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Ask HN: What are some tech companies that do not use an open floor plan?
409 points by cs44 3 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 342 comments
It seems every tech company has fallen for the open floor plan. I'd love to find a company that respects the desk as a workspace that facilitates concentration and deep-thought. It seems the answer to this problem has become headphones.

How is this acceptable?




I work for Viasat; all of our new-build offices in the past few years have been designed around what we call the neighborhood concept. A neighborhood is a set of individual offices (maybe 60sqft-ish?) with three solid walls, and one glass/wood wall with a sliding door. All the offices open into a central room that can be outfitted in a bunch of different ways. There are neighborhoods of different sizes, and basically, each team gets a neighborhood to themselves. The whole concept was developed through a series of experiments that took several years.

Some teams make use of the space better than others, of course, but for my group it's been a huge boon to our collaborative culture. The offices are well-insulated, so you don't need headphones to achieve quiet, but if you want to, you can leave your door open and hear what your teammates are discussing at any time.

Over time we're upgrading our older facilities to the same model, but in general there are few open-plan offices or cube farms in the company, and I highly doubt we're going to build more. Many years ago, our founders made it a company priority to give folks a door they can close, to get away from "it all" and focus.


I worked in a similar environment at Apple, when Infinite Loop first opened: Pods with offices that surrounded a central courtyard, which was furnished with sofas, chairs and whiteboards. Each office had a simple (and heavy) door alongside a tall and narrow window.

The door provided effective sound isolation, and years later I realized the window was a psychological link to what was going on in the inner "courtyard", after spending time in a completely closed office at Microsoft. The message at Apple seemed to be "Okay, we know you need to concentrate on work, but remember that you're part of a community" while the office of the particular group I was in at Microsoft seemed to say "Please just sit there and write code and do email -- we will feed you under the door".

Architecture matters in the weirdest ways, and sometimes tiny tweaks make a big difference.


+1 for the Microserfs reference!


I believe the gap at the bottom of the door was indeed wider at Microsoft . . .


I'd forgotten that book existed,I need to read it again, it's up there with "office space" for humourous tech related media.


What book are you referring to? Sounds good :)


Flat foods only.


Pizza then.


“We shape our buildings; thereafter our buildings shape us”


>"Please just sit there and write code and do email -- we will feed you under the door".

Sounds like heaven


That's the office concept I've always wanted to build. It would be cool if someone from the company could document it/blog post/etc. -- might be good for recruiting too. (Especially since Viasat does pretty cool stuff -- excited about the new Exede sat expanding coverage...)

I was thinking it would make sense to have roller doors or some other way to open the entire side of the office (on both sides -- "neighborhood" and "hallway" if the occupant wanted.)


I find this https://imgur.com/CvtAHgZ IKEA Mandal divider turn-into cubicle reach a compromising middle ground between open and closed space.


I'd like more auditory isolation, though. (Ideally I want to be able to have a private conversation whenever I want within my office, without disturbing anyone else, and then have others able to do the same.)


Personally I feel like that thing would be even worse

Everyone walking past and around would cause the light streaming in through the gaps to randomly flicker

That would be endlessly distracting for me, personally at least


This seems like a really neat model to try out.


It sounds like a hub and spokes model. That's been known to be close to ideal for quite a long time, so it's good to see people actually using it!


+1. I'm interested in a rough blueprint too.


> maybe 60sqft-ish?

For those of us with non-ridiculous units, that's 5-6 m².


That's rather small, even for a single-person office.


I worked from a 2.2m x 2.5m "pod" office once and it was great, but the views also helped. Imagine one wall being a massive screen window in the country side with views of a lake, and the opposite wall being mostly window, leading to a balcony overlooking and inside courtyard (where other pods also look into). The side walls were exposed brick and the ceiling was at a decent height. The entire building was an old Arabic courtyard house that had been restored.

Small spaces _can_ be amazing :)


Wow, that sounds really awesome! Do you have any pictures?


That would be an incredible luxury to some people. I've worked from what most people would call a shelf before.


Same here. A bar in a coffee shop would have compared favorably to that desk in size and ergonomics. Craziest thing about it was how at the time I was getting paid absolute tons of money, but in many ways my status at work felt more like my desk than my paycheck. I don’t know what that tells you about the human psyche, or mine. Rationally, I wouldn’t have traded much of the money for a better desk, but emotionally the money just felt like a number on a screen going up, while the desk felt visceral.


Sure, however I'm currently sitting in a kind of cubicle (on an open plan floor), with 4 developers sharing what seems to be about a 3.5m x 3.5m space (I'm 1.8m, and if we all stand up and put our arms out, they'd touch), which brings it to just under 13m2, or 3.2 m2 per person. There are teams that are more cramped than even this, which I find pretty sad.


My office is 4m by 8m and there is only me in it.

Boss was happy for me to work somewhere quiet and the only space we had was an unused meeting room that takes up up half the second floor of our second building.

It's glorious.


Wow — I'd like your work environment. Mine is approximately 6m² and it's shared by 8 people!


How is it even possible? 2-tier working tables?


In case I'm using the wrong terminology, I mean 6 metres x 6 metres rather than sqrt(6) metres x sqrt(6) metres.


Yep, that would be 36m^2. If it helps, think of a grid of 1m by 1m tiles laid out on the floor. How many tiles could you fit?


I always thought it was "4 metres squared" means 4x4 and "4 square metres" means 2x2. Unless 4m^2 doesn't mean "4 metres squared", which would really be confusing me ...


Exponentiation usually binds more tightly than multiplication, so

  6 m² = 6 * (m²) != (6 m)²


m² is the symbol for "square metres", so 6 m² is e.g. a room 2m x 3m


6² m² = (6m)² != 6 m²


> 2-tier working tables?

You know it was considered.


The new Skyscanner(my employer) London office also uses this setup and the times I've been in London and worked from that office I've really enjoyed it. I work in the main office in Edinburgh which is unfortunately an open floor plan, but hopefully we'll get the same layout as London. I feel it strikes a very good balance between the intentions of an open office plan and the need for a quite space to get work done.


Thoughts on David Dewane's Eudaimonia Machine concept?

https://medium.com/@jsmathison/i-cant-stop-dreaming-of-eudai...


oh my, it sounds pretty close to what's described in peopleware.

give people both options of isolated, private space, and shared space, and let them move between them as they wish.


