I work at Wildbit (the company referenced in the article), and we have family-style lunches around a big table and plenty of common areas where socialization happens in the mornings, during lunch, when people make coffee, and plenty of other times.
The key is that when folks are working, they can do so in their office and stay focused. It's a balance of the two. Quiet space when folks need to focus and social space for other times. Having private offices and half the team working remotely doesn't affect socialization. We just tend to have better separation between the two so that they don't blur into each other or impact others who are trying to stay focused.
Personally, I strive for balanced contact. I love locking myself in a corner to get something done, but once I'm done, I actually have the desire and the energy to socialize. Differently from when I'm actually forcibly socializing while trying to work.
It's exactly the same when the big shots think there is not enough innovation. Let's just hang up a few banners "We are innovative" or run some off-hours, unpaid "hackathons" while shortening deadlines even more.
Generally I tried to do something with hardware and the experience was always extremely gratifying. I built great relationships with coworkers through those projects.
"People cannot work effectively if their workspace is too enclosed or too exposed. A good workspace strikes the balance."
"fashion space explicitly around working groups. Each team needs identifiable public and semiprivate space and each individual needs protected private space. The team members and their space counselor could work out the possible ways their space could be arranged."
Does anyone have a "space counselor" how is not their manager? I've always taken my "space counselor" issues to my direct manager.
This would indeed be happening completely independently of your normal manager (except that your manager probably told you where to find the space counselor, made an appointment for you, etc).
The problem is that neither is ideal because I want to be at my desk. My desk is setup in the way I like and want it to be for my maximum productivity. Now my bookbag becomes a mobile desk with all the fixins so I can get work done in any of the above scenarios without much effort.
This is a problem and frankly I don't see the pros outweight the cons for open office.
What was the space before the move? i.e. in Open Office phase?
A data point as to alleged space saving might be useful ammunition.
Best of luck with it all.
Working remotely is one solution, but many companies don't think it would work for them.
Personally, I'd make the shared area for solitary work only: no work discussions longer than a minute at work areas (use a conference room, take a walk or Slack), no eating at work areas, no audible media. I'd physically isolate people who have to make calls from their desks from other employees as much as possible. I'd also provide a break room for eating and install some retro phone booths in it for semiprivate personal calls on breaks. Also, a private room--not necessarily big--for breast feeding and pumping, taking medication, calling doctors' offices, and the like.
Maybe you're a programmer and you want 100% silence, that should be available.
Maybe you're like me, who gets a lot more done in a small, focused group. You should be able to squat in a collaboration room all day and get shit done.
Maybe you don't mind ambient noise, and like to sit on a couch to work so people can stop by and visit and interrupt you for a chat and to share an idea. That should be available too.
Like most things in life, it comes down to having options available to people, and letting them make choices versus trying to predict or control behavior for "performance".
You can't get around needing to strap things to your head when you're operating a jackhammer. Nerd at a desk? At the least we should fight for a little dignity.
There is a huge overlap in my experience between people who like open offices because it's easy for them to socialize and ask questions, and people who like to pester their busy coworkers with questions they could have figured out themselves. Also people who get bored easily and like to pester coworkers because they need a break from whatever they've been working on for the last 15 minutes.
Basically whenever I hear someone say, "I love open offices because when I don't know how to do something, my coworkers are right there to help me", I can't help but think, "yeah, I bet you do, and I bet your coworkers are ready to claw their eyes out when you come around asking something because you couldn't be bothered to read a man page". Every time someone touts coworker accessibility for questions as a critical reason to have open offices, I can't help but wonder what the ratio is between the time they spend asking other people questions and the time they spend answering other people's questions, because it always sounds like it's pretty huge.
"We should all be on the Slack/HipChat channel so we can get instant answers to all of our questions!" - the people who have lots of questions
"Great, all I need, another source of interruptions!" - the people who get asked lots of questions
(Guess which one I consider myself to be?)
Active noise cancelling systems generally only suppress continuous steady sounds, e.g. fan noise or motor hum. It actually makes conversations and other transient activities _more_ audible by reducing the background sound.
That does lead the the annoying problem that I have to have something stuck in my ear (vs on, which isn't quite as annoying) for 6ish hours a day. Also, they're expensive af, and require frequent charging since I never remember to turn off the noise cancelling when I'm done with them.
I once worked in an office where the founder would stroll out of his office (natch), and have a conversation with one person, extending to a second person, into a decision-type meeting with more people. Call it an evolving standup.
Even if you're locked into headphones this is can be a big distraction equivalent to not wearing headphones at all.
tl;dr: sometimes "the noise" is not noise.
Besides I really enjoy just silence sometimes, being forced to listen to music does not necessarily improve my focus.
And I work in my own private corner office.
There also exist on-ear headphones that don't apply so much pressure. So it rather seems to me that the model that you tested simply does not fit your requirements.
I also prefer over-ear over on-ear, but did not have the problem with on-ear headphones that you described.
They cut the interview short, and I never heard from them again.
