My Take

Strategic placement of office toilet? You can take your loo theory and flush it

PUBLISHED : Friday, 18 September, 2015, 2:03am
UPDATED : Friday, 18 September, 2015, 2:03am

Management theories are like fashion trends. Though most have only a short shelf life, the zaniest ideas are no barrier to becoming the trendiest.

I once reported on a leadership retreat for a very large insurance company where co-workers - two by two holding hands - had to walk or run over burning coals. Several didn't show up for work the next day.

The latest fad, apparently, has to do with the location of the office toilet, among other things. Placed strategically, a trip to the loo may encourage chance encounters between colleagues.

This is supposed to encourage creativity, teamwork and exchanges with people from different departments and sections.

It helps break down divisions and compartmentalisation in the office.

According to reports in The Times of London and The Guardian, the late Steve Jobs was big on the idea about "serendipitous and fluid meeting spaces" for Apple workers. So are Facebook and Shutterstock, a photo company.

Personally, going to the loo is an extremely personal and urgent experience.

These are not times I particularly want to talk or share with anyone.

But it's not just the loo. Snack kitchens, roof gardens, wide corridors and centralised staircases can also do the job.

Make them run into each other and creative juices will start to flow. In my experience, such encounters usually mean exchanging gossip and rumours and rarely enhance productivity.

But I gather it's part of a larger universal war on so-called silos. The Silo Effect, a new book by Financial Times' ace journalist Gillian Tett, is an example of this management genre.

Every self-respecting office and company I know of has vowed to break down barriers between workers and between departments.

In my own office, subeditors and reporters - eternal enemies of each other in the newspaper trade - now sit together; so do editors from different sections. The idea is to let them communicate more easily.

A success? The jury is still out.

But widespread silo-busting has also caused something of a backlash, according to some reports. Some workers now use backdoors and stairwells to avoid running into colleagues.

I know the feeling. I love my silo, the tiny corner in the office where no one bothers me.