual gift from a board member of providing the organization with a free building which met their needs and therefore allowed the organization to direct much of the funds they were spending on rent toward office upgrades. The result was a much happier and productive workplace for office employees.

In another location, a manager was eager to show me all of the high quality office furniture they recently acquired. They told me it cost the organization next to nothing because they heard about a large local bank’s plans to move out of their existing building and simply asked them if they could have their furniture. As it turned out, the bank purchased new furniture not long ago but they planned furnish the new offices with different furniture so the orchestra was provided the good fortune to go through the “old” furniture and select what they could use (which was quite a bit). Morale of the story: if you don’t ask, you’ll never get it.

Nevertheless, the lack of creativity or inspiration among some executives continues to astound me. In particular, when I walk into an executive office and am greeted by bad drapes, bad chairs, worn carpet, and a bad computer the first thing to cross my mind is “this person must not care much about the organization because they make a good salary but they obviously won’t use some of that money to update their office”.

Perhaps the fact that I’m self-employed serves as the impetus for that viewpoint but surroundings make a difference and in an organization where musicians are expected to spend thousands of dollars of their own money on instruments then executive managers can spend a fraction of that amount on their own office.

Postscript: For those of you out there who have to work in a cubicle environment and are tired of listening to phone calls in the surrounding cubicles (or eavesdropping co-workers) then look into acquiring a Babble voice privacy machine. It’s one of the cleverest pieces of office technology I’ve seen in a long time.

About Drew McManus

"I hear that every time you show up to work with an orchestra, people get fired." Those were the first words out of an executive's mouth after her board chair introduced us. That executive is now a dear colleague and friend but the day that consulting contract began with her orchestra, she was convinced I was a hatchet-man brought in by the board to clean house.

I understand where the trepidation comes from as a great deal of my consulting and technology provider work for arts organizations involves due diligence, separating fact from fiction, interpreting spin, as well as performance review and oversight. So yes, sometimes that work results in one or two individuals "aggressively embracing career change" but far more often than not, it reinforces and clarifies exactly what works and why.

In short, it doesn't matter if you know where all the bodies are buried if you can't keep your own clients out of the ground, and I'm fortunate enough to say that for more than 15 years, I've done exactly that for groups of all budget size from Qatar to Kathmandu.

For fun, I write a daily blog about the orchestra business, provide a platform for arts insiders to speak their mind, keep track of what people in this business get paid, help write a satirical cartoon about orchestra life, hack the arts, and love a good coffee drink.

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