Great book. Right up there with Mythical Man Month.


I found these pictures after some digging.. would you say they are representative?

http://sca-sd.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/2c-viasat-offic... http://sca-sd.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/2d-viasat-offic...

Architecture firm's site: http://sca-sd.com/portfolio/viasat-2/

Looks very spacious, not sure if it's feasible in high cost (/ sq ft) offices?


Yes that's it! Now I've got a bunch of other places to throw those... :) I don't know the cost, I just experience the value.


Are you hiring? (Half heartedly joking...)


We absolutely are! Our list of open positions is on our website: https://www.viasat.com/careers/openings. I'd post my usual spiel about our Seattle office (where I work now), but we're renting coworking space up here, so I don't want to bait and switch.


This is an awesome idea. From what I've seen, the Pixar offices are actually very similar. Probably more stylized, because Pixar, but it's a mix of unowned open spaces for collaboration or socializing and clustered office spaces.

It seems like an exceedingly good answer for teams where "water cooler" collaboration is genuinely important, but so is silent work time.


Do you think you could get us some pictures of a neighborhood? Would be quite interested to see it empty before or after hours as an example of how things look.


This comment dug up some of the photos: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=16879350. They're a good representation.


I tried finding some online but it looks like we haven't published any. I'll need to get permission; our customer base cares very much about facility security. Let me see what I can rustle up.


I work for viasat as well, and I think your group is the only one using that collaboration area :).


Funny behaviors from an open office plan I experienced:

- tribes claiming spaces: there was a couch area where a natural affinity group formed based on common personality types typical of urban/suburban tribal divide. developed an in-group/out-group mentality. a counter group formed in a lunch area.

- posturing: top tech individual contributor used main boardroom for "really important video conference meetings," and it became his de facto office unless you had it booked.

- tragedy of the commons: with no private space other than common spaces, meeting rooms were booked up with standing meetings so that it became impossible to get one when you needed it.

- Callout/performative drama: challenging people would use the availability of earshot to try to draw others into their conflicts. Callout culture, where instead of addressing issues, people would call out others to demand explanations in front of teams, managers, or in main slack channels.

- lack of personal boundaries: technical managers with low charisma routinely embarrassed in open meetings where everyone felt they could table complaints and make others accountable in front of a group, further wrecking morale as result of perceived weak leadership.

Interior design wouldn't solve all these problems, but the aesthetic of a kindergarten or hipster daycare certainly exacerbated them. I may long form this post into something, as the anti-patterns in that org were an effect of its culture, which was expressed by aesthetics rooted in beliefs that would have benefited from more insight.


> Interior design wouldn't solve all these problems, but

Pretty much. Drama finds a way. You can find similar horror stories from any layout.

I mean, I take no particular position on this subject and and not personally a fan of open plans. But there's an important distinction between office combatants using the terrain to their advantage and blaming the war on the geography.


Arguably, to extend this very rich metaphor, the reason nobody can ever win is in fact an artifact of geography. One particular mountainous region known to be the graveyard of empires springs to mind.

I think drama comes from uncertainty and power vacuums, which I would say are artifacts of the terrain.


I’m not up on my history - where is this?

EDIT: oh. Are you saying Afghanistan?


he means hannibal


> Callout culture, where instead of addressing issues, people would call out others to demand explanations in front of teams, managers, or in main slack channels.

While it definitely sounds like the open floor plan was weaponized for this, that is definitely its own problem that can be observed anywhere leadership doesn't specifically root it out.


@xiphias comment shouldn’t have been flagged. The same priority-based booking nonsense happens in our open floor plan. Similarly, you need to be important enough to have priority. We love touting how “we are so flat hierarchy that our CEO doesn’t even have a office!”...except he just has a conference room permanently booked instead.


The specific comment isn't flagged (it would be marked as such otherwise), the user has been banned.


Apparently here:

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=15725493 Certainly not a productive comment.

A quick scan of that users's history seems to indicate fairly reasonable stuff:

https://news.ycombinator.com/threads?id=xiphias&next=1582220... (among others)

Given a lot of other reasonable posts, (apparently) one low value comment seems to be able to get a user shadowbanned. That strikes me as a bit excessive.


I see this from time to time and it frustrates me. I would love it if people above a karma threshold could vouch for shadowbanned users with a recent history of more constructive comments.


If you click the timestamp of the comment there should be a [vouch] link.

If you've checked the comment history and the comments seem ok I guess you can email the mods to let them know.


Ah, you're totally right, I bet an email would work in particularly unfortunate cases.


> vouch for shadowbanned users

I have vouched for perhaps hundreds of shadowbanned comments, is that what you mean? Or vouching for a user directly?


A user directly. I don't think vouching for the comments does anything because they're already shadowbanned. (I may be wrong.)


>Interior design wouldn't solve all these problems, but the aesthetic of a kindergarten or hipster daycare certainly exacerbated them.

LOL, that's an amazing description.


A cynic could argue that only an open office plan made this toxic work environment transparent to you.


A bunch of those definitely look like "being a jerk" problems where the open office only drove a specific incarnation.

The tragedy of the commons part, though, looks like a structural problem to me. It's pretty common to want a discussion with 3-5 people for 5-10 minutes. With offices or even cubes, you can just have that in the workspace. With open plan, you either annoy everyone around you or book a conference room, which takes it away from standard users.

I'm not sure what anyone at the peon or even manager level can do about this, except try to keep meetings short or relegate them to slack/email. It really is a design issue.


The visibility is part of the problem. In itself it's distracting. The problem is when it's seen to work, thus encouraging others to imitate.


A lot of Kindergartens are actually well designed and tailored to the needs of small hands and bodies. At least, all the ones I have recent experience with and that my kids have gone to. Not to pick nits, but to say, these open offices are actually kich worse than an average kindergarten.


Savage yet true!


One job:

The more important you were the longer you left conference room doors open after conference started and the louder you slammed the door when you finally got asked to close.

Extra points for speaker phone at absolute max volume.


It's the personalities/characters of the people that lead to these immature behaviors. They're only increased by open plan offices.

I'm in an open plan office and people are quite respectful. I'm maybe 95% as productive as I'd be in an office, mostly due to conversations that happen occasionally.


Beautiful. I wonder if a business publication would be interested in an expanded version of this...


Thanks for sharing, I love stories like this.


At Google priority based meeting cancellations were implemented to solve this problem for important people. The only problem was that I wasn't important enough.


