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Is Facebook’s Massive Open Office Scaring Away Developers? (calnewport.com)
426 points by gammarator on Oct 10, 2016 | hide | past | web | favorite | 460 comments

I used to work at FB and the huge, open offices were one of my least favourite parts about the job. I worked in the London office for a year and that was actually a little better because it's smaller and generally quieter there, but the three years that I did in the Menlo Park offices were not particularly fun for all the reasons described. It's very difficult to concentrate when there's constant background noise. Mercifully, all the teams I worked with were based in the old Sun campus rather than the new warehouse style Gehry building across the road - I'm told that the noise and general foot traffic in the new offices was at times completely unbearable. There were a huge number of pot plants, whiteboards and other makeshift obstacles used to try and block paths between desks there, both to block out noise and to channel foot traffic away from groups of people fed up with being disturbed.

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.

> 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.

Agreed.. this is the most troubling part. If you raise a concern you're brushed off or even worse looked on with suspicion.

It doesn't even have anything to do with introverts or extroverts. Open floor plan offices annihilate productivity of both groups. Human beings, especially when doing mental work, can not cope with distraction. Period. It's just like how human beings can not multitask. These are limitations to the human animal which are supported by decades of research. The research on open floor plan offices isn't even a tough call. There are over a thousand different studies, all concluding the exact same things - open floor plan offices are total poison. I'm sure in 50 years we'll look back on today and be flabbergasted at what we did to people, like looking at an old work site filled with asbestos fibers drifting about and lead paint chips flaking off the walls.

Check out William H. Whyte's The Organization Man, a 1956 book describing American society's turn towards valuing the group and togetherness for its own sake.

If you want the tl;dr, check out this 1982 interview with Whyte about that book:


I joined FB in 2006 and had never been in an open office environment before. It was quite an adjustment. I didn't like working in the office until I had been there for about six months. The office on University Ave was packed tight and didn't have a lot of creature comforts--it was cheap desks arranged in groups of four, some conference rooms, a break room with snacks, and that's it. And I had come from a cubicle farm at Apple.

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.

> "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"

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.

Collaboration has definitely got a lot better than it was years ago; FB has probably managed it better than anywhere I've worked before. The amount of money and effort they've invested into video conferencing facilities is huge because it really is such an important factor. This is why it always baffled me that they didn't treat remote working as a first class citizen, especially given the crazy prices of real estate in the Bay Area.

I was also always hugely jealous of people in war rooms as they seemed to have the perfect balance.

I used to work at the Sun offices. Back then, everyone actually got an office. I shared mine as an intern for a while, which I actually kind of preferred, since we were both pretty quiet and good at recognizing when we needed to focus vs talk. I was hired on, he went back to school, so I had a private office after that, which was the norm.

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).

did you mean potted plants, rather than pot plants?

In the UK, the phrase "pot plant" means "plant in a pot"; no cannabis implied unless the context specifically demands it.

Haha, thank you. My heritage is clearly given away by my phraseology :)

I'm pretty sure they meant pot plants. It's a plant, but that's in a pot, not in the ground.

In California (and likely the rest of US but I don't know), "Pot plants" exclusively refers to Marijuana in its plant form. "Potted plants" is what we call what you're describing. It's a plant, but it's been potted.

I've worked in a bunch of the Menlo Park buildings. The new Frank Gehry designed one is quieter than the old Sun buildings. Foot traffic is only a problem if you're immediately next a thoroughfare, and even then it's not terrible.

Huh, when I interned at Facebook in the new, open floor building, not only was noise not a problem, I could always walk to one of the many mini-lounge/libraries for absolute silence when I needed to. Plus, headphones and ear plugs are always offered, if I recall.

> headphones and ear plugs are always offered

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.

The in-ear headphones with a rubber membrane will be excellent to

- 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).


Is that because classical music is natural/harmonic? I often hear that but google previews say something suspicious.

"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.

From my point of view, classical music has a slower and more stable rhythm than a bunch of short pop songs, and is often in Italian rather than English (when there are any lyrics), which (since I do not speak Italian) ensures I do not get disturbed by someone talking in my ear. Also the general noise level of classical music is typically less than pop music.

Now everyone is different and I am sure some people find it more comfortable to focus while listening to heavy metal!

If any one else wants to know more about these google "in ear monitor". That's the trade name for the headphones musicians use to hear the mixed product while also protecting themselves from the amplified sound.

It depends on the headphones. A good set of active or passive noise cancelling headphones will block all the sound even with no music.

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.

Noise canceling headphones are much more effective on constant noise like an airplane engine than transient noises like speech or phones ringing.

I guess I just found the magic pair, because with them in I can't even hear my baby cry.

Care to tell us what pair/


But be warned, their customer support is terrible if you don't live in Europe.

That's a lot of money for headphones that are pretty much just going to be plugged into a phone.

They cost more than I paid for my top end AudioTechnica's.

I am also interested in learning which headphones you use and added this comment to signal there's more of us that are interested.

I tried to reply to you but HN blocked me. See your sibling comment for my response.

