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What makes the perfect office? (timharford.com)
206 points by gpresot 333 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 123 comments

One of the best ever work environments I had the pleasure to experience was at my last employer, when I first started.

At that time, me and two other new guys all started at the same time, and we were assigned their lead developer to on-board us into the environment. It was all new stuff to all of use (especially the other two guys - one was fresh out of uni, the other had never had a full-time office job - only contract work). I had only regular web-dev experience (front and back end) - but this was completely new to me.

It was server automation and management, for a hosting company. The stack was a combination of PHP mixed with Java and shell scripting. They wanted to move into cloud hosting services (VPS) - so our task was to learn the system, maintain it where necessary, and also transition things over to (ultimately) an OpenStack/OpenCloud environment (while keeping the old stuff still going, of course). It was being thrown to the wolves, because we had to get this all done in a very short time frame.

Unfortunately, they had no where to seat us in the small office - except one spot: The conference room they had interviewed us in. This was a small 9 x 12 room, with a single door, and a glass wall.

They brought in a desk system, and set up the machines (well, we set them up). We got to work. It was hot inside, because the AC had no vent into the room (and we're in Phoenix, Arizona which didn't help). We called the room - initially - the "oven". It was miserable - so we all had fans. We turned off the lights. Just the glow of the monitors to light the room.

The lead - he set up spotify and would run his music (or whatever) and we would listen. I was the old guy (I'm in my 40s) - so the music was new to me, but I liked it. It was a crazy mix of Kesha, some kind of pirate metal, dubstep, Dragonforce, and other weirdness. I loved the mix. We hacked to that, and I gained an appreciation for music I had never experienced before.

Eventually we got our first mascot - someone drew a dickbutt on the glass next to the door, with a flower coming out the rear. Awesome. Described our stack perfectly (I eventually cranked out a fake O'Reilly "book" for the stack) - when it worked, it worked great, but most of the time it was a dickbutt and there was nothing we could do about it (most of those problems were on the server side, which we could only barely touch because our IT guy wasn't the most personable, and held total control over the 10k+ servers in the queue).

At another point, our manager decided to rescue us from our oven, and we got a portable A/C unit - vented into the ceiling. That made things bearable - well, until the thing overflow with condensation (nobody told us to empty it). But - the oven became the "barn" in no time. We called it the barn out of a joke involving bronies or something, I dunno.

And...we got a new mascot. Our lead was culturally jewish, and he told us of a tale called "Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins". Apparently this is a real book. Well - to fit into the theme, our new mascot that appeared one day was a hobby horse we named "Hershel". We propped it up on our desk system, added a hat and feather, and continued to work.

We got the system done - well, working to the point that it was real, did what it was supposed to do...

Eventually, the barn was dismantled when we moved to a new office - to an open floorplan (ugh). Too much light. The camaraderie that was developed in our oven barn, while it continued to a certain point - it wasn't quite the same. About a year later, the company was sold, I quit and moved on to other pastures, and the new company eventually got rid of the dev team (because they never wanted it in the first place, nor the software we developed).

But it was a great time while it lasted. Take from it what you can or will...

I think the thing that stands out most is that you worked together and built a team and as long as the environment was good enough (obviously still not optimal) for the team, you got busy adding value. Too many people will read this and say "that sounds awful" in terms of environment. There has been a lot of discussions here lately and so many of them are I centric. It was nice to read your account and how we centric it was.

Wonderful. Thank you for sharing this. We spend so much time talking about the working conditions (open office, lighting, HVAC, etc...). The people and the work matter so much more.

Hey, I remember "Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins" from grade school.


The pirate metal had to be Alestorm, right?


Any chance you could link-to/publish that spotify playlist? Would be interesting to hear.

See also: chapter 9 of the seminal "Peopleware," 3rd edition:

[snip] Before drawing the plans for its Santa Teresa facility, IBM violated all industry standards by carefully studying the work habits of those who would occupy the space. The study was designed by the architect Gerald McCue with the assistance of IBM area managers. Researchers observed the work processes in action in current work spaces and in mock-ups of proposed work spaces. They watched programmers, engineers, quality control workers, and managers go about their normal activities. From their studies, they concluded that a minimum accommodation for the mix of people slated to occupy the new space would be the following:

• 100 square feet of dedicated space per worker • 30 square feet of work surface per person • Noise protection in the form of enclosed offices or 6-foot-high partitions (they ended up with about half of all professional personnel in enclosed one- and two-person offices)

The rationale for building the new laboratory to respect these minimums was simple: People in the roles studied needed the space and quiet in order to perform optimally. Cost reduction to provide work space below the minimum would result in a loss of effectiveness that would more than offset the cost savings. Other studies have looked into the same questions and come up with more or less the same answers. [/snip]

I just read "Deep Work" (due to another HN user's comment somewhere) and it's full of good information. Being able to work free of distractions and interruptions means incredible productivity.

