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Open offices are awful, but they're here to stay for the same reason more adults are living with roommates and relatives: high real estate prices.

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.




Like cities and human development, there should be different areas for different types of work and different people.

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".


That's one of the main takeaways from the story tho. In an open office those who need silence cannot get it, even if there are private rooms available: "Some of us even feel that escaping to a quiet room is a sign of weakness" and "it can feel as if we’re not pulling our weight if we’re not present"


One thing that that would bother me in that situation is I do not enjoy doing work on laptops. I prefer to work from a desktop where the monitor (1) reasonably sized, (2) at eye level. I also prefer a full sized mouse and keyboard, as I feel handicapped by a trackpad. Most quiet places do not have this, so I am effectively chained to my desk, where my desktop is.


At my company, we are fortunate to have quiet spaces that have dual monitors, keyboard, and mouse, for your laptop. I agree, it's a necessity.


Yeah the worst is when they want all the work done onsite and expect extreme hours at the open office space total recipe for disaster


Over ear headphones are a pretty good workaround if you don't want to be distracted by the noise.


They're really not, though. In addition to "hey, hearing damage!" if you're listening loud enough to actually counteract the din of crap around you, it's a profoundly isolating thing to be wearing them for six hours a day. It's symptomatic relief that pushes the buttons of way worse problems, IMO.


Which is why I just bought some of those Bose noise cancelling cans. Listen at a safe volume and block out noise. They're great.


That you have to block out noise by strapping things to your head for six hours a day is the problem that you are steadfastly not solving, though.

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.


Agreed, I know that noise-cancelling headphones are a solution to noisy offices for some people, but for me at least it's almost as distracting to have something (anything) strapped to my head for hours on end. And yeah, no one should have to do that in the first place.

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.


Same thing goes for availability over Slack, HipChat, etc.

"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?)


Il take async communications over interuptrupts any day of the week. Just disable notifications and check it when you're not balls deep in something.


Additionally, it's not a universal work-around. Noise canceling gives a significant fraction of us nausea


Or some people are very sensitive to the (white?) noise that noise that NC headphones still generate.


>...noise cancelling cans...

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.


Depends on the model. QC20's from bose (in-ear noise canceling) are basically magic in that regard - turn them on, add relatively quiet music, and I might as well be deaf to everything, including conversation.

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.


Solution: sit near your most monotonous colleagues.


They're expensive too. I know it's not a concern for some but it is for me.


No, they're not. Headphones are a marginal improvement over listening to all the conversations in the room, but not nearly as good for concentration as an actual quiet room.


It isn't just the noise that is distracting though, visual stimuli can be more distracting than noise; at least they are for me. I guess we could solve this problem via headphones and VR goggles with views isolated views of your desktop, but if you're going to go to that extreme, why not just work remotely or in a closed office?


A visual barrier may be needed also if you've got people roaming around. At one place we had large black fold out cardboard pieces to alleviate that. Was kind of absurd, but better than nothing.


Watch your volume levels, though, if you're listening to music. A few years' worth of listening to metal with noise cancelling headphones trying to drone out the noise has probably contributed to the slight tinnitus I'm having.


One problem with that is that in an open-plan office, meetings can be de-formalized into open conversations and you'll have to monitor those if you don't want to be left out or might have something to contribute.

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.


I've found IEM-style headphones are better. Since they already block out some of the ambient noise by plugging your ears, much lower volume levels are required to block out distractions.


I find any kind of headphones to be painful/disturbing after a while. On-ear are the worst (who the F * * * thought pressing your ears into your head was a good idea?), followed by in-ear. The only ones I can wear for any amount of time are over-ear but eventually (if nothing else) your ears will be all warm and that will be disturbing as well.

Besides I really enjoy just silence sometimes, being forced to listen to music does not necessarily improve my focus.


I sometimes wear my headphones with no music, just in noise-canceling mode. Just like you, I think music can be distracting or tiring after a while. My Sony headphones have such powerful noise canceling that it silences even the slightest hum, sort of a anechoic chamber. It helps me concentrate and I like keeping my ears warm. If I'm in the mood, I also put some white noise sounds on (youtube has plenty of it) including rain, beach waves and train rides.