I'm sorry you worked with such shitty people. I have worked with such people in the past and I'm happy to have moved on. I personally find it hard to focus without headphones in that kind of space.

I can't really find much meaning in "aesthetic of a kindergarten or hipster daycare" though. People tend to fill hipster with an image of all the qualities they dislike in people. It's a modern scapegoat that has wide appeal because everyone thinks the other guy is the hipster. I think in a lot of peoples minds hipster means immature and facile which helps the reader to feel better about themselves as mature, dutiful and more deeply insightful. I'm sure you weren't using it so divisively but imo that is how it works.

What exactly was the space like?


I get I'm part of the privileged few, but: I've been working for a small software company for almost 11 years, and EVERYONE at my company is remote. We don't lease any real estate anywhere, unless a mailbox and a colo rack count.

It's AWESOME, but there are caveats. The biggest one is that we can't really hire newbies; everyone we've brought in has to be mid-career at a minimum because the absence of the "water cooler effect" makes it harder to ramp up quickly. Folks with some experience handle this better.

The other drawback is mostly theoretical: I'm really not sure I could go back to working in an office. I control the music, the temp, the food, the coffee, when I take a break, whether or not I take a midday snooze, and my cats are everpresent. I mean, an office sounds like a dystopian hellscape by comparison.


This is very interesting, because your office sounds like hell to me. Any time I work from home I'm absolutely desperate for meaningless social interaction, a walk and a chat while out for coffee, a beer with my team at lunch or after work and face to face discussion. I guess it's hard to find something that works for everyone.


Interesting. I work from home most often, and I find that not having to tack on a 2 1/2 hr daily car commute leaves me time for actually socializing IRL as opposed to trying to cram that need into the office.


Yeah, but where do you find anybody to socialize with?


If you only socialize with co-workers I'd say that is the bigger problem. All my interaction with people outside office hours are with people I don't work with.

Should I consider myself privileged in this respect?


How dare you have friends, you privileged person!


Meetups, dance classes, community outreach, church, RPG message boards (speaking theoretically, not personally for every single one of those).


I have a collection of friends from different contexts. Some from past jobs, the gym and other friends. So WFH is great. If your only social group is work, then you should expand your circle, because you never know when the employer might fire you or lay you off. Which will make you very sad because suddenly you lose all your friends.


I've only had one job in my whole career where I met people I wanted to hang out with outside work. One of two of the guys I work with now might meet that bar if they weren't so far away.

Where else do we find people? Well, we're all older, so we already had friends from other activities -- political involvement, volunteering for arts orgs, our cycling group, etc.


Besides 'normal' friends, sports club, meetups, local university public lectures, out and about cycling etc. I don't see the problem.


I think your schedule (“work from home most often”) is my ideal. Did you find it difficult to find a company that permits this? Did you have to negotiate for it, or is it pretty standard for everyone?


To be fair I grew into it. Company moved several times as we grew, each time moving further away from where I lived. I had to work from home for a while when I broke my leg. It just sorta stuck from there. I mainly work with International teams, so F2F are mostly just a quarterly meeting affair. I'm well aware not being 'in the office' each day hurts my internal visibility, but it's a trade-off. Not going to waste <50% of my non-work, non-sleep, non-chore time sitting behind the wheel of a car in a traffic jam.


When on linkedin, set it to looking for a job / open looking for new work to notify recruiters and add a message to the box saying you're looking for remote only. They will come in droves.


I've just shifted all my social interactions from the day to the night, which works very well for me. And I frequently grab coffee or run errands at lunch so that I'm not cooped up all day.

It's nice to have a private office with a couch and windows in it.


I think remote work definitely favours the introverted personality. I have started a remote gig as of four weeks ago, and I was surprised that I did actually miss the water-cooler/coffee machine conversations. Based on my own personality (and the reasons I chose to pursue a remote position), I didn't expect to. It's harder to talk about sports or make wisecracks over Slack.

On the whole, I am happier working from home for a variety of reasons, but it definitely hasn't been without it's trade-offs.


I think a hybrid approach works the best: purely remote company with small offices in some big cities, where people can go if they want to. What I've seen with that is some people go almost every day, while some only come in about once a week or so, but nobody has chosen not to come in at all. It's also common among purely remote companies to host an annual or even biannual meetup.


I feel this pain, but when I return to the office the next day the existential dread of experiencing the hellscape I am now a part of just to have a handful of meaningless unfulfilling conversations with pseudo acquaintances most of whom I'd never see again if I, or they quit, is soul crushing.


coffee shops exist for this. rent a 5x5 desk in a coworking space. there are alternatives to home office for remote work.


Personally either of those options would be better for me than working out of my home. But it's a curious alternative to working in an office. You're still surrounded by people and get the downsides of you're sensitive to them (I'm not) but you don't get the social benefits.


In a dev shop social benefits are synonymous to distractions. I don't care to talk to bizops people every time they walk by me. I don't want to hear females stomping on the floor with their heels like fucking mech warriors. I also tend to work in sprints that do not conform to 9-5 work days because DevOps/SRE people are typically coding/R&D during the day, and releasing/unfucking defects at night depending on intrusive maintenance windows. I can do it all from the comfort of wherever I choose and have working internet.

Some days I work from the park, or work from a bar until I'm buzzed and need to go home.

Also the monetary value of not having to spend money on daily transportation, don't need a huge clothing allowance so you have something decent to wear every day so you don't look like a slob, don't have to waste money on food if your employer doesn't feed you and don't have to waste time preparing meals if you don't want to eat out.

If you need that much socializing time you probably don't have enough work to do, or need a hug.


I tend to fill this with Telegram voice messages, or would sometimes just go over to a coworker's house and work with them for a while just for the fun of it. But that's not something you can do unless you have remote people who are still local to you.


Oh, yeah, it's ABSOLUTELY not for everyone, and there are things you get "for free" in an office that have to be planned for us.


I have a theory that co-working spaces will be filled with remote employees. You get the benefits of remote with the social benefits of an office but with less distraction.


I'm with you on this one. I ask colleagues for a quick tea trip if I haven't talked to anyone the whole day. It drives me insane to not to talk to someone.


To each his own. I have been self employed for well over a year and cannot see myself ever going back to and office environment. Don’t care if it pays 5x more even.