See also http://wiki.c2.com/?LordOfTheFlies

Deep Work also has a whole part on Building 20, similar to the article. It really articulated my thoughts on open work spaces.

The results of that study do not surprise me at all. At my company, there are no rules about clutter, but the cleaners wipe down everyone's desk every day as best they can. I'm a clutter-free type of person: my desk has nothing but my monitor/keyboard, phone, lamp, a notepad, and a small potted plant. When I come in and everything's been moved a few inches (like the plant all the way to the edge of the desk or phone right up against the monitor) it drives me insane. And then I feel bad, because someone cleans my fucking desk everyday and I just get annoyed about it.

Maybe Velcro everything that you don't want moved, or put little tape outlines or stick paper shapes under them, so they know where to move it back to when they're done.

I'm an embedded engineer, and we have those "do not clean" stickers we put on our desks. I'd rather wipe my own desk on my own schedule than have a cleaner accidentally disturb some RF equipment or spill SMD components.

I'm curious: What makes daily cleaning necessary?

We've weekly cleaning and it seems to be sufficient.

Daily cleaning is often mandated by the building owner in a lease agreement.

It doesn't cost them anything since the tenant foots the bill. It provides them peace of mind their asset is in good condition.

Interesting, thank you!

I'm personally glad the kitchen gets cleaned daily, having worked places where employees were responsible for keeping it clean. That was a disaster.

I feel like wiping the desks down weekly would be enough. Maybe there's a reason behind it. Keeping cold from spreading around? Who knows.

Probably it's just to provide a clean-feeling workspace. It's nice to start a day and the coffee machine is clean and the trash bins are empty - especially the latter is important, given that food waste etc. can quickly develop a nasty smell.

It's also a density/numbers thing. More people means more generated mess in shared spaces.

I agree but couldn't the employees themselves take care of such stuff?

We share such minor duties in the office (and food waste goes to the bio waste bin if suitable or gets packed in small bags). Maybe we're simply not spoiled enough! ;)

A door I can close when I need to concentrate.

Adjustable lighting so I won't need sunglasses. (My current employer got a bit carried away; I have modded my overhead lights with a warm yellow gel film to make it more agreeable.)

Coffee (or the means for making such) within easy reach.

There was a recruitment drive by Microsoft back in the late 1980s or early 90s that included a radio commercial campaign in Silicon Valley trying to recruit from the local Silicon Valley talent pool to go to Redmond.

Part of the monologue was the guy promising (from memory, may be paraphrased) "you would get an office! With a door! That you can CLOSE! So you can THINK!"

That's fantastic. How can such a sentence be so dated, yet SO RELEVANT at the same time.

I prefer natural light, when the time of year allows for it.

A decent chair, a high res monitor and quiet go a long way.

I don't know why the importance of natural light in building design took so long to come into vogue. Lockheed (of all places) in Sunnyvale California built in the early 1980s its state-of-the-art Building 157 around an atrium core that meant that during daylight hours, over 70% of needed light was natural light from the outside.

Because of screen glare, maybe? In Masters of Doom, the author describes how Romero created his perfect office environment with lots of natural light. The employees then stapled dark felt over the top of their cubicles because the screen glare was so bad.

Agreed on the natural light, but my office is at 62 degrees latitude with the window facing north... :-/

That just means you get to bask in the ample natural darkness.

I guess the scenery you can go see at the weekend makes up for it.

I'm going to mount an umbrella in a few days to block the overhead lighting. I requested that the lighting be turned off, and it was, but another employee (who only comes to the office once per week) had it turned back on a few days later.

People in my office use something like this:


edit: one of the comments says it's 1/4th that price in the actual store

Yes, with regard to the prices for IKEA stuff that you'll find on Amazon. In a hurry to fill an immediate basic need, I bought a minimal IKEA torchiere lamp for circa $20 on Amazon. I think Prime shipping was a factor in my decision. I didn't even visit the IKEA web site.

