Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
[dupe] The open-office trend is destroying the workplace (2014) (washingtonpost.com)
348 points by makwarth on Feb 5, 2017 | hide | past | web | favorite | 226 comments

I think we've lost the war. I was even asked to meet with my company's architects and designers about a new space we were building out. I basically spent an hour telling them in every different form I could that what I wanted was a place I could go where people could find me, but they would have to knock on a door and open it to talk to me, and these people looked at me like I was from fucking Mars. They'd never heard anything so absurd in their whole life. I even pleaded for cubicles. I can't even remember what it was like to have dignity.

"What about a health clinic? Or a coffee bar instead?"

I found as many studies as I could about how awful these open office plans are, and printed them all out, and left them there. At the end of the day, on a whim I checked the recycle bin in the conference room they were in. Anyone want to guess what I found?

When I die and get to hell, there will be a Hermann Miller chair in an open office waiting for me. With free snacks and drinks in the kitchen.

I had my own office once for a contract role I did. It was great. It makes employees feel more valued and reduces stress levels.

I find that when you're constantly around people, you are less reflective/creative and more prone to getting caught up in hype cycles and group-think.

My biggest problem with open offices is the constant stress that comes with people walking behind my back every few minutes. It's paranoia-inducing.

Workers cortisol levels raise when they don't face the door: http://cheryljanisdesigns.com/why-sitting-with-your-back-to-...

It's totally bad Feng Shui. I always ensure that I face, or am side on with the door in any office I have worked in. Plus I guess it also goes back to our primal nature - you don't want to have your back to the only point of access for potential enemies or carnivores looking for lunch...

>When I die and get to hell, there will be a Hermann Miller chair in an open office waiting for me. With free snacks and drinks in the kitchen.

You'll be allowed to wear headphones, and Hell will have a Slack channel, but instead of using the Slack channel, everyone will just walk over to your desk and talk to you.

While you're debugging.

The good news is, you'll only end up there if you are guilty of the sin of writing unreadable code.

Uh oh. Is there forgiveness available? When I was a kid, I tried to write all kinds of games in BASIC (including an ASCII version of Super Mario Bros, a distinct disappointment). Thing was, I had only ever seen one letter variables. So all my variables were the first letter of what they stood for, and if that letter was taken, I used the next available letter. I never finished any of the games, because at some point I'd run into a bug, or have not worked on it for a few weeks, and I had no idea what anything was doing. It was only after getting a Peter Norton book for my birthday that I discovered variables could be more than one letter. I found the programs really annoying to type out, because of all the long variables, but it was a whole lot more readable...

Although, I kind of like open office plans. Definitely better than cubicles, which have relational isolation but no sound isolation. So you feel disconnected with everyone, but you have to hear them anyway.

What kind of space was planned for the managers/executives? Offices? Would not be surprised. That's how it went with the open office plans I've worked in. Managers and directors all get offices. Everyone else gets a desk in a fishbowl, maybe with some "focus rooms" that are supposed to make up for it.

At my employer, even the highest-level executives don't get offices. They just have a suspicious number of consecutive meetings in the same conference room.

Mid-level executives waste a massive amount of time "commuting" between conference rooms on the hour every hour.

> I was even asked to meet with my company's architects and designers about a new space we were building out. I basically spent an hour telling them in every different form I could that what I wanted was a place I could go where people could find me, but they would have to knock on a door and open it to talk to me, and these people looked at me like I was from fucking Mars.

I had to check your username to see if a) you're me or b) you're one of my co-workers. This exact same thing happened to me. I'll admit that our new office looks quite nice, but it is more-or-less impossible to actually get any work done there. Every conversation destroys the entire focus of the entire team; every personal tic annoys dozens of people and destroys their focus. There's no peace, no quiet and precious little productivity.

I honestly don't know why they bothered having those meetings. Did other folks say, 'I'd love something pretty, but I don't want to ever complete any actual work'? Did someone request an office which looks great in a brochure? Did someone say, 'I want something which makes an awesome gallery — don't worry about making it an office'? Enquiring minds want to know.

The kitchen will be about 1 meter away from your workspace. You'll enjoy the overly loud conversations, beeping of microwaves, coffee makers, dishwashing, and the delightful smells of bkreafast, brunch, lunch, and the rest.

My office has a kitchen adjacent to a auditorium. No doors.

Everyone who gives presentations around lunchtime inevitably has to apologize to the audience for the beeping microwaves and chatty employees.

This building is like 3 years old and cost tens of millions of dollars to build.

That happened to a VP giving a presentation at my company on a Friday. By Monday there was a new wall.

The place you are looking for exists: it is called home :-)

That may fly if you are single. Otherwise everybody will assume that if you are at home, you are here to go shopping, take care of kids, let in guests, cook meals, do cleaning, take out trash, etc. ect, and lets not start about other household members distracting you with loud noises.

Working from home doesn't work for us singles either. I don't want to spend my days working alone. What fun is that? And for those of us who aren't married, that solitude extends to being solo 24x7. That's even worse that the nightmare of an open office. There has to be a balance somewhere between the isolation of Home Alone and open office chaos.

But if those are my only choices, after 30 years in the biz, I'll give up on software. That's no way to live.

The same week my job went from mostly to fully remote, I split up with my ex-wife-to-be and a large chunk of my social network went with her. I'm an introverted person who enjoys a fair amount of alone time but being alone 24x7 quickly had me craving social interaction.

The cure for that was pretty straightforward: Leave the damned house.

All those annoying chatty people you encounter during everyday errands? Far less annoying when you're starved for social interaction, engage them. Have interests? Turns out there are meetups for all sorts of interests. I walk into one, find a small cluster of people, and introduce myself. "Hi, I'm tbyehl, crowds of strangers are about my least favorite thing so I need to make a couple of fast friends" is quite effective.

Need more, uh, intimate social encounters? Treat yourself to a couple nice outfits, find a nice barber, and read up on /r/seduction. I'm obese and my personality is something of an acquired taste but I've hardly spent any days alone that I didn't want to.

There are +/- 72 waking hours a week that you aren't scheduled to work. That's plenty of time to build a social life that isn't dependent on commuting to a crappy office environment 5 days a week.

Depends how close you live to operations / devops / pager rotation. If the boss trusts you not to have both of you drive in at 2am for every little problem (you to work and him to hover over you to make sure you work), they'll trust you to also actually work at 2pm from home on a normal day.

You also have to be realistic about slacking. I can let in service people and rotate the laundry and cook dinner in less time than my (few) smoking coworkers spend on smoke breaks. Also the world is full of people who take an entire sick day to let the cable guy in or something like that, so a work at home dude stealing 5 minutes is 7 hours and 55 minutes more productive than the fake sick day slacker.

I guarantee my coworkers are going to waste at least two hours tomorrow talking about the superbowl. Working at home, I have no one to talk to, and if instead I post for an hour on HN I'll still be ahead of the office grinders.

Very much this.

Many people don't understand that everybody is slacking. In general though, the good remote workers spend less time slacking than everybody else. And that's what makes the difference. They are more productive because of the freedom.

Working from home with a family can be great - it takes a little training. I'm 100% remote at home in a spare bedroom. My youngest is 5 and even he knows not to burst in the room and start talking without waiting for me to talk to him first. Maybe I'm just in the middle of a thought or more often working with another dev, but family can be taught to respect the work space in a home. "Goodbye, I'm going to work" seems to kick it off well.

I also had to explain money to my kids. All that stuff they enjoy - we only have it because I can sit here and work. Once they understood there was a reason I wouldn't drop everything to play Mario Kart all day - life is good. That doesn't mean I can't take a break to have lunch with the family and take a break for a few laps of racin.