Noise-canceling headphones are really hit or miss, though. Like, I can't wear them. They drive me crazy. Ambient noise is not bad. Ambient noise is good! Being in an isolated bubble is the sort of dystopic future-stuff that...ew. No. Do not want.

(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.)

> Noise-canceling headphones are really hit or miss, though. Like, I can't wear them. They drive me crazy. Ambient noise is not bad. Ambient noise is good! Being in an isolated bubble is the sort of dystopic future-stuff that...ew. No. Do not want.

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.

For https://news.ycombinator.com/user?id=raziel2701

> 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.

Noise canceling headphones are for low frequency sounds such as those found in airplanes. They don't work well with conversations phones ringing and laughter.

With my headphones in I can't hear phones or conversations or my baby crying.

Even if they're at 10%, the actual volume of your earphones is more dependant on the drivers themselves and the amperage rather than the arbitrary 'volume percentage' on the device you're driving them with.

That's a fair point, but my point was I don't keep it very loud at all.

Earmuffs. 3M™ PELTOR™ Over-the-Head Earmuffs X4A for example goo.gl/kNR9ZG

For me noise isn't the only problem. People moving around, and walking by my desk is just as distracting.

Same for me. My productivity is divided at least by 2, not only because of the noise, but also because of the visual pollution, constantly seeing x or y going around.

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.


Same here, and also my productivity gets divided by 4 whenever I'm aware of people walking or standing behind me. I've been like this since childhood - when I'm doing stuff on computers, I get distracted by the very presence of other people; doubly so, if they're able to see my screen.

When I worked at "analytics", i.e. solving issues right at client's place, we noticed that the people who can write code there are special. They have skill of resolving issues quickly under pressure, but have less skill of implementing hard things even at our noiseless office. I think it is a waste of resources to put hard-skilled group in uncomfortable conditions and vice-versa. We let some of them away from that because we had both hard tasks and quick tasks.

I feel I'm similar to you. In high school in many classes, like AP Government, I rarely took notes. I often would put my head down (facing down) on my desk and just listen to my teacher usually just repeating in my head what they said. I would do this to help eliminate [visual] distractions. My teacher called on me with random questions a few times and after I had rattled off the correct answer, often faster than others, he stopped "checking" on me. I scored a 4 on the AP test, higher than most others in my class. My teacher even told me he was surprised that I did that well.

Some folks cannot wear head phones for an extended period of time which makes me very happy I have an office. Plus, noise canceling head phone make me dizzy even if no music is playing. I'm pretty sure that's not unique.

It probably isn't. I can wear my in-ear noise-blocking headphones for about two hours until they become physically uncomfortable. Over-ear headphones are fine for up to four hours. An open office is just not a workable environment for me.

I worked for a year at IBM's RTP campus. Everyone had their own dimly lit cube with 5-foot walls, no natural daylight, and white noise playing over speakers to drown out conversation. The depressing undertone of the office was part of what pushed me to quit.

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.

Natural light is one of the most important aspects of an office to me. A few years ago I actually turned down an offer because I realized I'd be sitting in an interior team-sized room with no windows and just a door to a hallway, again with no windows. I would have been giving up a seat next to huge windows with light flooding into the room. I just knew that I'd end up depressed in those working conditions and decided to turn it down.

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.

I worked for the better part of a decade on my phd in an office with no windows and no clocks on the wall, and a coffee machine.

We liked to joke it was a near equivalent to a Vegas Casino for mathematicians.

I literally had a 4th floor corner office with a window in grad school. Unfortunately, the window measured about 10"x24", with a lousy view, and the office literally wasn't big enough to accommodate the three of us who shared it all at the same time. :P

I shared an office with a floor to ceiling set of windows.

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.

That almost sounds like something out of Office Space

No natural light is pretty much illegal in most civilized countries.

This is why office buildings in most of Western Europe aren't as massive and square as in countries like the US.

Don't expect that in the US anytime soon as we haven't even mandated annual leave yet.

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

I struggled with fatigue for most of my sophomore year of high school. I started falling asleep in class out of nowhere. Then, as suddenly as I started falling asleep in class, I stopped.Looking back, I realized that I had been going days and weeks without seeing the sun. None of my classes had windows, nor did the lunchroom or the gyms. I had been getting to school early for clubs and leaving late because of sports. I was arriving at school before sunrise and leaving after sunset once the days got short enough.

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.

Ouch. Plenty of jolly and upbeat advice here for teachers on decorating their "Windowless Classroom", which is apparently a thing. OMG.


I developed more-than-moderate SAD in high school that took years to get over. They really need to stop making high school kids get up so damn early, and adjust the school year so kids are off more in the worst of the Winter (like, most of it, ideally)

> I was arriving at school before sunrise and leaving after sunset once the days got short enough.

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 make sense for Alaska.

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" [1])

[1] https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/standards-for-sch...

The shortest day in San Francisco is 9.5 hours. The shortest day in Chicago is slightly north of 9 hours. The shortest day in London is less than 8 hours.

