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Apple staffers reportedly rebelling against open office plan (bizjournals.com)
405 points by V99 on Aug 8, 2017 | hide | past | favorite | 391 comments

Working in open office plans is simply awful.

Personally I believe remote work, for any tech-enabled employer, makes the most sense. The impact on infrastructure by removing commuting alone could maybe help save the planet. And our collective sanity.

Wouldn't it be nice to have ISPs that can provide an infrastructure that could actually support that? I think so.

The hideous effects of cluster-fucking hundreds of thousands of people daily just needs to stop. Tech companies are guilty. They're huge and, humbly opined, are idiots for making it worse and not really needing to. Top that off with an open floor destination and.. damn, work is beat.

No, it’s not simple.

I am awfully bored of these “everything is simple, open offices are uniformly awful, everybody should be remote” arguments. Yes - this works for some people, in some workplaces. In other cases, it doesn’t work. I’m fine with my open office space, and I prefer working from an office - which is a bike ride away and better equipped than I am.

How about instead we accept that there are almost certainly trade-offs involved in these areas, and that maybe building an office space that works for everyone is important? Provide open office space for those who thrive in that environment. Make sure there are private areas for those who don’t. Establish a culture that supports remote workers, and encourages good behaviour in shared areas. That, if anything, is simpler.

If you are a developer who has to check in code, then you need a quiet place for focused work. You can try to argue that some developers don't need that, but those who can achieve peak concentration while context switching and talking to others are biological curiosities, if they exist at all. I haven't met anyone like that.

Now most employees working in tech companies are not developers. There is a whole "developer abstraction layer" (https://www.joelonsoftware.com/2006/04/11/the-development-ab...) but tech companies should at least have a place for all of their engineers to do quiet, focused work that is free of distraction.

I would also say that many people who are managers and do marketing also need a quiet place for focused work. So do QA people, infrastructure engineers, etc.

A larger point is that there are so many easy ways to communicate and collaborate now that to fix the physical plant to optimize for communication is just plain nuts. Why not use something that is very expensive to change, like the architecture, to meet needs that can't be met with software. Software can let you talk to someone easily, but it can't give you a quiet space. Only the architecture can do that. So I would err on the side of giving everyone an office with a door and then creating some common meeting spaces for them rather than building the office to have open offices and then adding a few multi-use closed door areas.

Hypothetical scenario here:

Lets say that you have a 5 minute question, that would save you an hour of work.

In a closed/cubicle style office, you may be less willing to bug your expert co-worker. In an open office, it may be perfectly normal to turn to your left, and quickly ask you question.

Sure, you are taking time out of your co-worker's day, but even so, on the net whole, asking the question is probably a net benefit time saver to the company.

In closed-style offices, it is a big gesture to walk into someone's office and ask a question. I'd feel less comfortable doing that.

Even sending a slack message still feels less comfortable than just turning your head and asking a quick question.

Coding is a collaborative process to many people. I don't want to schedule a freaking meeting for my simple question, or walk into someone's office. I'd probably just not ask if I felt like I was bothering someone.

That five minute question may well save you an hour of work, but it's just as likely - I'd say_more_ likely - to steal an hour of productivity from the person you ask.

Just send them a message in slack. Don't be so obnoxious as to assume that whatever's bugging you at this moment is automatically more important than whatever your co-worker is on.

I don't know why it feels weirder to slack them then it does to turn your head and ask. One demands immediate attention, the other allows them to answer when they have bandwidth for it. It seems obvious enough to me which is more polite.

Agreed. I think teams need the discipline to _not_ just turn around and start talking, but to message on Slack/etc. However, once that has been done, having the person right next to you can make the process of answering the question much quicker and easier when they are ready.

That's the theory of why open plan is good.

In practice it doesn't pan out that way, because most 5 minute questions don't save that much time (answer was a 2 minute search away), don't take that much time (take much longer), and overall cost much more time (due to loss of flow).

Most (if not all) programmers need a state of flow to write quality code. Achieving flow after an interruption can easily take 15 minutes or more. If the environment discourages a state of flow by having frequent brief interruptions, the quality of the code written in that environment will be poor. If you had the ability to collect the right metrics, you'd probably find that bugs disproportionately are written right after an interruption.

Interrupting other people to ask your question doesn't mean that you are engaging in collaborative coding. Collaborative coding in the sense you describe, doesn't really exist. What does exist is multiple people working on the same project, with their code communicating via interfaces, etc. Each person needs quiet focused time to do that.

The other issue you raised is that sure, your productivity may go up if you interrupt someone and get a question. It's clear that we don't want to optimize for that, because the interruption may cause someone else a loss of 30 minutes before they get back into the zone. It's not just 5 minutes. And 20 minutes into that recovery of concentration, someone else will interrupt them and ask another question. And they will also interrupt you. That creates a very frustrating experience. So it's better to ask your question asynchronously. You will get your answer when the person takes a break and relaxes their concentration. Both of you will be able to exercise control over when you can concentrate on getting your work done. Having that sense of control and ability to concentrate is critical to being productive.

But there is the whole glass castle principle you forgot to me too. That 5 minute break does not take 0 minutes to recover from in some cases. You need to rebuild your glass castle in your head over and over again. So in reality it might take just as much time to go back to full productivity.

The main problem is that everyone around you hears the question and the answer. This can create more discussions but it probably disturbs a lot. Especially when you place different teams in the same open space. Suddenly you are disturbed by all kinds of discussions that has very little to do with _your_ job.

I basically think it disturbs more with questions in an open space than when you go over to a cubicle/room.

Reducing interruptions from people is a feature; not a bug. Maybe you would only do it when it would save you an hour; more commonly, people have a much lower "interrupt someone trying to work" threshold.

Civilized people use email or whatever is the asynchronous communication medium du jour

save it up and ask them at lunchtime

I've wasted entire days answering a few five minute questions and not being able to get anything done. IF you have a question, email me and I'll look at it when I can and maybe arrange a time to talk about it. Being randomly interrupted because it will save an hour of your time means I'll never get any work done at all (and get none of the credit for your work).

How would pair programming work? Wouldn't that contribute to a noisy environment as the two developers talk to each other?

I don't like large open plan offices, but I think a small room just for my team (6 devs) would be helpful.

> If you are a developer who has to check in code, then you need a quiet place for focused work

Don't talk on behalf of me.

Maybe because I'm relatively younger and I've mainly worked in open-plan offices, but I have zero problems with them. I'm not so easily distracted that simply having someone else's presence is enough to throw me off. When I need to buckle down and get some 'serious developing' going on, I just put on some headphones and listen to The Social Network soundtrack. I am more productive by having my colleges around me so I can easily pair-program or pair-design.

The point still remains: everyone is different and what works for one person won't work for everyone (I for one could never work remotely for any serious period of time). Again, we need to make sure we're building office spaces that can adopt to these different people and the ways they work.

> When I need to buckle down and get some 'serious developing' going on, I just put on some headphones

More proof that a noisy "collaborative" environment is not conducive to work that requires deep concentration.

>When I need to buckle down and get some 'serious developing' going on, I just put on some headphones

by "serious developing", I'm guessing you mean "actually programming".

those who can achieve peak concentration while context switching and talking to others are biological curiosities, if they exist at all

You've just described everyone who has ever programmed against the clock in a hollywood movie.

> Provide open office space for those who thrive in that environment. Make sure there are private areas for those who don’t. Establish a culture that supports remote workers, and encourages good behaviour in shared areas.

Yep. This is what needs to be done. One thing I'll note is that in my experience, remote workers are 2nd class citizens unless the company is a remote-first company. And if the company is bought or gets new management, the remote workers are the first to go.

In my experience, non-managers are all 2nd class citizens. Given the option to remote full time for 5 years at company A vs. be in the office full time at company B and be a 1st class, 2nd class citizen, I'll chose A.

The trade-off is the medium-sized office: a room containing up to six people who are all part of the same team.

You get all the advantages of being able to talk to people, and none of the disadvantages of conversations drifting over from the rest of the office. And there's more of a chance that if your immediate co-workers are discussing something then it's actually relevant to you.

Noooo! You still get the chatter and it's harder to ignore if it's familiar people talking about semi-relevant stuff.

Also, it cements the idea that things are done by teams, not individuals.

Things are done by teams. They are also done by individuals within those teams, but any given feature is likely to have quite a few fingerprints on it.

Yes, this can work well. You still have to be careful and not mix people that has to do a lot of phonecalls or loud discussions in the same room as developers.

That's a good middle-ground in my experience, if a larger hybrid office space isn't possible.