I find that it is easier to control the distractions at home than it is at work. People at work have work related things that they think are important, but aren't really. It is much harder to train them than it is my family.

> That doesn't mean I can't take a break to have lunch with the family and take a break for a few laps of racin.

My favorite part of working from home. Take my morning break and cuddle with my daughter on the couch before she heads out to the park/YMCA with mom and play 15 minutes of Minecraft or see what art project she's been working on.

I honestly thought I'd miss having a more defined separation between work and personal life, but being able to blend them together has made me a lot happier, especially getting an extra 40-60 minutes a day with my family from not having to commute.

this... is solid advice. I don't know that I could pull it off but you make excellent points.

It's a lot easier when you have a spouse/partner willing to be the homemaker while you support the family financially. I would have a hard time working from home if I had to take care of my four year old myself, but since my wife is a stay-at-home mom she's able to take care of the kiddo and making sure the house doesn't fall apart (I won't blame any woman for not wanting to fit the gender stereotype, but I feel kids these days are missing out a lot on not having a parent - dad OR mom - that doesn't have to work and can spend time with them beyond what their work schedule allows).

If you aren't in a situation where you have someone home with you or they can't comprehend that WFH doesn't mean you have to work your 40 a week then sometimes you have no choice but to just put the kids in daycare - which stinks because it robs you of a valuable perk of not having to commute when you have a family.

I work from a home office with a family. You close the door and as long as the boundaries are clear there's no problem. If you want to take a break and go shopping you can do that... It's doable.

Yes definitely, the problem is more with the perception of those in the office. All they see is you are working from home with your family and they might assume you're not able to give it your full attention.

At a previous job my manager complained incessantly about my arrival and leave times but could not find an instance where I wasn't responsive, available, and getting done everything that needed to be.

The reason I wasn't more responsive to his complaints was that I'd watch him spend his entire day at his computer either browsing facebook or reading sports blogs.

It feels so backwards.

In my first ever job my manager would always sort of deliberately look at his watch when I got in, which was anything between 9am and 1pm :) But otherwise we got along great. I think it was just his way of trying to teach me some of his values which unfortunately I didn't share ;) Usually if I came in at 1pm it's because I was at work until 1am the last night... Other than that job my other managers never cared. I've always worked long hours but never fixed hours. When I managed other people, unless there are some other problems, I couldn't care less about arrival and leave times. I think these days it's unusual to find managers in tech who are about these things but YMMV.

If you're happy working those kinds of moving shifts where you're there 'til the wee hours, leave a breadcrumb trail showing that you were working. A minor email; a message in a chat channel; a manual build that sends an email out to stakeholders. It'll softly remind folks that you were on the case. And if, heaven forbid, you ever get a stickler HR person, you can show them that trail.

It probably depends on the location/culture but I've never seen issues with that. I've also, as far as I recall, never signed a contract that specified hours/week or a particular schedule. I've worked with people who came in at 5am to beat rush hour and would leave early and people who came in much later and would stay late and anything in between. Tech workers' time is generally considered flexible which is why they don't usually get paid overtime either. If you're ever at a point where HR is looking at how many hours you "punched in" then there's probably other problems. I would say that if your value is measured by "hours" that would be a red flag already. Probably no shortage of workplaces like that but I wouldn't want to work there as long as I have choice.

EDIT: p.s. if it wasn't clear I no longer do the 1pm->1am schedule. That was when I was young with no other commitments. It's not the healthiest schedule ;) Now my hours are more conventional but still reasonably flexible. I work for a large tech company and no one cares when you come in or leave as long as the work gets done.

Ironic really considering you are actually the only one who is actually able to give your work full attention as they are constantly being distracted by each other. The perception of work != actual work.


WFH always seems appealing from my open office station with my back to twenty other people and a walkway next to my desk.

Then I work from home and in the middle of presenting during a conference call, one of the kids gets home and starts ringing the doorbell incessantly, the dog starts barking and my spouse doesn't come answer because they know I am home.

The only time I can get work done if from 8am until 10am in either location.

It's on you explain, set boundaries and manage expectations.

I do all of those things when I work from home.

Just like people at the office dick around in a hundred different ways while they work.

I think the point was family would expect that from you, because you're home, not that it takes too much away from work.

I had to have that talk with my roommates when I worked from home. No, I won't be solely responsible for the dishes because I'm "home all day" when Im working 50-60 hours a week and you're working 40.

Beats having a roommate who keeps the tv on all day, loudly laughs constantly and walks around the house making car sounds

No, it just isn't. When I work from home it invariably ends up being a free-for-all from my wife (who works from home full-time and suffers this daily when I'm at the office, the saint that she is) and kids making demands on my time. In order to work "from home" what actually happens is I find a nice, low-traffic coffee shop where 95% of the other patrons are doing the same thing, work odd hours and take an extra long period in the mid-morning to mid-afternoon to take care of appointments and domestic issues.

Sounds like you need to check office environment during your interview. Some places still are good.

one of the best HN comments i've ever read, especially the last line.

i know it wouldn't have helped, but did you point anyone at Joel Spolsky's old blog post about designing an office for software development?

We're fighting the symptoms. The right war is against capital.

Absolutely, the increase in productivity away from an open office is intangible and uncertain. In contrast, the decrease in office space expense from switching to open office is very tangible.

Also, some people cough mostly millennials cough really do thrive in these spaces, and some truly enjoy a social dimension like this for their engineering. I don't thrive in it, I loathe it, and I spew profanity like a WWII sailor trying to work in that environment.

So I try to work from home the most I can. I acknowledge some people cannot motivate themselves to do so and I recognize that's why they're resistant to letting people work from home.

But since open office isn't a 100% harmful thing to do, I agree the war is over and we lost. Start your own shop or go do something that doesn't make you miserable like this does.

The best work setup I've ever had by far was not private offices or cubicles (and definitely not an open office); it was a hybrid where our team of 3-5 people sat in a large private office. This increased collaboration while enforcing respect. It allowed our team to create a work culture democratically (how do we arrange seating? what noise levels are ok?) that simply isn't possible in an open seating arrangement.

I know this won't be popular here, but I find private offices problematic for a few reasons. First, they hurt collaboration and social interaction quite a bit. This is ok from a single developer's perspective (heavily skewed audience on HN), but it shows on cross-functional teams. I know this can be hacked into a private office setup ("my door is always open"), but in my experience there is a clear difference in collaboration when there is no physical separation between people who are working on a project together. Also, private offices create a hierarchy where some people get big corner window offices while others are in shitty interior offices or cubicles. My favorite thing about the trend towards open offices has been an egalitarianism where the CEO and founders sits at a similar desk as the interns.

This is my favorite environment. A large office per team. It makes me still fell like I have my own personal space while maintaining a team vibe. It's like a research lab where everyone in the lab is focused on the same goals.

Like a pack mentality.

I've worked in that kind of arrangement, too, but it only works well if all the people put into that office are predisposed to it or otherwise able to develop that team atmosphere. Everyone has to be able to get along. That doesn't happen for every group out there.

If it doesn't work out, it can quickly develop the same appeal as a holding cell in a jail - all of the drawbacks of an open office plan in a confined space.

Programmers and engineers are professionals, and in my opinion, it's very unprofessional for a company to provide less than a reasonably private work environment. That means a large cubicle, at minimum. For collaboration, there should also be several open or group spaces. Requiring too much "togetherness," however, is just a sign of poor management and lack of respect for employees.

Have you looked into caves and commons approach?


That one is good. It cut down on the body count of a too rapidly growing startup I was at about almost decades ago.