And I work in my own private corner office.


> On-ear are the worst (who the F * * * thought pressing your ears into your head was a good idea?)

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.


And for those of us who get distracted by visual noise? Maybe blinkers (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blinkers_(horse_tack))?


No one outside of trendy Bay Area tech startups respect the 'headphones = DND' social guideline. Open offices suck for this reason because people just take it as open season to come up to your desk whenever they want to ask a question. I'm forever interrupted by this, not just the movement around me in my peripheral vision and the noise (particularly social converstions in the hall behind me near the printer).


I often do this, but find it enclosing. I also can't stand headphones when I leave the office. I like to listen to music while I work generally. When I work from home, I leave the speakers on. I can move about while I work, not tethered.


I once interviewed over a video call. I asked, "I notice you have an open office there. Where do the developers sit in relation to the sales and customer service teams?"

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.


Bingo. They know it reduces productivity but apparently the productivity hit is worth the cost savings. And frankly, from a business perspective, they could be right. Just don't tell me its "to enhance collaboration" [don't pee on my leg and tell me it's raining].

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.)


Somewhat meta and not being contradictory to your message; but accountants are very much like programmers and need their quiet spaces. Managing complex Excel spreadsheets is about as close to programming as other office work.

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.


Accounting often requires huge amount of folder/files which is next to impossible to organize in an open office -- also there is no QA/automated testing for misfiled numbers/reports.

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)


There are a lot of businesses where the social status hierarchy is much more important than productivity.

As long as the company can survive, they just don't want to give the bottom-rungs much at all.


I was afraid I might get some flak for mentioning accountants. I apparently have/had an incorrect or at least dated view of how an accountant works.

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. :-)


> Bingo. They know it reduces productivity but apparently the productivity hit is worth the cost savings.

Or the cost savings are reaped by different people than those who bear the productivity hit.


I bet accountants fall on the side of people who like uninterrupted quiet to do their work well.


Wait wait wait, are you suggesting that not everyone conforms to the same needs? Where did you hear this blasphemy at. Seriously though, I 100% agree that businesses should not treat employees like sardines that all fit in a row and be more accommodating to different people's preferences and needs.


Strangely, open offices with cubicles can be more expensive than building drywall walls to make closed offices. And the much-vaunted flexibility of cubicles is way, way overrated. In my experience, cubicles sit in the same place for years. Any benefit of re-using them is lost. Also if the company is growing, new ones get bought all the time, so old ones aren't re-used anyway.

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.


>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.[1] Look specifically at the 8th and 16th photos.[2][3]

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.[4]

Mark Z works still works in that open warehouse concept instead of a private suite.[5]

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.

[1] http://piximus.net/celebrities/mark-zuckerberg-harvard-photo...

[2] http://piximus.net/media/35747/mark-zuckerberg-harvard-photo...

[3] http://piximus.net/media/35747/mark-zuckerberg-harvard-photo...

[4] http://www.kwiknews.my/news/facebook-takes-the-open-office-c...

[5] deep link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l--zev_37QA&feature=youtu.be...


FogCreek / StackOverflow might be an example of this. https://stackoverflow.blog/2015/01/why-we-still-believe-in-p...


First, Stackoverflow was not successful because it was built by programmers in private offices. It was successful because Joel Spolsky and Jeff Atwood had popular blogs followed by a large population of programmers sick of ExpertExchange. Stackoverflow is a demonstration of guerilla-SEO via a ready-made audience to make a site instantly popular.

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 [1]

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?)

[1] https://www.joelonsoftware.com/2015/01/20/stack-exchange-rai...


>> 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.

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.


>they've managed to do well

I think you're inadvertently undermining your point. Trello wasn't profitable.[1] 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.[2] They are also profitable.[3]

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.

[1] http://www.forbes.com/sites/alexkonrad/2016/05/23/trello-get...

[2] http://blogs.gartner.com/tom_murphy/2012/02/25/atlassian-eve...

[3] http://www.zdnet.com/article/atlassian-records-20m-profit-in...


Wouldn't you also need to include things like, time from founding, revenue per employee, growth rate, return on investment, etc. to evaluate whether Atlassian or Trello has been the more productive business?