I think if a company offered an open office plan with the option to remote full time, you might be the only person in the office. :)

I own/run a co-working space which is almost entirely open plan. Many people here elect to work in this sort of environment rather than at home. People use headphones if they need to focus.

Personally, at home I am too easily distracted - I can pick through the fridge or cupboards, or read news sites forever. At the office, my screen is visible and as such I'm more likely to stay focused. I vastly prefer the incidental social interactions in an open plan office too.

Not everyone loves open-plan, but if it was truly a disaster, the space wouldn't be full.

Out of curiosity, what percent of them are developers?

3-5 are programming. Others are architects, marketers, etc.

In a previous iteration of the same space, there would've been anything up to 75% programmers but the bulk of them bought and moved to another open-plan office.

isn't a factor that the "open office" subscription costs typically an order of magnitude less than the private office?

(thinking of wework)

Apple has a lot of experience with people working in offices. You'd think this experience would inform the "pod" design. But they also do high fidelity prototypes, at least for product.

Further down thread, someone quoted the WSJ article:

The WSJ article said Apple prototyped one work area, and then multiplied it across the available space. "Hav­ing set­tled on an over­all shape, the team then broke it down into smaller parts. “One of the ad­van­tages of this ring is the rep­e­ti­tion of a num­ber of seg-ments,” says Ive. “We could put enor­mous care and at­ten­tion to de­tail into what is es­sen­tially a slice that is then re­peated. So there’s tremen­dous prag­ma­tism in the build­ing.” The ring would be made up of pods—units of work­space—built around a cen­tral area, like a spoke point­ing to­ward the cen­ter of the ring, and a row of cus­tomizable seat­ing within each site: 80 pods per floor, 320 in to­tal, but only one to pro­to­type and get right."

Prototyping one version seems un-Apple. I would have expected them to have prototyped many office layout options, had people work in them for six months each and rate them or otherwise measure quality.

I wouldn't be surprised if Apple's choice here is actually quite good, but perhaps I wouldn't be surprised by the opposite.

And when you've built this office and nobody chooses to work in the open office?

Then you haven't done your homework by talking to your people and should be ashamed that you have designed it like that.

If you're working for a much-desired company rather than building crusty wordpressers then that "home 10 min bike away from the office" is going to cost you more than half your salary

It's sort of telling how far out of my way you went to form an argument against something you manifested all by yourself.

You're a bike ride away from the office that you prefer? Fantastic job of deflection.

It's rather obvious that there are trade-offs, isn't it? It's pretty clear to me, at any rate, and there's nothing inherently wrong with providing an office. Shame on your words coming out of my mouth.

In relation to the expense of providing "office space" for several hundred the cost of a fat pipe is pretty darn cheap, were that it existed.

If you don't have the need to live where you work there are "simple" choices any given person can make that will make their lives easier, happier and, hopefully, more fruitful for both themselves and their employers.

And besides, having worked in offices (real ones), cubicles (and half-ones), bullpens and open spaces (including fields) I feel I am more than qualified to provide my own opinion on the matter without implying that my "simple" opinion is somehow not compatible with your own.

Open spaces suck to work in. It's that simple.

For you. I have a really long commute, and I can work from home if I'd like. I still prefer coming in to my open-plan office. I think his point was that it's not this simple for everyone, even if it is for you.

You are allowed to have your opinion on what it's like to work in various kinds of offices. I absolutely, 100% accept that people have different working styles, and one of those styles is those who prefer to work in a more isolated fashion.

But, like I said, I'm annoyed that it's become obvious accepted wisdom that "open offices universally suck" – because it's emphatically not that simple. I respect your need to work in a different environment, and explicitly advocated ensuring that you are able to do that – so please respect my preferences as well.

Sure, sure. I only rejected the implication that I was somehow ignorant of the factors involved and just la lala painting with a broad brush of simplicity and righteousness that was somehow at odds with your perceptions. Apart from that I'm pretty much in agreement with your opinion. The reality, for most, is that remote is still the black sheep of options and that only if it's an option. I have zero against an open office plan if those that provide them embrace all the options. I am fortunate enough to have exactly this situation. I have a haul into the (open plan) office, which I love (the haul), mostly because I have three pedals and fast roads but the burning of a few of the days hours to get there and back is more wasteful than not. Far too many are put into the position of long commutes and, omfg, astronomical costs of living to get just a teensy bit closer. I think my only real point, apart from providing just another opinion, was that if capable employers embrace these options in totality then the human condition could be a bit better off for it - open plans or not.

These are just opinions, right? Right. We both have valid ones that are actually pretty closely aligned. We seem to both appreciate our fortunate circumstances which are, for the most part, at opposite ends of the "we're fortunate" spectrum. I regret having inadvertently annoyed you, but, in all respects, you shouldn't be annoyed with anyone's opinions simply because they seem to not be like your own. I think we're good here. Are we good here?

I totally see the issue with open offices, especially if they're densely populated. But I think home office has certain shortcomings as well: Communication quality is not as good over video or text chat as IRL, nuances are missed more easily and sharing a whiteboard is harder. In addition, I have the impression that some people slack off much more because they feel "unwatched".

If employees are measured correctly, it is impossible to slack off. In engineering, measuring hours is silly, measuring output and throughput is what determines performance.

And what do you propose is the correct way of collecting these measurements?

I think by defining a set of metrics and company principles that employees can measure themselves against. Furthermore, by taking into account peer evaluations which reflect on how valuable you are to your team.

An example might help demonstrate my thoughts: Last year I worked on a new UI for customers and went through 7 failed experiments. Does this mean that I suck at my job or that our designer dreamed up a failed interface or the business never should have started this initiate? The designer designed what the business gave a green light to, I wrote the code to put this in front of customers. Are we all failures or is one of us a failure? My opinion (at least in this situation) is none of us failed.

Why? Because the business justified the project based on a need customer's were showing from data they collected and evaluation of the market. The designer created something that after a handful of iterations was green lit for an engineer to build. I was measured in terms of how difficult iterations were. For example, did it take an entire re-write to go from experiment x to x+1 or did you as an engineer anticipate some possible future directions that project could go which made iterations more easy to integrate into existing code.

Some of this is subjective, some is objective, but your peers (team, stakeholders, and adjacent teams) all have an ability to measure and provide feedback to you.

Different jobs require different types of assessments but I focused directly on software engineering since I have best frame of reference.

Results. Delivery of requested work products on schedule with quality.

> Results. Delivery of requested work products on schedule with quality.

Because we all know that software estimation is a solved problem. Particularly with non-technical managers.

>Because we all know that software estimation is a solved problem. Particularly with non-technical managers.

Oh wonderful. They don't do estimates at your company then?

This was explained to me by one of my professors 20 years ago. There are two types of company mentalities:

A: The high school mentality. You show up 8 to 5 but it doesn't really matter what gets done.

B: The college mentality. You pass or fail based on how well you do on the test. Show up if you want, or don't.

The way I see it, if your manager can't tell if you are productive, he or she has no business being a manager and they are the problem.

  Oh wonderful. They don't do estimates at your company
You can do estimates without thinking they're accurate enough to let you detect high- and low-performing employees.

Intern Ian's tasks are simple and well documented - so they always have good estimates. Veteran Victor is great at complex, poorly understood bugs - but he often takes longer than estimated to fix them, as often the cause is hard to find.

It would be a foolish manager that would punish Victor for performing worse than Ian.

If you actually had solved this problem you'd be a trillionaire, alas.

LOC /s

You measure your output in lines per second?! It's clear you are more productive than me then.

/s is the way to say you're being sarcastic on Reddit. So they probably meant that lines of code measurements are popular, while they shouldn't be.

It's difficult keeping up with the internet lingo.

For what it's worth:

* You can simply see on Slack if the person is set to Away. In that case they're busy, so don't bother asking them any questions in a traditional open office plan.

* A better open office plan has a quiet room where people can collaborate in quiet. You can just send someone a message, asking them if you can ask them a question when they have time. You take your laptops with you into the quiet room. Then you keep the quiet in the office itself.

* A good manager knows what people are up to, and how they do it. It's part of their job. They also talk to employees face to face, individually, so they have better understandings on matters. If your manager is not a good manager, then no fancy metrics will help.

* Remote working is fine, and especially in the tech industry I find that there are more people willing to work remotely. I am fine with people wanting to work remotely, and everyone is abroad at times, or needs some time alone for deep focus. I do like to see everyone come together regularly, even just working together in quiet builds up a bond, and periodic informal tea & coffee on the work floor makes people a lot more open in approaching me and trying to test ideas together.

