The worst thing of all (in my opinion) is the fact that the open office culture is simply accepted there as being the best thing for all concerned. It's like a theory that cannot be challenged. The introverts basically don't get listened to, while the extroverts can sing and dance with happiness. This surprised me greatly because anyone who's worked at FB will tell you that it's a hugely data-driven company - lots of people did try a great many times to suggest that we should trial team-sized offices or at least something different to the status quo, even providing studies and statistics to back up their hypotheses, but the requests always fell on deaf ears. I'm not sure it was ever taken seriously as a concern despite numerous articles like this being linked internally and debated ad infinitum. It's a real shame, as the company was a pretty great place to work on most other levels.
Agreed.. this is the most troubling part. If you raise a concern you're brushed off or even worse looked on with suspicion.
If you want the tl;dr, check out this 1982 interview with Whyte about that book:
There were definitely large benefits to the open floor plan back then since we were working on so many things and each person was wearing so many hats. It made staying in touch with people's progress really easy. We were also working 80-100 hours a week back then, so it was good to constantly stay in touch since there was so little structure and process back then.
I have mixed feelings about FB being held up as one of the models for open floor plans today though. While I think it was definitely useful at the time, I think the open floor plan has become less important as tools have gotten better. We didn't have tools like FB Groups, Phabricator, etc, so you had to be within earshot of your collaborators in order to make sure everyone was in sync.
My sweet spot would be team sized rooms if I was starting a company today. I used to be so jealous of teams that had to grab war rooms and ensconce themselves in there with a bunch of laptops and displays. Even though they were working super hard to meet deadlines, they looked happy as can be.
In a previous job we used to find conference rooms that weren't bookable in the system and move into there until someone kicked us out. You can get a ton of work done in a small meeting room with 4-5 devs, when absolutely no one is bothering you.
I was also always hugely jealous of people in war rooms as they seemed to have the perfect balance.
That was the last time I ever had a private office. Funny, it was my must entry level position, right out of school, where I had a private office. Unfortunately the industry trended away from it over time.
Sun did manage open offices well back then, though. There were a number of "drop in" centers that were essentially large open offices. However, Sun ran them carefully. There was a "quiet room" of workstations with no phones, and a general room where people made noise. Occasionally, it would fill up, and someone from sales or another field would figure it was ok to have cell conversations as long as he or she did it in a muted voice. The only thing that saved that room was the office manager, who pretty much had no tolerance for it. If she saw people doing this (and she checked pretty regularly), she'd explain very firmly that the couldn't do it. She didn't care who they were, either, the chain of command really had her back on this.
Unfortunately, open offices rarely work this way. They tend to just chuck everyone into a big room. I don't like earplugs or headphones as a solution, because I don't like it when people can see my back and my screen and I'm unaware that they're standing behind me.
Ultimately, I'd prefer to let the market solve this one. If employees prefer not to work in open offices, or in high tech in general, they can and should choose to work at other companies and/or in other fields. This is, yet again, why I am so opposed to work visas that allow employers to decide what immigrants are allowed to study, what field they're allowed to pursue as a profession, what they are allowed to work on, what work conditions they are allowed to work in, and where they are allowed to live, as a condition of living in the United States. Honestly, I think that if you just gave the workforce basic choice, a lot of this would get sorted out on its own - it's propped up by a system that gives employers monumental power over a large portion of their workforce (if you risk getting deported if you quit your job or try to change fields, you aren't free, and this is reflected in our working conditions).
This isn't a solution. Wearing headphones all day will lead to hearing loss. Especially if you have them turned up to any sort of level needed to block out even light conversation.
- isolate you from external noise
- isolate your co workers from your music (a problem with most alternative designs of headphones)
And if you listen to classical music, you are unlikely to suffer any hearing loss. And I find it to be perfect to focus on something in noisy environment (used them when I wanted to focus on something on a trading floor for years).
"classic music hearing loss" (sorry my phone browser copies google urls as plain text).
As for me, having something in ears is already disturbing, especially for a long time. In my office we came to mostly-silence mode without even negotiating on that. That culture was accepted naturally after quick inter-assimilation. People just respect silence and it is great.
Now everyone is different and I am sure some people find it more comfortable to focus while listening to heavy metal!