This is my #1 challenge at the moment... how to sustain a remote company culture and offer mentoring/onboarding to early career Developers.

I support the "craft" of Software; which requires an equal distribution of Apprentice, Journeyman (Journeyperson) and Master level people.

But it's difficult to "pass on" the craft to an Apprentice who is remote, so our team tends to be all mid-career folks.


I've seen this strategy work: pick a senior engineer with an affinity for leadership and hire a couple junior people in their local area. The senior person would have the final say on hiring the juniors and co-work with them occasionally.

The company would pay for coffee/food if it's a coffee shop, space/food if it's a co-working space, etc.


That's an excellent suggestion. Thx.


One thing to focus on is teaching the skill to onboarding yourself into a new project. As an example, one part of that skill that I've learned from my current employer: It is actually socially acceptable to say "Hi, I've been working on $ticket recently and don't have a specific question but I feel rather lost. Could I grab 30 minutes on your calendar and you walk me through how SaltStack actually gets data values and turns them into resources and I take notes and ask questions?". For a long time, I would instead either:

A) Try to learn this by doing, which usually involved being very frustrated, taking 3x as long, and writing really quite poor-quality code. I only had the cognitive space to think about making the bare minimum change to accomplish the immediate goal, so I couldn't practice the habit of "do a small refactor to make the change easy, then make the easy change."

B) Ask for good tutorial documentation on the subject matter, which might not exist, especially if the code lives outside of a popular framework.

C) Ask differently-phrased questions that led me to get feedback from a previous employer that I was "trying to understand the universe", which led me to focus on strategy A.

Knowing that I can get walkthroughs, especially of business logic or code that lives outside a framework, is really hugely impactful. (side note: if you've wondered why people reach for frameworks while you think they are overcomplicated, this one reason why)

There's probably a whole blog post I would write with the goal of expanding a new-project-joiner's vocabulary of questions that is socially reasonable to ask.


During our interview process we attempt to quantify "Communication" as a trait; which includes "Ability to ask questions and clarify requirements."

It really is an essential must have skill for remote workers.

The ability to communicate visually and exhibit spatial intelligence through sharing screenshots and diagrams also goes a long way to being successful remotely.

An open office has the benefit of whiteboards and pen/paper to do visual knowledge transfer.


>An open office has the benefit of whiteboards and pen/paper to do visual knowledge transfer.

Any face-to-face setting really.

I'm not sure why we haven't done a better job of cracking the "like a whiteboard (or flipchart or whatever) but for people who aren't in the same room" thing. I know it's partly a surface area thing but you'd think we could do better when it's such an obvious, at least to me, missing piece in remote interactions.


Part of it is finding a good drawing tablet and good software for it. A $40 wacom tablet and whats out there for free/cheap on OSX currently doesn't work -- it takes too much frustration compared to compared to the intuitive interface of pen+paper.

You'd need something with the intuitiveness of MS Paint, which is hard. MS Paint's intuitive program model is world class.


I'm with you, I love working from home. I find I'm much more productive and am interrupted less even if that means the occasional cat on keyboard. I sometimes find myself missing being in an office for the camaraderie but I think it's mostly FOMO. It's the same thing as -- excuse the metaphor -- wanting to be in a high-end raiding guild in wow. Once you're in it you kinda wish you werent in a high-end raiding guild in wow.


>The biggest one is that we can't really hire newbies

I'd be interested in counterpoints but I'm inclined to agree. I'm mostly remote now though I have an office I can go into. However, while it's true that communication systems are much different than earlier in my career, it's hard for me to imagine the first ten years or so of my career after grad school working remotely. For all sorts of reasons, including social ones.


We do it and it seems to work out. Our system is based on assigned mentors, which we do for everyone who wants it, but explicitly do for newbie engineers for their first <insert period of time here>.


Interesting. My ability to get up to speed with the work itself and collaboration notwithstanding, I'm pretty sure that I would just have found it hugely isolating working from home, especially full-time, right after graduating from school. Even later, I'm effectively fully remote (although I have an office I can go into and did more in the past) but I travel a lot to events and I really worked by way up to fully remote over a period of at least ten years. So it wasn't like I jumped into the deep end.


Are you hiring?


If avoiding open-plan is a priority, I recommend you focus on negotiating for a remote work arrangement, rather than excluding good companies. My last two long-term engagements have been at Fortune 100 companies and I've worked remotely for both.

In the first case, I was the only remote employee in my business unit. I was hired because I had a high level of competency with a technology they were investing heavily in. When I first interviewed, they told me that the were only considering on-site, and that my rate was too high. So, they first hired an on-site employee at a lower rate, but he failed to deliver a working installation and the project got perilously behind schedule. When I re-approached them about two months later they were no longer hung up on my rate or request to work remote. It's worth noting that I took a gamble here and put in about 6 or 8 hours interview and follow-up process, after being told that remote was not an option, and then being given the initial "no". During the project, I did stop by their Silicon Valley campus for a few hours of meetings every month or two, which was probably 1% or less of my total billable hours.

In my current engagement, my entire team is remote, so it was a non-issue. The gig was secured for me by a recruiter who had previously contacted me about an on-site position, and I told her I was only considering remote (and followed up periodically).

Both of these positions had multiple technical screens which were very rigorous. Both resulted from initial contacts where I was given at least one "no". You can have a private office at any company if you negotiate for remote and set yourself up with the office you like (e.g. home, co-working, etc.)


Working alone at home would be a worse option for me than working in an unfavorable office environment. More like a non-starter than worse. I get that there are people who love the idea of being isolated. But I think there are more who want to be around people instead of alone. And there should be a reasonable option for them, not open plan.


Remote does not mean isolated. I spend most nights and weekends out with friends and groups. When I worked in an office I would frequently be too tired from interacting with people to plan things.


I juuuust got off a catch-up call with an old college buddy who works at one of the big wireless companies. He described what I read about here on HN and in some blog posts: The company completely changed its "culture" in a desperate attempt to "attract millennials" (and be on trend). Moved to an open floor plan where nobody has an assigned desk. You literally cannot leave anything overnight or you get some sort of a citation. His words: "I spend my day with a headset covering one ear and my finger in the other ear, as I'm on calls most of the day." He also noted how they computerized the cafeteria so you don't have/get to interact with food workers anymore. "All my sandwiches have too much mayo now and I can't do anything about it."