In theory, I like working at an office, quite a lot, but the open-office does not work at all for me. Cubes are even fine, but that open elbow-to-elbow thing? Nope.

Ideally (for me), we'd have 2~3 person offices, relatively plentiful small (5~8 person) rooms scattered through, and a large gathering space with white-boards all around (and not dominated by ping-pong).

This is our setup in my gov't agency (NASA): 3-4 engineers per room, typically grouped by either project or functional area. We have a couple of regular conference rooms, and also have a few breakout/collaboration rooms that can't be reserved for meetings as well.

Apparently, it's how it worked in the 1960s too. My group just never went through the various workspace fads because we never had enough money to move or reconfigure the building. I guess that's one upside to moving as slow as the gov't sometimes does.

I did have a cubicle while working with another division, but they were still fairly private.

The downsides: infrastructure is equally as slow to get updated...

I love this idea and it immediately reminds me of the Crystal Clear methodology [1]. A whole team being isolated together means you get more collaboration, cross-pollination and natural communication. It's not perfect either though if you've got annoying people in your team.

[1] (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crystal_Clear_(software_develo...)

Often, the most important element of my working space is just the abundance of natural light and windows. A few years ago, I turned down a job offer that would have placed me in a 3-5 person office. It would've been an interior office with no windows at all. I chose to stay at my current job, which had me sitting in a cubicle right next to a huge window with a nice view.

The benefits of a shared office are quite nice, but they can be made up for in a variety of ways. There's no way to make up for the lack of natural lighting and windows if you're stuck in an interior room all day long, every day.

That's exactly how Valve[1] sets up their office, for similar reasons.

[1] - http://www.valvesoftware.com/company/Valve_Handbook_LowRes.p...

Yes, the "small group office" is my favorite! I had that in 2006 and it was great for teamwork.

If I can't have that, I'll take a small private office with a door that closes. Although the least time I had that was, I think, in 2001?

Peopleware advocates the 3-5 person office, and has some great research to back it up

We have this. 5-7 people per area, some smaller, some larger. Moving to open office space in six months. I think the office culture will take a definite hit.

That's my favorite setup too. Three people sharing a room. You can collaborate and also have some good private conversations without the whole company knowing.

This is my second favorite environment - right behind working from home.

On a related note, I noticed that cubicle offices are hardly better than open offices. The cubicle walls are tall enough to completely obscure the faces and bodies of your neighbors, but do nothing to block the sound. With no eye contact or awareness of your neighbors, it's easy to mistakenly believe that no one else can hear your sounds.

As a result, on a typical day at the office I would hear one coworker yap on personal calls (wife & home renovation) for half an hour (per day!), another coworker talk about company work for an hour on the phone with a distant teammate (with many words related to my work that trigger my attention), and the sound of phones ringing about 10 times (which is never my own phone).

Hearing all the office noise day after day, I thought about a notion called reverse privacy: If your conversation/notification doesn't concern me, then I don't want to hear it. I don't want it to grab my attention, be aware of it, or have to filter it out.

Having worked in both open-plan offices and cubicle offices I beg to differ. In open-plan, it's by definition that you can hear other people; in cubicles it evolves into the one or a few congenitally loud people doing the noise. "There goes Amy again."

The visual limitations of cubicles help here, because you have a little bit of privacy that motivates people to respect personal space. I'm quieter in cubicles, but not everybody else is, but in open-plan I have to adapt to everyone communicating loudly by being loud myself.

How about some kind of sound meter that is attached to the wall of every cubicle, if it measures sustained sound over a preset level it notifies the boss.

Can shoehorn IoT in there somewhere, then you have metrics for everyone in the place and who is doing the distracting.

Could even have a red light on the top that goes off as well.

(Clearly I'm joking..but only just.).

I'm sure the boss would love to come round every ten minutes to play school-teacher, and tell the noisy kids to keep it down.

Well that's what the IoT aspect is for, so many noise events in a defined period and you just send an automated email with a disciplinary notice (again, I'm joking).

Though actually a distributed noise sensor that reports via a simple interface might actually be a useful thing for businesses.

Beats hiring managers who know how to run a team, I suppose.

Even if that's the case, I'd prefer it over an open office; I'd have headphones on either way, but a cubicle ensures less visual distractions. Plus surely it dampens the sound people make, so it doesn't carry as far?

Cubicles are terrible. No privacy, a lot of noise and still no good way for talking to people. I also like to see something other than a gray wall the whole day.

Then decorate your cube. Look at art or photos. There was style and personal expression in the workplace before the sterility of the open office factory floor killed it.

That feels more like a self-decorated prison cell. I think it's important to be able to look outside during the day.

That's a tough one. I want to see sun at some point but I don't want it in my monitor.

It's perfectly possible to place a monitor in a window room so the sun is not a problem.

It is so sterile. It makes me sad.

I wouldn't have suspected that with your username ;p

Hehe good one

How do you know if the conversation concerns you, before you overhear it?

Giving you a continuous background awareness of what's happening in the company around you ... isn't that part of the claimed benefits of open offices?

It's impossible for the human brain to multitask, so what you mean by "background awareness" actually means "constant distraction".

Cubicles keep the talking down.

My office is switching to an open design. And none of the people who work there are happy about it. It was decided by the folks who own the company, several thousand miles away.

I think the real allure of open offices is how they look. Open offices look modern. They look like the kind of working area a hip, young, collaborative, industry-disrupting company would favor. But that's all bullshit. It's just a fairy tale that fools outsiders. Open offices look great to someone coming in for an interview or an executive visiting from company headquarters 3 states away. But at this point I think we can be reasonably sure that that's where the benefits end.

I don't think this change will damage my productivity much. I'll have headphones on all day, instead of 10-20% of the day. Seems like a lot of trouble for that kind of outcome. I'll probably enjoy shopping for some new headphones though.

To me open offices remind me of factories or cattle pens, where people are forced into acting like machines. Unlike many you I cannot code while listening to music as being a musician, my brain winds up analyzing what I am hearing instead of concentrating on work. The worst thing of all is having music piped into a huge room making it impossible to even use headphones if you don't like the tunes. You may as well shoot me at that point.

Try something like noisli. It still has that masking background-noise effect without being music (i.e. without drawing your attention).

It basically allows you to play a configurable mix of background noises; e.g. Wind blowing, rain faling, white noise, train tracks.

Heck, writing this makes me want to try it tomorrow again.

As someone who is sensitive to sound quality, I've been using a combination of mid-range Shure 315 earbuds with custom ear sleeves which is low-fatigue compared to over-the-ear.

Noise-cancelling equipment isn't as effective for human voices, so I've used low-to-high volume music to mute out my coworker's voices. This works great until early afternoon when. I. am. Just. Acoustically. Exhausted.

I'm susceptible to music and can only use it as background for 2-3 hours at a time.

The other day I came across HN user's grahamburger's suggestion to "add in some white noise on top of" using over-the-ear noise-cancelling headphones. [0]

So, I did some research/shopping and am going to experiment with audio tracks from "The Very Best Sound of Nature - Birds, Waves, Rain (with Forest, Creek, Wind, Thunder) [Sound for Relaxation, Meditation, Healing, Massage, Deep Sleep, Yoga]".

Also, as a result of your suggestion for Noisli, I'm going to try a background-noise generating application. Thank you for the suggestion.

[0] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=13564539

I personally find white noise to aggressive, mostly due to the high pitch. Pink noise works better, but it still keeps me on edge. That's why I like the more natural background sounds. They still mask outside signal, but give me less tension.

Thank you! I have this same problem and was never able to articulate why before, but it is for the same reason; I am a musician, and I can rarely let listening be a 'background' task.

I've never heard about PA music before in office environment. Who's mad enough to do that?