I do understand that commutes can be problematic for people in certain areas, and that some people really like peace and quiet during work hours. During job interviews, people try to see if you are a good fit for where you are going to be working (I can't speak for everyone of course), but it never hurts to ask if you can meet the team before signing a contract, if for some strange reason you weren't introduced already.

at a risk of dropping below the HN value threshold:


I got it and appreciate the mutation of my statement.

I mean you know who is good in your team don't you? It doesn't have to be on a spreadsheet, qualitative results still count.

I generally agree but without some set of metrics/principles to measure against it can become a contest of favorites easily.

>it can become a contest of favorites easily.

I'm afraid that is unavoidable. Any metric you track can and will be gamed before the first collection period.

I work most efficiently when I don't have the stress of having the amount of work I'm doing measured. In my experience the more trust given by the employer that employees are working, the better and greater the output.

If I make 90K a year salary for a company and contribute significantly to projects that bring in > 1,000,000 and increase efficiency and deploy times to hours instead of days as one of my functions then the days I slack are paid for.

IMO a much better model than 'sit in this cube and make noises while I (manager) am looking at you'. That is the reason IT is broken + interminable process improvements like agile culture.

I've been in multiple openoffice and cube environments and I sort of laugh. I can do more in 25 minutes than most 5 year experienced people all day (without google and copypasta). I don't need your corporate propaganda and hustle. I have my own and mine is productive and gives me a life and nice things + actual enjoyment of the process and product.

> I don't need your corporate propaganda and hustle.

- I've never worked in a company with 100+ people so far - All the teams I've been in were fairly small (6 people or less), with flat hierarchies and little formality

I know I'm weird, but I don't recall ever in my career wanting to use a whiteboard

I hear they are great for asking how merge sort works during interviews for a CRUD application.

I've used one precisely once in my career to date and that was only to make modifications to something someone else had already done on there.

There's a huge one to the right of me which hasn't changed once in the 6 weeks I've been here - although since it says "NEXT SPRINT: [project X]" and Project X still hasn't really started, I guess it's always correct...

I do use it from time to time, especially when trying to get a common understanding about a fairly complex problem with other devs.

I'm a Solutions Engineer and whenever I have to get on a sales call or demo at my desk it's a disaster - it's simply far too loud and too much background noise is heard on the call.

This is just one more complaint in a long-list that I have with this arrangement. Makes me miss my cube!

Why not use a headset? They work really well at blocking out background noise (we use the plantronics ones). Worth every cent.

Those don't block out your sound, the others in the same room still hears you and get disturbed.

Can you use a conference room?

Speaking as a designer who works close with devs. I think a lot of people championing remote work who are remote workers themselves don't seem to realise how frustrating it is working with them.

Fumbling around getting them on call every meeting, having to have them ramble on about something wasting peoples time if they misunderstand something because they're not in the room and we're all too polite to just tell them to shut up and move on, having to take special time out of my work to go on a 10 minute call that could be sorted in 20 seconds standing behind sometimes desks.

It's a very engineer-centric idea that they can just solve everything remote but if you're building a product that relies on design and more human focused work it can be an absolute nightmare having to work with a remote engineer.

Interrupting someone at their desk might take 20 seconds of your time, but it is easily a 10-minute interruption of their work.

I work remotely too and I often think about how much this has reduced my environmental footprint. It would be interesting to see some figures on how much of a positive impact it has.

I worry about how much it increases my environmental footprint. I have an entire house of climate control being used for the sake of one person. I have lights in the house being used for one person. Sure I don’t commute by car, but I’m willing to bet commercial HVAC systems are more efficient per person and commercial lighting systems are more efficient per person and all of the other things that go into an office are more efficient per person when they’re being shared by 100+ other people.

I haven’t done any math on it, but it’s something I do worry about.

This depends on a number of factors, including where you live and how long your commute is.

In California electricity is increasingly generated by renewables (~25% in 2016) with the goal of hitting 50% by 2030, which looks achievable. We actually have a surplus of renewables during the late afternoon that can cause power prices to go negative. Between this and conservation measures like insulation the impact of home energy use does not look that high. It's also getting better over time.

The big problem in California is transportation, which is still petroleum-based autos. You don't commute by car but many people do. Knocking that out is one of the best things you can do to combat global warming. For example my commute, which is about 50 miles generates between 60 and 80 pounds of C02 daily assuming 3-4 gallons. That's assuming a fuel-efficient car. (Fortunately I only do it a couple of days a week.) At some point the car will be electric but mass replacement of the fleet is still a long way off.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Energy_in_California

Turn off your central and get a window unit and a desk fan for your home office. I don't run central most of the time because it's expensive.

You could always cool of the way God intended, sweat your ass off. :)

It sounds like most of what you're worried about could be mitigated pretty simply.

Use a smaller heater, solar panels, LED globes etc.

I mostly work from my home, which is self-sufficient for water (rain tanks) and heating (firewood), produces its own electricity (solar), has its own septic, produces some of our fruit and veggies and all of our eggs, with virtually no food waste that is not fed to the animals and low amount of landfill waste (you really think about it when you take it to the tip yourself). I occasionally commute to the local coffee shop by bicycle, or drive to the beach, and work digital-nomad style on mobile internet.

Then I jump on a plane to my employer's office every few weeks.

I wonder how that stacks up?

Depending on how far you going (size of the aircraft and its occupancy) it is like driving all the way to your employer in a car that gets 2.4L/100Km [1].

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fuel_economy_in_aircraft#1.2C0...

Well that is way better mileage than my car gets so at least I know I'm getting there in the most efficient way.


Environmental arguments are silly when living near the office will likely use public transport and remote workers are usually out in the countryside so will likely use 2 cars extensively compared to a city worker using public transport 100% of the time.

> remote work

It doesn't help if you're in the Bay. Home, road, sewer, curb, sidewalk construction, 3 neighbors with leaf blowers regimens nearly ever day...

And that's just this year.

Have a kid or know someone who does? Get that kid to do the work at all 3 houses. That way only noise one at a time and probably after school 3-5pm-ish

Open office plans are awful, but I hate remote work. It's nearly impossible for me to concentrate at home, and being able to get facetime with collaborators as and when it's needed is valuable.

Nah, it's fine. If it gets noisy, put on headphones or go sit in a different place for a few hours. Individual offices can be awful and isolating. Cubes can be an acceptable compromise but it still kills a lot of spontaneous conversations.

You gain a lot with open space plans: more interaction with coworkers, cultural gel and socializing. And of course, the company can cram more people in the same place.

I don't want to gel or socialize with my colleagues. I want to work with them. If we become friends, we can socialize outside of work.

I'm not paid to chitchat or stand around eating birthday cake. I don't need to love people to work with them. For the most part, even as a systems architect, I don't even need to talk to them. A few emails, echats, and meetings are sufficient.

This may sound harsh, when I heard they were pulling down the cube walls, I threatened to walk. I got to keep my high walled cube, but everyone else was surprised one Monday with low walls. A week later, after the whole office rioted, everyone got their walls back.

If you need/want company, go sit in a common area. But don't take away my isolation. And tell those kids to get the fuck off my lawn.

> A few emails, echats, and meetings are sufficient.

As a sysadmin, I overhear a ton of stuff that people don't put into chats. I like being in the office and being able to hear what people are talking about in the workplace; it helps me do my job better.

"Nah, it's fine."

Yeah, I don't see the problem either.

In fact, I don't understand why companies don't just install long airplane style seating rows in their open office plans and have everyone work from laptops literally on their laps... that way we'd be able to cram even more people in the same space, and just think about all the useful socializing and spontaneous conversations that would occur as co-workers were climbing over each other to head for the restrooms.

/s (just in case)

Just use mothballed planes as offices. A steward could come down the isle every couple hours and give us snacks and drinks. When the build breaks, they can turn off the air as punishment.

Hook them into some sort of huge ferris wheel, saves on space and keeps attrition low.

And have a mandatory seat belt rules, and disallow restroom 45 min after work begin and 45 before end of work time.

You are contradicting yourself. More interaction leads to more noise and now you are advising people to put headphones on or leave the place entirely. How are you supposed to culturally gel and socialize under such conditions?

I strongly feel the best option (if remote work is not a possibility) is individual offices with team designated collaborative work areas. This allows people to quasi self organize, with the default option being that they have their own space.

And for those that find headphones distracting and for which there isn't a viable "somewhere else?" Such casual dismissal.

Sadly, I'm still looking for headphones that can be comfortably worn over my ears + glasses for more than an hour at a time. In-ear ones have other comfort issues.

I expect this will depend a lot on your frames - if the arms on your glasses are thick it'll be more inclined to squish into your head.

That said I'm really happy with my Logitech G930s - I usually use them wired to keep the charge (the usb cord length is _very_ generous) but they're just fine wireless too, and do a good job staying put if I'm moving around a bit.

