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.
Factories have huge machines, whih create added value. They have a good reason for loud noises and need for ear protection.
Offices, on the other hand, are places where people come to create added value by mostly by thinking (if they are programmers).
Are there people who enjoy the bustle of open office while trying to untangle a decade old piece of C++ spaghetti? Whose work output it actually improves?
I'm trying to figure out if the open offices are bad mostly for everyone or just for someone like me.
Personally, I have no difficulty with noise (I prefer working in coffee shops to at home), and being able to easily start a design discussion with 4 or 5 engineers when necessary is extremely valuable. I totally get why some people don't like it though.
I'm fine with coffee shops over home (and did the same in college), but coffeeshop noise is "white noise" -- whirring espresso grinders, a blur of conversations between people I don't know about things that aren't going to activate my distraction monkey.
When I was at a large defense contractor the work was broken down into such small chunks that each engineer was essentially off on their own working on their piece of the system. In fact, that was the way all engineering, not just software engineering, was done there. There might be a point where two or three people would need to discuss an approach, but that wasn't the majority of the time.
The company I just finished at works multiple small contracts simultaneously. Because of the small scope it was very common to be the only person working on the code for a particular project, though there was more collaboration than at my previous company.
The place I am going seems to be more like what you describe, so it will be interesting to see if my opinions of open office layouts change after that.
That "easy conversation" is not scheduled, and now I need to stop what I am doing, listen to you for an hour, and still finish the rest of my tasking on time.
or, rephrased, the ability to destroy 3 man-hours of productivity on a whim.
I honestly do not understand this statement. Are you trying to say that if you were in cubes, you couldn't do that? You couldn't ask people to come over and talk something out? And are you stating that your design discussion is more important than whatever they're working on?
Sometimes success depends on willingness to use ear coverings and stimulants (caffeine, ritalin, adderall), and willingness varies.
I'd rather pay for a wall than overload my body with drugs and a clamp on my head.
I'm going to guess that there's some individual variation in preference for quiet / noise. I'm the kind of person who can't really get deep work done, like writing proposals or novels, in noisy, busy environments. I look at all the people, listen to the sounds, and generally can't get into a state of flow.
That being said, I've met lots of writers who say they can't work in quiet rooms because they need some stimulation or they go nuts. Lev Grossman, for example, has talked about writing most of the Magicians trilogy (the first one is good! https://jakeseliger.com/2009/08/28/the-magicians-lev-grossma...) in coffee shops.
I suspect that on average most people would be better served by quiet focus, but that a fair number would not be.
If this is true—anyone doing industrial organization research may have a research topic here—I don't know how it would be implement organizationally, especially because offices and layouts are almost instantly going to be linked up with status and hierarchy issues, and most people will want the higher status option, regardless of whether it fits them well or not.
I got a pair of Etymotic In-Ear Headphones which have kept me sane for several years now. They have interchangeable tips with a NRR on-par with foam plugs. Worth every penny in an open office.
Also, I seem to be the minority in comments, but I don't mind people talking around me. I don't use my ears/hearing to code, so it doesn't distract me nearly as much as chat windows or anything visual on my laptop. I suppose the real issue is people having interesting conversations around me... But I have headphones and music if I need to concentrate (I probably only wear them for 1-2 hours a week to block out conversations).
Every week one a new article like this is posted, and every week the comments are overwhelmingly "open offices are bad". Every week I meet more people like me who don't comment because they don't feel strongly about protecting open offices, and would like the people who are upset by open offices to find their comfortable place.
There really are quite a few of us who don't mind open offices... I'd guess it's probably a majority of people... We don't really want to impose on others...
My only real concern is that the people who want their own offices tend to also have seniority and want natural light... I've seen these people carve out their own personal paradise, while blocking other's ability to have a good working environment.
Context: Mid-thirties, Sr Engineer in Seattle who has worked for small startups (< 10) up to Amazon.
My solution: Ability to concentrate is a teachable skill. Every skill-based sport has to teach players how to focus on the goal and ignore the distraction (hence my assertion that Golf isn't skill-based). We use enough sportsball analogies in coding, so I'll add another.... Coding in an office is like batting against a pitching machine.
My coding has very little to with sport-like activity and is more like the task of a lone clocksmith (although we have a team, individuals have quite large chunks of codebase carved for themselves).
For some problems I am straining on the edge of my working memory capacity.