A few months later, errands took me near the not-close-to-me IKEA and I popped in for a couple of things. I was a bit shocked (more at the absolute price than the difference) to see the same lamp being sold for $7.

(Something's wonky with the world when this whole thing can be manufactured and then shipped -- including its heavy base -- halfway around the world, and then sold retail, at a profit, for $7.)

If they were just shipping that lamp, it wouldn't be. But that lamp ships basically for free when you have a container ship full of other stuff.

If the cost of a trans-Atlantic freight voyage is $150,000, that's basically $150,000 as a fixed cost. If you only have one thing on that boat, it will still cost $150,000. If you have two, it's still $150,000 but now you've halved the transport cost per item. And so on. Now if you put $150,000 worth of merchandise on there, the trip is paid for. Every additional item you stack on is pure profit, essentially. So that (relatively) little lamp just gets balanced on top of a Svorgbøg sofa and ships for free. The only thing they pay is the cost to manufacture, which using the same principles on the assembly line, is almost effectively just the cost of the raw materials. And those raw materials only cost $2 for some plastic and a tiny amount of metal, so there we go. Profit.

Amazon has something similar in their add-on items. These are items that would not be able to be sold or shipped by themselves as it wouldn't be cost effective, but if you purchase them with something else, now it's worth the shipping for them.

> These are items that would not be able to be sold or shipped by themselves as it wouldn't be cost effective

Based on the add-on items I've seen I'm not convinced that's true. I needed to buy thermal paste a few months ago and there was a 4g pack for £3 as an add-on item, or a 20g pack for £3.50 with Prime delivery. Other times I've needed something buts it's only available as an add-on item - I don't mind paying for delivery as it's still going to be cheaper and easier than buying in a brick and mortar store.

I agree and I almost hesitated to put that in there. I bought from AAA batteries on Amazon recently and it was an add-on item. I would have gladly paid to have them shipped, but I was not given that option. Instead I hit the "subscribe and save: button, placed my order, then canceled the subscription at no cost.

To be completely honest, I have no idea how their "add on" program actually works. That's just the excuse they give on their site.

It might surprise you to know that the cost of a trans-altantic freight voyage for a standard 20 foot shipping container is down under $2500. I find that startingly inexpensive (given the scale of the infrastructure required to make it happen...)


That is surprising. I pulled a number out of my ass with no basis in reality, so that $150k I quoted was completely made up. But yeah, $2500 for a container is actually really low.

Ikea is possibly The most efficient manufacturer/distributor in the world.

I used a gel similar to this[0]; cheap and effective. (Though the hue chosen is probably open for debate; I am somewhat chromatographically challenged.)


CTS (Color Temperature Straw) is just about right, actually. The other alternative, CTO (Color Temperature Orange) is, in some senses, "more correct", but the heavier red bias makes some people feel like they're working by candlelight - even in brighter light, it feels a bit dim and closer to bedtime.

Depending on where you are you probably don't need to order this! Many areas have theater supply stores, for example in Santa Clara, CA there is a great one: https://www.musson.com/

If you are trying to achieve a more neutral or less noticeable 'natural' light, combining 'No Color Pink' and 'No Color Blue' can be very effective.



If you're happy with the color, there are also neutral density filters in a variety of transmission levels: http://www.stagelightingstore.com/Rosco-Supergel-398-Neutral...

Come in early one day before everybody else gets there, pop open the panel over the overhead light above your desk, and unscrew the lightbulbs/florescent tubes. Best thing I ever did when I was in an office suite that had one switch for all the lights.

But what if you're next to someone who does like light?

Buy them a lamp?

Only half kidding - talk to them about the problem and see if you were to go in on a lamp they'd be willing to let the overheads stay off.

Weird. I'm the exact opposite. I can't stand dark rooms. I love giant windows everywhere, preferably floor to ceiling.

Epoxy a burned-out bulb in its place. Done!

My company just announced (with fanfare) that they will be providing the equiv of a nespresso machine (the type with cartridges). Cartridges are on sale at $1.50.

God I just checked the price on amazon.

Whooopy dooopy dooo.

Hey, if the machines are Keurigs, your company can (conceivably) receive custom machines which will only accept corporate-branded capsules - thus making it impossible for you to undercut their business model by shopping on Amazon... (While I believe Keurig gave up on DRM capsules for the consumer market, I wouldn't be surprised if they offered them as a 'service' to the corporate market...