Have you tried earplugs?

Earplugs don't work. They cut out the lower volume background noise which ends up enhancing the piercing voices that get through.

They've always been a big drawback for me whenever I go interview. It's hard to imagine going to actually work in the space when you don't know how annoying the people that would be around you are. It increases the amount of variables in the form of people's personalities - will you sit around the nice guy who won't ever shut up, the always distracted person, or does everyone have a good work mode but it's hard to break the silence?

For one it makes "meta" discussions about the workplace not happen except out of office. I've seen over time there's a lack of office improvements in open office situations compared to places with private spaces. People also treat others with a bit less professionalism.

It's about look, alright; the look of the balance sheet when you can cram more people into a cheaper space! Offices take up too much room, and even cubicles are inefficient. If you put people shoulder-to-shoulder at rows of back-to-back workstations, you can fit, like, a hundred of them in a room.

"Open offices look modern"

Yes, and perhaps the factor underlying that truth is that corporate management types are deeply and essentially conformists (selection pressure alone results in that). Management is almost entirely fashion-driven (which incidentally explains the egregiously semi-literate, antiscientific, ahistorical crap that dominates business/management best selling book lists).

Open offices don't look modern. The steno pool from a '50s enterprise was open office.

Open office allows companies to save dozens of dollars per employee in rent per month, which is visible and measurable. Creativity and productivity, on the other hand, is not.

>Open offices look modern

They look like "open plan" offices from the late 19th-early 20th century [0].

[0] http://www.officemuseum.com/photo_gallery_1900s.htm

Don't forget management and guests being able to walk in to see if everyone is working.

> I think the real allure of open offices is how they look. Open offices look modern. They look like the kind of working area a hip, young, collaborative, industry-disrupting company would favor.

(I'm using a throwaway because my main is tied to my real-life identity, and I'm not comfortable talking about my current employer where anyone can google my username and find out what that employer is. And that goes double when I'm talking about my employer's politics. I hope that's OK with the mods.)

I guess this is why I'm strongly drawn to companies that are socially and culturally conservative.

I work in a cube farm at a mid-size (~500 employees) company in a conservative industry (B2B telecom). The TVs in the break room and the reception area are constantly tuned to Fox News. At the last holiday party, the VP of HR gave a speech where he went out of his way to say it was specifically a Christmas party.

And I love working here. While I'm politically liberal myself, it is my experience that the most conservative companies are the best companies to work for. They actually, you know, take care of their employees. That my company is conservative makes me like them more. I'd rather work in a cube farm at a conservative company than in an open office at a liberal company (because I love cube farms and hate open offices). It's a great working environment. And you know what? They never had a single problem with me being trans, which is more than I can say for the freewheeling liberal startup I worked for two and a half years ago.

I look for liberal politics in my friends and conservative politics in my employers. It's worked out pretty well for me, in terms of both friends and employers.

Research shows that listening to music engages the creativity part of the brain so it's not used for the work you do at the same time. Headphones are NOT an adequate substitute for a writer office for a creative knowledge worker.

No; they probably picked this design because it's cheaper to run and adds more space for more people (I.e. Pushing to employ more people)

> I'll have headphones on all day, instead of 10-20% of the day.

I worry about the damage that my office headphones have on my hearing. I wonder if there's some sort of OSHA regulation regarding it, and if I have recourse against my employer because I am forced to don headphones are be distracted.

I actually did end up with tinnitus. I had other things going on (sleeping through alarms, sinus issues, watching too much TV, but I was also spending WAY too much time with headphones on at work) . If I could take it back....

And often the people cooking this up have a nice window office and their meeting rooms are along the windows.

That makes no sense. The non open-offices I had were all much better looking.

But they don't look like the places cool startups do cool startup things and the company wants to foster a cool startup feel so that everyone acts like it's a cool startup and starts doing cool startup things and attracting all that cool startup talent so that all that cool startup money starts flowing in and cool startup vibe permeates the office.

/cool startup.

That makes no sense. There was nerf guns, game tables and underpaid young developers. There is no need for an open office to have that.

/coolER startup.

90% of 'cool startups' fail. Is that who we're trying to emulate?

Stop bringing logic and data into this discussion.

That makes no sense. Data driven is cool.

/cool decision process

It's about packing in more workers per square foot of space.

While the open-office debate has been a recurring meme on HN for some time, it seems that offering a variety of options as well as unfettered personal choice is key.

For example, my current employer has wide-open office space with pods of desks, but they also offer numerous privacy rooms for escape. As a mild to mid introvert myself, this allows for the best of both worlds the majority of the time: I can benefit from those casual, spontaneous conversations that pop up in the open space, but I can also grab my own room for an entire afternoon to crank out some heads-down work.

I think what's most important is for companies to acknowledge and respect the variety of working styles of their employees, along with the trust that--regardless of how chatting in a pod or hiding away from others might appear--more often than not they're getting shit done.

edit: words

> but I can also grab my own room for an entire afternoon to crank out some heads-down work.

that might work for people that work only on laptops, but it's not going to work if you have multiple monitors and towers, and ergo keyboard and so on

The way around that is that nobody owns their peripherals. Monitors, keyboards, etc are part of the work station, not part of the worker's personal environment. Of course there's still opportunity for customization of individual stations, and if someone prefers the more private spaces they can lobby to have one customized to their taste.

I don't want to touch a keyboard that someone has painted with ketchup and knows what else.

Carry Lysol wipes.

Or have the employee keep a container of them at each station (if they don't already, which IME many do).

That's a shitty solution for a problem that shouldn't exist in the first place.

If it is really such a 'shitty problem' to someone, they can easily solve the problem by optimizing their job search for a high private:shared equipment ratio.

People share equipment in every office everywhere. Germaphobes will need to disinfect some stuff, they can't have private everything, and they can't demand that people stop sharing things. Oh well, them's the breaks!

That's a horrible solution for a couple of reasons: #1 - Ewww (yes, I know most people are sanitary... most) #2 - Straight keyboards vs curved (and similar for mouse, etc). Both for working effectiveness and RSI.

This isn't always a solution. I've often been tied to 'my' devkits, for example. Or 'my' tower of tablets I'm trying to port to and support. I've gone as far as buying a cheapo extra desk out of my own pocket because I was running out of space in my spacious L shaped cubical, and needed the extra surface area by forming a U. I've also had nontrivial amounts of dead tree documents.

Basically, I often labor under constraints that make it unreasonably expensive and difficult to make workstation hardware interchangeable like that.

My dev environment would be difficult to virtualize as well. I've dealt with pre-release software, pre-release OSes, and any VM based solution would need to give me proper GPU access. I'd need to develop tooling to help manage constantly reconfiguring my tools to point to whatever devkits are local as well. Syncing data is another problem - right now I often abuse symbolic links to move 'cold' projects and tools off of my SSDs, as 2TB SSDs only recently became affordable.

congratulations, you made the problem worse

Desks with wheels (like valve).

I think open-office is great.

It makes it much easier for independent developers to compete with large corporations.

I too think it's great*

*Owns shares in headphone company

I'd like to specify: Own shares in Bose*

*Empowering open offices with $300 noise cancelling headphones since 1964.

Eh, you made it fancy to have to wear the same equipment as if you were on a factory assembly line or using a jack-hammer. Nobody thought of that for office work before.

And those who still object to wearing those are considered as retarded by the headphone crew: just look at any Reddit thread about this matter, and you'll see hundreds of guys who think that it is the normal situation and will thrash anyone dares say otherwise. And they truly believe that's cool and they're cool... Perhaps battery cattle think they're cool too, dunno.

It was sarcasm. I think the open office creating a need for headphone culture when people are being paid to do deep thinking is stupid.