It's called 'hot-desking'. In practice everyone still sits in the same place every day, and sublimizes their territorial marking. Sitting in 'someone else's' spot is seriously frowned upon. This trend happened when the 'open plan' needed a next level of hell.


> This trend happened when the 'open plan' needed a next level of hell.

I seem to remember Dilbert explaining this as a way to ensure employees felt more like company-owned sacks of potatoes than actual humans. Hot-desking really does seem like one of the most dehumanizing office designs I can think of.

I know the supposed benefits of open offices, but I'm not even sure what hot-desking claims to achieve? Except in call centers I guess, where it's explicitly "to speed up firing people".


Hot desking (or Hoteling as I've heard it called) makes a lot of sense for the headquarters office of traveling consultants. These folks are usually at the client's location Monday-Thursday and back at their local headquarters on Friday. However, there's a huge amount of variation in terms of travel scheduling so having an assigned desk doesn't make much sense. For example, consider a consultant living in LA who's working on a project in the Chicago suburbs. Most Fridays are spent working from LA (either at the office or at home), but sometimes you'll need to take meetings with Chicago people. Hot desking makes it easy to find a place to work for the day because all the Chicago people that are working from home or are at a remote office aren't taking up desks.

For permanent non-traveling roles, I don't immediately see the advantage though.


>not even sure what hot-desking claims to achieve

It's mostly for environments in which the company's short on space and a lot of employees don't routinely come into the office. Hot desking eliminates permanently provisioning office space that may be only used for one day in five or ten.

If that's not the problem being solved, I'm not sure what is. Now no one knows where anyone is sitting and teams are at least theoretically all scattered around.


I'm pretty sure this is the correct explanation. We have a site that recently moved to this setup, and I know for a fact that there are roughly 20% fewer seats than employees. That's what they came up with as acceptable after crunching the numbers on absentee rate.


> I know the supposed benefits of open offices, but I'm not even sure what hot-desking claims to achieve? Except in call centers I guess, where it's explicitly "to speed up firing people".

In call centers, there's another reason: if the company gets big enough, they may have more employees than desks. Since call centers work on shifts, not everyone is going to be in the office at the same time, and so they just lay down a policy of "nobody has their own desk".


What's crazy about this is that this nonsense with open floor plan to "attract Millenials" isn't even happening just in tech. My dad's an engineer working in GM's radio group, and they're pushing hot-desking on his entire building. Before it was common practice for each engineer to have a bench for doing small soldering and things like that at, but now even that kind of stuff is hot-desked in a common "lab" area. From just a few conversations with him, it's clear the drain on productivity has been insane, but nobody seems to care.


Open plan verdict: Too much mayo.



The only people who like hoteling/hotdesking are upper management because it means they can rent a smaller office space. For employees, it can be a hassle to coordinate with other coworkers, and not being able to leave stuff at the office can be negative for some (e.g. folks with ergonomic equipment or spare set of workout clothes).


Pixar does not have an open floor plan. It's 2-3 folks to an office, and the animators are well known for decorating their offices in fairly quirky ways during the "off-season" when they have finished their portion of the work for a movie (https://www.google.com/search?q=pixar+animator+offices&sourc...)


It's not acceptable. I've moved from a dev background to having a go at sre/devops/something-or-other; work aside, the culture is excrutiating, with people shouting across the office all day. Best case, someone talking to themself hour after hour, as if anyone wants to hear that. The idea that open floor plans are productive is farce. I effectively have two jobs, the first being just trying to get any work done.


It's also extremely unhealthy. I've never been so sick in my entire life as since I started this job a year ago. Literally herded like cattle into an open air room with hundreds of other people from all around the world coughing and sneezing in your face all day. I'll never ever accept another position with this kind of setup.


Hah this hits close to home, literally just getting off being sick the last couple days cus someone in the tiny aisle between a sea of desks coughed a few times directly at my face last week as I passed to and from the kitchen.

My current spot is particularly bad because they have us jammed up 5' away from 4 conference rooms with thin glass walls so we get to hear loud conference calls every day all day long.

Edit: to too two? I can English


The last open plan cesspit I worked in literally gave me pneumonia for the first time in my life. Too many contractors coming in sick, not washing their hands, coughing all over the office. It was long benches, with 36" allotted per person. A freaking hellscape where you literally touched your neighbor if you put your arm out to the side.


Our workspace has been referred to as “the bullpen”. One dev gets a cold, soon after another.


Getting sick is what exercises the immune system, it’s good for you in the long run. However I suspect you are vitamin D3 deficient also, try a supplement.


SRE/DevOps should generally be like dev: if you're in an open office, headphones on.

> Best case, someone talking to themself hour after hour, as if anyone wants to hear that.

The person who is speaking usually needs to hear it. Sorry, I talk to myself every so often. :)


The 'headphones on' as if this should be standard behavior does not make sense to me when a simple dividor or wall would do. Especially when unless you listen to loud music or have special noise canceling ones you can still hear people. If you work with a Jackhammer you cannot avoid having to cover your ears, it's very loud, but why does someone in an office have to do this, especially for the entire day, the Jackhammer person doesn't do it all day long. Also if everyone spoke to themselves at the same time, you couldn't hear yourself either. I did not down vote you btw, just replying because I see how you're offering a solution but I don't think it is good enough.


> just replying because I see how you're offering a solution but I don't think it is good enough.

Oh I agree, dedicated offices are superior to headphones - hence writing 'in an open office'. I'm merely pointing out that privacy should be the same in SRE/DevOps vs devops.

I'm not particularly concerned with downvotes, I've been on HN a decade and am happy to lose karma while making an accurate point.


I once quit a job because there was a guy who constantly talked to himself. Your mumbling might cause severe mental anguish in those around you.


In most offices people will talk around you. Sometimes to others, sometimes to themselves. If that triggers your 'severe menal anguish', seek employment somewhere with a dedicated office or working from home.


No. If you must talk to yourself then you should "seek employment somewhere with a dedicated office or work from home" -- if you were so important that your productivity should come at the expense of those around you then you would already have an office.


Most people talk in offices. Many including to themselves. Most people don't have issues with it. You will be happier if you adapt to the world, rather than asking the world to adapt to you.

Since you're new, you should probably read the HN guidelines regarding the types of things to avoid.


I'm not new, I've been here for almost a decade. I don't provide an email address, so when a browser logs me out I create a new account.


> if you're in an open office, headphones on.