The GP's point still stands: closed offices _may_ make for more productive employees (for some classes of employees), but it is not obvious that they translate into a more productive _business_.

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.


An "open office" for 5-7 persons is different from an open office for 30+ people. In fact, I think an "open office" for 5-7 persons (e.g. the typical software development team) is quite ideal.


I disagree. I've worked in 1,2,3,5-7 and 30+ ppl offices and my view is that 1 is superior in every way, 2 is possible (but it's quite easy to talk away hours if you have common interests), 3 starts to be quite disturbing (especially since it's now possible for three completely different discussions taking place at the same time) and the difference between 5-7 and 30+ is minimal since it's the 5-7 ppl closest to you in a 30+ office that are the most disturbing anyway, the rest are just white noise.


There is a weird call out to this work environment in The Social Network, where Zuckerberg is talking to a visitor, but has to keep shooing him away from the programmers on the couches, huddled around the kitchen table, saying "Don't interrupt him! He's in the zone!"

So, recognition of need for deep concentration and focus, but in an environment totally inimical to those.


They may work when people have enough work diciplin to not interrupt with irrelevant things. Which it looks like they can manage in the pictures. But when you have a constant stream of people interrupting with things that should just have been an email or slack message, it kills productivity.


Email and slack are interruptive.


> Email and slack are interruptive.

Only if you "decide" to be informed immediately when an email/message comes.


While it works to decide to check email only 2-3 times a day, it doesn't work so well with IM. IM discussions are typically much faster and there's a big risk you miss out on giving your POV before everyone has moved on, if you only check it every now and then.


If everyone moved on, was it really important to give your input anyway?

With IM you can turn it off if you need to focus, and turn it on when you are doing busy work anyway.


I have no popup or sounds when I get an email, and when slack is in dnd, it might as well not be open. My point though, is that I control if I want to be interrupted.


I agree. I used to design voice and data networks for call centers and I would always be part of the planning phase. A lot of times I would have to go with call center owners when they would go inspect cubicles they found and potentially wanted to buy, so as to answer any questions about how they will be connected to power, network, etc.. I was always amazed at just how expensive cubicles were. I mean, for what they are. One of the call centers was owned by a construction company. They originally went with cubes but in their next call center they built cubes out of drywall, not quite offices obviously - but looked really good, at mere fraction of the cost.

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.


I love that idea and I'm glad someone realized it. The dry wall helps with the noise, which reduces stress in that environment.


Last time I wanted cubes in the Silicon Valley, used ones in excellent condition were available for cheap. Thank you, Internet Bubble!


Any benefit of re-using them is lost. Also if the company is growing, new ones get bought all the time, so old ones aren't re-used anyway.

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.


Event though dry walls are cheap, you cannot just install them as you can do with cubicles. You'd have to change ventilation to work for all rooms, have proper lights for every cubicle, adhere to fire restrictions (probably alarms in every small room) and will likely need to use more space per employee.

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.


I had a couple office spaces built out. While we used cubicles for odd spaces (no light/no sprinkler) we tried to use built offices as much as possible. Because it was much, much cheaper. Hundreds of dollars instead of thousands.

You can always double-up in a 10X12 office if you grow. And until then, its very nice. And cheap.


One former employer doubled up but only if the parties were opposite "early bird" vs "night owl". My officemate left work at 2 every afternoon to pick up the kids (even in the summer, whatever), then VPNed in from home, and I abused flex time to a level of almost working 2nd shift, so we each had nearly private offices for at least half the work day. It was a small office, couldn't have been more than 10 ft on a side, but remember we didn't need endless collaboration and meeting spaces because we had offices, so the net real estate used was less than cubes or open offices. Also it was cheaper because cubes or open offices falling apart is just being cheap, but a 150 year old building falling apart is financially valuable "character"

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.


>> so we each had nearly private offices for at least half the work day

The problem is someone noticing that and then sticking 4 people in your office.