They know we don't like sitting next to someone yapping on the phone all day. They just don't care.
Perhaps I was too harsh, there probably are some businesses that actually don't know that developers are much different from customers support, accountants or typists when it comes to the need for sustained concentration and focus.
(I mean no disrespect to customer support, accountants or typists.)
Ironically, speaking of accountants, I at least have found that in most businesses, the accounting staff do in fact have their own isolated working space. They justify it because of the "sensitivity" of their data, which is true. But the cynic in me thinks it's because they know developers tend to make more money (on average) and so they influence the situation and pitch to the CxO's to "reduce costs" by moving everyone (except themselves) into public spaces.
Your first point is correct -- it's because of the cost savings. But cost savings only applies to those critters who dwell at the bottom of the org chart.
And last but not least, significantly fewer accounts are necessary in a software company compared to the sheer amount of developers. (monkey ones or otherwise)
As long as the company can survive, they just don't want to give the bottom-rungs much at all.
In the context of my own work as a developer, focus for me entails trying to come up with the math to do something new. This entails hours of thinking about it in bed but also trying to juggle the ideas in my head. (I'll be the first to admit that thinking is probably not my strong suit.)
BTW: I'm looking for a New Hampshire based CPA for my sole proprietorship if you know of anyone. :-)
Or the cost savings are reaped by different people than those who bear the productivity hit.
Its obvious on the face of it: re-usable walls and shelving are going to be more expensive than simple stick construction. You have to be re-using it constantly (reformatting office space every month or quarter) to make it pay. And then you're tanking everybody's productivity.
I think open-office is some brain virus that keeps infecting managers everywhere. We need some kind of vaccine to combat it.
The vaccine is a startup that is 10x (or even just 2x) better than everyone else because they use private offices.
Since that hypothetical business hasn't yet proven that idea, all the articles from journalists writing about "open offices bad" are just preaching to the choir.
Even the common cited reason for open offices being "saves real estate costs" is questionable. As an example, look at Mark Zuckerberg's old Harvard photos when building Facebook. Look specifically at the 8th and 16th photos.
See how everybody is literally in an "open office" crowded around a kitchen table?
In Mark's mind, that collaboration "works" for him and helped make Facebook successful. Therefore, it should also work for future hires. This is why cash-rich Facebook that has money to build private offices equal to lawyers' suites eschews that and opts to build an open plan instead. The new 2015 headquarters is expansion of that "2005 Harvard open office" on a grander scale.
Mark Z works still works in that open warehouse concept instead of a private suite.
I see very little commentary from HN that directly deals with executives who really believe in their hearts it's a superior way to work.
 deep link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l--zev_37QA&feature=youtu.be...
Fog Creek has(had) 3 major products:
- FogBugz: profitable but less of a success than Atlassian
- Trello: not profitable (sold to Atlassian)
- Stackoverflow/StackExchange : not profitable yet 
According to the open-office "distractions/interuptions" theory of killing productivity, the Atlassian programmers should have been severely handicapped and as a result JIRA should have evolved at a snails pace. Instead, the opposite happened and Atlassian JIRA released more features than FogBugz. Both FogBugz and Trello lost to Atlassian.
That Joel Spolsky post about private offices gets repeatedly cited in threads about its benefits but I recommend people not mention it. It undermines their point. It's ineffective at convincing executives. However, it's very effective at making other programmers reading it nod in agreement (aka "preaching to the choir").
Don't link ineffective articles devoid of business evidence that happens to confirm your desires. Instead, study the way some executives actually think. Too many programmers dismiss companies' rationale for open offices merely as "saves square footage costs" or "it's a way to spy on employees because of distrust". Yes, some of that may be true but others also have different reasons. (Take a look at the Mark Zuckerberg video I linked and listen to what he's saying about his desk in the open floor plan. Is he trying to recreate that elbow-to-elbow collaboration he had at the Harvard kitchen table or is he just trying to spy on people? Would that Joel Spolsky article convince Mark Z to build private offices? No? Why not?)
At Trello everyone is either remote or has a private office. I'm not sure how to prove that they're 2x (I'd say it's too vague to be provable), but they've managed to do well without taking large amounts of investment, which speaks well of their productivity.
I think you're inadvertently undermining your point. Trello wasn't profitable. They were "cash-flow break even" which is also another way of saying they still had not earned enough "free cash flow" to pay back their past internal investments that got them where they currently are.
Trello has private offices.
Atlassian has open offices. They are also profitable.
Atlassian was the one who bought Trello. Trello didn't buy Atlassian. Trello did not perform 2x better than Atlassian JIRA. (E.g. the ideal narrative would have been, "because Trello programmers have less interruptions than Atlassian programmers, their productivity was proven to be 2x superior and they made Atlassian JIRA obsolete.")
If you want to change the hearts & minds of people like Mark Z, the Trello example is not a case study to use.
Instead of using Trello, you could compare Atlassian against Fog Creek. Fog Creek was founded two years before Atlassian, and both companies are more or less in the same space - they make productivity tools for developers. And yet it's hard not to look at Atlassian as the more successful business so far.