No thanks, 8 hours/day with headphones on is already giving hearing problems. I'm done with that.


Earplugs work great for me. It does taking some getting used to.


I've tried that too. Unfortunately, due to tinnitus issues, earplugs cause complications for me.

I've tried all manner of earplug/headphone/earmuff combinations, and nothing works except not having loud people around.


Fog Creek famously has a non-open office space [1]

[1] https://medium.com/make-better-software/beyond-open-offices-...


I don't know if Trello still works this way after the spinoff from Fog Creek and subsequent Atlassian acquisition, but I visited Trello's NYC office and they had a similar setup to Fog Creek's. Trello also has a significant number of remote employees.


Trello shared an office with Fog Creek until last December or so, so no surprise that they're similar. I suspect Trello retained the offices layout since Fog Creek was the one that moved out.


Headphones are not good enough. It's much too easy to damage your hearing.

Sun Microsystems, Inc., had offices. More junior engineers would share offices, with two or three engineers per office, while more senior engineers would have private offices. Seniority also dictated office location (think of having windows vs. not). This worked very well. It's not that expensive either (it's certainly not why Sun died).


I don't like open office. But Bose QuietComfort work pretty well with music/noise on very low volume.

(eg. https://asoftmurmur.com/)


I use Bose QuietComfort 20's and even though they are awesome, they still not good enough. Active noise cancellation is great for airplane noise (predictable, repetitive), but not for voices.


And even for airplanes, it's not that good. All noise canceling headphones I've looked at or owned have a sampling frequency of 21KHz, which is a bit low, and results in high-frequency (if low amplitude) noise that I can hear, and it's annoying or even painful.

I don't quite understand why there are no 44KHz noise-canceling headphones on the market...


Virtually everyone has an individual office where I work. Our CEO has the motto "give them a door, a window and the fastest computer money can buy".


Sounds like he read Jeff Atwood's Programmer Bill of Rights. May his tribe increase.


Which company is it? (If you didn't want to give away where you work, you could have named the company without saying you work there. That was the original question, after all.)


Apologies. Here is a link: https://www.cmgl.ca/


This is very similar to where I work. We get people often need quiet, private spaces to do their best work, so we offer that to everyone. And a small office decorating budget to make it personalized.

I made my space a relaxing place for myself with a chaise and fake tree and wood grained wallpaper. Super peaceful.


Where's that? It sounds like heaven.


Well, a famous example is Microsoft. Though the recently built and renovated buildings are moving toward open plan offices, about 80% of the buildings in the Redmond campus are full of offices. Which office you get is purely based on tenure. I remember it took 11 years of tenure to get a window office in my old building. Some new hires were doubled up due to space constraints. But I was in the 70% of office holders who had a single office from the beginning. It was fun to be able to decorate my office. You could really see people's personalities in their offices. Offices would also double as quick meeting rooms for up to 5 people. No overhead for booking conference rooms. All in all, it was a great perk of the job. If only they had free food...

Even if you have offices, people would still barge in, cutting into your uninterrupted time. Funny enough, in the open-plan at Google, where I am currently, I get far fewer walk-up interruptions. It's always good to ping people on chat so they can respond async.


I feel your pain. I found this video from Vox very interesting, to see the rationale behind the original open office space, and contrast it with what modern organizations has made it into.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-p6WWRarjNs



Bluewind is a small consulting company based in Italy (embedded systems). We switched from "almost all devs in a room" to 2/3 devs per room maximum while building our own offices recently. And common spaces for meetings, conferences and telephone calls. Encouraging to work from home when possible also. Interesting: working this way and adopting Agile principles makes enhances collaboration a lot, much more that in the previous open space where having everyone in the same room makes it almost impossible for people to talk each other when needed.


It's funny, about six or seven years ago, most of the companies I worked for had gone to an open floor plan. Within a few years, all of them had gone back to cubes for a number of reasons.

I just started at a large corporation three years ago and they spent millions going to an elaborate open office plan which was similar to what others have referred to as "neighborhoods". At first it was called "hoteling" where we just had a ton of desks with monitors and a dock so you didn't have a set place or cube to work.

After about six months, teams had taken over areas without telling anybody, they pushed other teams out to other areas. Then they shifted a ton more people to our building so now space was even more limited. They started moving desks into common areas meant for collaboration where people met and ate lunch in order to handle in the influx of new people. People started "squatting" on their desks, putting personal pics and their mouse and other stuff to claim their desks so nobody would/could sit there. This clearly was not what the architect/designer had in mind. I quickly got to the point where I was so frustrated, I just tapped out and now I work from home almost 100% of the time.

It's funny how they had this great idea and it was totally ruined by standard human behavior.


More like it's funny how designers have no clue about basic human needs.

Our brain is wired for habits. We form them to ease our cognitive burden, it's a built in mechanism. You don't have to think about reversing out your driveway because of habits, brushing your teeth, checking your email, etc.

People don't want to hunt for a desk every morning because it is fundamentally incompatible with how our brain works, not because they're being difficult. So they adopt a desk. And then someone takes 'their' desk, which is a burden, a bit of thinking they shouldn't be doing. So they naturally mark out 'their' desk.

So in reality, it's a stupid idea because of the way the human mind works. Might as well rage at the tides.


Best office I ever worked in (in both productivity AND developer happiness) was subdivided into 4m x 4m rooms each with two or three developers, wood panels between adjacent rooms, glass corridor walls with privacy frosting, and floor-to-ceiling glass exterior walls with Melbourne city and parkland views. Each space was decorated and equipped as the occupants pleased. Company was acquired in 2004 and that office sadly no longer exists.


The schools in our area are in the final phases of remodeling, getting rid of the open floor plan layout that was in vogue when many of the schools were built, and was such a disaster. Nice to see taxpayer money hard at work.

It's funny that a business as reactionary as the education system seems to have learned this lesson but tech companies haven't.


German universiteties in Munich, Dresden and probably elsewhere have separate rooms for the staff. Usually 2-4 persons per room. It’s really nice and productive.

Later I found similar setting during interview at Viavi Solutions. All other bigger enterprises had open space offices. Some with cubicles, some with glas walls and some with tables only.


Sadly many universities in Europe are shockingly moving to open plan spaces.


They're all going this way. I've had to started adding 'well, I can' t do the work here' in front of every 'when can you have this done' response.


