In an interview with 99U, Yael Cohen, founder of the rapidly-growing charity F Cancer, told us about her efforts in solving an age-old workplace conundrum: How do you balance the privacy of your employees while still encouraging fluid communication?
Finding the sweet spot between rigid private cubicles and a noisy floor plan can be difficult, so F Cancer decided to make its “default” work mode open while still giving employees the option to seek some quiet time, a hybrid that can work for both types of employees. Cohen also shared insights about hiring and keeping a close-knit team productive:
99U: What is the F Cancer office like?
COHEN: We're all hands-on, this isn't the type of job where you just sit at your desk. Our office is just one open area that we call the bullpen. When visitors walk in, they point to the surrounding rooms and say, "Isn't that a private office?" and I say, "Yeah, but it's the storage closet now." Our offices can look like a war room and many of our launches feel like they belong in a war room.
99U: Do you think that closeness is ever going to go away? How do you maintain that?
COHEN: We are moving offices and we had enough space for people to have their own private offices. But when we asked the team what we should do, everyone said they liked the bullpen set up better. Even if we did have private offices, everyone would end up working at the same damn desk anyway. It's like little kids that you give their own beds and they end up sleeping in one. We created spaces though: the bullpen where the regular desks are, then there’s a room for Skype calls, a room for beanbag chairs and private conversations, a conference room...
99U: The default isn’t privacy. The default is community, and then you can find privacy if you want it.
99U: How do you build that kind of culture?
COHEN: I hire freggin' awesome people. Really good people with great ideas. We collaborate well because Cancer is such a diverse experience. So to sit there with a survivor, a patient, a daughter of a patient ... we all have different views on what we do and we are always bouncing ideas of each other. We love what we do. Cancer is my day in and my day out. But to know that we make it better, that's awesome. We all get excited over what we do. It's a pretty remarkable thing.