So, recognition of need for deep concentration and focus, but in an environment totally inimical to those.
Only if you "decide" to be informed immediately when an email/message comes.
With IM you can turn it off if you need to focus, and turn it on when you are doing busy work anyway.
As a person that has worked in both open and closed floor plans, ill just say this, I miss working from home and cant wait to go back.
5-10 years after the initial deployment, the same models are no longer available and the new cubicle system isn't compatible with the old one so they're stuck with the now obsolete setup and are forced to either work with it or scrap it and start over.
Cubicles or open plan is by far the cheapest way to set up an office since you only have one room that you need to set up. And that's the main reason people use it, it's just cheaper. If you look at flexible working spaces, desks in closed rooms often cost twice of what you pay for a desk in an open floor layout. I don't think there's a way to set up closed offices at even close the price of open offices.
And I must admit as much as I don't like open offices, sitting in a tiny private office of the size you have to yourself in an open office would probably lead to anxiety.
You can always double-up in a 10X12 office if you grow. And until then, its very nice. And cheap.
Flex time with small group office is nearly ideal. I can spend hours a day with the door closed concentrating or meeting, or hours a day working as a team, it just seems ideal.
Its like the difference between college dorm life with a roommate or two, vs military barracks grid array of 50 beds packed together.
The problem is someone noticing that and then sticking 4 people in your office.
The more polite - "We're 100% contracted out right now" is somewhat less effective - they come back a month or so later.
I always got the feeling it came from some C-level exec giving the thumbs up to the Facilities exec's hateful (but ignorant!) Powerpoint about openness and collaboration and TCO and the fungibility of talent.
"Well of course we value openness and collaboration just as much as Facebook does, and they're open-plan!"
At my previous cube farm employer, we had maybe 75 cubes, a giant 30x30 cafeteria/lunch/meeting room, oh 16 tables to eat lunch at least, a large conference room we literally called the large conference room of 20x20 and a small conf room we called the small conference room of 10x10 and there was an engineering team meeting operations room (really a lockable storage room / lab) that was 20x20. Because coats and boots "can't be stored in cubes" although we did anyway, there was a row of 50 feet by 3 feet of coat closet that was basically unused. That's a lot of square footage allocated to no individual therefore "saved" but offices would result in 2000 or so sq ft of shared space being eliminated. Now figure a 10x10 office shared by two people, thats 40 people's private offices just being wasted in the shared space required by cubicle life. So of the 75 people in that office 40 are in the new offices and 35 are distributed in the space formerly occupied by cubes. Certainly cube walls are slightly thinner than private office walls but the space savings won't be a factor of two. Definitely the employer was throwing away a considerable amount of expensive rent by using cubes and meeting rooms instead of private offices. If they junked the cubes and went private shared office they would have still had extra leftover space maybe for fancier larger offices or some people could have solitary private offices or maybe some "neutral ground" meeting rooms.
Yes, if they provide special "collaboration rooms", that's going to add to the cost. But if they don't, then it's not a factor. If your employer just gives you one big open room with a bunch of tables, and that's it, that really doesn't cost much. And there's a bunch of employers these days that do exactly this.
(As for coats and boots, you can put your coat on the back of your chair. Or drop it on the floor under your desk. Yeah, it sucks, but again there's plenty of employers that treat engineers this way these days.)
There wouldn't be need for that many rooms if there were proper offices.
But yes, if they had proper offices, they wouldn't need many of those meeting rooms, only some larger ones for meetings that are too big for the offices (more than 3-4 people perhaps).
Metaphorically speaking, many of our peers believe that this vaccine causes autism. It occasionally does cause illness more severe than those vaccinated against.
It's collective bargaining through a cartel of skilled laborers. Unions.
But like Brundlefly, those infected managers don't believe they have a disease. They're not getting worse, they're getting better (as they turn into monsters).
We don't need unions - we need developers who strongly refuse to work in open offices. Since there is a shortage of developers, this should suffice. The large problem is that too many developers are willing to compromise.
...but we don't need unions?
The ethical, nonviolent way to reject bad pay or working conditions is to quit, accepting that the employer might find someone else. That's not what unions do.
Your adversary is not going to be ethical and nonviolent.
Unions resolve the prisoner's dilemma in favor of the prisoners. The game is set up like this:
In each trial, 3 players distribute $300.
A and B vote on whether E gets $100 or $150.
E can cast a tie-breaking vote.
E decides how to distribute the remainder to A and B.
| A gets | B gets | E gets |
| $100 | $100 | $100 | A $100, B $100
| $150 | $ 0 | $150 | A $150, B $100
| $ 0 | $150 | $150 | A $100, B $150
| $ 75 | $ 75 | $150 | A $150, B $150
I mean, I get why some people don't like them, but let's not pretend that the sentiment is universal.