It has gotten to the point where I'm seriously considering just working from home every day, even though that's strictly not allowed.

Open-plan offices are absolutely maddening, I get pulled out of my thoughts constantly, and there's no effective way to shut it out. Earplugs aren't enough, and with headphones I would have to play music so loudly it would be annoying my colleagues, just in order to cut out the constant noise. We have so-called "focus rooms", but 1) there are far too few of them, and 2) they're supposed to only be used for short phone meetings and such.

I raise this with my manager every time we have a "pit talk", as they're now called. But there is seemingly nothing he can do.


You shouldn't have to strap something to your face just to get work done. That's for animals. What about your seatmate who eats hot lunch next to you? That's your problem; put in your noseplugs. People walking around constantly? Put on your horse blinders.


People walking by is my big thing. I hate people being in my peripheral vision when I am trying to work. That and feeling like people are behind me..it's much worse than the sound.


One of the mech engrs in a cube has a mirror on his wall that puzzled me until I spent a day in the cube farm. I will steal that idea when they relocate me from a private office to cube hell.


Ok, I'm puzzled. Why the mirror?


So people can't sneak up on you. It is subtile, but psychologically draining to have people constantly come up to you and interact with you from behind.


You might try earplugs and earmuffs at the same time. It's a pretty effective level of sound isolation.


Some people, like me, can only wear headphones or earplugs for a short period of time - like 2 hours - before they develop ear infections.

Furthermore, administrative controls (headphones) for what is actually a safety and health problem (excess noise) are the solution of last resort from a health and safety perspective. A good health and safety person would advise structural mitigation, not forcing everyone to put on personal protective equipment (headphones.)

When open plan offices can regularly burst up to 95 dB (yes, I took in a meter and measured the last one I was in) and are often 65 dB when they are "quiet", noise is absolutely a health and safety issue. Constant noise, even if not immediately damaging to hearing, can cause increased stress and other physiological issues.


Well said, thank you.


I have considered this, but it's going to be very uncomfortable for a full workday.

I've also tried earphones with music, but I can't work like that for long, I just start listening to the music instead. I need peace and quiet.

And of course there's the issue of visual noise as well.


Silicon ear plugs are amazing, I sleep with them in (insomnia), they kill sound better than foam, mould to fit so stay in and warm up to body temperature so you don't know they are even there.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Bio-Ears-Silicone-EarPlugs-Protecti...

I split one in two and use them that way, I've gotten to work with them in before without noticing, maybe worth a shot.


Seems like these are only good for a few uses with each set before disposal?


Yeah, and they're rather expensive for disposable items.

I bought a box of 100 pairs of Bilsom 303 plugs a couple of years ago, for motorcycling. The whole box was $40.


I split one into two, I get 2-3 nights before changing them which means 12-18 nights better sleep, for an insomniac I’d pay 10 times that tbh.


Careful with this. I have tinnitus (arguably from 8 hours/day of headphone use), and when I doubled up as you described, my tinnitus became unbearable because it was the only thing I could hear and my brain "latched" on to it. I'm still trying to train my brain to stop listening...


The better 'earmuffs' out there should be enough w/o plugs. The passive model that I have (3M Peltor Optime 105, $21) cut sound by 30 dB. Nearly dead silence.


I wish. I have a whole collection of them (ok, maybe just 6 or 7 of them). They certainly help, but for me they are not near dead silence.


Use noise cancelling headphones. They shut out the world with a bit of quiet music. I love my qc35. Doesn't fix the primary issue, but makes it more bearable.


They're not bad, but are relatively poor against sounds similar to human speech, which includes coughing, sniffing, throat clearing etc. My colleagues who have a large extractor fan just outside their window have reported that noise-cancelling headphones offer an improvement, though.


Yep, active noise cancellation is great for repeating sounds, but horrible for voices.


> noise cancelling headphones

They are very ineffective against voices! Passive insulating headphones are much better.


My Plantronics Backbeat Pro are pretty good at both. I can block all external noise with the volume turned down so low some people can't even hear the music when they put them on.


afaik qc35 does both


Assuming "qc35" == "Bose QuietComfort 35", it also eavesdrops on the metadata of everything you listen to and sends it to Bose (and segment.io).

https://www.sfgate.com/news/article/Bose-headphones-have-bee...


Thanks for the link. This sort of thing is becoming a total pain; it seems that there's almost no gadget I might use that's not reporting my habits to someone.


After the scandal, they added an opt-out setting (but on the privacy policy page, where the nominal user will not think to look for it).


Tried those. Actually made the voices stand out more since everything else was more quiet :-(


One problem is they don't cancel out the terrible odors you have to breath when you're packed in next to people who don't bath and eat at their desks.

I think the awful smells I can't escape are worse than the noise at this point.


Several teams in Apple don't have an open floor plan. They pair two individuals in an office.


Except that the gigantic multibillion dollar new space ring was explicitly designed around big open office units, long tables with bench seating, and the 'privacy pods' are exposed clear glass on all sides..


Slightly incorrect! The offices there vary in size from one person to up to a dozen. A lot of offices in various sections of the ring accommodate 2 persons.

Yes there is a big glass/sliding door but from what I have seen when closing the door it is quite soundproof (unlike some small conference room). And they provide inside each section different zone with huge whiteboard and sofa/chairs to help facilitate brainstorming/discussion, even each area has its own Apple TV to project on a huge screen through AirPlay.

So overall it is quite good from what I was able to see for the few hours I was there. Folks working there like it.


No they don’t. They pretty famously refused to relocate to the new space and there was a lit of outrage and rebellion. It’s awful.

https://www.inc.com/geoffrey-james/apple-employees-hate-appl...

http://calnewport.com/blog/2017/09/01/apples-new-open-office...


long tables with bench seating

So everyone at the table has to have identical ergonomics?


What an absolute nightmare.


You just need to hire engineers that fit the space (between 5'9" and 5'11" tall). What is the problem? Hiring is difficult anyway ...


And it sounds like it's identically awful ergonomics.


Wow that sounds like a waking nightmare.

If I had to sit on bench seating all day I'd probably quit after a week.


Except that isn’t true. Ergo is a really big deal at Apple. You get a standard chair, but you can have an ergo evaluation and they’ll buy you whatever chair you need if your existing chair isn’t correct.

Nobody is spending their work day on benches; that’s a fact.