The problem with the distraction avoidance is that it demands mental resources. If there is some benefit in training working in a stresfull environment there could be a sound proof room for such a purpose where employees could go for a limited time to train. The inverse of large open office/small quiet room pattern.
At first level there could be just white noise in the room. Once that is mastered as an added stimulus the feet could be placed in a bucket of icewater. At the next level the room is filled with monkeys. Etc.
My initial reaction is that there seems to be much bigger issues with the way your company is structured. The words you're using ("lone", "carved", "straining on the edge") suggest a stressful situation where each individual carries their own weight... If that's the case, I can certainly see why you'd be upset by someone else impeding your ability to work. I wouldn't last long in an environment like that, either pushing it to be more collaborative, or just leaving.
I can't imagine any coding that isn't improved by adding collaboration (a great starting point is code reviews... make PRs early and get opinions on rough-cuts). If you don't have this in your current environment, I highly encourage trying to kickstart it... you're really missing out on a great way to remove stress, improve quality, and have more fun.
The inherent technical complexity of the components is such that sometimes a feature needs days of coding - thus the 'more locksmith, less of a ballgame' analogue. I should have perhaps pulled some other analogue.
- Better/Faster communications. I can ask and answer questions on the spots vs. scheduling a meeting. This is gaming changing. For the same type of question, I can get answered within 10 mins vs more than 1 day. This is a HUGE productivity boost.
- Better team culture. Sitting next to each other make the team much closer. More likely to go to lunch/dinner, hang out, and become friends outside of work. This will give people empathy to each other and more willingly to help/unblock you.
For the noise issues, I get around it by blocking heads down time in my schedule and find a quiet corner in a office.
I dunno, I just don't feel particularly unproductive. I thought maybe I just didn't have any point of comparison, but then I had a few days working from home and it didn't seem massively different.
A lot of people here are talking about flow, but I don't really feel the need for concentration for the majority "tactical" level coding, and when I run into sufficiently complicated "strategic" level problems, I find it much more effective to discuss them than to try and solve them on my own.
Many years ago, when I was fresh out of uni, I lost my job because of an open office; I was sitting relatively close to a bathroom and people kept walking past behind me - After 1 week this made me feel stressed and paranoid and I couldn't concentrate.
One month in, the boss asked me into his office and basically told me that I was unproductive and that "I'm going to have to cut you loose" - Being young, I thought there was something wrong with me but after working in several other companies, I learned the importance of the workplace environment.
If I ever get into a situation where I had to work with my back facing a large empty room again, I would start looking for a new job straight away. I feel shivers just thinking about it...
Or even worse, someone whose job is to talk on the phone and use the stupid CRUD app, and who has never done anything cognitively demanding in their entire life, literally.
People can have opinions differing from yours while still doing 'deep work' of a nature that you'd find respectable.
For those like me who're susceptible to software fences around unproductive behavior, HN has a useful "antiprocrastination" option available under your profile settings.
You can call it an open office that amplifies communication in the team, so noone will notice that they're almost piling up vertically. And the problem is not just noise. Too many people breathing the same air leads to rising carbon dioxide levels which makes concentrating quite hard. Unless the office was literally built for large crowds, the ventilation will usually be insufficient to cool the office in summer and to provide adequate levels of air flow.
I stopped calling those things "open offices" and use the term "laying battery" instead.
What's described here is still a "first world problem", some people seem to forget that.
More likely a sign of a high hiring bar and corresponding paycheck.
They insist only on hiring those who pass their interview.
Seems to overlap with the set of good devs, but it's definitely not the entire set.
Which hey, good for them I guess.
I believe supply and demand with market rates is a much bigger factor on the average Facebook engineer salary than the quality of the engineer. For one, we are only dealing with a discrepancy on the order of 40-50%. Is a good engineer only 40-50% better than an average engineer?
Most of the problems about overhearing conversations, etc, can be dealt with by a nice pair of headphones. Here, it's universally accepted as the 'do not disturb' signal.
Also this is an insane workaround. Think about what you’re suggesting: the environment that you’re working in, the place where you go to, intentionally, to focus and concentrate, is so filled with undesired and irrelevant noise, that in order to get your work done, you need to tune it out with headphones. How does that make sense?
These companies are constantly in search of the smartest people and yet they think they can get away with such obviously illogical lines. They have people who are best at identifying and fixing corner cases in very complex systems and yet they want these employees to ignore this completely illogical line of thinking? This is insulting and annoying.