"We're doing this to increase collaboration, although we don't allow talking" So watch my bee style interpretive dance of how to reverse a linked list. ... On today's PBS Nature documentary, when the queen bee wiggles her abdomen thusly, that means push the current array index onto the stack and then ...
If you forbid working remotely, then force your employees to centrally work remotely, then you're doing it all wrong and capturing all the disadvantages while capturing none of the advantages.
Also if you junked the special purpose offices and break rooms and phone rooms and lactation rooms and meeting rooms you'd have plenty of space for individual private offices. I've seen this happen multiple times, the team meeting room gradually converts into the team office complete with closed door to get away from noise.
My prediction is those companies will go out of business eventually. Working remotely not only is more healthy in every possible way, it's also much more environmentally friendly. It's a key solution to a whole lot of societal problems in industrialised countries, not the least of which is traffic and all the negative side effects that come with it.
They key aspect for businesses though is this: It's much more efficient and much less expensive as well.
Working remotely is a competitive advantage. If a company says that working remotely is not for them they're missing a crucial advantage enabled by technology. If they don't others will certainly make use of that advantage.
If remote work doesn't work for a business they should ask themselves why that's the case: Is physical presence really necessary or is it just perceived to be necessary due to cargo cult thinking about what work should be like?
You sure about that first part? Everyone working at their home office sounds like the next step of neoliberalism-induced isolation, with its horrible effects on mental health: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/oct/12/neolib...
I have yet to miss the office. My dev team has a 1 hr meeting each week just to hang out and talk shop, things learned, discuss ideas, etc. And there are impromptu Slack/Skype session throughout the week, as needed. That has been more than enough for me.
But if it wasn't, there are lots of mitigations if I need them: I can go to a coffee shop, meetups, hop on Skype calls with the team, etc.
I'd much rather the impetus be on me to stay mentally healthy than be on some HR person who doesn't have a clue about what introverts really need in a work environment.
Not to mention... no commute... I'm out walking my dog or cooking with my wife while most of the world is stuck sitting in traffic.
To put it bluntly - your use case is a very small minority, and proving otherwise to people in charge of office space is an uphill battle to say the least.
- You're not stuck on your commute for several hours a day. That time can be spent much more beneficially, for example for having social interactions.
- Working remotely actually requires you to communicate more and better than when everyone's sitting in the same office.
- Remote work has the potential to do away with the "contiguous 8 hours, preferably from 9 to 5" notion of work.
If you don't have to sit around in an office all day in order to pretend you're "working" anymore only the results count not the hours that went into those results. So, pervasive remote work could lead to a general reduction in working time but at the very least it allows you to do other things throughout the day (and get back to work later).
I'm not saying that all of this will happen but working remotely has the potential to shake up preconceived notions of what work should be like.
My commute is 20 minutes. I can barely read my newspaper, so I'd not mind a longer commute, actually (as long as I can use public transit).
> - Working remotely actually requires you to communicate more and better than when everyone's sitting in the same office.
I have to do that anyway. My team is spread across multiple cities.
> - Remote work has the potential to do away with the "contiguous 8 hours, preferably from 9 to 5" notion of work.
But why? That's the killer feature of an office for me. When I leave, I leave the job behind and focus on my personal life until next morning.
Of course that's just personal taste. It shall just be noted that some people genuinely prefer working in an office.
Wow! Good for you, but you're truly a minority then.
> When I leave, I leave the job behind
Also good for you! As a software developer I find it quite hard at times not to think about how to solve a work related problem.
If I need to discuss something with a colleague and (s)he's sitting right there, I have to hit myself not to just blurt out loud what I wanted to say. A lot of times the mouth is quicker than the mind and I'll upset ppl. If OTOH we're sitting in separate offices I have to physically leave my office and enter my colleague's office to do that. A lot of the times I realize that I can figure out a solution by myself by the time I reach my door. The other times the discussion takes place in a private office and no one else is disturbed.
Let's introduce a policy: Talking even one word in such a public space (except for emergencies like fire hazzards etc.) costs 100$ each time. This way everybody should learn the lesson very soon.
We can also implement a policy that any software developer who writes a bug gets a $100 fine, that should teach them!
I wonder why no one has thought of this before? Hey HN, I have solved the problem with bugs in software! If you implement my solution there will be no more bugs! Ever! Now give me my Nobel Prize!
I seriously doubt that this would help to reduce the bug rate. But let us for now assume that it really did reduce the error rate.
First: What does one consider as a bug? The interface of typical functions is not well-specified. So let's create a function that creates a C# IList from passed parameters. Now consider that IList<T>.Count returns an int. What is supposed to happen if the list that is generated will have more than Int.MaxValue elements? Is the not-consideration of this a bug in the code or something that a caller of this function should never do?
So one consequence would be that we additionally define a contract of pre and post invariants for each function so that it becomes clear whether something is a bug in the function or a bug of the user of the function.
Of course we would have to do the same for all libraries that we use, implying that we can hardly use any available library (at least not until libraries also begin to implement such a strict policy). So a lot more code to write.