That's not an insane schedule. It's a bit longer than regular day, unless you're in London or north.

I sit right next to a wall of floor-to-ceiling windows. The new designer who just started sits across from me and can't stand the sunlight, so he pulls the blinds down every day, all day. Drives me nuts, especially in the winter when I'm at work for all of the daylight hours I'm awake for.

I can recommend this book: "Difficult Conversations"


Have you told him?

Not the OP, but it can be a difficult conversation.

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.

I have my office windows all blacked out with blinds and a heavy curtain. Natural light makes it difficult to look at the screen. I will enjoy my natural light when I don't need to use my brain for coding and work. The best environment is like an evening or night: darkness except some dim, indirect lights, just like evenings and nights with slight ambient lighting. Best offices accommodate different needs.

Sorry for off topic comment but I would like to know which programming languages u use? Do u still like clojure ? Thanks

C and Python. Lots of bash scripting. Spare time projects still tend to favour lispy languages. I use Clojure, Chicken Scheme, and others. I'd love to use Hy but having tried it a few times seriously, it's not mature enough yet.

It's not melodramatic. I have a Film background and it's the same there - any person who's minimally studied artificial lighting will tell you that artificial lighting is still nothing like natural lighting. This is just considering the color spectrum reproduction you get and not even going into natural health benefits.

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.

In Europe it's even forbidden by law. You need some minimal percentage of natural light, or the place is not allowed to be worked in constantly.

Now I'm having 5 big windows in my room, from 3 sides :) Working from home as contractor.

I had several years of that when I worked in a DOD closed area. Never going back to that again.

Working in a SCIF is the WORST. Never again. Though I was able to work in one, very briefly, that had windows. It was bizarre to me being in a SCIF but with windows that had blinds open...

Working in a SCIF isn't so bad when you've got an outside office. I typically spend half my day in each location. I have had days, however, where I go into the SCIF in the morning and don't emerge until its time to go home. Fortunately, that's pretty rare.

I worked at a place that put a cube farm in a 'cleaned' out oil bunker for the former power plant. They built false walls and had airflow between the concrete wall and the false wall[1] which was a rather scary wind noise since we were 50' underground. Obviously no natural light and cell phones and radios didn't work. Had to wear a tie / jacket because dress codes even though it would have been illegal for a client to get into our area. I call that job my "3 Seasons in Heck".

1) something to do with concrete still bleeding oil even if sealed so smell wouldn't get to us.

And for those wondering what is a SCIF: "A Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility (SCIF; pronounced "skiff") in United States military, security and intelligence parlance, is an enclosed area within a building that is used to process Sensitive Compartmented Information (SCI) types of classified information."

Team sized rooms are definitely the way to go. You can avoid conversation from other teams that you don't care about. When there is a conversation in the room, it's probably related to what you're doing so it's not necessarily distracting you.

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.

I've had this and private offices... what happens is that difficult conversations can't take place except outside of the office (unless there is another space to go). Need to have a 1-1? Everyone else hears it. No meta conversations can take place unless someone is willing to go out for some coffee. The team banter ends up being trivial, and can be incredibly distracting if you need to buckle down to get something done.

Your office doesn't have a single shared meeting room? Most places I've seen with open offices have some sort of meeting rooms to use for private conversations. How do you have a client call or anything of that matter?

It does, with shared walls with another meeting room (where one can hear a lot of what goes on in the next room). Its considered neutral ground, and honestly it doesn't work well for private conversations (everyone in the office knows you're both tense and holed up in a room). I find that conversations take a different tone in a shared rather than private environment.

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.

If everyone has their own office, then someone coming into your office is an everyday affair. They could be talking about a programming problem, lunch, or something personal. You don't know, but you would go crazy wondering about it, because it happens all day.

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.

I work in an open office and grabbing a room with somebody is totally normal—it happens every day, for all sorts of boring reasons. We even have small rooms perfect for this purpose: three or four chairs and no tables or video conferencing equipment. People use them for anything from random conversations (technical or not), personal phone calls or even just a bit of extra privacy and quiet for solo work.

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.

> 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.

This also happens all the time, thus not weird. (or people don't talk ...)

Or people just have non-sensitive conversations right at their desks.

> If everyone has their own office, then someone coming into your office is an everyday affair.

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).

The company I just left does not. The company I was at previously had so little meeting room space that it was almost impossible to get a room without booking days in advance.

I know, right?

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)

Mine does, but you need to go through two doors to get to it.

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.

There's also the problem of all the small meeting rooms being booked out and occupied all the time. Usually by people from sales or administration/hr.

That seems like a way to exacerbate Conway's law problems https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conway%27s_law . Most of the technical debt I try to fight off is based on my team doing something that makes sense for us based on what we're good at / what we think other teams want, but doesn't line up with what other teams want / what they think we can deliver; we end up essentially building abstraction layers around other teams, and they build abstraction layers around us.

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.

It sounds like you are trying to compensate for a lack of systems engineering by changing the office layout. You shouldn't be relying on serendipitously overheard conversations for coordinating things like this.