My only complaint is that they seem to be sensitive to 2.4ghz interference, which can kick them off the wireless connection. Since there's no wired override (plugging in is purely for battery) this means plugging in can't save you. Once I switched my devices at home to prefer 5ghz wifi, it went from 5-10 times an hour at its worst to once or twice a month (and I can maybe blame that on the neighbours).

Yep, I also have this problem. The only (wired) headphones that are big enough to fully circumvent your ears and thus comfortably sit for an hour or more, is the Sennheiser HD 558. Unfortunately, it's wired.

There doesn't seem to be a bluetooth alternative. The newer Sennheiser models like the 4.50 are not as big as the HD 558. There's a dongle-based wireless headphone, the Logitech G533 which is big enough. It's meant more for gaming, and looks like it. It may only work on Windows, though.

Look up the Sennheiser Bluetooth ones.

I have a set of Razer Krakens that are pretty comfortable even if I wear them all day, and I wear glasses.

> If it gets noisy, put on headphones

Headphones only go so far. If you don't have good headphones (or, gasp can't afford good headphones, or don't have the time or money to shop around for good headphones), then you end up with a band-aid that doesn't really work because... well noise bleed is real. You either still hear what's happening around you or the people around you can hear your music. So they talk louder, because they need to make sure they're heard by whoever they're talking to. They don't stop the distraction of someone walking by. They don't stop someone from trying to start a whimsical conversation just because they walked by you.

So I'm supposed to pack up my computer, a couple of monitors, my notebooks and stationary and move it all whenever the noise levels are distracting me from focussing?

Sounds efficient.

As someone who has never worked from a private office or classical cubicle I tend to agree, but maybe I just haven’t had a chance to experience the productivity explosion that comes with those options.

I think open office is fine so long as the density is not too high. Ive seen conditions where you are shoulder to shoulder with your co-workers, which seems awful.

I have always had around ~8 square meters of space in my open office layouts. I value being able to casually converse with my nearby colleagues.

IMO it depends on the job. Open floor plans are good for ops roles and some front end roles where teams of people are engaged in substantially similar work driven, especially event driven work.

Lower density low cubes are ok. Offices are great for managers, PMs or professionals like attorneys, engineers or accountants.

From my perspective, remote works if the culture is friendly to remote or conditions like traffic make commuting a misery for everyone. As a manager of managers, we historically have had a lot of problems with remote employees compared with people in the office.

Well you can put a team in one room, and a kitchen to cater for several teams - like design studios actually. IMO that's the best balance, but maybe that's a bit luxurious, cattle pen-wise.

> but it still kills a lot of spontaneous conversations.

Yes, I think that's the point.

That's some fine sarcasm you've got there. That said, there are apparently people defending this opinion.

I wouldn't be so quick to think of it as sarcasm.

"Ask IT for headphones" and "find a quiet spot in one of the lounges" are almost direct quotes from the CEO of the company I work for. In the few years I've been working here I have seen the CEO at his reserved seat in our open office area once, and the CFO twice. Not one other C-suite have I seen at their reserved seat in the open office area to do work.

"Keep collaborating you peasants."

Are you sure your parent post is sarcasm? The sad reality of the modern tech industry is that I actually think that is a serious response, though I wouldn't be surprised either way.

If it gets noisy, put more noise into your ears?

> more interaction with coworkers, cultural gel and socializing.

Yeah, I like wasting time as much as anyone else. It's still bad.

Good work interactions either happen better in offices, or are meetings.

You should be more wary of Poe's law (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Poe%27s_law) in the future.

My company only has offices for upper management. Everyone else is at a table. Tables are arranged in groups of four.

Now, I get it, some people like open office environments. Good for them.

Me? Well, I've told many coworkers that I can't work from home because I wouldn't work from home. There are too many distractions at home, so I need to be at the office to be productive.

But this open office?

There are days where I am convinced I would do more work, be more productive, and feel more satisfied if I worked from home.

I went and bought some noise cancelling headphones. They help, but definitely not enough. My table is by the main door. With a room of 40+ engineers, there's constant distracting traffic. Some people make snide comments about my choice of operating system, keyboard, language, editor, typing noise, attire, whatever. Or to chat about the games that I missed last night, something happened at the not-company-sponsored-happy-hour that I didn't get the invite to, or something about lunch that, you know, you should have been there and if only you wouldn't leave the office for lunch. Or about how your racing car is in for the shop because, well, actually I don't even care why. It's just in the shop (I know! you told me!) and you expect me to care about car parts too, and shame on me for not knowing the difference between a maserati and a miata.

On the other hand, any time I mention to my boss that I'd like at least a cubicle the response is "it's not going to happen". Thanks, boss! I'm glad you've got my productivity concerns on your plate. I'm glad they can just, you know, be heard. Not addressed, just heard. It's really helpful to be heard. All day. It's real helpful to hear everyone's discussions while I'm trying to do work.

Honestly, guys, if you like an open office environment, that's good for you. Not everyone wants one and not everyone works well in one.

Yeah about the headphones. I remember in one workplace when my manager expressed concern that I wasn't interacting and open enough solely because I had headphones on most of the time. What. It never occurred that I needed it to cut down the background noise, just so I can focus on my work? And I thought lunch time is reserved for casual conversations?

There's another thing about open plan offices: too much visibility. I can't even get away to a quiet area without someone chalking it as suspicious. And it's easy to assure everyone else that I'm a pro, I just need to open two laptops with lots of notes and wiring on the desk.

I still don't regret my decision to become a contractor.

Also, all of the people talking about headphones as a solution are sadists. The non-stop ringing in my ears from years of headphone use should serve as a warning that headphones are not a solution.

Or it should serve as a warning that you need to turn the volume down.

Well, I had the volume to a level to eliminate distracting noise. The latter comprised of stand-ups not associated with my team, random interjections, people discussing their dating experiences, scraping of bowls, etc. I guess I was trying to work as best as I could and listening to white noise to drown out the open-office cacophony was my attempt to earn my paycheck. My attempts to complain to the teams and their managers fell on deaf ears. I now have lifelong tinnitus.

I suggest using Hearo's 32 NRR earplugs under the headphones. When people approach to bullshit with you, ignore them for a little bit. If they persist, make a show of taking off the headphones and extracting the earplugs. People will soon learn to leave you alone when you have your headphones on. At least, it worked for me, mostly.

> People will soon learn to leave you alone when you have your headphones on.

Or there will be enough complaints about Hnrobert42's reluctance to engage with co-workers that all headphones and earphone will be banned.

That's what happened in an office in which I worked.

After all, you're not there to work for yourself; you're there to benefit for the company. If the company determines that assisting co-workers is more important than your personal solace then so be it.

If that's the company's reaction, it's time to find another company. I don't use the headphones to ignore colleagues desperate to talk about work out of preference. The comment to which I was responding was specifically about people wanting to shoot the shit. If your company, like you, can't tell the difference, I would say you are well suited to each other and not to work nor work with me.

I've had two different earplugs. I don't remember the first brand, it was close to 20 years ago by now. The second pair is a discontinued Skullcandy. They work well enough but they're not really noise cancelling... more like noise blocking. They're wearing out though. Last week I pulled one out of my ear and it left the rubber piece in my ear. That wasn't fun to fish out.

I bought a pair of Bose QC35 on Sunday. Over-the-ear headphones. Their active powered noise cancelling feature works well enough for ambient noise such as the air system, but not so much for voices.

If there's an over-the-ear pair of headphones with active noise-cancelling feature that blocks _all_ noise instead of just ambient noise and has great sound reproduction, that would be peachy.

I owned some QC25s for a while and also found that they're useless when it comes to voices.

The solution I've found to voices is IEMs, those in ear headphones. I'm currently using a pair of Etymotic ER4SR with the foam tips that came with them and I can't hear a thing when I'm in the office. They're not as good for deep ambient noise like the rumbling of a bus or train engine but I haven't found anything nearly as good when it comes to voices.

The stock foam can get a bit uncomfortable for a while though so I'd recommend getting some Comply branded tips, which I find much more comfortable and close to as good. In the end though, I ended up paying for custom molded silicon tips, which by all reports I should barely be able to feel at all, let alone experience discomfort with. Still waiting for them to arrive though.

The recently launched Sony MDR1000X does the job for me (and also has a voice-passthrough option that is handy at times). It's around the same price as the Bose.

How long have you had them? Any issues with the headband cracking?

Speaking of price, were you able to get them expensed?

Clarity Aloft. They are ~$700. Pilots use them because they can drown out engine noise (part of the cost is the certification). They are in-ear and do way better than any noise cancelling headphones.