I wear my headphones as earplugs on an airplane when I want to sleep, and I can usually keep my volume at 10% of max or less and hear everything crystal clear.
The biggest downside is that my headphones cost $350 and are only available in Europe or Montreal, CA.
But be warned, their customer support is terrible if you don't live in Europe.
They cost more than I paid for my top end AudioTechnica's.
(For a while I thought things like Coffivity were a good idea to restore the ambient noise I was killing out with perpetual headphones...but then I realized what I was doing to myself, and felt kind of ashamed and embarrassed.)
My experience is different. I'm a person who is very sensitive towards noise (even in the classroom writing tests was horror). I personally consider silent environment + good noise canceling headphone (for silencing all the remaining noises that are still there - you are surprised how many there are) as comforting. The static noise that any noise-canceling headphone will produce is the smaller evil here.
> Noise canceling headphones are much more effective on constant noise like an airplane engine than transient noises like speech or phones ringing.
Also my experience. They decrease the noise of speech and phones rining, but that's it.
From my experience, situation is rendered worse when management people are in the mix: then you have to observe the subtle communication tricks of small power politics, which seem to favor those who think loudly.
Not to mention non-IT guys are usually ignorant of the huge cost of context switching for programmers.
As I do no see myself explaining that I am an introvert who needs calm, the only hope is to see my side project allowing me to earn enough money to escape this nightmare.
My team at my present job works in an open setting with 8 people in the room and windows with natural daylight. It's quiet enough to focus but gives us the opportunity for interaction also. I think that team-sized rooms are a good compromise between a completely open and completely secluded workspace.
Maybe this seems melodramatic, but sitting for 8+ hours in a small room with no natural lighting reminds me too much of high school. I was really unhappy during high school, and I honestly believe a lot of it was just the physical environment. If I can avoid it, I will. I still have that same seat described above next to huge windows and every day I'm so happy to come in and just bask in the sun's glory. Even if it's a cloudy or rainy day it's just great.
We liked to joke it was a near equivalent to a Vegas Casino for mathematicians.
Some director of another division found out about it and literally had facilities remove the desks and put high cubes in so that we wouldn't have more window than him.
This is why office buildings in most of Western Europe aren't as massive and square as in countries like the US.
I really think natural light should be required for all. I went to a high school in Texas literally modeled after a prison. No windows, no natural light anywhere in the entire building. Built in 1979. What is wrong with these people?
I took my SATs at a high school classroom with a huge windows looking out to a forest setting... It was incredible
Speaking of forests -- I think schools are overly concerned with controlling the environment kids learn in. I personally think that letting the mind wander for short periods helps your mental stamina recover.
Is it possible that you were really really tired? That schedule sounds insane to me. Unless you're very high north, I guess.
It could also work for much of Europe, but we probably wouldn't use the word "sophomore", and I've never seen or heard of a school with no windows. I doubt it is allowed.
(For example, the UK requirements for a school building state "giving priority to daylight in all teaching spaces, circulation, staff offices and social
areas" and "providing adequate views to the outside or into the distance to ensure visual comfort and help avoid eye strain" )
That's not an insane schedule. It's a bit longer than regular day, unless you're in London or north.
I had a similar one when I was at CS school, one of our dorm room-mates was always covering the room's window with paper and stuff like that in order to not let the morning sun in. It drove me crazy. Being younger and more impulsive of course that I told him that what he was doing was bothering me. Not sure what the end-result was (this happened ~15 years ago), only that it created a tense atmosphere between me and said room-mate for the remaining of the school year. I'd imagine bringing that additional stress into an work-like environment it's not for the best.
If we can't even film with artificial lighting and get away with it, what makes people think we can live under artificial lighting conditions for the majority of our working life ? It's madness.
Now I'm having 5 big windows in my room, from 3 sides :)
Working from home as contractor.
1) something to do with concrete still bleeding oil even if sealed so smell wouldn't get to us.
I worked in a room with just my team and it worked out great. We were able to have discussions and draw stuff on white boards on the wall without distracting anyone else. It also helped with team bonding.
Yes, people do use it for those conversations, but you have to walk past all the business/marketing/sales people and your boss(s). Outside the office is a place to confide - where an "official" meeting or neutral meeting room is a place that puts everyone on the defensive, more so than anywhere else.