Arguendo, one could wear headphones without them being plugged in, strictly for signalling purposes, if it were necessary.
Which also means you can use them on a very low level so that they don't cause hearing problems if used for long time.
Personally, listening to music all day gives me a headache and podcasts are too distracting. And I don't need these headphones for anything else (otherwise, I'd already have a pair!)
I wonder what would come of it if I requested some.
The headphones are very reasonable for what they do (and of course, they're free to you, so even better) but in terms of actual noise cancelling you'd have to buy your own. Of course, FB pays developers well so spending $300 on a set of Bose QCs is no problem at all, but a lot of people don't bother or see the point when there are free sets in the vending machines.
So I'm curious if people who hate open spaces had greater control of their environment growing up. I didn't and adapted. Maybe I'm reaching here, but curious of other's opinion on this take.
How about just an appropriate workplace for the job, like 99% of all other jobs, even some of the lowest paid ones?
Have a bit of self respect and respect for your craft.
(former FB employee)
I worked for FB in NYC, and found that when visiting Menlo Park hq, the open plan there didn't bother me at all -- if anything, I was actually way more productive there. The density at MPK was low enough that the noise/distraction level was minimal, and all of the surrounding teams were working on similar parts of the stack. I've previously been skeptical of open plan, but this setup was really ideal for collaboration. (that said, this was one of the older formerly-Sun buildings; I never experienced the new, larger, more open building.)
But meanwhile in NYC, the density was much much higher, and team layout totally random, to the extent that I left the company for these reasons alone. It was impossible to concentrate without wearing noise-cancelling headphones, but I couldn't wear those for 9+ hours a day without getting a migraine.
It was frustrating since I otherwise liked my job, loved my team, loved the technical challenges. Space-wise, it looks like things are finally much better in the NYC office these days, but I'm still very hesitant to consider returning to the company after my previous experiences.
At my last company, we generally had 1-2 person offices; it was very easy to stay in your office all day long and never interact with other developers. With the open plan here, we're much more likely to have impromptu team conversations.
I think it would be better if we were in separate rooms in groups of 8-10, but open offices definitely are not all negative. When I work from home I miss the human interaction.
I like the idea of team rooms, we should try more of that.
 controlled by a clique, really
Another place they had the radio on so I would laugh loudly at the DJs jokes, then say oh man, so funny, but so distracting, what was I doing again? Oh hell. I can't remember. They turned that off too.
If Facebook was more about bringing people closer together, and less about showing ads down the throats of it's users, more people would want to work there.
The fun part is when starry eyed managers are talking about this "upgrade", and call it "Future Work" project as if it was something great and innovative.
As Joel said, if you want to sell something, "take the most unfortunate truth about it, turn it upside down, and drill that lie home".
Open spaces do have a lot of distractions.
Noise and distraction was quite effectivly reduced but communication was supported.
Isn't Joel and all of his enterprises based in New York City? am I wrong in thinking Silicon Valley insiders live and/or work in Silicon Valley?
I think the disadvantages of open offices are radically exaggerated by people who have difficulty imagining how easy it is to book a small conference room for yourself for a few hours, to walk away to a hotel desk in a more quiet part of the office, or (more typically) for the white noise of the central air to obscure everyone's mild sounds as they quietly work.
I chronically had focus issues growing up and was easily distracted, and I have no problem focusing at work in an open office - even when it's crowded with people.
Personally I feel that a persons desk is the place where they're suppose to be doing the majority of their work, so that should be the quite area. The noise people can book a conference room for phone calls.
One thing I find fascinating is that all the people I've meet that claimed to love open offices, or require background noise, all, every single one, have had head phones glued to their head. At my last job I asked if we could not have the radio on: Nope, people like the background noise, and I was just being difficult. The next week I asked again, adding that the people wanting the noise where wearing head phones anyway, or where rarely in the office. So the radio was turned off.
I'm also curious as to which countries require this.
Height adjustable desk is nice-to-have rather than essential (would hate to go without it though, since it allows me to stand while working once in a while).
But external monitor should rightfully be mandated by law, IMO. Looking down, even slightly, puts a lot of strain on your neck muscles and can easily cause injury over the longer term. Your head and neck is like a bowling ball balancing on a pencil - fine when it it right on top, but dangerously heavy if tilted slightly off center.
I find about half of my time needs to be spent with as few distractions as possible, and the other half I can be open to interruption. I categorically don't get as much done when in a coffee shop or breakout table when needing to concentrate, though still more than working in a distracting environment.