I like the way you think.

I seem to be the odd one out in that I actually enjoy an open office setup.

I've had both and I feel there's so much more collaboration happening in an open office. I almost see it weekly that there's a LOT of learning through osmosis, listening in to conversations, ...

I guess I have a pretty easy time keeping up concentration/flow. So in this case, it "works on my machine" :)

How large a space and are you all colocated?

My employer is moving to an open office. Truly open, one giant space for 100+ developers, plus managers.

Half my team is remote, as are about half of the teams I work with. So, we are all on the phone/Skype/something all day long. And not with the same people. It's going to be like the Tower of Babel in the new space. I'm not looking forward to it.

Lots of people. There are some cozies (Think 4 thick curtains and a few sofas inside) or walls with meetings rooms between every 4-5 rows of desks.

Also: nobody really takes calls from their desk. If you want to do a VC call, you get a conference/interview room. Same for long-winded discussions or whiteboard sessions. You start conversations in the common area, but if it's a larger undertaking people might move into a designated space.

I'm the same, I love being in an open office. I can't imagine anything worse than everyone hiding in their offices.

Having said that I tend to stick to working in small companies. Not sure I would like an open office of 100's of people.

> I feel there's so much more collaboration happening in an open office.

The problem is that every time we have tried to study it, the opposite has been true. Are you sure your feelings translate into actual productivity improvements?

I doubt anyone actually correctly measured this without giant amounts of residual confounding. (As usual with most social sciences)

That being said: I am having a better time compared to sitting in a 1-2 person office room. So for me it's a win :)

I was re-reading Snowcrash (a novel by Neal Stephenson). In this book there is a tangent about how aweful it is in the future to work for the government.

He goes over how horrible the work conditions were, with open offices, bosses always watching you, no fixed assigned spacing, first come first serve everything being tracked by computers. If you are late everyone knows it because your sit in the boonies.

When I read it for the first time I remember feeling a revulsion at it. Now when I read it, I was like "Um.. that is my job now"

At my company they have, /on purpose/ too few spaces for the number of employees. So early birds get all the spaces with powerplugs, monitors, network etc. The rest must fight it out on bench seats with no power etc.

I guess for the big bosses who spend all days in meetings its ok, but for grunts it sucks.

So in order to provide incentive for employees to come in 20 minutes early, your company is willing to handicap a percentage of its workforce all day? That doesn't just sound hostile, no, it sounds dumb.

Sounds like someone higher up had a bad experience and wants to take it out on everyone they can.

> At my company they have, /on purpose/ too few spaces for the number of employees. So early birds get all the spaces with powerplugs, monitors, network etc. The rest must fight it out on bench seats with no power etc.

They had a weird back-story vignette told by a character in a novel called "Market Forces" by Richard Morgan like this. There was an economic downturn, and the bosses decided that instead of picking who got fired, to just reduce the number of desks from 10 to 8 and let the workers race into work for them. Too late, too many time, and you're out. The races to work for those last desks soon got fairly bloody...

Nothing says we don't value you like being lined up in rows with no walls. They might as well elevate the manager offices like guard towers to complete the look in that photo.

Do these companies get payoffs from head phone manufactures?

> They might as well elevate the manager offices

I worked in a call centre a long time ago. At the end of each row of desks was an elevated desk where the team managers sat, precisely to enable them to watch each person on their team.

I'm reminded of a phrase my Dad used on me as a youth "I am amazed and appalled. I am amazed you even thought of it, and appalled you did it."

It says a lot about folks desperation for a job to deal with a boss with that mindset. Sure, I'm fine with observation posts if I'm in danger and might need help pronto. By all means, have an observation desk if I'm feeding crocodiles, but not to monitor my daily work.

I thought have a cubicle in an office area built inside the old fuel bunker for a power plant 50 feet underground where radio and cell didn't work and you heard a wind noise beyond the wall to clear the air of potential fumes sucked. I guess I was wrong.

Call center is a customer service job, where the customers happen to not be in the room.

I feel the same way about this as McDonalds managers directly observing the kitchen and cashiers: nothing at all.

And otologists lobby... I wonder how is people hearing out of years on headphones.

My preference order is:

  private offices > open office > team rooms
This ranking might sound odd, but bear with me: of course I like having a space to myself. It's not just the noise: having my own space affords me a degree of privacy. I don't like to feel watched. In environments where I don't have a private office, I end up doing most of my heavy-duty coding from home.

Now, let's look at completely open offices and team rooms. In both environments, I have to deal with add conversations, people chewing with their mouths open, doors opening and closing, and so on. In both environments, I pay a cognitive price. But, in a completely open office, I might overhear interesting conversations from other teams and become aware of interesting developments. In a team room, I'm isolated from everything except my team, so I don't learn much.

I'm very skeptical of the idea that team rooms facilitate collaboration. I've never been much for low-level high-frequency collaboration --- pair programming is punishment in the afterlife. Collaborating at a high level is fine, but that kind of collaboration is best done asynchronously over some kind of durable medium like email, not synchronously by shouting across a room.

If I can't have a private office, I'd prefer a completely open warehouse-like environment that at least maximizes the benefits of an open office. A team room has most of the same costs and few of the benefits.

I wonder whether commentators are conflating "open" offices with "loud" offices.

I've never working in anything other than an open office, but the level of noise has varied a lot. Some offices have a culture where it's common for people to make a scene, ie when something happens people gather round a TV and start talking.

One place I worked at had a guy who would stand up and start a discussion about politics every day, and it wouldn't end until he was right. It's somewhat fun to have the old oxford union style banter, but it's a time sink and generally doesn't move anyone's opinion.

By contrast where I am now is as quiet as sitting alone at home, even though it's still in the financial industry and there's actually more people than the place I mentioned earlier.

One place was a macho atmosphere (all traders), and the other is intellectual (all coders), they both perform the same function in the market (market making). They both looked the same though; at least three screens per person, a wall of screens some places. You're close enough to touch your neighbour on either side if you stretch out your leg.

Founders want to see what you're doing at all times, they know that you have to out in remote double time to actual get anything done. I can't solve incredible engineering problems with 5 people talking at the same time for 6 hours, I wind up having to work 18 hour days with 8 hours of face time sitting and chatting to make the crew of kids happy. As a senior dev my workload is triple the juniors so it's not unusual for me to have to do 80-120 hours a week for 40 hours pay to not lose my gig.

>As a senior dev my workload is triple the juniors so it's not unusual for me to have to do 80-120 hours a week for 40 hours pay to not lose my gig.

Your workload is triple the juniors and it takes you triple the time as them to get your work done?

That's exactly equivalent to the productivity of the juniors. You just grind more hours. Maybe you need to look for a more junior role.

Once accustomed to working in home office in your PJs, it's very hard to contemplate going back to commuting to, parking at, and working in a noisy, stinky office.

...right until you have kids ;)

I did return to the noisy, stinky downtown office for a few years while my daughter was young ;)

Some people need different accommodations than others and companies need to accommodate these requests, in many cases, by law. These include desks and chairs in addition to electronics. Many companies are still too cheap to buy proper desks and chairs for their engineers, let alone monitors and other peripherals. Almost none of the dozens or hundreds of open office plans I've ever seen promote healthy computing, often foregoing proper desks, chairs, and monitors for some kitchen table with a crappy chair and everyone working on laptops. That isn't healthy nor acceptable, and I hope that people realize that they don't have to accept such conditions (at least in the US). If employers are too cheap to listen, perhaps a continuing rise in worker's comp claims and ergonomic workstation prescriptions will get them to start listening. While this problem isn't exclusive to open offices, I see much more of this in open offices, especially at startups. If companies can't even get these basics right, it's unlikely they'll get anything else about the office right either, especially since they're not trying.