But the QC35 (which I also own) absolutely thrives in that same environment.

The problem is that engine noise is constant where as voices are unpredictable.

My Sennheiser HD280 Pros are pretty good, and as a bonus the cable is durable enough that I can use them to lasso uncooperative coworkers while I'm listening to music.

Good lord, your environment sounds horrific. We have open office plan, but it's quite comfortable because it's spread out enough, and traffic is fairly low.

Visual distraction is very real when trying to focus.

Visual distraction is the second worst, IMO, with noise in third.

Number 1 is vibration and physical movement. I've had a desk environment where two folks would be sitting on opposite sides of a wide table, so there's one shared and non-isolated surface that both people work on.

Every time my coworker would stand up, they'd brace themselves on the desk and shake the shit out of it, and I never learned to filter it out. Headphones don't help. Lots of big monitors don't help.

Or when the hardwood floor has enough flex that you can feel people walking near your desk. Ugh.

Where I currently am (I'm a consultant, based mostly in various client offices), the floor has a lot of flex in it. When people walk past, I can feel it bouncing under my chair.

We do have decent-sized desks, so the open plan isn't too bad. It's actually pretty good as these things go, although there are no kitchens in which one can make a proper cup of tea.

No proper kitchens for tea-making.

We're in England.

Come on!

Admittedly this is a German company I'm working with at the moment, but still, the office is full of Brits.

Open plan is perfectly normal here, but I still hate it. Especially the ones where they put really loud people near you (but you can't make a seating plan based on how loudly people tend to talk), or when there are people whose jobs involve loads of phone calls and who shout down their headsets, in the same open plan space as a highly technical team who really need to concentrate and occasionally have a quiet conversation with each other.

No one space works for everyone. It just doesn't. And that's not even taking into account personal variations, as we've seen from these comments some people like the open collaborative possibility and some feel the need to hide away and bash the keyboard for hours at a time.

I have days when I want to do one, and days for the other, so I really don't know what kind of office I'd like!

> No proper kitchens for tea-making.

It's because the insurance on offices without kitchens is cheaper. They save money, and we get wet mud in a plastic cup from a machine.

I worked with a twitchy guy in the same office. It was horrible. He would constantly be pumping his foot on the floor, vibrating the entire room. After I asked him to stop a few times, he got out of the habit, but damn, it is distracting.

Then of course some PM would swing by and talk to him about stocks or something silly. The PM didn't have anything better to do.

We were also right by the break room, so people would constantly be chatting.

I think you should just put developers and only developers on a floor. Everyone else who needs to chit chat and only has to attend meetings can go on another floor.

A big issue for me is the office climate. In an open space there's always going to be people who are too hot or too cold. A healthy 30 percent is going to be miserable at any given setting.

For. Sure. I have difficulty with lively sensory input conditions. In a nutshell I will, by default, listen and hear every conversation within ear-shot. It can be a huge effort when attempting to carry a discussion when among many.

Not too mention I reflexively am willing to snark at anything I hear, no matter who's speaking. That can get uncomfortable, too, but in different ways.

That's one of the reasons I wave one of those tech-broad-brush-anti-social banners around - Internally I'm interacting with everything around me. That can be hard. I demure when the option is available if for only to manage my senses. I'm so misunderstood.

This is one of the biggest problems at our office. We respect the headphone rules fairly well, but we sit like this:

P1 P2 P3


P4 P5 P6

in pods, and if P5 turns and looks at P4 or P6 to check if they have headphones on, that person will obviously see the movement, possibly get distracted, remove headphones...it's not just a noise issue.

True, this is why I work on a 43" screen in an open office. I can't see ANYTHING but screen!

> some people like open office environments

I don't know of anyone that prefers an open office.

Hi! Personally, I really like working in an open office. I'm in a room of ten desks, all small businesses that have elected to work in this space rather than employees forced to. There is background music playing. People occasionally take calls at their desk if they can't relocate to the meeting room. People use headphones if they want to concentrate.

Most people here are reasonably sociable, but also focus on their work well.

I would really dislike being in a private office, solo cubicle or working from home day after day. (I've experienced each of these in the past.) I enjoy coming into the office even if it means a commute, not having endless snacks at my disposal, etc.


Open office for regular employees, offices for managers.

Younger hires fresh out of college maybe?

I prefer an open office.


> Me? Well, I've told many coworkers that I can't work from home because I wouldn't work from home. There are too many distractions at home, so I need to be at the office to be productive.

That's kinda on you. Discipline is something that can be learned. When I first started working from home almost full-time, I found it quite difficult to separate work life and home life - I deliberately set up an office space in my house that only had my work laptop, and work essentials. My home machine and all my fun toys were elsewhere in the house. By doing this, it helped me focus on just doing work related stuff - any time wasting I did do, was on par with what I would do in the office anyway (reading tech sites etc).

Over time, once I got into a routine, I reintroduced personal stuff/kit into my work space, and although my productivity took a bit of a drop, I also knew I could fully focus on work if I had to.

WFH is not for everyone, and nor are Open Plan offices. The thing is, as many have already said, you need to find what works for you... We're all different ("I'm not!") and employers should acknowledge that if they want to retain good talent.

It could be worse. We've gone to hot-desking with a 10-20% overcommit. Good luck finding somewhere to work in the morning!

If you can work from home, try it. It's not that bad.

I worked from home for 10 years, and I thought it was pretty good. Then my company changed policy and I had to find a satellite office to commute to.

I’ve been back in an office for about six months now, and even with the noise and potential for distraction, I find I get more done there.

Could just be the change that I am benefiting from. 10 years is a long time for anything.

Counterpoint: Working from home is awful. In contrast, open office plans are pleasant.

It's fine that lots of people here have the opposite opinion, but they shouldn't assume that their opinion is objective truth.

Doesn't hurt to try it and find out for yourself. I never said it was a panacea.

That's fair.

it sounds mgmt wants you guys to work from home.

Apple has insisted in presentations to the city of Cupertino that the open floor plan designs are conducive to collaboration between teams, per Bloomberg. But the high-level executives, including Apple CEO Tim Cook, are exempt from this collaborative environment and have offices on the fourth floor of the new building.

See, this is exactly what's wrong with open plan offices in most places. If a CEO honestly believes open plan is better for collaboration, then they need to eat their own dog food. That CEO needs to be sitting right in the middle of things. If they find they can't get anything done as a consequence of the collaboration they are in the right place to take action to fix that. And if they are able to achieve productive outcomes, they are also in the right place to argue against people who say it's not possible. Letting upper management avoid all the downsides of the open plan layout causes problems with it to fester and will bring overall worker satisfaction and productivity down. In short, it is bad management to treat management in a special way.

That jumped out at me as well, it's always the folks in a private office touting the virtue of an open plan

possibly irrelevant observation: it was normal to find Steve Jobs eating with Jony Ive among all the employees in Caffe Mac, but I never saw Tim Cook doing so, though he was personable and even kind. Different personality or something...

Hopefully, more and more companies experience backlash from this. It is a horrific mistake to add distracting elements to most programmers environments. Even worse, in my open office plan, they put our very loud finance group right next to us. Absolutely no thought of noise management was considered, except for putting in horrible "white noise" generators that set off my tinnitus Thankfully, my direct manager is understanding and let me turn off the one directly over my head. And by directly over my head, I mean about 4 feet.

I worked for a company that did the noise generator thing. For a long time I couldn't figure out where my headaches were coming from and chalked it up to job-related stress.

Then, I got to travel to a QUIET remote office with only 10 workers and no noise generators for a high-stress, deadline-critical project. The headaches disappeared immediately. When I got back to my normal, headache-inducing office, I clocked the baseline noise level at 50-60 dB.

Any company that thinks those things are a valid solution to noise issues is very, very wrong.

Fuck, that sounds awful.

It's hard for me to believe that there are techies who haven't ever heard of Peopleware, have never heard of Joel Spolsky and his FogBugz offices, and have never consulted even a single authority on what makes software developers productive. It's even harder to believe that those people are responsible for diverting giant sums of money towards making palatial office buildings that will house thousands of such developers.

The problem with the Spolsky example is that Atlassian with their huge open-plan offices completely overshadowed Fog Creek in just a few short years.

In some ways. They did raise $60 million, too, which didn't hurt. I think we're doing just fine having a successful business on our own terms.

For what it's worth, Atlassian's NYC headquarters is… our Fog Creek offices, complete with private offices for coders. More about that here: https://medium.com/make-better-software/apple-is-about-to-do...

(Source: I'm the CEO of Fog Creek.)