I upvoted both you and parent:

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."

Yeah, I am inclined to agree. However, part of systems engineering is figuring out where technical conversations happen. Apache has "if it didn't happen on the mailing list, it didn't happen" as a rule precisely because they want to avoid the unreliability of serendipitously overhearing conversations, precisely because that's important to how they engineer systems. I would be a fan of a system design / an office layout where everyone has a private room and all conversations default to happening in email or group chat, and in-person conversations (which are, on occasion, definitely needed!) require some activation energy.

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.

That's a project management problem, not an interior design problem.

I see Conway's Law as a statement about the world, not a class of problems. Team size is capped by human nature, and systems will develop to mirror team sizes. The only solution is to find lower-communication "seams" for both your team boundaries and your system boundaries.

Abstraction layers around teams sounds like a good thing, as long as they abstraction layers make sense.

Abstraction layers around systems are a good thing. Teams have all sorts of weird properties, like a manager's willingness to focus on problems or recruit certain types of people. In an ideal world, teams and systems line up; in practice they don't, and Conway's Law is that the system design starts to conform to the team structure instead of vice versa.

>When there is a conversation in the room, it's probably related to what you're doing so it's not necessarily distracting you.

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.

Not sure how that is a rebuttal unless you work for a lawn care company.

You're conception of it being a rebuttal is exactly wrong. My point was, my team would spend a lot of time talking about things that weren't related to work or my interests, so it was indistinguishable from any of the myriad other distractions present in an open office. Basically: If you're co-located with 1 person or more, you will be subjected to distractions you have no interest in and serve no purpose for yourself or your team.

This probably works great if you have evenly-sized, relatively stable teams. The place I just left has teams that ranged from just me to the entire eight-persob company, and the teams could change on a month-to-month basis. In fact, it wasn't unusual to be working on two or three projects simultaneously.

Well, you could have a primary team you work for, and then get called on to work on other things for other teams periodically (while staying at your same desk). That's pretty much what we do here. My team lead is always the same person, but sometimes I do work for the other two team leads, especially when work is light in the current iteration for my normal project.

I would love to have a private office. Currently I spend most of my day blasting my ears because I simply can not concentrate with the constant Skype calling, people singing to themselves or random drive by meetings. And we are only 4-5 in the office.

I work in a team sized room and much rather would have my own quiet space. I happen to sit next to a "key person" who is constantly having (important) discussions with coworkers that I don't need to or want to hear.

I'm really distraction and noise sensitive so I really prefer working from home when there's code to be written.

I say there is a problem within your team (like that "key person" not knowing what is or isn't productive in what he does) that you are hoping to solve through seclusion. Excluding such bad quirks, assuming everyone is acting reasonably (in a tolerant frame of reference), I would say team sized spaces strike a good balance between the peer interaction accessibility and the bad effects of crowd noise.

The problem with our team is that it's not really a team in the traditional sense. We're an engineering office for a multinational and we're a team only in the sense that we have a common manager but all of us pretty much work on different projects, with most of the collaborators being overseas (with a 10 hour timezone difference).

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.

Short of a private office, this would be my top choice.

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.

On a related note, people who have a job requiring them to be constantly on the phone should not be placed within earshot of people who need to focus. Sales and support need to have walls between them and developers. Trying to code while someone is on the phone 4-8 hours a day is debilitating.

Also you don't really want customers hearing every ill-thought-out thing that comes out of developers mouths.

> Team sized rooms are definitely the way to go.

No, individual areas are the way to go.

Team rooms are still better than cramming people side by side row after row.

I worked in a room like that at my last employer. There were four of us in one office (with room for a fifth). It was easily the worst arrangement I've ever worked in.

I'd rather have either a cube farm or a two-person office with both our backs to the wall. I like my privacy.

I work from home full time now in a dedicated office space, however over the years I've worked in variety of setups ranging from:

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.

Heh. Except for no natural light, the 5-foot walls with white noise to drown out conversation actually doesn't seem bad.

Agreed! Our space has 3ft high cube walls and you hear every single conversation everyone has. It's incredibly distracting and I can no longer just throw headphones on to mask it. Now I find too much music distracting too.

Have you tried playing white noise or something over your headphones?

I couldn't do anything in an open office without blocking the noise. Visual distractions are almost as bad but are harder to block.

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

> Visual distractions are almost as bad but are harder to block.

I find a second row of monitors helps for this.

I run out of monitors already. My current office looks like this:

        ---+---        |
          O|O         O|O
           |        ---+---
      |   |  |    |
    --+DDD+--+    |----------
      |   |

  X   - me
  O   - other people,
  DDD - doors.
The +-like lines are desk areas, we have no dividers there; everyone is facing each other. I've managed to block off the two people in front of me with monitors, and the one to the right of me is hidden behind his own monitors. But I still struggle with the space to the left and behind me, and I'm seriously considering building a cubicle out of pizza boxes...

It's clear that there's no one-size-fits-all solution to office spaces. I would personally love working in a dark basement with lots of walls and minimal conversation. Introvert/extrovert strikes again!