At one place I worked we went in on a weekend and rearranged all of the cubicles in our work area to better suit our work style and needs. (moved openings, created a central collaboration area, etc) Our boss was ok with it because he said he was responsible for the budget for that floor (including real estate) and if we felt it would make us more productive he was all for it. Unfortunately the corporate bureaucrats got wind of it several months later and came in from HQ (which was 1,000 miles away) and ordered us to put them back in the official standard configuration. They didn't care that our team worked better and was more productive the way we had it. They had official standard configurations and our cubes had to stay that way.


Could it be that one of the team members made a complaint privately (or anonymously)? Otherwise it would be a stupid move (and would be easy to fight by taking the case to the next level of bureaucrats -- "bureaucrats have greater bureaucrats to go to .. " :) )


Teammates of mine have very occasionally been able to fend off a stupid edict by a mid-level manager with a simple (and literal) "Fuck off, we're busy" and/or "we have real work to do". They're usually to embarrassed to respond or escalate. It's hardly a recommended procedure, or appropriate for every situation or combination of people.

The more polite - "We're 100% contracted out right now" is somewhat less effective - they come back a month or so later.


Was there some complaint from another team or something? That is just so illogical.


I have no idea if someone complained or not. There were regular visits by senior management and remote team members. Some of whom were jealous that we had cubes at all.


...or they said that they were jealous to toe the party line.


The furniture police!


There is a tax benefit as well. Cubicles are considered "furniture" which depreciates faster than walls. Companies get to deduct a greater percentage of the cost of cubicles each year than they would for the cost of building a wall.


This is one of those cases where middle management is harming the company's long term interests for personal benefits. An annual review or resume benefits from saved X$/year as long as other costs are hidden. Many managers also just like walking past the cube farm to their office.


Are you sure this is a middle-management thing?

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!"


And they may honestly not know any better, if the developers haven't come out of their shells to complain to him, and he's seen the photos of Facebook and knows they are maybe the most successful software company on Earth.


You might be comparing to the wrong thing. These days, lots of open offices I see do not involve expensive (low) cubicle walls and desks, they're just simple tables. You can't get much cheaper than simple fold-up tables.


What about the cost of those special collaboration rooms that no one wants to talk about?

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.


This depends entirely on the employer and what they provide for in the office.

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.)


The open office is terrible for having meetings, calls and conferences. All the companies I've seen had to allocate about half the building space to meeting rooms only. That totally ruins the alleged space savings from having a single cheap hangar full of people.

There wouldn't be need for that many rooms if there were proper offices.


I don't disagree, but I'll also point out that it isn't much better with cubicles. When I worked in a giant company that had cubicles in the 2000s, it was the same: a significant part (not half though) of the floor space was dedicated to meeting rooms, because you can't have meetings in a cubicle easily, and for privacy, serious discussion, etc., you really need a meeting room. So a company like that, which is already set up with the 1990s standard of cubicles and meeting rooms, could easily see an open-office plan as a way to save money and pack even more people into the office buildings they already have. All they have to do is take out the cubicles and stick a bunch of tables in, and leave the meeting rooms as-is.

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).


The vaccine already exists. It was introduced to the US in 1786.

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).


> It's collective bargaining through a cartel of skilled laborers. Unions.

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.


So you're saying that we need a category of workers to agree to refuse certain working conditions, but as a group so that individual compromisers don't undermine the action?

...but we don't need unions?


If we can rely on a shortage of desperate workers, we don't need to send mafia goons after them.

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.


The historical behavior of unions is commensurate with the historical behavior of employers and strike-breakers.

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
Obviously, if A and B cooperate, and voluntarily form a cartel with the power to enforce cooperation, they will experience a better outcome. Because in the long run, in repeated trials, the employer will be pocketing an extra $50 in a huge number of trials, while pitting the employees against each other.


Some, like myself, strongly prefer open offices.

I mean, I get why some people don't like them, but let's not pretend that the sentiment is universal.


Is someone building 4x4' drywall "offices" somewhere?


Right, the cost savings in going with cubes over offices is not in materials. It's in the amount of people per sq ft you can jam into one office.


Build bigger; double up. Its still better than sharing with 50 people.


If you just build a bigger office and fill it with cubes or desks is that really much better? The biggest issue for me in my open office was that devs feel the need to play instruments to start standups for some reason. Usually bongos but in the past it was a giant gong. Really made my client phone calls interesting. My biggest WFH issue is dogs.