The NYC 'headqarters' is not even on their list of locations


so I'd be surprised if it hosts a signficant percentage of their development workforce. As far as I know their Sydney office is really the heart of their operation and it's very open plan.

I don't think he is saying Atlassian HQ is _located_ at Fog Creek, but that Atlassian HQ has a similar office plan as Fog Creek, "complete with private offices for coders".

Economic success is not a proxy for doing things properly. Many dysfunctional companies are very successful otherwise.

I don't think that's a problem, more a question of leadership's priorities.

It all seems so backwards. Instead of having collaborative working spaces with private rooms for meetings, doesn't it make more sense to have private rooms for working and collaborative meeting spaces?

The WSJ story has some pictures of what it looks like [1]. There seems to be offices with doors, but they look like it seats about 20 people. There are also common areas with long tables between them.




[1] https://www.wsj.com/articles/how-jony-ive-masterminded-apple...

Oh boy, two desks facing each other with low walls.

Here's what that's like:

You're looking at your monitor and in your peripheral vision, just above your monitor, is someone looking at their monitor. You're basically looking at each other.

They answer their mobile with their head phones on.


It looks like they're looking at you and you never saw their subtle click on the inline toggle below your view.

"What's up?"

Person on mobile points to their earbud to indicate they're not talking to you.

Later the same person gets an email that pisses them off and exclaims, "Are you fucking kidding me?"

It looks like they're scowling at you.


"Nothing, sorry."

All day. Everyday. Fun times!

Let's not forget the constant awkward fleeting moments of eye contact with someone you barely know and don't wish to talk to.

Why do you "barely know" the person across from you?? What, no team building budget?

Haha. In my particular case I was at the boundary of two departments. To make things worse, turnover was high.

Hmm, I wonder why?

the quick semi-smile meant to acknowledge the other person without starting a conversation that just makes things more awkward...

Looks like the ministry of information in a sci fi dystopia.

Or a large airport business lounge.

Honestly, given that it's an open floor plan, it looks nice to me.

John Gruber, the blogger mentioned in the article, thought the same thing:


WOW, Holy Shit! Nothing about that office space looks remotely warm or inviting. Was this really the plan for that new campus all along???

Where are the white boards to write notes on?

I guarantee in a matter of months engineers will cover all those clear glass walls with posters and other things to block out all the obnoxious sunlight that will be coming in to blind them on their screens.

Other nit-picks, will Apple no longer all engineers the option to pick their own chairs? Those in the photos look like generic shitty conference room chairs and not ones I'd want to spend all day on.

Also, are those not sit/stand desks?

I don't get the complaints, that looks very cozy even if you have to share with what looks like a total of 4 engineers per room which is a reasonable number for collaboration. The second picture makes it look greater than 4, however.

Assuming the cubicles are walled off, it'll just feel like a college library meeting room.

Ok, just at a glance:

1. No separators -- you see everyone, everyone sees you. All the time.

2. No separators between neighboring desks, thus every flinch your colleague next to you makes distracts you.

3. No shelves and drawers. Where do you put all your papers, books?

4. At least based on the pictures, reflections of light, coming from every single angle.

5. The tables are way too small. There is just no space for multiple monitors to be put at a reasonable distance, which fucks up the eyes really fast.

6. One person gets sick and sneezes, everyone gets sick.

I basically had to put up with that every day in the college library. I don't mind glass offices until I get the itch to pick my nose. I get that the optimal environment for programming work is at home or in a private office, but they did what they could at what appears to be an economical compromise. I agree with the desk space, there doesn't appear to be any room for an external monitor at all.

Pick your nose and pick it boldy. Catch someone watching you pick your nose? Just pull out a booger and start examining it. Make them feel uncomfortable for staring at you doing a perfectly normal thing.

The thing about the college library is everyone knows that you're supposed to be quiet there. Open offices, I find, are much more akin to the dormitory cafeteria than the library.

I hate that if I want quiet I can't have my monitors, keyboard, or mouse. And if I want those I'm sitting directly next to the loud and noisy office cafeteria between my very loud teammates.

This is _after_ I asked for a quiet location and they told me "it doesn't matter cause you never sit at your desk anyways" even though everytime they move me I find _one_ quiet spot and sit in it until the next move. But even if I sit there _every day for months_, apparently "I don't sit at my desk".

Combine that with a "no WFH" policy, commuter trains that have been declared to be in a "state of emergency" by our Governor Cuomo, and a no reimbursement for headphones policy and it's no shocker our retention rate is absolutely abysmal.

I just do not understand who thought to themselves "well, we're gonna have to hire a bunch of very talented people who need to abstract extremelt complex data flows day after day, so I suggest we put them in the middle of a _fucking zoo_".

I find myself constantly exhausted by days end as my brain copes with constantly trying to churn out work while being inundated by constant distractions and blasting music.

How about the people who come up behind you and shake your chair while you're in the middle of things to get your attention when you _don't even know they're behind you????_

Or the people who see someone with their headphones on and just walk up and start chatting away, because why could what I was focusing on be important, it's just a quick question, what's it matter if I get jarred out of my workflow?

Open offices are an absolute fucking travesty. I will never work in one again after this job.

Compare that to when I work from home, I get more done, I don't feel bad about resting for twenty minutes and coming back refreshed, my ears don't hurt, I'm not exhausted.

What a shit show.

Edit: I very rarely swear in my hacker news posts, but the amount of stress and misery and grief these layouts gives me, some one who just absolutely loves engineering complex software solutions... it kills me.

Remember being in college, up late night, working on some project, and you look up and four hours had gone by without you noticing? Remember that flow? That rapture? That concentration?

Now ask all your open office colleagues how many of them ritually experience that same solace, that same unbelievable connection with the work and problem you're solving. Why in gods name would you hire people who could experience that and rip it all away from them? Why would you make it impossible to get there?

What a joke. Now I love my large private cube even more, lol.

Surely they will put monitors or machines in there, so there will be separators.

I have worked in a similar situation, you DID get used to it quite quickly.

Cozy? Looks more like a morgue to me.

Looks like an Apple store. Bet it's going to be as noisy as one.

The WSJ story says the offices are soundproof:

>A section of workspace in the circular, Norman Foster–designed building is finally move-in-ready: sliding-glass doors on the soundproof offices, a giant European white oak collaboration table, adjustable-height desks, and floors with aluminum-covered hinged panels, hiding cables and wires, and brushed-steel grating for air diffusion.

>The first prototype was ready in the summer of 2010, with pictures of trees on either end of the central area to evoke the landscaping and proximity to the outdoors. Jobs himself set the precise dimensions of the openings from one end of the central area to the other. The team quickly discovered that early versions of the small offices on each side of the central area were noisy—sound bounced off the flat wood walls. Foster’s architects suggested perforating the walls with millions of tiny holes and lining them with an absorbent material. In the completed section of workspace, Ive snaps his fingers to demonstrate the warm sound it creates.

That would be nice if people had private offices but it looks like a dozen or so to each enclosed area.

Sounds like (pun intended) that they've made it more like a concert hall. Instead of white noise with all the reflections you get to hear everyone in your jail block, er, work area nice and clearly.

I personally find that hearing a clear conversation beside me to be a bigger distraction as I tend to "lock on" to it instead of thinking of the problem at hand. So your damned either way, loud but more noise like or quieter but more distracting.

Those desks on the renders don't look like standing desks, but rather height adjustable desks.

Here in Australia all new offices are equipping standing desks for OH&S laws and workspace regulation compliances.

These are actually way nicer than I expected. I've seen much more distracting open office layouts.

I suspect the thought process is something like, "Collaboration makes the office more productive. Therefore, if we force the employees to collaborate all the time, we can maximize productivity!"

The most productive days I've ever had at my current employer -- by a significant margin --- were when most of the company was not present (off-site or holiday). Being able to come in those days and work in a distraction-free environment was amazing.

Open office floor plans are the worst.

RIP July 5th when no one came into the office. I'll miss you till next year.

My company moved engineering into the same open office as sales and customer support, we can collaborate with everyone all the time!

Definitely a negative to productivity on my individual work because it's so much noisier in here.

Yes, they put our desks right next to finance, with that one person who is our "laugh really loud, laugh at everything and I mean _everything_" person.

We should make an audio output for our build scripts to play a really loud woodchipper sound. "Sorry, can't be helped, part of the process, the machine has to grind the source code up into small bits to fit into the CPU."

At least that way you can hear the sales staff selling features that have not been developed yet.

I suspect it's much simpler than that. Open floor plans give less square footage per person so you get more people per building. It's just cheaper to build open floor plans.

The "it's cheaper" argument for open-plan offices only really works when the company hasn't spent $5bn+ on the building. They could probably have quadrupled the floor space for the same price.