I don't want to begin to talk about bugs in parts of the stack one has no control over (e.g. OS, compiler, browser) and code whose whole purpose is to circumvent these bugs one has no control over (how do you even detect in this kind of code parts what is to be considered as a "100$ bug"?).
Nearly every programmer will say: "if I really have to deliver such a low error rate because otherwise I lose money, at least I have to be allowed to use methods that enable generation of code with an error rate that is so low that it is affordable for me to submit to a 100$ per bug policy". So at least being allowed to create a giant test suite for the code or even better being allowed to use mathematical methods of formal verification.
So we get code with indeed an extraordinarily low bug rate - but on a pace that is so slow that few companies can afford it.
TLDR: Things that one would have to do to even implement such a policy would increase the quality of the code a lot. I personally believe if these were implemented a 100$ per bug policy would not be necessary anymore because the bug rate becomes so small. On the other hand these actions would increase the development time by a lot - thus increase the cost by a lot. So except for, say, software from avionics, medical devices or military this is probably not affordable.
I agree, but this way readers of HN get something that they can refer to if some manager gets an idea like:
- We can also implement a policy that any software developer who writes a bug gets a $100 fine, that should teach them!
- Let's measure how many bugs each programmer produces so that we can give bonuses for programmers that produce few bugs
We used Peopleware's (IBM's actually) ratio of 10 square feet surface area per employee and 100 square feet of dedicated space per employee. Not cramming people up is mandatory for success in high performing work spaces.
The only thing I'd add now would be a couple of extra non-assigned 4-pax work rooms, for when you know your team will be noisy for a while, or for those periods when you know you'll be on the phone a lot.
Can you put up pictures?
The problem for me is, I need to be generally around people during the day. I want to be able to work productively but have people to talk to face to face when I leave my office, go to meetings, lunch, etc. I don't dislike people and couldn't tolerate being too isolated. I just want a few walls around me.
Not me at least. I'd strongly prefer to work completely around and not be among people. I accept that there are good economic reasons why companies want to have their employees in the same office suite, but if asked for my preference, I'd strongly object.
Some companies also assume that nobody really works unless they're at the office
There is no proof that open office are cheaper. There never was any decent study done on that topic.
Regarding perception, managers who have poor management skills, and employees who are lazy, create an illusion of productivity just by being visible. However, when you take away that visibility, the illusion seems to fall apart.
I believe this occurs because it is easy to conflate presence with productivity, so some managers don't look any deeper than that. When you take away that physical presence though, they start looking at the next easiest metric (e.g. Git commits, lines of code, or some other equally pointless measurement), and find these to be less reassuring.
If you have a good manager, who knows how to manage remote teams, working remotely isn't an issue. When you have an unskilled, butt-in-chair manager, it quickly becomes one.
Regarding emotional validation, I've worked with several managers that seemed to be emotionally validated simply by having their minions around them all day. In these cases, the remote vs. in-office arguments are always decided based on emotion, rather than any physical evidence.
Remote work has been brought up time and time again as a possible way to allow employees better work-life balances and the freedom, leading them to have higher morale and motivation to work. And yet, most SV companies do not institute it. For a tech scene that's all about disruption and contrarianism for the sake of it, they sure don't like disrupting geographical proximity. (Locating their offices in San Francisco or the Valley to be closer to VCs is another dogma.)
As a person who hates the sound of people chewing loudly, when you eat at your desk, please be considerate of people like me. Chewing with your mouth open bothers more people than you think. Should fall under standard don't-bother-people decorum like showering and brushing your teeth but it doesn't.
In addition, the material cost of drywall is much less than that of cubicles, and the total installed cost will usually be less than all but the crappiest low-height cubes.
Strangely enough, top management in most places I work at always have their own offices.
The cost is also that of reduced productivity and reduced code quality. I know that if I can't concentrate properly, I write buggier code, designed for the short term.
Coworker eating with mouth open at desk next to mine, a special kind of torture.
Isn't it strictly forbidden to eat near computers where you work? At the university's computer labs it was and at the place where I had internshipss it was also.
Nope. I've had so many "just a minute" talks that turn into 5- or 10- minute chats, and there's no way we're going to break the flow of the chat at the 1-min mark to go and hunt for a free conference room, or take the lift out of the building for a walk. And the reason we're chatting in the first place is that Slack isn't good enough for the needed information transfer, otherwise it would be there.
And a tour of the office itself:
It's a nice looking space, but likely only attainable for high margin industries like software engineering.
By what metric?
All I can attest to is that in terms of the macro level of productivity, it was a better experience. The slider between focus work and social interaction across the team went closer toward focus work when working at the office. Social bonds aren't diminished at all by the fact that everyone has a space to do the best work they can. They're strengthened. Team members feel trusted.
I certainly have some street cred here too: I have been in this industry long enough to have experienced the misfortune of working in an open office. A few years ago, I worked with a company that had private offices -- then moved to an open layout. In my experience, productivity tanked for a majority of the engineering team. The problem with that floorplan? Distraction. There was nothing but "stuff" happening all around you at all times. Imagine debugging an issue, or responding to a particularly precarious situation after a PagerDuty alert comes through, all while the following items are happening:
* Nerf darts randomly flying through the air with a frequency of about 10-30 per hour.