My employer retrofitted our coffee machines with credit card terminals (at astronomic expense) to charge the equivalent of $.65 or so for a cup of fancy (that is, anything other than black) coffee.

Problem was, in addition to this charge, we'd be charged another $1 for card processing, which really ruffled everyone's feathers (Debet cards are huge in Norway, typical use charge is less than $.20, most often $.00 - so getting charged $1 seemed like theft!) According to the tech who removed the terminals after a year, they had recorded only one - 1 - sale...

Gee, I'd rather just use my 4-cup drip coffeemaker at my desk with my coffee of choice than drink anything out of a Keurig.

Aeropress and a kettle.

Lee Filters has an online color shift calculator to help select filters to convert light to the desired temperature. It even gives suggestions on filter combinations to get to the desired color.


The Lee Filters color shift calculator proved handy when I recently found an LED work light stand [0] that I thought would make for a nice looking lamp in our living room if I could figure out how to convert the light to a color that was more normal for a home.

[0]: https://www.lowes.com/pd/Utilitech-Pro-1-Light-40-Watt-LED-S...

    > When workers were deliberately disempowered, their work suffered
    > and of course, they hated it. “I wanted to hit you,” one
    > participant later admitted to an experimenter.
Everything everything everything makes more sense when you remember that humans are tribal, territorial mammals.

If you're given autonomy over your space, it becomes your territory. Even team automony is OK if you are emotionally tied to your team enough for them to feel like "your tribe".

But if you are not, you are forever in some other mammal's territory. Imagine a wolf walking through their own woods, smelling the scent of their packmates. They are confident, relaxed, calm. Now put that wolf in anothers' forest. Anxious, hunted, always on the alert for an attack. This is what it feels like to inhabit a space you can't have any influence on.

A clean, cubicle-free environment, but with desks in a small-ish room, with no more than 3 other people that you can get along with. There should be spaces for professional and personal belongings. The building should be near amenities like convenience stores and restaurants, and as a bonus, located such that cars aren't necessary for commuting.

To me personally, it doesn't matter if I am sitting among a group of 30 people or 3 people, I don't want to hear my coworkers' typing, coughing, eating, drinking, phone calls, chair adjustments, conversations, etc.

Those are all distractions that I can do without and that I think I am personally more sensitive to than others may be. Not to mention that in a shared office you are sharing the lighting, temperature, decor, etc. In a private office those are all things that I control and are personalized to my preferences and comfort.

Agreed, the quieter, the better. For myself, I share a room with another programmer and 2 designers. Things are usually pretty quiet until our manager steps in. Our CEO came by when the manager was off, and noted how quiet it was.

5-6' cubicles, when combined with some white noise, carpets, and acoustic tile ceilings, make for great isolation in a building where making offices is not practical.

Personally, I prefer an office or room with 2-3 other people at max, but I'll take cubicles over open floor plans every day.

Why do you want to sit near other people? Then they can see what time you come in or leave the office.

Then they can see what time you come in or leave the office.

If you feel the need to hide the hours you work then there is something very wrong.

I have worked on a noon to midnight in office schedule for long periods of time and noticed most people sharing the office with you take it psychologically as noon to five even when you are actually in office 50% longer than them.

If your manager is fine with it, who cares what other people think?

What people think can cause misconceptions, which can give you hostile co-workers and negative opinions.

There was no manager above at that point. I loved to do it because it was super efficient for me. You get into the office when some problems had already came up and people already had tried a bit of effort to solve them themselves. Then you just do rounds after lunch and fix them. Then after people went home it was a good time to review code and catch up on the personal work.

Nobody, until someone gets promoted and now there's a manager (maybe even your manager) who has a negative opinion of you.

This is office politics. If employee value to a company isn't immediately identifiable and measurable outside of "hours with butt in chair" then said company is incapable of properly valuing its employees (the exception being a company that just wants to bill hours for a "butt in a chair"). It means the entire process is based entirely on individual perception. This leads to its own set of problems where individuals game the system to be perceived as harder working but in reality may actually be doing less work or a larger amount of trivial "busy" work. This is a failure and will only lead to a culture of resentment and game playing within the company.

In the ideal world that might be true. In the world we live in, it's very easy to focus on working hours rather than what people actually achieve.

This isn't the "I get done in 3 hours that which would take Bob 8!" discussion that HN loves, this is someone just working odd hours.