Having to keep 10 disperate systems and their interfaces in your head requires concentration, I don't care who you are. Its like doing a very difficult math problem, or painting, or drawing, or any other number of things. When it takes half an hour to build context for a problem and another half hour after that to get anything meaningful done, 3 attention grabbing distractions a day can mean a zero productivity day.
I'm in an open office now, but work at home 2-3 times a week because the job requires concentration. If they required me to be in the office all days I would have to quit because my productivity would go down and I wouldn't be able to hit ship dates.
Since when did a desk become a loud space and a conference room is quiet?
I'm supposed to work all day every day, not a few hours. And the open offices I've been stuck in didn't even have enough conference rooms for actual meetings.
> walk away to a hotel desk in a more quiet part of the office
If that space existed, I would move into it full time. But open offices are wall to wall with people who do not shut up. In practice I stay very late and get things done after they leave.
There are those of us who can only do our jobs from our desks for various reasons and who have direct experience with crappy, noise-polluted environments. The disadvantages are not radically exaggerated unless you always use best-case open office implementations as your baseline.
A moot point because all the new conference "rooms" are just open spaces with bean bag chairs and a projector.
So open offices are wonderful if you go out of your way to avoid the aspects that make them horrible.
There's so much room in the middle - theres no reason you can't have nice offices, or even nice cubicles, or mixed spaces depending on the job type or even personal preferences.
It seems though that the only "acceptable" option outside of lifeless cube farms is open offices for some reason - I have no idea why.
An isolated room in a corner is not good - though it may be useful for "development sprints". An "auditorium" shared between sales, development, marketing, and sometimes even support - people which talk on the phone all the time - is terrible.
Best productivity I ever achieved was during a time I shared a room with 2 co-workers that shared similar knowledge but worked in slightly different areas of the product line, and one was not even working in the same project as me. So we did exchange ideas, but each one was doing each one's part of the equation independently.
I considered some other opportunities before joining my current employer, and some of them were discarded due to (among other reasons) the huge open offices with 30-40+ employees on the same floor.
Sure it is. It's called an office. Traditionally the corner ones are bigger and are given to management/execs.
Make no mistake: this was an outcome of the effort to save money by not having to provide real offices to real adults.
If everybody is doing project work in a big hall that's aweful and pretty much nothing gets done.
The best I found is working from home with people who are annoying chatters via skype/slack/IRC/jabber. Overspamming is a little necessary since you don't see each other face to face all the time. But if you have such people you can pretty much whenever you feel like it, sleep when you feel like, you don't need to wear trousers, and achieve a lot more than in a big office.
I remember reading in "Peopleware" that science says privacy is good for productivity and people tend to perform better in their cabins. Isnt this open office a bit unnerving ?
Still, many people have short term thinking or knowledge (better to get higher pay now than realize it will hold back by career trajectory), or they aren't too worried about success of their company or their productivity level.
I've worked at places with cubes and bullpens, open offices with a mix of engineering and sales (sucked), open offices that were poorly designed (sucked), and now I work at home full time (unless traveling or at a coffee shop).
I much prefer having the freedom to pick the level of noise I subject myself to. Open offices were generally annoying because you became anti-social anyways by putting in headphones.
The ping pong table has become a battleground.
A colleague put in a facilities ticket on the morning of the second day we were there to get the table relocated. Facilities couldn't find anywhere else to put it (because it would've meant simply disrupting someone else's area) and so the table was removed and put into storage. This caused a huge outcry from the ping pong players, but did have the upside of allowing us as developers to do our jobs.
I saw the whole situation as quite ridiculous, given that we were all at work in a company office and getting paid to code rather than to play ping pong. The counter-argument was that the removal of a ping pong table was the thin end of the wedge and the sign that FB was slowly becoming corporate and losing its hacker soul. I guess I can see the point, but the reality is that ping pong is a brilliant game until you have to sit near the table and try to work.
Ugh, FB never had a "hacker soul". It is an abomination built on advertising and privacy invasion. It is the antithesis of the hacker ethos.
I didn't know about the Facebook open-plan office, but I just went through the interview process for a similarly well known company, and everything saw at the interviews and on videos of their offices was the opposite of good.
But it never occurred to me to shy away from the job because of that.
I am sure they know these offices are bad for productivity, but for some reason they like to buy expensive real-estate, the inefficiency is paid for by the savings on rent.