That sounds incredibly aggravating, if I have to work in a library, why do I have to work in your library an awful commute away, instead of my nice suburban public library around the block?

"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.


> Working remotely is one solution, but many companies don't think it would work for them.

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?


> Working remotely not only is more healthy in every possible way, it's also much more environmentally friendly.

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 commented elsewhere, but I've been working remotely for 2 years and have never been happier in my entire career, even though it's nowhere near the most interesting job I've had.

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.


The cross section of introverts and people who are able to work remotely (by nature of their job) is much smaller in an economy than you imagine. Can you list at least a dozen jobs that don't require physical presence?

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.


People had social lives before there was large-scale use of offices. There are several ways in which a home office allows for a richer social life:

- 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.


> - 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.

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.


> My commute is 20 minutes.

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.


True, I do that, too. But I consciously don't act on it.


Gathering large number of humans in the same place (factories then offices), well away from their homes, is a relatively new thing. For hundreds and thousands of years, they have been working in (craftsmen) or around their homes (farmers), seeing mostly family and close neighbours.


In my experience, open offices are ok when they are treated like libraries, where quietness is enforced. "Shared area for solitary work only" describes this very well. In some rare teams, there can be oubursts of goofiness at predictable afternoon times without it affecting productivity, but it takes the right team for that to happen, otherwise it's just a source of frustration.


But it's so unnatural.

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.


> A lot of times the mouth is quicker than the mind and I'll upset ppl.

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.


Yay! Let's make miserable workers even more miserable!

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!


> We can also implement a policy that any software developer who writes a bug gets a $100 fine, that should teach them!

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.


You just typed an awfully large reply to someone being sardonic.


> You just typed an awfully large reply to someone being sardonic.

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


For my company, we went with a semi-open design, in the spirit of your quiet rooms: Desks with huge glasses in front, forming rows of floor to ceiling cubicles. Think small offices with no doors and with glass walls. It allows natural light to flow through the office, while reducing noise. Noise reduction ceiling and a policy of quiet zone in the development area complement the solution, for what I think is a great work space.

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.


That sounds great. I've wondered if people used high transparent walls or partitions for exactly this.

Can you put up pictures?


> Working remotely is one solution, but many companies don't think it would work for them.

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.


that's pretty much what everyone wants. the problem is it's expensive.


> that's pretty much what everyone wants.

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.


The problem is that management thinks it's more expensive. But if we're 15% less productive (as the article suggests and I think is a low estimate) it's actually more expensive with open space.


> Working remotely is one solution, but many companies don't think it would work for them.

Some companies also assume that nobody really works unless they're at the office


> Open offices are awful, but they're here to stay for the same reason more adults are living with roommates and relatives: high real estate prices.

There is no proof that open office are cheaper. There never was any decent study done on that topic.


The biggest issues I've seen with working remotely are perception and emotional validation.

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.


> Working remotely is one solution, but many companies don't think it would work for them.

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.)


> no eating at work areas

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.


For me it's gum (especially completely open mouth chewing... like, seriously?!) when working in close quarters like conference rooms. I don't say anything, because I don't want to seem rude or controlling. Chewing coming from nearby cubicles is also very noticeable to me. When I hear it, I have to escape with headphones. I try to keep in mind that for the person making the noise, it is a positive thing in their perspective (as it is for me when I eat), and not think "should" statements.


A cube and an office take up nearly an identical amount of square-footage, so real-estate prices ought not have an effect.

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.


We have this shared area for solitary work at our office. All developers sit in a "quiet zone". It doesn't work. When you have 10 people in a room, you will get interruptions, even with the best of intentions.


It's not just high real-estate prices, it is also short term savings by squashing everyone together - the execs save money.

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.


"no eating at work areas"

Coworker eating with mouth open at desk next to mine, a special kind of torture.


> Coworker eating with mouth open at desk next to mine

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.


no. if you experience these types of rules, you are in the wrong building and need to leave


Yeah! And then burping loudly in between the loud chews. Gotta love your open office!


> no work discussions longer than a minute at work areas (use a conference room, take a walk or Slack)

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.


These are great suggestions.




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