It's good that people are finally talking about this. Like 7 years ago, people were commonly pretending that they liked it (or maybe they just didn't watch their productivity).

It's normal: you make such a big investment (moving to an open office), you have to pretend you didn't screw it up good.

Like when people pretended they liked standing desks because they spent $1000 in one. Imagine standing still for eight hours a day.

Adjustable stand/sit desk with motor is a way to go. Has been common in Microsoft and Apple for years.

I scoffed at standing desks until my new workspace installed them (the motorized kind, that adjust up or down) and I tried standing for a few days. I found I liked it a lot. I almost never sit at my desk now.

> Imagine standing still for eight hours a day.

Imagine sitting perfectly still for eight hours a day.

I just imagined both, and I preferred the standing still nonsense to the sitting still nonsense.

Just to throw it out there, I much prefer sitting at my desk, but I make it a point to spend some time wandering around the office/outside the building for at least a few minutes every hour.

I'm also not a developer though, so I don't need to be in focus mode for long periods of time.

As I've learned after being a huge opponent of offices and then beijg forced to work in one: Terrible for individual productivity, great for group productivity.

Teams work better when everyone's in a room together. Alas.

Also, if you have problems with interruption: stop being macho and write some fucking notes while you work. Don't keep that shit in short term memory.

The open versus closed office debate feels new, but it's a pendulum that has swung for decades from one extreme to the other. The reality is that most modern workers need access to a multitude of workspaces: open, social areas for collaboration and closed, private areas for concentration. A progressive company recognizes this and sets its people free to choose the workspace they need for the work at hand.

I started in the 80s, and the trend this whole time seems unidirectional.

The pendulum swings slowly. Here's what offices looked like for many white-collar workers in the 1950s/1960s:


The 1980s represented "peak cubicle". The tech industry ushered in open plans in the 1990s.

I suspect that google knows this, had made a calculation that the downsides are worth the real estate cost, and is spinning it in a more positive light.

Why pay $300k+ a year for a developer then just to go and save a few hundred a month on real estate costs, sacrificing some percentage of productivity?

Because not everyone in Google (or any other open-office space) is a developer. In fact, most are not, and most are getting way less pay.

Its interesting to consider if Google is innovative when you take a bucket of corporate innovation and divide by the (immense) number of employees. I'm not asking if they purchase innovative new/little companies, I'm well aware they do that. I'm not claiming no innovation comes out of Google HQ, why I'm sure they output at least as much innovation as perhaps a 1000 person research lab, maybe even twice that, of course the whole point of the problem is they have 60K employees...

All I'm claiming is you pour the innovation out of Google Corp Hq into a bucket and, um, how about MIT Media Lab into a bucket, and measure the two buckets on a scale. I feel MIT wins handily. But for the sake of argument lets say Google kicks the MIT Media Lab's butt to the tune of 10x as much innovation. There is still a slight problem in that the MIT lab is about 100 people (to one sig fig) and Google Corp is just under 60K according to a Google search. Assuming similar quality of "human resources" Google should be consistently producing 600 times as much innovation per year as MIT Media Lab. Maybe when you factor in Google's company purchases, after which all innovation at the purchased company traditionally ceases...

Isn't Google fundamentally on the scales of justice more of a profitable advertising sales boiler room than a source of innovation?

If as a company, its mostly about being a sales boiler room, then it should look like a sales boiler room, shouldn't it? Perhaps there is less inconsistency between what is observed vs theory after all.

Then put those people in open office plan, and give developers offices.

THIS. Fact is, mixing number crunchers with sales folk is the crux of the problem. If light/personal conversation took place away from the work area, both open offices and cubes would be much more productive and pleasant.

The essence of making workspaces work is minimizing distractions. Any layout can work if you take the chatter ELSEWHERE.

Then it's unfair to the others :)

If you're worried about fairness why pay the developers $300k and pay the other people some much smaller fraction of that?

Others might not know you're getting 300k man

I imagine most are not making 300k. Also, like many things Google does, I'm guessing it's partially because scaling is becoming an issue.

It takes a while to get a space ready, and it's also not easy to just expand around existing offices when they're already quite large.

Admittedly, much of this would probably be solved if they were more OK with remote working, as there's a high emphasis on in person collaboration. I suspect they've done some studies on this matter though.

I work for Google but opinions are my own.

The standard corporate cost estimate for an employee is to double their salary. Thus someone paid $150k costs the company $300k

Ah I appreciate the correction.

Those numbers don't add up, but there are others that do: thousands a month for more space + less productivity loss after an initial shock period could be a potential equilibrium.

Ah, but is there a productivity loss only initially? I'd argue the productivity loss will remain. After a while developers may get used to the lower productivity as a fact of life and not report it as such.

I know I got used to a lower productivity after spending some time in open offices. Then one day I was sitting in a private office again and felt my productivity surge and felt: "WOW! This is the way programming should feel like!"

I sincerely feel with those who can not concentrate in an open environment but all is not black and white. As a mild introvert I hate the whole social dance associated with entering someone's private office while I can go into a deep concentration wearing just over the ear headphones even if I forget to start the music.

(Ideal is the combination of open space with numerous meeting rooms and smaller pods for phone calls and occasional privacy.)

Productivity is not that important if you are producing the wrong thing in the first place.

I love open offices because in an open office it's easier for me to socialize while pretending to work. I greatly prefer socializing over working, so I prefer any office environment that facilitates this.

Some of my coworkers are a lot less social so they get annoyed with everybody around them chatting. They probably get more work done than me, but thankfully being less social means they get worse peer reviews than the rest of us.

Open or not, doesn't matter that much, IMHO. What is very important for me is a distraction free environment, no noise, no visual distractions.

I think open office is great for certain roles and not so much for certain occupations. For writer in this article having a private room is better because it takes a lot of focus and comfort to write. But in all fairness, I agree open office can become a diaster. Where I work now we have an open office settings but we are small and we don't have a long table sharing with a dozen coworkers. I think density is important - our desnity is not so high. Furthermore where I actually sit I only gave two coworkers in the area ao for me I don't get that much of noise. The most distracting part is just people stopping by or passing by my desk because it is one of the paths to the pathroom and conference rooms. But some of my other coworkers are stationed in worser part literally sitting across the kitchen so.... everyone considered my area to br the golden seat. I think, again, density is important. The upside of open office is the sense of you know people can be reached out and people aren't hiding inside a room with the curtain down.

I especially agree with the part about density. I feel like when upper management hears about how open offices promote group collaboration, they imagine all of their teams working in the same room together in close proximity, when really the benefit mostly comes from being close with people from your team. When done incorrectly it starts looking less like an open office and more like a boiler room.

I've been in a couple of co-working spaces uses the open-office concept. It's generally pretty good when everyone is a developer, but then there's the occasional sales/customer service person, which is what this article seems to allude to.

I think open-office is a great concept that just needs to be refined a little: i.e. stricter enforcement of phone/loudness etiquette.

And what to do with people who have to grab the phone or talk?

They have nowhere to isolate because it's a f------- open office.

I have to agree. I wish open offices comes with their own bathroom-stall like cubbies for people who need to jump on a call.

... or hire Terry Tate, office linebacker: http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x1ar83_terry-tate-office-li...

At my company there are meeting rooms, phone rooms, focus rooms, and social common spaces like micro-kitchens you can go to.

So you go there and they're already all taken.

Yep. Never seen an open office company with enough of those. It's a curse.