You? Introvert? I'm not so sure...

Hah, I can believe.

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.

Yeah, but Jon wanders over to my desk to chat on a regular basis. Often for an hour plus. I like Jon and am always happy to chat, just doesn't seem like introvert behavior. Not complaining. :)

Yeah, it's a cost of mental energy thing, not an inability to socialize.

The strip is great, thanks.

There's an ideal middle ground, which is private offices with outdoor-facing windows and open workspaces available elsewhere. Sometimes you need to be alone and concentrate, sometimes you need to be surrounded by some activity and social interaction.

I don't know why this is not discussed more. People either talk about either open floor plans or complete private solo offices. Or cubicles, although no one seems to like that.

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.

Cubicles are a compromise - no one likes them because they're either still to open or not open enough depending on who you talk to. I'd still take a cubicle any day over an open plan though.

Hah, that old server room on the second floor of 500? That place was incredibly depressing. I worked from home nearly every day (breaking the "two days per week maximum" policy) because I couldn't stand it in there and my team wasn't located in RTP anyway.

Yup, 2nd floor of the 500 building. I worked in a couple different cubes, the old server room, and a "war room" - all with no visible windows, all with extremely loud white noise. Not sure why they haven't done a big renovation, it's quite obvious that the Feng Shui in that place is as bad as it gets.

I worked on this floor for six months as a co-op! It was really awful, and a big reason I don't think I'll ever consider working at IBM again.

I wonder if you could cheat natural daylight by using big RGB LED area lights emitting at just the right amount of Kelvin.

The aural equivalent (https://rainymood.com/) certainly works for me.

To make it seem like sunlight you have to simulate Rayleigh scattering. I remember seeing a company that was making artificial skylights that did this, but can't seem to find it anymore.

It's not only the Kelvins, but the intensity also.

Natural light is around 100K lux. That is crazily expensive to generate.

As a counterpoint, I wouldn't want to work in daylight / outside; still need to be able to view a monitor.

(I sit next to a window atm. It's a bit annoying when the sun shows up after lunch)

10,000 != 100,000

Yeah, I wasn't really talking about the lux level, but rather about "cheating natural daylight". Unless your office window is getting direct mid-day sun (so it's.. a skylight?) you aren't getting close to 100k lux.

Team sized rooms sound good but what happens with a few more people are added and there is no room to easily expand?

That's a problem for planning of both headcount and space. A company should know its growth profile and plan accordingly. Having slack space (meeting cubes, shared space) which can be converted helps. Short answer: plan ahead.

Rotating employees through different workgroups helps build stronger overall team cohesion. Gives people a chance to mix and match.

Running into this at work now. 7-8 person spaces. We're crunching down and rearranging things now to fit in more people where necessary. Currently in the process of attaining a new building. Reason I'm reading this article: new building plan is to put all 100+ folks in open office with concrete floors.

Why do team sized rooms make this worse?

Move or risk having unhappy employees.

Flexible partions for walls.

Thank you. I'm scared of the virulent backlash against open offices from devs right now. Is "productivity" really the only measure of job satisfaction?

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.

> Is "productivity" really the only measure of job satisfaction?

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.

Yes and "good environment" != "productive environment" for a lot of us if "productive environment" == "quiet dark and isolating".

I'm much more satisfied with light and space, at the expense of noise and productivity.

If I have to share, I'd rather it was with randoms from other parts of the organisation than with close colleagues. Less of a feeling that every conversation going on in the room is potentially important.

Out of curiosity, are you still working in NC?

I worked at a company where there was a combination of team rooms and offices... but all the walls were glass. You had the benefit of being able to see if Julie was at her desk so you could go ask her a question, but not hear Bob next door arguing with his wife again.

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.

Haha I used to be at Microsoft in a building like you described: a combination of open space with offices and break-out areas. They're trying to renovate all their buildings to follow this hybrid approach as they did with building 16 which is just incredibly gorgeous (https://news.microsoft.com/stories/b16/). Now I'm at a startup in the bay are that adopted the generic open-space/warehouse design and although I'm happy with the move career-wise, I really do miss being able to concentrate...

I'm fairly certain Microsoft is like the gold standard when it comes to office spaces. I have always been super impressed when visiting any Microsoft campus.

As I understand it, they went so far as to build office buildings that could efficiently house as many private offices as possible. So rather than a volume efficient cube, they would build long, thin buildings with offices around the perimeter and shared services in the center.

So on the plus side of working for Microsoft is that you get windows in your office. Which compensates for the minus side, which is that you get Windows in your office.

Hahaha too true, too true. My lingering loyalty to MS obliges me to defend this though. There were custom shells, dev tools, and compilers for almost every major project combined with Visual Studio and C-family languages (which is an extremely overpowered editor btw - I mean you can even do 3D editing with it, proof: https://channel9.msdn.com/posts/Visual-Studio-3D-StarterKit) so, to be honest you didn't really miss Linux/Mac OS X that much.

