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.