Even though I dislike the feeling of an open office workplace, I'm now feeling that there's some big push by someone to make this topic keep coming back on HN like the proverbial 'suit is back'. OK a WAPO marketing person doesn't like her middle-school style coworkers ... so what?

I'll push back with a quote from Richard Hamming's famous talk "You and your research" (as I'm sure I have before): http://www.cs.virginia.edu/~robins/YouAndYourResearch.pdf

"Another trait, it took me a while to notice. I noticed the following facts about people who work with the door open or the door closed. I notice that if you have the door to your office closed, you get more work done today and tomorrow, and you are more productive than most. But 10 years later somehow you don't know quite know what problems are worth working on; all the hard work you do is sort of tangential in importance.

He who works with the door open gets all kinds of interruptions, but he also occasionally gets clues as to what the world is and what might be important. Now I cannot prove the cause and effect sequence because you might say, ``The closed door is symbolic of a closed mind.'' I don't know. But I can say there is a pretty good correlation between those who work with the doors open and those who ultimately do important things, although people who work with doors closed often work harder. Somehow they seem to work on slightly the wrong thing - not much, but enough that they miss fame"

Are there any of these anti-open-office pieces which explicitly mention "I might not like it and might be less productive short term ... but that still could be a net win long term" ?

The modern equivalent to that open door is internet access. There's a whole world on the internet, but only a tiny fraction of humanity outside my door. You'll learn more in 5 clicks on the internet than by listening to hours of Monday morning quarterbacking about the superbowl. That link is from 1986, at that time the best (only) source of innovative new ideas was speech overheard from other physically co-located humans, even long distance phone was like $1/minute, now we have free port 80 across the entire world so virtually all inspiration and innovation is reading visual and from the entire planet.

In 1986 it mattered if Einstein had a conversation outside your door, it mattered in a big way, but decades later in 2017 it matters if you read Einstein's blog and follow him on twitter.

Also note the rise of groupthink because in '86 only you had Einstein standing in your doorway and only your doorway or at most a couple people, but in 2017 "everyone in the field" and lots of people outside the official field read, perhaps, Aaronson's physics (although lately mostly politics) blog.

The push comes from expansion. If your company is poorly run maybe with enough whipping everyone in the open office you'll survive maybe even thrive. But if you want to succeed at the multi-office class of size, you'll need competent management, and those along with the line workers are repelled by open offices and can get jobs at non-open office employers. An open office selects for a company that will struggle to survive past 100 people.

The biggest recent change I can think of is at the last open office I worked at, it was a fireable offense to wear headphones; the company paid a lot of money for the remodel and refusal to collaborate is being directly and intentionally insubordinate. The beatings will continue until morale improves. I admit I'm completely mystified, from what I read here everyone is visually in sight "to collaborate" but everyone puts on headphones to drown out the noise so they can work in order to eliminate all collaboration in practice, which strikes me as complete nonsense.

Intense display of social signalling via architecture, the non-living parts of the office are all open and free and the living parts of the office all have headphones on and shush anyone who speaks, library style.

There might be an aspect of reverse psychology going on, with the whole "shush people into silence" and headphones movement, open offices are knowingly anti-collaborative and perhaps management wants it that way to eliminate palace coups or something. I mean, they can't be so stupid as to think it increases collaboration or productivity, so they must intentionally be sabotaging those characteristics in favor of ...

I don't think the kind of work Hamming is talking about has ever emerged from an open floor plan.

>Now, about 70 percent of U.S. offices have no or low partitions, according to the International Facility Management Association.

I'd really like to see how they define "office"

All of our managers have private offices thankfully. While seems like elitist at least we don't have to listen to them be constantly on phone meetings all day long. At one place with an open office they wanted to move our group between the CEO and the sales team. Where on one hand we couldn't say anything but had to listen to everything.

"Google got it wrong." What exactly did google say about open-offices?

This is all subjective to where you work, and who you work with I think? At my job I came after the open office setup was in place, before that people who've worked here for 7 years or more have told me it was awful, they actually attribute getting more work done in the current setup than previously. It may work for some, it may not. I was at one point trying to get a job at a place that allowed you to either work in an open office format, or in your own cubicle secluded from everyone else.

I personally find high value in that anyone I work with I can walk up to without going through a maze, or if they're next to me I can just talk to them as well and figure out what we need to do.


Of course my office doesn't look like the one in the article, we have our own desks still, just no heavy walls between us. There's also plenty of room between employees, personal space should not be overlooked.

Until it is replaced by another, even more increasing density, trend. 3d desk arrangement will give new meaning for "open space", and we'll be lamenting about the good times of today's plain 2d open space office when buttocks/feet of your office mates will be dangling in front of your face.

Hmm, interesting. For many people, it looks like their open office has people taking phone calls at their desk. We take phone calls in rooms (which you book on Google Calendar). If there are no rooms available when you book you reschedule or take the call in the Team Room (which has no expectation of noise-level).

If people are loud, you talk to them about it. It almost never happens since your coworkers are respectful and since you've obviously kept the more noisy jobs in a different part of the office from the engineers.

It seems to me that single person offices will suffer heavily from Conway's law.

But we'll see. It looks to me like where I've just moved to has no call rooms and no separation between engineering and the rest, so I'll see if those factors alone will change me from pro-open-office to anti-open-office.

Theoretically (if the thesis of the article is correct and widely accepted), a company willing to invest in closed offices should have a major competitive advantage in hiring engineers (who would be attracted to the quality of work life in the space).

If the thing on the photo accompanying that article is an open office, that doesn't surprise me. In my eyes, it's a factory somebody threw some desks and chairs in.

The open office I work in has 30-ish desks in a room; the room has windows on two sides, uses lots of sound-dampening materials, doesn't do double-duty as a corridor, has good lighting, and has six adjoining rooms to go to to have phone calls or meetings or to work individually. That, to my surprise, works fine.

(It shouldn't surprise anybody, but it isn't in the USA)

I think archaeologists studying us in a few thousand years are going to be so fucking confused by this discussion. Offices? Why?

It will seem more bizarre and alien to them than the Salem witch trials seem to us.

I really don't think so. Someone will see SV real estate prices and make sense of it.

Then again, I don't see the Salem Witch Trials as that alien either.

I am a fan of completely open floor plan with quiet rooms. It's so much easier to collaborate with people this way, and it offers a mechanism for temporary privacy for those that need to focus on something.

I think offices are too isolating. They emanate a "fuck you; I'm busy and important; don't talk to me" vibe, in my opinion. If I wanted 100% isolation from people, I would rather work remote. If I form a company large enough to require a decision like this, that is what I'll offer.

I work in a place that has an open plan, but our desks are on wheels and we can move them as we see fit. So people working on related projects can find a spare room and move a project there. And if you really need an office, or just a quiet corner, those are available.

It's not always super great, but it's way better than having an open plan where you're told where to sit, or an open plan where you don't have any continuity, just a bin of stuff, like you had in grade school.

But they told us if you have nothing to hide you have nothing to fear

I can't help but think of the amusement of a factory worker, listening to HN have its ongoing conniptions about being able to see your colleagues.

I suspect most people can differentiate between job requirements. For instance, I can play basketball in a loud gym, but have trouble doing math there.

I have never read as many "open offices are bad" and "why I like working in trains/restaurants/coffee shops" as in the past 2 years, it baffles me a bit. It also suggests that there is some correlation between bad employers and open office spaces, but the latter isn't the real issue.

People who work in coffee shops do so by choice, people who work in open offices are forced into it by their employer.

People who work in coffee shops do so for a short time, not 8-10 hours every day in the same shop at the same desk with the same people around for the entire time. They know that nobody there is talking about work so the background conversations are never going to be relevant or important. They know that nobody is walking up to them to interrupt them, so almost any motion they see can be ignored. They know that anybody looking at them is not a manager judging their productivity right now. Big parts of their brain can relax.