I very often work 6a-2p and I will occasionally get odd looks or the random comment when I am packing up for the day an hour or less after people return from lunch. If you're there when someone arrives, they assume you got there 5 minutes ago, not 3 hours, at least subconsciously.

Reading these comments about territorialism and control over environment has brought into focus why users are upset when an application or OS changes its UI, even slightly; it's not just that they have to relearn something, it's that their environment has been changed. Maybe they reluctantly accepted that in advance as a price worth paying to get new functionality or bug fixes or maybe the software auto-updated or the update was imposed by Tech Services and the change was unexpected.

Same kind of thing with the recent discussions on here about software becoming obsolete and non-functional due to support being dropped (either because the OS won't run it, because r because the software depended on servers which have been shut down). This is another case of users losing control over their environment, and it's important to recognise the issue and the emotions involved, even if you don't relate yourself.

It seems like the important thing is having some influence over your environment. If everything seems to have been placed with care, an occupant might hesitate to change things to their preference. But if the place doesn't seem to have any form, than they can feel free to change the form to suit.

Loved the bit about Building 20 at MIT. It really did embody the hacker ethos with its freedom even to rebuild the physical space to suit your project. Oddly enough, some of my German classes were in that building and I remember walking through the halls and ducking under bundles of cables that were running overhead to different labs where real work was getting done. It really was a legendary place and I'm glad I got to see it before it was torn down.

The Swiss furniture company USM had the ultimate building system. It was essentially Mechano or Construx for building.

Their furniture is similar, they have three basic pieces - girder (tube), joints (balls) and panel. Out of that you can make any of their furniture. [1]

A similar system existed for buildings. You could expand and deconstruct your building quickly and easily as need changed. Unfortunately it wasn't a success on the market - too modern for the times, and it was discontinued in the 60's. The furniture is still going strong though.

If I ever get rich, I'd love to buy the rights off them and try again.

[1] usm.com

I built my desk out of standard scaffolding and structural ply for the same reasons, if I ever want to change it I can do it with an allen key and an angle grinder.

No regrets (other than the amount of time the waxing took on the top panel).

This page desperately needs line breaks between paragraphs.

Bless you

I didn't read it because it was just a wall of text. I don't need silly infographics, but some editorial formatting is required.

Well, it's your loss, the text is a pleasure to read, captivating and written with style.

I often just skip many "well formatted" blog articles because they are boring and mostly meaningless.

Which is pretty ironic given the word "space" appears in the article roughly 20 times!

Even with elegant design and personalization, I cannot stand working in open offices, where everyone is crammed next to each other trying to concentrate on code. Companies seem to tout this style of office as a great thing--you know, for collaboration--but it is just a return to the dismal style of factory production lines manned with rows and rows of peons.

My perfect office is either in my home or a closed, private room where I can concentrate. If I need to collaborate, I'll leave said private room. I also like having a treadmill/standing desk and exactly one of these lightbulbs: http://www.ikea.com/us/en/catalog/products/00317155/

I worked at a defense contractor in Utah that, at the time, had close to 4k employees. Needless to say, this business consisted of massive warrens of cubicles. I was employee #3 in a new Ux/Human Factors group and the first thing that we did was collaborate with Facilities group to design an open workspace where a joint team of Ux and programmers would work to build customer-facing software products. I had spent much of my grad school working on designing team-based workspaces on behalf Herman Miller and Steelcase during the 1990s, so this was a great way to incubate some of those ideas.

We designed several of these workspaces with both personal and shared work areas, including tables for lunch activities (mainly speed chess) and meetings. There were a lot of marker boards and everyone had double the desk space than they had in their cubicles. Both projects were huge successes and still in use to this day.

Here are a few of my observations:

1) Facilities was NOT on board but we had the managerial support to push the project through. 2) The first six months was like being in a fish tank. People constantly stopped by to observe us and ask questions. 3) Similar open-offices started popping up throughout the organization. 4) Some of them failed. 5) Ours did not.

I think that some of reasons that we could be effective in an open-office as a group of cats and dogs (designers and engineers/programmers) were as follows:

1) We only recruited talent that was willing and able to perform in this environment 2) We respected the desire of team members that didn't want to work in this environment, but we kept them close 3) There was nearby private space that could be checked out as needed 4) We got to design the space 5) We were not crammed together and there was implied privacy. For example, nobody every faced another person. We had portable markers boards that could be used as impromptu dividers, and if someone had headphones on, that was a pretty good sign that they were not to be bothered. 6) Nobody dictated how we were to use the space at a group or individual level 7) There was trust 8) We were able to design, develop and iterate faster due to being in close proximity. The intimacy of the workspace worked well with our daily scrums and short design/development cycles. In the previous model, teams were often not colocated and it wasn't uncommon to jump on shuttles and bicycles to get to meetings.


The space was designed by its voluntary occupants and it improved the effectiveness of the team and the end-products as a result.

> there was implied privacy.

This is so important. Staring at my least favorite coworker all day was one of the things I hated most about my last job. You wouldn't think it was a big deal, but she was basically reporting each time I went to the restroom or to get water or food, making "tsk" sounds every time I scratched my arm or moved, and sometimes giving a straight on stare of anger for long minutes.

-shivers- Least favorite work environment ever.

An effective office for a programmer is one where it's possible to concentrate for prolonged stretches. That's really all that matters.

Having your back to the wall and no overhead lights.

I get that you don't want things behind your back, but what's wrong with overhead lights? I mean every office/room/space has a light on the ceiling.

As mentioned in the article, you have no control, as you would with a desk lamp. The lighting is often direct, stark, and blue as well, which impedes relaxation and "flow."

It makes me feel like the sun is shining on my face, and I want to seek shelter.

The sun makes you look for shelter?

Yes. Somewhere cool and dark and quiet.

Although I must say that indirect sunlight, filtered again through dark green leaves right outside the window at the other end of the room, is pretty pleasant. All the heat is kept outside where it belongs, there's no glare, etc.

Glare. Overhead lights and the trend of GLOSSY MONITOR EVERYWHERE. If I'm stuck in an open office with overhead lights and a glossy monitor, I feel like a quarter of my attention is spent tracking moving objects in reflection.

High overhead lights, especially fluorescent ones make me feel simultaneously exposed and confined, like a goldfish in a fishtank at Wal-Mart just waiting for some dumb kid to snatch me up.

Darkness is fine, natural light is fine, pools of lamplight are fine. But big banks of ceiling lights make me want to crawl under my desk and hide.

It's people, not things, behind my back that are the usual issue.

It's not a good thing just because everyone does it.

What amazes me in my company that although everybody agrees that the current setup is bad whenever they do something new they fall back to gray cubicles or open space. It seems this is just unstoppable despite everybody agreeing that it s not good.

Cubicles are infinitely better than open space. At least in a cubicle I get my own desk, relative privacy, and freedom to decorate the space as I please.

Cubicles also provide a natural boundary so that when someone comes to talk loudly at the person seated next to me, they don't stand directly beside me to do so.

Open office plans are the worst.

Open space is cheap, hip, and a nightmare to work in. Cubicles are cheap, extremely unhip, and are a bit better to work in.

When money is an issue (Which is always the case), you can't help but fall back to one or the other.

Yeah, especially in dense, expensive areas such as SV, Munich or Berlin (exception: you're happy to work in a nasty area of town where space is cheap but there's waste, drugs and other unpleasant stuff everywhere), money is a massive issue.

Basically you trade off a quick way to work with quality-of-working.

> When workers were empowered to design their own space, they had fun and worked hard and accurately...

Generalize this from physical space to development environment: It's nice when ui doesn't change by a few pixels each morning. It's nice when namespaces aren't continuously churning. API stability makes work fun.

My house, my desk, my expensive chair.

Everything else is inferior.

That's precisely what I was thinking as I read the article. I go into the office for meetings--usually three mornings a week--but all real thought-work happens at home. My home office is quiet, has natural light which I can control to my liking, my chair fits me perfectly, and I can enjoy the company of my cat. Most importantly, I feel at peace when I'm at home. No amount of office decoration can substitute for that.

I write this from a metal folding chair, with my laptop on an old folding card table.

Doesn't matter. Still the best.

What kind of chair? Currently on the market...


A decent size room with ~5 people, a little extra room, natural light with a nice view, and some nice accent lighting for when natural light isn't enough.

Where I work now: Open office with some natural light (skylights) but no windows, florescent and/or LED lighting. At least the desks are ok.

Private offices with separate collaborative areas. The actual architecture and interior design could be performed tolerably well by a monkey.