Right. There's a running joke that building 36 (the main Office building) looks like the mothership (or jail, depending on who you ask) because of this criteria.

Its very interesting that they only have one shot or two of the actual offices that people work, and the rest being the architecture.

Yeah, I think it's due to their paranoia of taking a picture of anything work related: monitors, whiteboards with notes, papers, etc.

I've worked in open areas. You hit on the biggest issue - sitting next to people with spousal issues. Just too much detail!

Open offices were developed by people who don't have to really concentrate for their job. They're awful for developers.

I always thought open offices became popular because it was literally the cheapest set up for facilities. For startups it worked because all you had to buy was desks. Somehow that got spun in to 'open offices are so sexy!'

Open offices are horrible for productivity imo. Moved to a job with an office and it is so. much. better.

I worked for a "start-up" (if you can call a 15-year old company that was bought by a VC company a start-up) where the CEO was CONVINCED that open offices were the best thing ever. He made our content people write articles about how great they were and how much better they made our company than other companies in our field. One of our content people was like "this is the worst assignment ever, because it is literally impossible to find research that says open offices make you more productive."

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.

The efficiency gain with open offices is that, for high-growth companies -- or ones that are uncertain about their long-term size, it's pretty easy to shuffle furniture around to squeeze in more people. When walls and doors get involved, you're committing to "each person gets X sq. ft", for a company that may grow from x to 2x employees.

That said, they're a disaster for productivity.

Often teams that go from X to 2X end up getting less stuff done. There is an argument that startups should grow as fast as possible to pre-pay that debt, but getting less stuff done while burning 2+x the money is only seen as a good idea in SV.

And that possibility is worth more than letting people get work done? I mean, if people don't get enough work done, you're never going to get to the point where you need to shuffle things around.

They'll get the work done, at the expense of their sanity.

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.

> each person gets X sq. ft

Which is how it should be, even with open offices.

We need a job site that lists companies that provide your own office. I would only apply there.

http://www.joelonsoftware.com/articles/fog0000000043.html #8

joel used to (still does?) host a job board that used Joel Test as a factor. Maybe it died when StackOverflow launched.

The Joel Test is sort of incorporated into Stack Overflow Jobs (previously Careers) in that a company has the option to include the results of their Joel Test when posting an ad on the site. However, there's no obvious way (at least that I could see) for a candidate to search for jobs that meet specific criteria in the test.

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.

Even so, the Joel Test was incorporated in Stack Careers if I recall

Yes, Stack Overflow Jobs does have the opportunity for employers to include their Joel Test score (including line items, not just the overall number) at the bottom of their postings.

Time to start YourOwnDamnOffice.com cracks knuckles

I agree with you here. I also believe that a lot of the current design trends in new spaces these days has this same origin. Light bulbs hanging by a cord, reclaimed wood walls and ceilings, keeping raw pipes, wires exposed etc. It does look kind of cool, but the genesis was small businesses and spaces just trying to save money.

I've worked in an office like that; they had the audacity to make us work in an office with a broken concrete floor (with electrical guide pipes showing), open ceiling with the aircon dripping on my desk, and plywood walls, and call it "industrial design". At least be honest and say it's a temporary design because the whole floor will be repurposed within two years.

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.

When my company moved to open offices we were straight out told that we were doing this so that more people could be squeezed in.

At least your company was honest with you.

> Open offices are horrible for productivity imo.

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.

> Individual productivity or team productivity? If you are optimizing for individual productivity - you could be hitting a local maxima...

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.

All that "collaboration and conversation" lets your team combined productivity asymptoticaly approach the productivity of single developer in a quiet, private office :)

> 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.

This is orthogonal to the office layout, though.

They remind me of new York offices, like law offices with rows of paralegal looking through documents spread on endless tables.

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.

I tend to agree. I think the whole part about "the absence of cubicles will foster creativity and productivity" was just spin used after the fact to justify this choice.

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.

That's why we have them... we literally can't afford to give everyone (or anyone for that matter) a private office.

> That's why we have them... we literally can't afford to give everyone (or anyone for that matter) a private office.

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.

It's tempting to ask "leadership" "If it's so great for productivity, why doesn't leadership/management forego their private offices and sit in the middle of the open office floor plan?"

They often do have cube desks. But they spend most of their time traveling or in meeting rooms anyway.

The amortized cost of building and furnishing a private office, when compared to the salary you are paying that programmer, is miniscule.

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.

Epic Systems has a private office for each of their 9,000+ employees. Their campus is outside Madison, WI, so it's cheaper to do that there then it would be elsewhere. Private offices don't have to be large. I'm sure the money for private offices would appear if companies were sufficiently motivated to provide them.

I don't know if Epic is a private office nirvana for each of their employees, but to be fair, it does sound like the majority do have a private office. I only live in the area and hear stuff second- and third-hand, but I gather an increasing number of Epic employees are assigned to shared offices. The Boston Globe's glowing commentary on the campus concurs:

"Most employees have a private office; some share one with a colleague."