Just read the entire article. It feels like an opinion column but no real data to back it up. Open office or not, cubes do not facilitate collaboration. I am curious if anybody really cracked the ultimate workspace, and maybe the real answer is hire employees you can trust and let them work from anywhere.

In all the companies I've worked at so far it's been management and sales/marketing that get the offices. Right now I'm at a company where developers get a desk with 1 wall, and we sit next to each other. Do developers get offices anywhere?

The popularity of open-offices is obvious: unless you condition away their sense of privacy, the engineers might complain about writing spyw^H^H^H^Hanalytics.

// ok, that's not the only - or even primary - reason, but it is probably a larger factor than we realize

This is the number one thing that has made me lose all desire for working in the SF startup scene. I simply cannot be productive at 9:00 a.m. sitting in a chair, whispering distance to 4 other people, under fluorescent lighting.


I see the value in an old-school workplace where everyone has an office. Cubical variations, no matter how pretty, just always feel a bit wrong unless everyone is working on the same project.

I understand that in practical terms giving every employee their own private office might be unrealistic. I would love to just sit in a smaller room with my immediate team/subteam.

I don't think it's unrealistic, it's just that our expectations have gone (way) down after years of abuse. The cost of an employee is at least a magnitude larger than the extra cost that comes with giving them a private office. So if it makes an employee at least 10% more productive (in my experience the gain is definitely more than 10% but YMMV) it's a financial win.

I am automating my noisy colleagues out of existence. I automate the bits of their jobs they need to talk about with better customer service delivered in the process. The meetings they need to have nowadays have far fewer bullet points on the list as so much has been automated out of existence.

Some managers who manage no people have to do reports for other managers, they badger people for data and then their final work - the report only goes up the chain. All of this activity can be removed if the report is fully automated and cc'd to everyone in the team. That day a month (or days) doing reporting now gone. Then make all those things that needed to be reported on not need to be reported on by automating even more. Reduce human tasks to simple yes/no approval buttons.

User experience matters too, reduce the need for anyone to call by making sure the website has the information they need, sure in the knowledge they will look there first.

A good ticketing system also helps, try and get other teams using the same tools with simple forms for the wider company to submit problems that need fixing in such a way that all useful information is given, e.g. dates, codes...

In my experience it has not been a problem automating large chunks of work or backward processes, once the changeover had been made it then seems a ludicrous idea to go back to the old way, plus the staff resources have gone.

Admin jobs can be automated in such a way that the computer does all the required filtering before sending an email on to whomever needs the information.

Depending on your product, whole sales teams can be eradicated with a really good B2B site.

Managers with staff can also be made surplus if they no longer have teams of people to manage. Whole mini-empires can also be bypassed by the computer doing the reporting and sending it out democratically, without manager input.

So, if you want a less bothersome office and are prepared to put in the required work to get things automated then you can eradicate whole swathes of surplus people. This is never really as miserable as it seems, automation is necessary to scale that aspect of the business and those 'surplus' people can move up the value chain if they want. Also, if the business grows (because it can) then the remainder of their work that cannot be automated will grow to become full time skilled, pro-active work, not reactive or mundane dogsbody work.

In this way I think you can transform an office of lousy noisy timewasters into something more like a university library... (I often whether the noisy people in the office are the ones that never sat in university lectures).

Why are we posting articles from 2014?

The "News" of Hacker News is misleading. Any topic that might appeal to HN community members, regardless of age, is appropriate.

That said, this particular article was on HN 20 days ago and generated 116 comments: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=13425159

It's been featured on HN quite a few times in the past:


Kinda amazing that this submission already has over 170. I guess people have a lot to say on the topic.

I guess in the future workers will wear VR headgear all the time, so the surroundings will matter less?

Women who put up with this aren't "saints", they're just being exploited by their partners.

Personal attacks are a bannable offense on Hacker News. Please see https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=13577142 downthread.

We detached this subthread from https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=13575388 and marked it off-topic.

My wife chooses to have a job that she does full time from home. We are very much of means to provide a full time live-in nanny or day care for our children on our current income. If she chose she could get a much better paying "butt in the seat" job and we'd have even more means. She doesn't "put up" with anything in the pejorative sense you mean, and is most certainly not being exploited by me. Shame on you.

However we are extraordinarily lucky. My mother, for example, was a single mom who sometimes had three jobs just to make ends meet. She didn't have any real choice. She was exploited by the system and her ex-husband both.

If you had a full-time nanny you'd just be exploiting someone else, and that's not really better! (Although at least she'd be getting paid.)

Paying someone to perform work is exploitation, is it? I'm not talking some minimum wage less "room and board" situation.

You assume too much and know too little about the situation to make the comments you're making.

More seriously: You complain that your kids bother you any time you try to work from home, and how that's just intolerable. But your wife apparently puts up with it every day. They probably bug the shit out of her too - she's just doing that without whining to you about how haaarrrd it is. Implying that what makes her a "saint" isn't "putting up with her kids" so much as it is "putting up with you".

This sort of personal attack is a bannable offense on HN, and you've done it repeatedly. Your comments to HN have also frequently been uncivil, often egregiously so. Since we asked you to stop breaking the site rules and instead the problem has gotten worse, I've banned your account, at least until we get some indication that it won't happen again.

Is this a parody account?

It seems like you have an issue you need to discuss with someone, and that someone is not the person you're addressing here on HN.

It seems rather paradoxical that in a culture that embraces choice, some choices are more choice than others.

Despite what every open office critic says, it's very possible to be productive at work in an environment that is not designed to meet their very exacting needs.

You're not painting the Mona Lisa, you're working on some app or spreadsheet. It's called work for a reason. Learn to make do.

While it is possible to put up with a lot and still churn out work, many tech companies nowadays try to make their office and facilities a perk of the job. "Look how cool our office is. We have twenty coffee machines on each floor, a massive beautiful kitchen and bar, meeting rooms with couches! A game room. Come work for us!"

Companies that treat their office as a selling point for employees should expect to be criticised when that selling point falls short in the most important area of all - where the people they are trying to attract actually sit and work all day.

My advice for young devs is to pay very close attention at interview time to who's using those perks.

Ah nice k-cup machine collection but no k-cups have to bring those from home. Nice bar with beer keg tap, pity its a firing offense to drink on the job and that kegger is only for sales execs to woo customers. Nice couches in the meeting rooms, those managers and directors sitting in meetings sure look comfortable sitting there. I worked at a place with a genuine foozball table and getting caught playing foozball was a euphemism for getting downsized the next quarter, the thing seriously had dust on it like it was cursed. Maybe it was. All of that stuff is supposed to be for the trendy software dev, but its not.

Its sort of the democratization of the executive washroom. We no longer have solid marble and gold plated toilets for the executive washroom, that's so last century, today we have couches that only director level and above can sit on during meetings and kegerators that only customers can drink out of and foozball tables that no one uses. Looks nice though, doesn't it?

It tells me that you're not a valued professional, you're a line worker. There can't possibly be any reason why you'd need privacy to have difficult conversations or focus on important tasks.

My open office has a conference room for meetings. Otherwise I just focus at my desk. I manage to make do.

Because you manage to make do, everyone else must be whiners or special snowflakes? I've been in many office setups and am objectively more productive and have better succeeding teams. Thankfully I have plenty of options now and don't have to put up with "making do".

Our c++ dev team sits next to an ops and a customer support team. The later ones are always on their phones.

Taking notes does jackshit. Best I could muster were construction noise isolating headphones.

Mona Lisa was a one time, frontend job :)

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact