Downsize. Slash costs. Work harder. Lessons from the recession don't send your spirits tap-dancing. After revenues and head count fell by a devastating 25% at Chaix & Johnson, an L.A.-based design firm, everyone began wondering whether the business would survive. Not the sort of thinking that leads to a sprightly recovery, decided Scott Kohno, a managing director.

He tried a lot of things to reenergize his 30 employees, but the most effective change was simple: he moved out of his office with its 18-foot ceiling and into the middle of the work floor. "It shocked everybody," recalls Kohno. At first, staffers made a joke out of it by marking imaginary walls on the floor around his desk with masking tape.

Kohno began to notice a remarkable change. His staff contact "is 100 times more frequent. There are a million little discussions that move the company 10 times faster," he explains. "The energy level has totally changed." His own involvement has intensified, too. "It's the difference between being on the basketball floor instead of the bleachers. You see the hysteria, the aggravation, the tension on faces, and you can appreciate it more. You don't see those beads of sweat any other way," contends Kohno.

Now less energy goes into hiding problems and more into solving them. Other benefits: no more closed-door meetings and vying for private offices. The disadvantages? "Well," says Kohno, speaking over the music from a coworker's boom box, "there's a lot of noise." -- Ellyn E. Spragins