When the CEO has no desk… and everybody else does

October 26, 2015, 11:00 AM UTC
Courtesy of Mapbox

Crowdfunding firm Indiegogo has 130 employees in its San Francisco headquarters, and each has his or her own desk. Well, all but one. That lone exception isn’t a part-timer or an intern. It’s the CEO. It’s the latest wrinkle in office design intended to maximize creativity and communication inside a company.

“I want to show I’m available,” says Indiegogo CEO Slava Rubin. “I love to pop in to discussions and hear that unfiltered information.” By leaving his laptop at home, taking walking meetings, and using his iPhone to delegate tasks, he says, he can stay engaged instead of being stuck in his own email.

Certainly it’s not uncommon for top execs to work alongside rank-and-file employees in open-plan offices. What could be called the itinerant CEO is the next step in that evolution, a change facilitated by the ever-increasing mobility of work and streamlining trends, such as storing files in the cloud.

Indiegogo’s Rubin is not alone. Scott Heiferman, CEO of Meetup.com, doesn’t have a desk. Nor do HubSpot (No. 10, 25 Best Medium Workplaces) co-founder and CEO Brian Halligan and COO JD Sherman. (Needless to say, it’s younger enterprises that are leading the way in this approach.)

Even top execs who do have desks don’t automatically claim prime real estate. HubSpot (HUBS) co-founder and CTO Dharmesh Shah does have an assigned space, but he routinely gets kicked out of it if a new hire needs a place to sit. Shah doesn’t mind. “It also helps other parts of the company get to know me a bit,” he says, “so I’m not just some fictional character that writes late-night emails and gets up on stages every now and then.”

It can speed up communication and decision-making, says Eric Gundersen, CEO of Mapbox, a San Francisco startup that powers maps for sites like Foursquare and Pinterest. He usually sets up his laptop to work at a high-top kitchen table. COO Bonnie Bogle chooses different tables depending on what she’s doing, and CTO Young Hahn often works from a couch. “My office is wherever I open my laptop,” Gundersen says.

By floating around the office, he can overhear conversations and string them together to make better decisions. Just weeks ago, Gundersen says, he overheard an employee he happened to be sitting near react to the clarity of a satellite image on his computer screen, exclaiming that he could count the sheep on a hillside in the photo. Because just days earlier Gundersen had sat next to people in sales, he knew that team was courting a big real estate client in New Zealand. He shared that image with the sales team, and within hours the photo hit the company’s blog—and Mapbox landed the Kiwi client. Says Gundersen: “There is a certain level of serendipity you can find by moving around.”

A version of this article appears in the November 1, 2015 issue of Fortune with the headline “The new stand-up management.”

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