When Cleveland's original Copy Centers asked its workers to paint their own work areas as a cost-saving measure, former CEO Nancy Vetrone was surprised to find that employees' pride in their handiwork led to their keeping those spaces neater than usual. Now Woodsmith, in Des Moines, confirms a similar effect. The publisher of catalogs and magazines for do-it-yourself carpenters recently upgraded its offices, but rather than bringing in contractors, CEO Donald Peschke asked each of his 35-person staff to do his or her own space.

The idea was not so much to save money as to save time. Peschke estimates it would have taken outside installers a week or more to break down the offices' movable panels and modular furniture and put up new ones. Instead, Woodsmith's amateur staff began disassembling the old offices on a Friday night and by Monday morning had the redone walls and furniture bolted in place.

With guidance from a designer on loan from a local Herman Miller dealer, each occupant designed a layout for his or her allotted area, considering position of computers, location of work surfaces, placement of file cabinets and pinup surfaces, and so on. "Our approach was to get them involved in the design so they'd understand what couldn't be done," Peschke explains. "They accept limitations a lot better that way, instead of the boss saying, 'This is what you're going to live with, like it or not.' " But the best part, adds Peschke, who launched the weekend stint with a communal pizza dinner, "turned out to be the camaraderie it developed."

-- Robert A. Mamis

These purveyors of open-office modular systems offer printed information and phone-in advice: Herman Miller, 800-851-1196; Haworth, 616-393-3000; Steelcase, 800-333-9939; and HON, 319-264-7100.