There's a really good BBC TV series about this topic, which also covers the MIT Radio Lab that Tim mentions:


"How Buildings Learn" (1997)

A locked room with adjustable light and a 27" iMac with internet connection.

Nothing else, not even food.

The perfect office should be long enough to contain your body. It should be upholstered in something soft. It should have a strong lid to keep out vermin.

Sometimes I come directly and read the comments to deduct a summary instead

The author is very sympathetic to the plight of the worker, but what about bosses? Where will their job satisfaction come from if they can't control what workers put on their desks?

"Job satisfaction?" Don't you just mean "Job?"

Sorry, but nothing beats working from home in your own home office. It's an environment you have complete control over.

It's very dependent on the person. I quit my office job last year and worked contracting from home for six months. It was utterly awful. My study is small, dark (north-facing, and the previous owners painted the walls mid-blue, which makes it even darker) and cluttered. I felt very isolated and ended up very depressed.

Last month, my contracting colleague and I moved into an office in a converted house. It's small (just four desks) but the ceilings are high, the walls are light, the lighting is nice and bright, and there's a south-facing window with a view all the way across the city to Arthur's Seat. I have a good office chair and a big desk to spread out over, and a cleaner comes in to hoover the floors. And I get to see humans every day, which - I was surprised to find - is a key ingredient in keeping me sane. I'm a lot happier, and a lot more productive, even though I don't have as much control over this office as over my own home.

This is just me, and I understand that people feel they need to push hard for private offices or working from home, because the default nowadays seems to be a big open plan office. However, every time I see somebody extolling their vision of the Best Way To Work, I think it's worth emphasizing that different people work differently, and what drives some people mad might be a necessary component for someone else's perfect office.

Of course, as the article points out, having the choice is the real thing that matters.

I quit my job and started freelancing last year. I redecorated my home office, and felt really satisfied with the perfect office space I'd created. A month later, I was feeling trapped, anxious, and deeply, deeply lonely -- and I'm an introvert! I'm working in a real office now, and I feel so much better. I guess it takes a certain nature to work from home, and I don't have that.

> A month later, I was feeling trapped, anxious, and deeply, deeply lonely -- and I'm an introvert!

I'm going on 3 years working from home and I don't miss an office one bit. I don't feel trapped, anxious or lonely. I have house mates, so I get some daily socialization there. I also get out of the house at least 3 times a week specifically for social activities.

I could see where you might feel those things if you worked all day, every day and never got out of the house. That's one of the challenges when you first start working from home: You now have to manage your own time.

Then again, maybe I'm just an outlier. My idea of an ideal office is a standing desk in a garage with concrete walls and a concrete floor filled with weights, tennis rackets, hockey sticks, lacrosse sticks, punching bags, etc to play with while I work.

I'm glad you are in a situation that works for you, but why didn't you just redecorate your home office?

That. Our office office: open plan, glossy Apple monitors with "interesting" light fixtures to make the glare as bad as possible and it's a 45 minute commute away. My home office does not (yet) sport an adjustable desk, but has all the amenities I'd expect in an office. Like a door. I'm so happy I even wrote a quick blog post about it last week :-) http://evrl.com/working/2017/02/08/no-commute.html. It's my office, I like it, and I think that goes back to the author's "control of environment" argument.

Unless you have a partner or kids and have to share your home office with someone

after transitioning to 100% remote, i've come to the conclusion that the perfect office is the one you build for yourself.

corollary: commercial real estate is a ripoff.

I work remote from my team, but come into the office in this location every single day, for many reasons:

1. I like separating work from home

2. I like being around the people

3. There are snacks!

4. The desk setup is better here than at home. I live in a very small apartment, so a dedicated space isn't feasible.

5. There are printers and paper shredders and copiers and all sorts of other supplies here. I don't want to buy all that stuff for home.

6. The view from this building is heck of a lot cooler than the view from my rear apartment

I could probably think of more. This all adds up to a pretty nice experience.

I understand that it isn't always a choice, but in my experience (~8 years 100% remote, with a few exceptions for client site visits/local team collaboration) people who work remote often do so from some where that affords more space and a nicer view, at home.

Also of course is the Timezone benefit. Before I was taking clients directly, I worked with a remote team, with staff from basically every continent except Antarctica.

It wasn't unusual for me to be working such odd (by local standards) hours in Melbourne/Thailand that I had 90% crossover with Western Europe or North America.

You beat me! But I'll say it again, nothing beats a home office.

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