The idea put forth by Mark Cuban that "there should be no secrets at a startup" is extremely unfounded in my opinion - unpopular opinions or contrary positions frequently only flow in privacy as to not cause embarrassment or hostility.
In an open room where half a dozen or so people sit, if two people stand up, walk into a conference room, and shut the door, that's weird and curious.
Personally, I've been very happy with the environment. It helps that the open part of the office is bright, quiet and pretty sparsely populate.
This also happens all the time, thus not weird. (or people don't talk ...)
Why don't you introduce the rule that entering another office is only allowed for scheduled appointments and emergency cases (life is in danger or the production server crashed).
There were things I liked at that company (mostly the people), but everything about the way the offices were set up had me on edge all the time. No private meeting space, not a single person had their back to a wall, people were thrown into offices at random with no regard to who was on what team...
After I got laid off, I landed at a place where I work in a cube farm, and it's so much less stressful.
I hope your leaving was voluntary, though... if it was, then congrats on the new job!
(and, yeah, I figured out who you are from the about section on your profile... I used to sit right behind you)
That's a barrier compared to just chatting at someone's desk. Or the developer doesn't want to move their laptop, so they'd rather stay at their desk that go to the meeting room.
That leads to too many conversations in the open plan office.
If you put everyone in a private office and default conversations to email lists / group chat (which is the model that basically the entire open source community uses), that's fine. If you have an open floor plan where it's easy to wander over to another team's area, that's also fine. But making it super easy for your own team to talk without other people hearing seems the worst of both worlds; you have all the distraction problems of open floor plans (every conversation concerns you), and you don't get the organic conversations that open floor plans are supposed to promote.
On one hand I totally agree with you. On the other hand Conways law exist for a reason.
I see no reason why this shouldn't be another case of "[...] these ought you to have done, and not to leave the other undone."
However, lots of in-person offices like these serendipitous conversations, and that's often pitched as an advantage of open plan layouts. That's also pitched as an advantage of getting lunch together, team outings, etc. etc. If you're going to decide to use this advantage (which I think is okay, but suboptimal), you had better put some systems engineering thought into how you want to use this advantage.
Abstraction layers around teams sounds like a good thing, as long as they abstraction layers make sense.
My rebuttal to this point is the amount of time my previous co-workers would spend discussing lawn care strategies.
Overall though, I agree with you. Team sized rooms are a livable compromise, and have some nice upsides while tamping down the downsides of a fully open office.
I'm really distraction and noise sensitive so I really prefer working from home when there's code to be written.
The "key person" is really a key figure and his opinion is valued for a lot of different things, so he's talking a lot to different people. But almost none of it concerns me.
Even if I worked together with the guys I sit next to, I'd prefer that there was a door between me and them. I prefer to work in silence and uninterrupted and if my opinion is required I'd rather work it out before/after lunch or schedule a time slot for it.
But the big thing, I think -- Put a wall between the hallway and the work area. Too many irrelevant people have irrelevant conversations when they're walking by and it's distracting.
No, individual areas are the way to go.
Team rooms are still better than cramming people side by side row after row.
I'd rather have either a cube farm or a two-person office with both our backs to the wall. I like my privacy.
1) four to six desk offices - quite enjoyable, peaceful, reasonably sociable at appropriate times and lots of natural light. The occupants were always developers or sysadmins who know the value of a bit of peace and quiet.
2) ten to sixteen desk open plan offices - not terrible because the occupants were almost entirely developers plus or minus a few sysadmins. Meetings were always held in an adjoining dedicated meeting rooms. Again quite peaceful, reasonably sociable and again both these places had plenty of natural lighting. Letting developers have a peaceful environment was respected and project management and sales folks were located in the next set of offices along the way so they could yell and shout over the phone in their own bubble.
3) Massive open plan 30-40+ desks (a bank) - bloody awful depending on where you were allocated a seat. Space was also used hyper efficiently so no four desk pods or the like. Just rows and rows of tables. Several different teams were packed into an entire floor, the noise was quite distracting and was like working in a barn. Would never do this again.
Ideally I like working in my own dedicated office space, but if I had to go back to working in an office again then options 1 & 2 above wouldn't be terrible provided phone calls and arsing about were kept to a minimum. However anything larger than that would be a turn off for me now.