* People using their outside voices.
* People walking around (getting coffee, going to the bathrooms, getting something to eat).
* Journalists trying to advertise the company walking around getting tours.
* Hour long discussions right in the middle of the work area, even though we had conference rooms within distance.
* The constant feeling of being "surveilled" by the management team.
As I stated originally, I've been in this industry for a long enough time, and -- at running the risk of sounding too self-congratulatory (hopefully not) -- I'm primarily intrinsically motivated. No amount of management is going to change my level of motivation, because I find motivation with or without the presence of any external forces. They might sway me just a hair, but generally speaking, for me personally, the MORE I feel managed the more demotivated I feel. That's just my personalty.
I bring this up for a reason: It's not great, it's not terrible, but in my observations, it (intrinsic motivation) also happens to be a trait in the personality of a lot of the great engineering talent I've had the pleasure of working with over the years. People who aren't intrinsically motivated don't typically put in the time and effort required to be a great engineer who gets things done. Intrinsic motivation means that you put in your "10,000 hours" in earnest, with a pure desire to constantly improve because you're enjoying what you're doing. It takes time, blood, sweat, and even tears to be a great engineer, and if you're doing it only because someone else is making you, I just can't see how you're going to be anything more than "passable". Therein lies the challenge in hiring and focusing great talent on a unified goal.
All that said, when you hire for skill and talent, get the cream of the crop, and then put all of those bright folks in a room where they feel like they're being monitored, that leads to a feeling that "I'm not trusted", and that feeling of not being trusted leads to a feeling of "I don't trust them if they don't trust me". It's a very visceral and primal feeling. You see security cameras pop up in your neighborhood, and you first think, "They're watching me", then you think, "What are they up to watching me?". Distrust (even the sense of it where it may not exist) breeds distrust. It sows a feeling of distrust when you configure your company like a panopticon, and that's essentially what many open floor plans end up becoming. The modern day version of a factory line, with a foreman looming at all times.
You can see where I'm going with this. A lot of folks felt like they were being watched when working in the open floor plan, and I'd argue it sapped from their more useful, more lucrative creative energy. This isn't something that's talked about a lot when discussing the pitfalls of open floor plans because it's a sociology subject, but I observed it as a very real, very prolific problem in the organic culture (that is, the bottom up culture) of that organization.
My point is, I have seen and worked in offices that are designed wrong, and Wildbit got this right.
I enjoy working in an open office atm, it's nice having everyone so close. It is also a necessity for me to have a "no distractions" environment while coding. I'll throw on headphones and turn my desk so I have no visual or noise distractions.
I have a particularly fond memory of when Reelio rented space at Blueprint (healthcare incubator in NYC). We stayed up very late, listened to loud music, and did some of the best work of our lives.
I remember one night in particular, listening to the soundtrack from "O Brother Where Art Thou," when asynchrony and mutexes finally really clicked for me.
I interviewed last year at a very "tech-bro" type office in downtown Seattle. It was exactly as you described your office. It was not even three in the afternoon, and they had some loud European techno playing. None of the people there seemed to be actually doing work - it looked like they were lounging around for the sake of appearances rather than actually working. I ended up ending the interview early (the first time I've ended up doing that) because it became very clear, very early that it was a bad fit.
Now, that's not to say that the only form of work I'd tolerate is work-from-home or private offices. Open offices can work, as long as everyone sticks to a shared set of rules. My personal preference is "library rules": if it'd be considered rude to do in a library, it'll be considered rude to do in the office. I feel like that gets about 80-90% of the benefit of a private office, while still delivering the floor-plan efficiencies of an open office.
This is probably true, but whenever this subject comes up on HN people tend to forget that programmers tend to be fairly atypical people. Many people - mostly not programmers - find that a number of people around them with a shared purpose and even background noise actually helps them concentrate, and find casual conversations with people on adjacent desks motivating as well as useful for conveying work-relevant information. A working environment designed to the preferences of people who like listening to loud techno music is certainly an extreme way of catering for those tastes, but separate offices and silence is also an extreme.
And the pervasive myth that the only reason anyone would choose to work in an open plan environment is cost-efficiency is rather dented by the number of self-employed people paying (and commuting) to work in shared office space when they could have had more peace and quiet staying at home.
> the only reason anyone would choose to work in an open plan environment is cost-efficiency is rather dented by the number of self-employed people paying (and commuting) to work in shared office space
Does anyone have numbers for this. I doubt the majority of work from home employees use such a service.
>more peace and quiet staying at home.
Is this also true? Homes with children are rather loud places for example.
I mean, you've got a survey here finding over a million people using coworking spaces, of which more than half are single founders or freelancers.
I'm pretty sure most of them aren't there mainly to avoid noisy kids.