He has a dedicated desk nearby like everyone else.
I think I am much more productive in quiet places. Does anyone really prefer to work in loud environments?
As a huge introvert I noticed my mental health very visibly improved after I quit my regular office job to work from the comfort and peace of my home.
I think I had a bit of a case of Stockholm Syndrome at the time thinking that I'm going to get lonely or miss coming in to an office and seeing coworkers and so on. Not one bit. I feel like an adult and an independent human again after so long.
The routine and the lack of genuine choice had started to make me feel like a child.
We should be asking for more money when the company offer an open space. This could stop the trend.
The logic here is pretty weak. Fb pays more for other reasons. I've not heard that people don't want to work for Facebook before, quite the opposite in fact.
It's amazing how this isn't considered when companies are seemingly only looking at the initial cost of buildings.
I find the best way to work is in a quiet room (no loud AC) with 2-3 people working on the same thing, with regular breaks.
- open offices are less productive as a whole due to the increased noise levels and the increased number of coffee machine talks all over the working floor.
- privacy is gone. On the plus side this is forcing people to work. On the downside this also reduces job satisfaction for many.
- one large room makes you no longer be able to regulate temperature, lights, and that sort of stuff. Less control on your environment. Some people like hot rooms, others like fresh air in winter.
From what I observed open offices sure can be fun. A bit too much even. Usually you meet people at the coffee machine if you weren't directly walking up to them. You usually spend a coffee for some smalltalk, just because it's fun and you were walking around anyway to clear your mind. In an open office it's like fulltime coffee time. There are always people having fun stories from past weekend, last holiday, or just beer time. Sure you know a few and pop in more frequently than you would have in coffee machine talks at the coffee machine. This is not a downside for you personally, you might perceive it as fun, but it kills your output.
A lot of reactions in favor of open offices mention it's ability to quickly get a hold of someone. I never understand why the ability to quickly ask colleagues anything is a pro for open offices. I have worked in both and to be honest there is no difference in time it takes to reach out to a colleague. If they are in my room, the people you typically need most, it's the same as an open office. If they aren't, it's one walk away. The distance doesn't chance that much. Get out of your chair, visit coffee machine on the way, and walk into the room of the person you need. Pros might want to check the chat status, if green he's at his desk.
I'd say if you think you need to schedule a meeting for every question there is something else wrong, an open office is not going to help you there. Also, if you need a meeting now you will need it in the open office as well. Only on paper these two environments have different protocols when it comes to human interaction.
Noisy. Well, enough is said about this. I don't mind too much but others do.
Control on your environment is something I really missed. Everything is set to general population. The heating is average but I really like fresh air even in winter. The great perk of a company for me is always to have a heater and open the window ( :) ). There are plenty who like warmer rooms though and after a couple of months, or years, you learn to not take the same room. No offense but either party agrees on the different preferences. Same holds for light. Some people close all sun screens the moment the sun peeks in. I personally like the sun and only close stuff when it's directly on my screen. With large rooms it's always in someone's screen and the sun screens are always down. I have had a summer where basically they were down all day.
I think ideally you need a mix. I'd say the only thing in favor of open offices is the increased interaction. If you accept less productivity in favor of potential great ideas spawned in that one case where two people bumped into each other at the right time than by all means make it happen. Doesn't need to be an open office though, can also be open spaces where you create an incentive for people to hang around more frequently. Relaxing areas. Make sure you communicate it's okay to be there as well. The rest is basically against open offices. Personally I don't think they are worth it for engineering departments.
It's forcing people to type, but typing without concentrating has no value.
I'm talking about things like lying down on the bed, staring at the ceiling and just churning through stuff in my head.
Or just sitting on the desk and staring at a corner of the screen like someone who has had a traumatic experience.
This means typical office environments knock me down a few steps in terms of quality. As in, If I'm working for myself on my own terms I feel like I can be an "A" developer.
However when I'm forced in those environments I'm capped at being a "C" developer.
That's one of the biggest reasons I love working for myself because no one else is questioning me about the effectiveness of my methods. Who cares if I get work done while staring at the ceiling or typing on the keyboard? All that matters is the output.
This means I can walk to the park sit on a bench for half an hour and come back having more problems solved than I would have in 1 week of noisy office time.
This would require a (semi-)quiet space. After you can find the people you need to discuss the things you came up with
Weren't they paying this much more before they moved to the giant office?
Source: lived there for 6 years.