That said I've never worked in a cubicle farm, that might not be too terrible for me provided I could see daylight.
These Facebook type "fun" open plan offices are a total turn off for me, but that's probably an age thing. Perhaps if I was in my 20's again it might be ok for a while. But then I've never had a desire to work for Facebook, Google et al.
I use sox to generate audio. It is available for win/Mac/Linux. I set it for 90 minutes of brown noise which gives me a reminder to get up and walk around when it ends. I believe it can generate white or pink noise if you prefer.
>play -n synth 90:00 brownnoise brownnoise
I find a second row of monitors helps for this.
| | | |
X - me
O - other people,
DDD - doors.
I consider myself an introvert too, even though a lot of people in my Hackerspace are utterly convinced I'm one of the more extroverted people they know. All because I can hold a conversation and like doing public talks every now and then.
The best description of introvert / extrovert thing I found is that comic strip - http://imgur.com/76HUN. Being an introvert, social interactions cost me energy instead of giving it, and that's why it's easy to deliver public talks when you feel like it, while at the same time avoiding people for most of the day.
A private office with your team of 4-5 people seems ideal. You don't get the interruptions and noise of open floor plans, or even cubicles. You're also not alone and isolated all day. Your team is right around you to discuss any issues. It also helps build team cohesion. It is the best setup in most cases I've seen.
I've worked in open offices where I have to concentrate, but it is like Grand Central Station. Putting on earphones doesn't help much. So the work I was supposed to do gets pushed off to tomorrow, and then the day after tomorrow.
The aural equivalent (https://rainymood.com/) certainly works for me.
Natural light is around 100K lux. That is crazily expensive to generate.
(I sit next to a window atm. It's a bit annoying when the sun shows up after lunch)
Rotating employees through different workgroups helps build stronger overall team cohesion. Gives people a chance to mix and match.
I'm more than happy to sacrifice some of my productivity for the sake of feeling more connected to my team, more light, and a general sense of freedom.
If my employer agrees, and is willing to tolerate this productivity decrease (as apparently most employers are), then this is a mutually beneficial arrangement!
These devs complaining about open floor offices think that the alternative is every company springing for private offices with optional team areas. It's NOT. Most companies can't and won't afford this. The alternative that most of us would be facing is rows and rows of dimly lit cubicles, as was the convention in the 90's.
Productivity is a side effect of good employees working in a good environment. Programmers aren't satisfied because they're productive; they're productive because they're satisfied.
I'm much more satisfied with light and space, at the expense of noise and productivity.
It was fantastic.
Now, I'm at FB... and I wouldn't work on a team in the new "warehouse" building. It's terrible over there, frankly.
Open offices are horrible for productivity imo. Moved to a job with an office and it is so. much. better.
To top that off, he used to talk to people across the office using a megaphone. I was over 100 feet away from him, and people I was on the phone with would ask me what was going on, "Is everything all right over there? Is somebody swearing?"
"Yeah, uh, that's just our CEO."
I don't work there anymore.
My productivity fell off a cliff at my new job when I got promoted and moved to a "nicer" desk. The desk probably has three times as much area as my old desk, but my old desk was in the back corner of an office that was split in half with a partition. I could work for hours without being interrupted. Now I'm in a cubicle right by a door, and I'm interrupted several times per hour. I think open offices just feel more productive -- more than one coworker has mentioned how great it is that they can drop by now without feeling like they are interrupting me.
That said, they're a disaster for productivity.
Also, market inefficiency works here too, I think - it can take years before a company tanks. So productivity drop can go unnoticed forever (even when a company fails, there will be enough other factors to blame). Not to mention that marketing can successfully paper over all kinds of crap; mediocre is the standard in our industry.
Which is how it should be, even with open offices.
joel used to (still does?) host a job board that used Joel Test as a factor. Maybe it died when StackOverflow launched.
Also, the exact wording for the office part of the test is "Do programmers have quiet working conditions?" This usually means that working conditions might possibly be quiet if nobody else happened to be in the office at the same time as you. While many claim quiet working conditions, I've never seen one that actually provided private offices.
This is anecdotal of course, and just based on looking at photographs they've included on their website or Stack Overflow page, but every job I've viewed recently appears to have an open plan office. In some of the photos you even see people standing around having impromptu meetings in the middle of a group of desks where others are trying to work.
Remember this is just the companies that are actually claiming to provide programmers with quiet working conditions. I can't imagine what the noisy ones are like.
As a counterpoint though, another office also went for industrial design, but they did it stylishly - just one visible aircon pipe, and instead of raw concrete, they sprayed it with a kind of foam or fiber that absorbs a lot of sound, in a somewhat dark color. That office has a beer tap, too.
Individual productivity or team productivity? If you are optimizing for individual productivity - you could be hitting a local maxima...
I do say the above in half-jest: I would love to see any research done in this area. When I was a new joiner, it was convenient to swivel around/walk across the room and talk to someone. Sure, it sucks now that I'm an old hand and noobs keep taking me out of the zone. In addition, it is sometimes beneficial to listen in on ambient conversations (while waiting for compilation or taking a break), sometimes I even chip in when I have a contribution (roughly once a month). I'd like to think this saves my colleagues time. However, I work in a medium sized room (which houses 18 desks), so YMMV.
Forum discussions like this one seem to be all about individual productivity. In my experience, open offices are really great for ad hoc collaboration and conversation. To combat interruptions, individual developers can easily take steps to not be interrupted when they are doing something that can't be interrupted. But tbh I don't spend 8 hours a day in such a way that I should never be interrupted as a rule. If anything, I like that my teammates feel comfortable to walk over to my desk (or, more commonly, IM me "are you free?" and then walk over) and talk as a default. A lot is gained when people are quick to ask others when they are stuck since that's often the quickest solution to getting unblocked.
This is orthogonal to the office layout, though.
It's something that was a financial necessity in expensive real estate, like Manhattan, FinDi in SF, etc. and someone got the idea to transplant that into suburban offices.
To add, I think it makes sense for a lean startup or a company going through a rough reorg, but once you're mature or overcome financial difficulties, it's not necessarily a good permanent layout.
The other reason I think they are used is that they are cheap to reconfigure, you can usually shove more desks in to accommodate more head count and move groups around in order to try to reclaim the ever-shrinking space.
I have worked at startup where my group was moved every few months for some reason. Often times the layout seems to lack any alignment with job requirements.
For instances developers being place right next to marketing folks who spend a lot of time talking on the phone because that's what their job entails.
You know, if a prospective employer was straight up with me about that, I'd give it serious consideration. I can understand that not every company can afford an endless supply of private offices in urban areas (although obviously this is not the case with companies like FB).
What bugs me the most about the open office fetish is how it causes productivity to plummet for most developers, at the same time the leadership is spouting off on how great it is for productivity. I mean, as that goofy reality judge said, don't piss on my shoes and tell me it's raining.
A measly additional 60 square feet of floor space, 10-20 grand in construction costs, and the same desk/chairs, amortized over 5 or so years.
Even building separate rooms for groups of programmers would provide for great gains at low costs.
"Most employees have a private office; some share one with a colleague."
* Are usually cheaper
* Look good in photo ops and publicity: "Look how much everyone is working together _all the time_. So much activity happening! We are not like those places with loners and antisocial people hiding in cubicles"
* Cubicles were used to be associated with boring, slow bureaucratic offices.
Those 4 things conspire to make them more popular. I think it is simpler a function of them being cheaper in general and everything else is just justification. But in case Facebook, can't imagine they don't have the money...
Well I am glad this is changing though. There seems to be a backlash against open offices lately.
Honestly, I'd rather work in a "boring, slow bureaucratic office" than at some hip modern startup. The "boring, slow bureaucratic office" probably takes better care of their employees and offers a less-stressful work environment.
It arguably worked well for prison power structure too with regards to rehabilitation, until gang infiltration in the late 1960's changed the power status quo.
Not at all - Foucault looked at discipline in the sense of humans being molded to become skilled and efficient at work - observing everything from monks to boarding schools in an effort to analyze power structures for discipline.
With panopticon, the power model is the all seeing eye, which is necessary to scale to so many prison inmates. With the open office structure, the power structure is more with your work peers, which is more similar to the group/tribal type of power structure.
That's why you never date your co-worker. And if you couldn't help it and fell in love then you should quit your job first and ask him/her on date later.