Due to my experiences I've met a LOT of people in coworking spaces all over the world and I would say that my general take is pretty consistent. People pay into a coworking space to guarantee a space that work can be done when they're traveling. Very few of my fellow coworkers permanently reside in the same city as the coworking space they frequent. This, also, is why networks of coworking spaces like WeWork are doing so well. WeWork in particular enables me to go to many destination cities and have a spot to work without needing to pre-plan to work with a local space.
However, the other major NYC WeWorks (SoHo, Midtown, Madison) have much more the vibe you describe. Well... Madison is basically just offices.
If WeWork is your only or primary experience of co-working, I think you picked the right space for the vibe you're saying you like.
However, other major open plan office spaces - TechStars, Alley, and so on, do very much specifically cater to and create an affirmative open plan vibe and the people who prefer that.
Office spaces that share with or are primarily incubators often have a set up that allows for pitch practice right on the floor. This is a little hectic even for me. :-)
Still, if nomadic workers are finding it easier to "guarantee that work can be done" by booking a coworking space rather than spending that cash on a bigger AirBnB/hotel room promising a desk and fast WiFi it's an indication that at least some of the time they consider an office shared with other people working a preferable working environment to the solitude of an empty bedroom.
This is a risk you can't take as a business-person in a lot of ways. There's many places in the world that are great to visit and travel to, but that simply don't have acceptable quality of residential Internet connections. For example, I was in Rabat, Morocco a few months ago and was able to work effectively because I had a coworking space with fiber Internet connectivity, meanwhile the best broadband connection on offer to residential addresses was similar in performance to 56k dial-up in most of the rest of the world.
The part that makes a coworking space a preferable working environment isn't the lack of solitude, it's the guarantee of high performance Internet connectivity.
I worked from Morocco last month, so I'd be the first to concede their internet isn't particularly good by developing world standards, but there are an awful lot of remote workers for whom a 200 dirham dongle would do the trick. Not to mention an abundance of coworking spaces in London, where domestic wifi tends to be excellent, many of which are geared mostly or exclusively to permanent residents.
...but that's... not how I described the office in question.
We stayed up very late, listened to loud music
To me, the two are related. You stay late because there's loud music playing. If it was quiet, you'd get your work done and go home at a reasonable hour. Instead, you have to deal with loud music, co-workers playing foosball, people coming and going behind you, and as a result, you don't end up leaving until 9pm or later.
That's a presumption, unstated in the comment, and it is incorrect.
I have worked at... I don't know how many co-working and incubator spaces. And of those, some had a very socially lubricated environment at night that sometimes included loud- (or even live-) music.
But never have I experienced loud music during the day except on some special occasion (ie holiday party or something).
No offense, but that sounds like some kind of boys club, not professional working environment. Staying up late = no respect for private life (unless you've signed for it), loud arbitrary music = forced culture implications (why do I have to listen to the music you like?). Yes, probably our work place expectations differs immensely.
5 minutes later...
"Everyone, we've decided that music is a personal taste, and that to maintain a professional working environment, we will not be playing music over the sound system."
Sorry, slightly unrelated to the discussion, but it could be used for open offices :-)
Part of the inspiration was when I was taking it in turns I'd have to sit through loads of abrasive pop music and then when a beautiful death metal song came on everyone would complain and skip it.
I really don't expect a lot of people to care for listening to my thrash metal, so the obvious solution here is to simply not have shared music. It's just a bad idea, and just like you say, reeks of a boys' club and not a professional working environment. I don't go to work to bond with a bunch of people who I did not explicitly choose to be my friends; I go there to earn a paycheck and do interesting work within my profession and build my resume.
Have you worked in an early- or mid-stage startup in NYC or the Bay Area in the past... 10 years?
> No offense, but that sounds like some kind of boys club, not professional working environment
That's a strange value judgment; I'm not really sure what to think about it. At the end of the day, the company is still growing and meeting its goals. It is also still facilitating the development of open source software.
So something is working.
> Staying up late = no respect for private life (unless you've signed for it)
Reelio is one of those clients that excited me to show up early and stay late.
They also welcomed my wife and our baby to join whenever they wanted.
Hardly disrespect for private life.
> loud arbitrary music = forced culture implications (why do I have to listen to the music you like?)
Well, sure - this doesn't work in the middle of the day when the entire company is there.
But at 1AM when it's just a half dozen developers?
Have you never had the experience of hearing new music at someone else's recommendation in a teamwork setting? It's a beautiful feeling.
I am able to demand very high compensation, even among programmers. I am able to demand a work schedule that fits me (5-12 day stretches of long days, followed by vacations of a length of my choosing).
My position is a mix of blessings, for which I am grateful, and work to gain the esteem and trust of the python (and larger programming-) communities.
My heart goes out to those who struggled (and in some cases gave their lives) for better working conditions; I am nowhere near their plight and can't even know their struggle.
...why do you think I have no desire to move to either of those parts of the country or to work for a startup? I like to describe Silicon Valley as "degenerate" for a few reasons, and this is one of them.