They'd have to sacrifice their avant garde spaceship design, though.

This is enabled by the fact that, despite how hard we try, we don't actually know how to track productivity, say nothing about changes in it that can be traced back to organizational decisions, or have anything approaching a model of productivity so that we might start to have predictive capability for how decisions impact it. So lacking a real metric that means anything, we cling to the ones that don't and as long as the lines move in the right direction nobody cares.

We've known, at least since the 80s, the aproximate amount of space people need to work effectively. Chapter 9 of Peopleware [1] talks specifically about this:

An excerpt:

>Before drawing the plans for its new 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 workspaces and in mock-ups of proposed workspaces. 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 six-foot high partitions (they ended up with about half of all professional personnel in enclosed one- and two-person offices)

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peopleware:_Productive_Project...

You and I both know that no MBA with delusions of grandeur is going to pay attention to Peopleware.

Collaboration is essentially contention, like CPU threads racing for the same memory location, needing synchronization. Synchronization kills parallelism.

Depends what you mean by "make sense". If you mean save money on office space per square ft, probably not. If you mean fit into Jony Ive's elite design sensibility, also probably not.

It's really kind of amazing to me how in 20 years we've gone from laughing at the cacophonous, claustrophobic, diseases-transmission-inducing, open office plans of other economic regions (ex: the traditional Japanese office http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-CadIFZ3h638/T7yGtzdxVDI/AAAAAAAABe..., or the Wall Street trading floor), to precisely emulating their layouts (with better superficial aesthetic design), inheriting both their economic efficiency and productivity inefficiencies.

I'll take a cube farm with 5 feet walls any day over an open office.

Historically, a cube farm is an open office plan in architectural lingo. About twenty years ago, there was a movement toward movable furniture and hotelling and removing the cubical walls. For what it's worth cubicles were generally considered an improvement on grid layouts of desks.

I worked at Apple during the years when the company designed and built its first campus at 1 Infinite Loop in Cupertino. As I recall, Apple R&D employees were considered stakeholders and participated in the design of the interior spaces. Apple wisely decided to give each engineer a private office. There were open areas near the offices with comfortable furniture and whiteboards for engineers to meet and collaborate. I worked in one of these buildings from 2001-2007, and I can confirm that the work areas were beautifully designed and ideal for fostering productive work. It's sad to hear that Apple apparently abandoned this approach in its new campus.

Yes. The Infinite Loop space was designed really well, and each of the buildings was somewhat different with some character.

Ah! I noticed this interior layout in more than a few buildings but didn't realize the backstory. Thanks for posting!

Interesting. When I display my threads in HN, this comment is now hidden. Why?

I am fairly close to someone who works at Apple. His team is avoiding the new spaceship building. He mentioned wanting to keep his office, but that was just one part of several different complaints, including just "it turns out that the building isn't big enough for most of the people who work at the HQ in Cupertino," and "My team would probably have to split up in awkward ways because not everyone would be able to work in the spaceship (due to space constraints)."

The building looks gigantic but most of it is empty space due to the donut shape. I wonder if they plan to ever build in the middle.

Man, I remember in college when we would be working long hours in the library on a computer lined up in a row of computers. Every one would be intensely working on what they needed to. Sometimes two would work together. This was especially true before presentations when we were trying to put our stuff together. It was neat. It was collaborative. It was fun. And we were happy.

Open floor plan is reminiscent of those days, but it isn't working. And I cannot figure out why. What's missing? Intensity? Work? Stress? Team building therapy? Or just trust? Whatever it is I hope we figure it out.

Perhaps it's the expectation of near silence (you might work together but you'll keep your voice down) and lack of visual noise in the library?

In my open plan office I have:

- People walking past my desk

- People walking behind me

- People walking in front of me, over the "wall"

- A team that regularly has stand up meetings behind me

- Coworkers that talk loudly at their own desks, near mine

- Coworkers that talk loudly in a small more private area, ~10ft away

- A small meeting room with a door that doesn't isolate noise very well

- A kitchen ~20ft away with a loud espresso machine

Plus, I'm in a large room and can hear conversations up to 50ft away. Given the number of people, there's nearly always one happening.

In a library, you've got a quiet space with an expectation that people will keep their voices down. Study desks often have high walls in the front and to the sides, to block out visual noise. They're also often isolated from major traffic areas.

Libraries are designed to optimize intellectual work and study, open plan offices are absolutely not.

IMHO, I think what's missing is focus. In college, people in the library were there to get stuff done and would leave when they were done or needed a break. In today's workspace it's less likely that everyone is completely focused on doing work every hour of the 8 to 5 work day, and that's what creates distractions.

You nailed it.

In the company's mind, everyone in the office is there to focus on exactly the task at hand all the time. In reality, it comes in spurts and each person has those at different times. When people are in there unfocused, they just distract the people who are focused.

For one thing, I'm guessing you didn't do all your work there, only specific things for short time periods. If you worked in that environment all day every day, the fun would wear off eventually. Also, as people relax, they'll get noisier.

Probably the fact that in a library, there is a cultural expectation of quiet, built over the years by librarians shushing loud people. Thus, if you want a quiet place to work, you go to a library. I need a librarian in my (open) office.

The comments about library etiquette are on to something.

But I think it also helps that most of the other people in the library are probably strangers, and if a couple of them are talking it's probably about something quite different from what you're working on.

"Team" conversations that might possibly be relevant to your stuff are the worst distractions.

Agreed - I liken it to my college experience: if you want to eat or drink anything other than water, or talk to other people, you go to the coffee shop.

If you want to focus on your work and take breaks to do the rest you go to the library.

I always chose the coffee shop, so open offices don't bother me hugely. The caveat is that a good pair of headphones is a must.

> ... other people in the library are probably strangers

This is the key thing--our brains process familiar and unknown voices differently. Recognition of a familiar entity and the ensuing reactions are automatic, and they all have a processing cost.

The default being quiet, and respect for others doing focused work and trying your best to not distract them, was certainly a key ingredient.

In library you are not supposed to make noise. Go outside to have a chat. Proably that helped.

In college, nobody was likely to walk up and interrupt you.

In the workplace, they are, unless you have an office with a door you can close.

Open offices diminish workers to cattle status. Most work, even the kind many developers would not think of as being so, in tech companies requires thoughtfulness often and collaboration less often. I consider open office plans to be disrespectful and an indicator of second-class status.

I also see them as a lack of respect.

Another point of view would be that by having 'senior management' in the same rooms, at the same desks in an open office, they are more human and there's less of a perceived barrier between them and everyone else - which could be seen as a positive.

I've actually seen that reasoning also used in support of these plans. My experience is that these senior leaders rarely occupy their desks. Instead they have permanently reserved meeting rooms or even private offices in addition to their reserved open area desks.

Managers often end up commandeering a meeting room to get around not technically having an office.

Sure, and I wouldn't want meetings taking place at desks anyway as that would be disruptive, but having the CEO at a 'normal' desk like everyone else, and having them there for any time they are doing tasks alone, I think humanises them more.

Headphones are a poor solution to the noise problem in open offices. I find it uncomfortable to wear them for 8 hours at a time, and it means I can't overhear the conversations I do want to overhear. Sitting elsewhere only works if I have a task I can do on a laptop; for serious development work I need a lot of screen real estate. That solution also has the same problem as headphones where I might miss important conversations because I'm too busy hiding from noise created by people doing work completely unrelated to mine.

There's a pretty happy medium, 2-10 person offices (with 4-5 being the most common size) with glass walls. Google used to have a lot of these before completely open plans became en vogue, and it was very rare to hear complaints. They allow frequent interaction with your most common collaborators while blocking out conversations from distant teams. They reduce visual distraction while still allowing in lots of natural light and inviting conversation. Doors were usually left open, so it was pretty comfortable to walk into another office and start up a conversation.

With the giant, open, chicken-farm style floorplans, people feel too self-conscious about dozens of people overhearing to have small 2-3 person conversations near their desks, which means more formal meetings with all the associated overhead, and fewer impromptu questions like "hey does anyone know of a tool to do X?" And then you're still more distracted anyway due to all the typing, people walking by, large groups being loud when gathering to eat lunch or go to a meeting together or whatever.

I only see two advantages of completely open floors: slightly cheaper (glass offices can be made almost as dense, but not quite, and I guess the glass partitions aren't free), and better circulation to dissipate bad odors more quickly.

One solution to this problem would be for Apple employees to form a union and collectively bargain for better working conditions. Probably just threatening to do this would lead to significant concessions.

Any Apple employees interested in this should contact Maciej Ceglowski on Signal at +1415-610-0231.

Interesting you'd recommend him, I enjoy his writing but didn't know he had expertise here. Any reason why?

Also isn't "unionizing" a quick way to get a black mark in Silicon Valley? I vaguely remember Michael O. Church was essentially exiled just for accusations of unionizing.

Maciej (and others) believe the best way to get your company to stop doing things you may not like:

- keeping user history around forever

- donating more from the company PAC to Republicans than Democrats

- keeping engineers in open plan offices

- providing services to election campaigns of anti-immigrant politicians

- not paying the same amount of money to men and women for the same work

- provide less-than-livable wages to cafeteria staff

Is to form a union and strike or negotiate for more worker-friendly policies.

Notably no one is suggesting striking for higher engineering wages, just the avoidance of bad policy and a say in the company's future direction.

As to your second point, I can't speak to that, other than to say it's illegal to retaliate against someone for discussing or organizing to form a union.

Forming a union is a big step. You can fight for these things through concerted collective action, and still enjoy most of the protections of labor law (especially against retaliation). The point is to organize so that a large group of employees is speaking with a single voice about the workplace issues that matter most.

I urge anyone interested in learning more to contact me or coworker.org, who have experience running successful employee campaigns, and understand the tech world well.

I recently watched the movie Office Space.

Oh, such a wonderful working environment. To have the privacy and isolation from distractions and interruptions that a cubicle gives. What I wouldn't give to work in such a great office space.

It's funny that the work environment became worse than Mike Judge imagined it would be in Office Space. Wait till that happens to Idiocracy!

My company recently switched to an open floor plan. It's done nothing but increase distractions and office gossip. Everyone I know tries to get away from their desk as often as possible. Ducking into side rooms, attempting to work from home, and just plain using any excuse to escape the zoo.

Management loves open plans because it's the cheapest seating arrangement. They claim that it will increase collaboration while exempting themselves from having to deal with the environment. The truth is that just being able to see someone without walking over to their desk isn't going to magically make you communicate with them more or make your output higher. Some people like open floor plans but it's been my experience most people don't and just grin and bear it while slowly dying inside.

It's worse than that, managers like open plan because they can "feel the energy" of people working, subconsciously they want to see all the work being done, and to know who leaves and arrives when.

And notice how managers always arrange to have their screens hidden from others view, while most people feel a constant sense that someone is looking at their screen.

> open floor plan designs are conducive to collaboration between teams

This is just an overused cover-up story to avoid stating the real reasons which is cutting costs and monitoring employees.

They use "collaboration" so that you can't voice your opposition to it easily.

If you do that they will beat you with the "not a team player" and "not a culture fit" sticks.

Then in reality unhappy employees sit next to each other with noise cancelling headphones whose job has been unnecessarily harder than it already is because now a part of their mental focus and capacity is actively going towards ignoring distractions.

We're going one step better at my work with our new/future office, "Activity Based Working". All the trappings of "open plan" but with even more features to make Government work more soul-crushing and complicated.

One office, with desks for 80% of the staff (because the other 20% need to take the hint and resign). Each desk only has one monitor, keyboard, and a mouse. If you've got certain ergonomic requirements, or need a colour accurate monitor, or a large monitor, or several monitors then you're just a naysayer who is obviously not productive enough to understand the ways of the future.

No one 'has' a desk, instead you grab your laptop out of your locker each morning and go find one. Or you might be allocated a desk via a morning raffle, not sure on this one yet. At the end of each day you clean every surface with alcohol wipes, which you then queue up to place in the singular bin that services the 300ish staff. Anyone who sits at the same desk twice will have to complete "Activity Based Working" training, in much the same way intoxicated road users may attend a DUI class.

There will also be no car parks for staff, who are being encouraged to use public transport. The fact that this public transport doesn't actually exist yet is just a "growth opportunity", but who's growth we're referring to here is not yet clear.

This might all sound like a joke, but the sad thing is it's 100% serious. Literally all of the above has been set in stone by minister that our department reports to.

That sounds infuriating. Have you started looking for another job yet? I know I would.

I'm hanging on until I can officially pad my resume with all the office-move stuff (network redesign being a big one), but the second another job comes up after that I'm out there.

"But the high-level executives, including Apple CEO Tim Cook, are exempt from this collaborative environment and have offices on the fourth floor of the new building."

Because private offices offers control over your working environment; if you need to collaborate, use a conference room, if you need a quick discussion, call them up on Slack.

I'm not going to touch wether or not the CEO has earned the best working environment, but let's bring attention to the fact that the CEO is promoting less control over your working environment for his employees and claim open-office plans offers all kinds of benefits, while the C-level management chooses to opt out. Either that's very noble of them to sacrifice all the benefits of open-office, or they're being a bit disingenuous about why almost everyone else gets an open-office plan.

In (almost) all open office environments, people above a certain level have private offices.


Why don't they want to be as productive and collaborative as their reports? Conference rooms and phone rooms are just as available to them as they are to the rest. They can probably even afford much better head phones than the rest.

I just don't see enough of a difference to justify it.

I don't really buy it but a potential reason is that people above a certain level have a business need for a private space.

Say you need to be on the phone all day talking about privileged information like the upcoming earnings call or a major business deal. Even at lower levels than that, maybe someone wants to come to you in private with a complaint or maybe you need to tell someone they're underperforming. You could do these things in meeting rooms like everyone else but if you're doing it 75% of the time you're working, you may as well have a private meeting room (i.e. office).

There's also security. People with higher privileges have more sensitive information that needs to be better protected. Yes workstations should be encrypted and confidential paper documents shouldn't be laying around the office but defence in depth is a thing.

Efficiency is another concern. The time of people at a certain level is extremely valuable and it can be wasted on suboptimal collaboration. Their time needs to be planned very carefully.

And finally, it's just a perk.

I wonder if anyone will make a claim about necessary workplace accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act for ADD/ADHD. I already take medication which makes it almost OK for me to share an office - a recent change for me after 20 years. But I'm still freaked out by someone literally 3 feet away from me. My social anxiety and borderline asperger's really make me seize up until I can be alone in the late afternoon / evening.

When I had my own office, I was able to do things like coordinate health care, talk to my wife, and eventually the divorce lawyers, but with the knowledge that I could close my door and have privacy - now I have to escape to a staircase to have a private conversation.

Plus, I'm terribly annoying to be around. From my mechanical clicky keyboard to a desk overflowing with artifacts and fidgets of various ilk, sharing a workspace means subjecting everyone else to my idiosyncrasies, mumblings and offensive body oder.

Apple has the money to afford whatever it wants. If it's like any other place I've seen, I expect there's longstanding communication of one or another sort from high performers that they want distraction-free environments.

From what I've observed of such high performers, they are not anti-social nor anti-collaborative, nor are they "crippled" in either respect. Rather, many of them are the most capable in these areas, because they actually pay attention and focus on getting things done -- and done as well as time and resources allow.

The fact that Apple, like many workplaces I've observed, chooses to ignore this and push a paradigm that increases their stress and decreases their effectiveness and efficiency?

Well, as I learned in my own experience, over the years: This is just a fundamental level of dis-respect.

I don't know anything about Apple work internals, specifically; the last time I intersected with those peripherally was in the early '90's.

But when you blatantly disregard what employees tell you -- and in this case, "professional" employees who have a high degree of training and awareness about the tooling they need, including their work environments, to be most effective. Well, that's just disrespect.

And employers who persistently engage in such, deserve what they get. I hope -- because at some point, this counter-productive... "ideology" needs to die.

P.S. Those employees that want cubicles or open-space? Fine, give it to them. I don't want to dictate environment, either way.

Trust your employees to select what works best for them.

And measure the results. Objectively, not in the typical performance review ex post facto rationalization and justification.

In my own experience, top performers cautiously (politics) leapt at the chance to work from home and otherwise gain undistracted blocks of time to adequately focus on complex problems and program management.

Those who embraced the cycle of endless meetings, interruptions -- including environmental -- and superficially-addressed delegation? They faced the same problems, month after month, cycle after cycle.

Good architecture does not come from curved glass and 1mm joints between materials. It comes from human habitability. Why build a building that makes people unhappy? It seems to miss the point.

Hubris, narcissism, God complex.

I'll never understand the fascination with firms repeatedly going for the open office plan. I remember seeing pictures from the early 20th century where such offices existed full of people typing away. I don't know how they handled the noise or the fact they couldn't isolate themselves to do their work whether it was repetitive or novel in nature. It just seems like firms think of labor as a singular mechanical process and not as something that's done in an irregular and discoordinated fashion (as I've seen in my personal experience from working in factories and currently working in software development). I really think managerial practices need to update with the facts instead of forcing the facts to fit with their expectations.

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