I've heard the same thing. From what I understand, the issue is that Epic is growing faster than buildings can be built. Regardless, while a shared office is worse than a private office, it's way better than almost any other option. I've worked in a shared office with a partition, a cubicle farm, and an open office, and the shared office was the best work environment by a huge margin.

Sharing an office is great if both of your backs are to the wall. If not, it turns into hell.

Without a partition I'd totally agree. We faced each other with a partition in between. The partition basically made it two separate offices.

I was there for a bit in 2014. From what I saw, most offices had two people.

I don't buy that for a second. With what gets spent on salaries, the cost of offices is a drop in the bucket.

Also, if people in private offices are more productive, you can hire fewer people to do the same work, saving lots of money.

Real estate is also really expensive. I can easily believe that if a company really went for it and tried to give private offices to several hundred engineers, the cost would start rivaling that of salaries.

That's what cubicles are for.

You'd be surprised at how many pragmatic decisions get spun as "sexy" for the world of business halfwits

This makes sense in context of the article. The article states Facebook pays 40-50% more. They've converted (some of) the savings from open office planning to higher salaries for their hires, making the company more attractive for job seekers.

In addition open offices:

* 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.

> Cubicles were used to be associated with boring, slow bureaucratic offices.

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.

The former is intellectual suicide, the latter, philosophical suicide.

It also keeps people working longer than maybe they want to. I've heard from several folks in one of our more open areas (15-20 people) that it's awkward to leave at the usual end of shift time because they have to walk across a room filled with people still grinding away.

Open offices are perfect for https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Panopticon

The philosopher Michel Foucault actually cites the Panopticon alongside school, military, papal, and other work power structures as being efficient in human discipline.

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.

Is the idea to figure out who's not working and then Eliminate Them? Because I can do that without ever seeing a person in person.

>Is the idea to figure out who's not working and then Eliminate Them?

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.

Can you say which one of his books deals with this topic?

Discipline and Punish

Thanks, I'll have a look into it!

I've worked most of my career in cube farm configurations and had little reason to complain. At my last job of 15 years, the 26 yr old newly appointed manager announced that we were moving to 'an open, war room atmosphere'. Exit imminent, fortunately I ended up working from home. Privacy, natural light, open ended schedule to be productive. Best thing to ever happen to me

People go to cafes to work. It is not closed cubicles there. And I think they are able to concentrate more. I know for one that I can.

Cafes offer an odd sort of privacy since none of the conversations mean anything to you - effectively white noise - so they're easy to filter out. In an open office, every conversation may apply to you at any point during the conversation, requiring conscious effort to monitor and filter the conversation.

This. It's the otheredness of the conversations which happen at a cafe that makes it work. If you found yourself at a cafe sitting next to, say, the co-worker you can't stand, the director you've heard is trying to kill your project, an ex-partner and their new partner, I suspect the scene could get quite distracting rather quickly.

>> an ex-partner and their new partner

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.

Quitting your job to ask someone on a date seems a little crazier than risking dating a coworker, though.

My point was that an ex-partner, regardless of co-worker status, is a distraction. Having to encounter one at work all the more so, yes, but that wasn't what I was limiting my example to.

So much this. I want to wear my headphones to focus, but at the same time I never know when they're talking about a project behind me that might pertain to what I'm doing....which happens a lot because of our fairly open setup.

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.

Because nobody is tapping you on the shoulder every 10 minutes asking "did you get the email I just sent out?". You also don't see long multi-person meetings in coffee shops (well, actually it does happen, and that's just as annoying).

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.

This. Polite, business-like etiquette goes a long way to productivity.

Or walls.. it's like automation for etiquette.

I too loathe the disruptiveness of my employer's open office plan, but have found I can easily focus in a cafe. In part, I suspect this stems from mentally being able to classify cafe conversations as "ignorable noise of strangers", whereas in the office, any conversation I hear both comes from a familiar voice and is likely related to the work at hand. Some portion of my mind inevitably tunes-in to these cues.

Libraries and study areas are more representative of what people need to concentrate.

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 read this sentiment often in these discussions. It isn't true for me, however. I can't not pay attention to conversations or noises around me. Sometimes I can't even focus on someone talking directly to me in those kind of environments.

I actually find most open office environments to be better than cafes. Cafes tend to be very loud, have lots of movement, and I get distracted by people slurping their coffee, munching on food, etc. I've also noticed people at cafes who talk on the phone talk much louder than I've experienced people talking on the phone in open offices.

I much prefer the library setting where you're expected to be quiet and there is little movement around you.

Someone told me Cafes are for Output Works, Not Input Works.

They're awful for you, not all developers. I love open offices.

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.

(nit: "full gamut" is the phrase)

And by people who have their own offices.

"It's a magnificent idea. FOR EVERYONE ELSE, NOT ME."

What are the alternatives to open offices for companies with hundreds or thousands of developers? Do you have offices with dozens of people split up by team?

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.

I worked for a company which had one office for every two employees, with a total number of employees around 1,500. It wasn't that hard; it was still a campus, it just took an extra building to house everyone.

So many open office plans leave enough floor space for walls and hallways; they just don't put them in place.

Amazon generally has team aisles with 7 (iirc) foot walls between teams which blocked out most conversations from neighbouring teams and desks placed against 4-5 foot walls breaking up the aisle into sections. Each aisle had a window at the far end from the hallway and meeting rooms, bathrooms, office supplies, etc. were in the middle of the floor.

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.

> What are the alternatives to open offices for companies with hundreds or thousands of developers? Do you have offices with dozens of people split up by team?

Offices. Team Rooms. Decent cubicles.

Microsoft has offices for developers. Even they are somewhat jumping on the Open Office bandwagon (or team rooms).

Reminds me of:

> 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


It's so the MBA's can stand on a milk crate and look out over the developers to make sure all heads are down.

It also saves a lot of money, and you as the "cool boss and everybody loves me" are seen when you walk in every day.

When my company moved to an open office plan we, the developers, tried to argue that we needed the ability to concentrate and that this would hinder that. We were told that every job required concentration and that we shouldn't be such prima donnas who think we are special snowflakes. Someday I'm going to get a special snowglobe and shove it down the throat of the sales lady who sits next to me who holds conference calls all day long from her desk.

Unfortunately I love everything else about my job so I'm disinclined to move on.

> the sales lady who sits next to me who holds conference calls all day long from her desk

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.

Seems your wrath is better aimed at those who implemented an open floor plan, not the lady doing her job.

Well, I'd never be able to find the people who implemented the open floor plan. That's one of the problems with huge companies - the guilty are to often anonymous ;-)

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.

Have you asked her?

Good question. In the past we've had some issues with this, and it's possible to mildly influence volume and "out in public" call frequency downward by asking. But it requires a combination of a thick hide and some institutional status to make it happen. If the person you are asking is a peer or a senior, forget it.

Yes. She doesn't care.

Ah, should have assumed you already did your homework. Sounds rough man, sorry.

Escalate to your manager, he should have a chat with her manager.

It's not that simple. She has been around a long time and even though she isn't a manager, seniority goes a long way at my company. My manager has mentioned it to her, but realistically that's as far as he can take it.

Ask for a place farther from her, perhaps switching with some other talkative colleague in a better spot. If manager rises eyebrows, argue that she is too loud and inconsiderate(unscrupulous) to other people. Even better if more colleagues share this view, make a move together.

I feel your pain.

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.

That really funny because I'm a developer attached to global sales at my company ;-)

Have you seen "Makers vs Managers" ? http://paulgraham.com/makersschedule.html

Yes, I actually used to have a copy of it posted on my wall until too many "managers" mocked me for it. In my experience, those who are not "makers" truly truly truly do not comprehend in the smallest way what concentration, interruptions, meetings, etc. mean from a developers standpoint.

Every job requires concentration, so the company interrupts everyone?

I think a developers definition of concentration differs from their definition of concentration.

I've had the opposite experience. As a software consultant I'm often on client calls. Our developers decided that a gong was the way to signal stand up time. They eventually moved to bongo drums. I don't know what they do now. I work from home.

As the moderator of a Reddit sub focused on comp sci careers, I don't think the open office is an issue for junior level developers. The worship of what we in that sub call the big 4 (some combo of Google, Facebook, Apple (or Microsoft), Amazon) is pretty much what you hear from every college senior, and I've never heard anyone even mention this as a negative.

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.

> Of course these are mostly people who haven't had much experience working in office environments except possibly an internship or part-time work.

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.

I think some of it may also come with the amount of guidance and mentoring those people require.

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.

Frankly, when it comes to those big 4 companies, I think the perceived value of having that name on the resume will probably overshadow any perceived shortcomings in any of the environments.

I don't get your point?

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.

My point was that if the open office plan is scaring anyone away, it hasn't yet (in my experience) impacted junior developers who are still quite enthusiastic about Facebook. Facebook doesn't only hire experienced developers, and even their experienced hires may not have a formed opinion on open office environments.

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.

I'm under the impression that Microsoft was The One Company of the big five that still gives its employees offices with doors.

My friends at Apple all have their own offices with doors.

Not for long, once the spaceship is done.

Traditionally that was the case with Microsoft but they've rebuilt at least the Azure buildings into no-private-space hellholes (IHMO). It was a major reason why I didn't pursue a position there - yuck.

Microsoft's buildings are converting one after the other ones into open office. About 8 to 12 people per office.

That seems more team-space than open office (lots of people see that as a sort of a "happy medium" between real open office and everyone-has-a-private-office that allows team to collaborate more effectively than the latter but provides less extraneous distraction than the latter; not sure I share this assessment, but I definitely see it as a distinct thing from either alternative.)

When I applied there and was given a tour of several areas it seems to be small team rooms that could fit, at most, 10 people. But this was also in just two parts of two buildings in their headquarters so who knows if that's the norm across the entire company.

This is changing. They believe that open offices are the Future of the New Collaborative Workforce or some similar nonsense.

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