I'm perfectly happy working in the suburbs of Texas in a corporate environment (~500 employees, B2B telecom industry).
> and our baby to join whenever they wanted
Screaming baby in the office = I quit. I'm glad my current employer has "no children in the office" as written policy in our handbook.
One of the CSRs had a previously criminal history, but was a nice guy and did good work. That day, the daughter accused him of molesting her. Because he had a criminal record, he ended up going back to jail. I don't know if he did it or not, but the daughter should not have been there in the first place. Had the cashier followed company policy, the situation couldn't have happened.
I'm not judging anyone, and no matter what actually happened, it's a horrible tragedy.
Clearly different environments work for different people. I'm not trying to suggest that I want to try to concentrate on software development next to a screaming baby (that obviously wouldn't be an ideal environment), but I would be pleased and encouraged to have an employer who was open to allowing families into the work space. That's the sort of thing that truly motivates me, far more than foosball tables and free snacks.
I'm not saying that the startup environment is great for everyone, but it has produced a compelling critique of the corporate environment. Clearly.
Shared music, late nights, open plans, families, ping pong / pinball, and so on... These aren't per se the mark of a "boys club" in contrast to a "professional environment," they are a critique of the industry-style work environment, and one that has been enormously successful in two the most economically active cities in the USA.
Seems to be confusing correlation with causation.
Your are mistaking respect for private life with being a "company man".
Instead of setting professional boundaries the company in this case integrated themselves into your identity/family/life.
And today, I have moved on, retain equity in the company, and am proud to watch projects that I started there continue to grow and expand.
They're doing great; I'm doing great.
What's the problem?
It's fantastic that it worked for you and your team, in that time and space, however, the combination of factors that created that were unique and not easily repeatable. So, in absence of a formula to replicate that, we should instead be working to normalize a baseline that is conducive/comfortable for most folks.
You did sign up for it if you took a job there with full knowledge of the office culture. A culture of staying up late is no less respectful of private life than a culture of starting early. The former is better for people who do better work late, while the latter is better for people who do better work early. It seems to be that companies ought to exist for both types of people, and it's perfectly alright to encounter the wrong type of office and simply choose not to work there without disparaging it.
For a startup or small company doing mostly plain development, and especially if it's a tight-nit group that stay up late and have fun like you describe, it's probably great.
For engineers working 9-17, with a family-life, with complex multi-faceted work.. it can be a nightmare.
I prefer sharing an office with 1-3 others. You still get the social interaction, but without too much distraction. It's a pretty good compromise.
In the past, I've shared an office with one other, and I've shared an office with three others.
Sharing an office with one other person was great, especially when the desks were arranged so we both had our backs to the wall. I'd gladly do it again.
Sharing an office with three others was a nightmare. It could have been worse: at least I got along with my officemates, but the lack of privacy got to me badly, especially given that the desks were arranged so none of our backs were to a wall (I even faced the window... beautiful view, but the glare got to me).
Yep, the general line is "it fosters openness and collaboration"
Thus, it's nice to have open space, but also cozy, comfortable environs for solo- or small-team work.
W+K in Portland accomplishes this masterfully.
I worked with a Chinese guy that routinely put up with many of the others making jokes (all nice, IIRC) about his ethnicity. I noticed that he didn't look happy about it, and tried to help, but he refused to do anything about it. He eventually stressed out and quit, and I can't help but think that was at least part of the reason.
Likewise, I've seen it for noise, conversation, and even once someone finally snapped and complained about a co-worker would trim their finger and toe nails at work in his cubicle. He did it for quite a while before someone finally got fed up enough to say something. He shrugged it off and kept doing it, and nobody did anything about it.
So yeah, I agree that many people simply won't do anything about the things that make them unhappy.
Certainly agree that avoiding a one-size-fits-all attitude is best, but I think that picking something at the granularity of "the team" is part of the problem here.
Likewise, people who answer a bunch of tricky questions with "the team decides."
For longer term stability after the rush has worn off, and when individualized tasks branch off from what others are doing, having more physical isolation certainly is beneficial.
I work at a place that does pair programming, so I'm always engaged in some form of communication.
I worked from home on occasion, but I didn't like it: I got lonesome, and was easily distracted and my productivity suffered.
Sometimes it gets really loud. Yesterday my pair said, "It's too loud; I can't think." I hadn't noticed.
I'm not an epidemiologist — I don't know whether working closely makes people sick more often — but I do know that in the last 5 years I only took 3 hours of sick leave when I didn't feel good one afternoon. Other than that I've been has healthy as ever.
I'm not a one-size-fits-all guy — I realize that an open plan doesn't work for many people (one of my talented peers is now working at Uber partly for that reason), but for some of us it's a godsend.
This is the best setup that I've found for balancing the social isolation of private offices/WFH with the distractions of an open office setup.
You must be kidding. What did the other 100 people in the office said when you put up the sound???
It's much easier to get 6-8 people to agree and enjoy on music than 60-80 people. :-)