Other people at the cafe, I don't care what they're talking about. And it's away from home where I might have other distractions.
If you could train coworkers to respect the explicit and implicit signals that people give off when working and concentrating on something and use some fucking etiquette like keeping the shouting to a minimum or taking long conversations elsewhere, this wouldn't be a problem.
I expect the cafe is more akin to white noise, not the sort of conversations you'd hear in a dev open office. Sometimes when you overhear some devs talking you can't help get sucked into the conversation. Especially when they are wrong.
I much prefer the library setting where you're expected to be quiet and there is little movement around you.
I've been through the full gambit: single office; shared office; cube; back to shared office; open office.
My favorite is definitely open office, because it's simply more social.
"It's a magnificent idea. FOR EVERYONE ELSE, NOT ME."
I've been to the AWS headquarters in Seattle and I think that's what their setup is like but I didn't get too much of a chance to look around.
I've worked on systems administrations teams that had their own office and being able to close the door was awesome.
So many open office plans leave enough floor space for walls and hallways; they just don't put them in place.
A much nicer setup IMO than Google which had a fairly haphazard cube farm resulting in distance from a window being basically luck of the draw.
Offices. Team Rooms. Decent cubicles.
Microsoft has offices for developers. Even they are somewhat jumping on the Open Office bandwagon (or team rooms).
> One does not have to be an especially perceptive critic to realize that AO II is definitely not a system which produces an environment gratifying for people in general. But it is admirable for planners looking for ways of cramming in a maximum number of bodies, for "employees" (as against individuals), for "personnel," corporate zombies, the walking dead, the silent majority. A large market.
– George Nelson
Unfortunately I love everything else about my job so I'm disinclined to move on.
I've had this situation in the past a few times and to some degree today. If we have to have open office plans then at least take some effort into grouping "talkers" together away from "heads down" people.
Is that so hard? There's no real economic argument, as it's just putting some thought into where people sit. There's no collaboration argument, because people on the same team would site together. Etc. From the reactions when I've brought it up, that's a completely unreasonable request. The whole idea than anyone's productivity might benefit from a quiet work environment seems to make management/HR upset.
The problem with the sales person is that there are room set aside for making phone calls (whether personal or business) and there are always some available, but apparently that is entirely too unreasonable to expect someone with a laptop to go find a room instead of letting everyone in a 30 foot radius listen in on the call.
Few years ago my company switched to an open office layout. There was a temporary arrangement issue, so I had to sit in the sales section of the floor for a few weeks. I don't think I accomplished a single thing the entire time I was there. Constant phone calls, loud talking across multiple rows of desks. It was like that scene in the movie Wall Street. The guy behind me was incapable of properly using a keyboard. He would mash the keys down as if he was angry at them. Never heard such noise from squishy dome keys before. Jesus.
Of course these are mostly people who haven't had much experience working in office environments except possibly an internship or part-time work. Facebook might face some challenges recruiting experienced devs who know what kind of environment suits them, but anecdotally I don't see it at the junior level.
Exactly. I didn't think an open floor plan was such a bad idea until I started working full-time in one. I can't stand it.
Early in your career, the best thing for you to do is to acquire knowledge -- not raw output. The open office allows for knowledge sharing and eavesdropping in ways closed offices do not. However, as you progress you require less 1:1 time with people and can work independently given a set of goals and general architecture. This requires less face time and more coding time.
Like you say, a bunch of people who have never worked in an open plan office obviously won't complain about it, nor will they realize it's something they should filter by.
They haven't experienced the problem yet.
Take renting a flat. I now know to avoid everywhere with storage heaters, just like I avoid places with single glazing and I also now know I should check the shower water pressure.
I didn't magically know these things before.
There are plenty of people who are biased about things (like an open office environment) they haven't personally experienced, yet hold their bias based on hearing about the experiences of others.
I've never been in an airplane crash, and I'm pretty sure I never want to be in an airplane crash. I don't need to personally have that experience to have a bias against it.
If you didn't know about storage heaters or single glazing before renting a flat, there are probably a number of ways you could have discovered those things without having to experience them directly. It certainly wouldn't require "magic" as you say.
If a bias against open offices is happening, it doesn't seem to be impacting our newest industry entrants yet.