The ritual of choosing your next office


The joke at Microsoft is "Don't like your office? Don't worry. You'll be moved to a different one soon." It's not actually that bad, at least not in my experience, but the joke still stands.

When a team moves to a new building, there is the question of who gets which office. And this is one of the few things at Microsoft that is done purely by seniority: The best offices go to people who have been at Microsoft the longest.¹

Different teams manage things differently. The most free-for-all method is simply to give everybody a time slot, and at the appointed time, you come in, look at the available offices, and pick yours. Subject to constraints like, "All the people who work on the X component should be in this area of the building."

More commonly, the manager of the team that is moving sits down and decides where everybody will get moved to, taking seniority into account, so that more senior people tend to get better offices.

I heard of one manager who augmented the standard pattern: After everybody was given their office assignments, she said, "Okay, anybody can swap offices by mutual agreement. You can make side deals if you want. If you want my office, make me an offer."

I don't know whether anybody tried to swap for her office, or what they offered to sweeten the deal.

¹ Of course, senior executives will pull rank and claim the best offices for themselves, using excuses like "I need an office large enough to have a meeting table," or "My doctor says that I have to have a nice view of Mount Rainier."

Comments (14)
  1. 12BitSlab says:

    Back in the 70's and 80's, sales people for IBM were very used to being transferred to new cities.  It became so commonplace that the inside joke was that IBM stood for "I've Been Moved."  

    Of course, the field fixit engineers said that IBM stood for "Incredibly Big Machine."

  2. Leonardo Herrera says:

    Went to see the link to that "one manager." Nice page, but the phrase "after the scientists" made me want to throw a brick at the editor.

  3. marco borgna says:

    We use a dice :)

  4. boogaloo says:

    Open plan offices are more normal for me & I try to make sure that everybody has a desk they are comfortable with.

    Normally this means the people face the door and the middle of the room, so you can't sneak up on them.

    A lot of managers will lie to justify why the desks need to face the walls but it's only so they can monitor you.

  5. Andy Pennell says:

    This is no longer the case in many divisions (eg C+E). The insane change to "WPA" (ie open offices) means seniority counts for literally nothing. And yes, I am bitter and twisted about this as a 20yr veteran at MS.

  6. WvR says:

    @boogaloo: Ooooh yes. And from there on it's an all-win situation for the manager: "Can't I switch the desk so it faces the door?" "Why? You have something to hide?" "No, but I don't like people silently sneaking up on me, it feels like I'm being monitored" "Well, rest assured you're not being monitored, but since you have nothing to hide, why would you even care?". I most likely didn't invent that line of reasoning, but I used it, and I look back upon it with shame. It was my first managerial position. Too young and too green in the managerial aspects of the job. I've come a long way since then. And most likely^H^H^H^H^H^H hopefully still a long way to go too :)

  7. pete.d says:

    "that is done purely by seniority" -- in theory.

    In practice, it turns out if you are in a small group (i.e. where the offices are not allocated by role: dev, test, PM, etc.) with a manager who cares about all the wrong things, that you may well have your office choice rejected by said manager, on the grounds that you are "too far" from the other devs.

    This was 20 years ago, and was frankly a serious anomaly then. But I'm sure things at Microsoft haven't gotten _better_ in the intervening years.

    [At least in my division, the assignment of offices to groups is mindful of seniority, so a group with many senior people will get placed in an area of the building which has a lot of nice offices. -Raymond]
  8. Joshua says:

    Ah yes this is where office politics brings out the worst in people.

  9. sad man says:

    You have proper offices, not just a farm of desks in a huge hall, like the open space bullshit religion promotes?

  10. Joe says:

    A few years ago, the company I was at moved to a new building. "My" new cubicle seated four of us, though they sometimes squeezed in five. Turns out they never hooked up the power, so I moved myself into a tiny 4x8 cubicle off to the side. I loved it. Ironically, at my current company we are about to move to a giant room with no cubicles; just desks on rollers.

  11. "If you want my office, make me an offer."

    One of the antagonists of a Wii video game called HAWX contributes to this sentence: "I'd add 'if you can', but you can't."

  12. cheong00 says:

    @WvR: That's enough for me to submit my resignation unless they pay really big money to me.

  13. stuaxo says:

    Off Topic - but contact is disabled:  Raymond, in NT 3.51 file manager had long filenames*, and program manager could have groups within groups.   It seems like later NT based Windows got the versions from Windows 9x, is this what happened, and why ?

    *This version runs fine in other windows too, I haven't tried progman.exe.

  14. 640k says:

    According to medical studies, sittings with your back against other people will increase your stress level.

    Long time, increased stress level => shorter lifespan. It's undisputed.

    How much is a few years of additional life expectancy worth to you? Nothing?

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