This seems like something you should have replied to the parent with. I wasn't asserting what happens at Apple, I was reacting to what he said. If he is making stuff up, call him out not me.


You are correct. Apologies. My intent was to respond that you wouldn’t face such conditions. Def should have been on the parent comment though!

I’d quit too if I had to work from a bench all day!


> Ergo is a really big deal at Apple.

Apparentlhy not, if you've ever used their new keyboards and touch bars on the premium laptops, or their awful, awful magic mouse.


Yuck. That sounds like hell. You can't pair/team with another person if your neighbor is literally an armlength away.


And lots of teams have single developer offices. Saying “at Apple” is meaningless because there are a wide variety of situations.


Yes I too would love to see this. Noise canceling headphone seem to cancel everything but voices and that is the opposite of what you need.


My problem with noise canceling headphones is that while you can use them just for their ANC and have no music playing, it gets extra uncomfortable.

My brain can't handle feeling sound pressure on my ears from the ANC, but not hearing the noise because the ANC canceled it out. It gives me a really wicked headache.

I have to have something playing all the time I'm wearing the headphones, which is a problem because that can be a distraction in and of itself.


I use industrial ear muffs over my in-ear headphones. Not very comfortable but they work great.

Now I wish my work wouldn't suck so I could actually use all the focus I get this way :)


I’ve found that custom molded in-ear hearing protection combined with industrial ear muffs is the closest I can get to drowning out nearby conversations (including loud ones) without requiring a layer of music on top or bothering with headphones underneath the ear muffs.


I've been considering this as well, but it'll get really uncomfortable over the course of a day. And then you have the colleagues who think they can just interrupt you all the time, with minor questions. Or the ones who just hover around, waiting for you notice them.


Careful with this. I have tinnitus (arguably from 8 hours/day of headphone use), and when I doubled up as you described, my tinnitus became unbearable because it was the only thing I could hear and my brain "latched" on to it. I'm still trying to train my brain to stop listening...


My preferred setup is earplugs with headphones over them.

The headphones muffle outside noise to some degree and add music to drown out what they can't muffle. The earplugs create an end result of just muffled music, which is basically white noise if you pick the right type of songs.

The only downside is that earplugs can get uncomfortable after a long period of wearing them.


Yeah, there's absolutely no way I could wear in-ear headphones for 8+ hours straight.

I use some Sennheiser PXC450 over-the-ear NC headphones; they work pretty well for noise cancelling and provide decent noise isolation too.


The Beyerdynamic DT 770 are working great for this. I am using the DT 770 Pro and they are working fine for me. If you want more noise attenuation you can by the DT 770 M.

Link to the DT 770 Pro: https://north-america.beyerdynamic.com/catalog/product/view/...

Link to the DT 770 M: https://latin-america.beyerdynamic.com/dt-770-m.html

These are headphones for drummers, sound engineers and studios, so they sound good / great and are very comfortable.

Maybe they work better for you.


I bought Sennheiser HD 280 Pro for this reason. Am pretty happy with them so far (which is just a couple weeks).

I had a pair of QC25s and while they were nice, they did the worst at blocking out the noise I most wanted to block out.


When I worked at Extrahop the engineers had offices with two to an office. It was a great place to work


I work in a very open office plan where meeting rooms have no walls and even directors sit amongst the staff. It's noisy and distracting, I can never concentrate


"even directors sit amongst the staff"

At least they are eating their own dogfood. I have had several occasions where I was belittled when I complained about noise and lack of daylight by our managers who have private offices with windows.


They have no idea (or have forgotten) what doing Dev work is like. Their jobs are basically distraction, so to them there's no problem.


Its a social hierarchy thing; its baked into the cake of the architecture of the office.

Something like: We don't care about the message it sends that "concentration workers" are prevented from working by the very architecture of the office yet we support "distraction workers". I guess "concentration workers" are a lower caste at that company and they find it amusing to enforce that value judgement.

It is exactly like making certain races sit in the back of the bus. No matter how many times you claim it doesn't matter or everyone does it and its really trendy, the people subjected to it none the less understand exactly what message it is sending and are insulted. The point of open offices is literally insulting knowledge workers and not caring that they know their noses are being rubbed in it. Sort of an adult version of revenge of the nerds pranks and bullying.


Bingo.

The first time I got moved from an office to an open plan it felt like exactly what it was: a severe demotion. I was being told that I didn't rate an office or even a cube and the ability to concentrate without being interrupted like a low level clerical worker.


That also explains why they don't see a problem with scheduling meetings every other hour.


When I worked in academia (working for a high throughout computing research group at a large state university) we all had our own offices. I don't know if individual offices are all that common any more due to space issues at universities, but I think they're almost all shared offices or cubes at worst. I've never seen an open office plan at a University.

I work in healthcare now and share a "large" office with 3 other developers. It feels tight at times, but I still prefer it to the hot-seat style open office that was our other choice.


My only experience with an open floor plan was in academia :-) ... terrible thing, I suffered a lot and made other people suffer as well, since I'm a loud typist ... I have never understood how some people think open floor plans are a good idea for getting work done.


Stanford University is moving toward an open plan office setup when it moves its IT staff to Redwood City next year. (Professors, of course, still get offices. So do managers.) Some buildings are already open plan. This is very bad for morale, or course, and very problematic for people who work with PII or PHI. It's a good thing that there is a medical center branch on the grounds, because illnesses will go up too.


Epic (the EMR vendor) has all employees in an office of at most two people, with one per office being the goal.


And the goal is practically reached. Almost every office without a window has one person unless otherwise requested.


I worked for the MITRE Corporation https://www.mitre.org for many years, and can confirm they use offices. There are some open floor plan labs, but almost all employees have an office, usually shared with one other person.


At Netapp in Sunnyvale everyone has 6ft by 8ft cubicles, with full sized walls (66” high). Some people have combined cubicles which are 6ft by 12ft.


Never understood the rationale behind open floor offices. I currently work in a cubicle set up, and people set up war rooms anytime they want close collaboration. Open offices seem to take this exceptional case and make it the norm.

At the same time open floor offices cause a lot of trouble to people in non-exception situations.


Facilities gets a different budget than operations. It's OK to spend $150k for an engineer that can't concentrate from the noise, but $1k to make him productive is out of the question, and out from another budget!


Either intentionally or as "unintended consequences", having to work in open offices is operant conditioning against working in private. This might explain why so many tech workers believe "privacy is dead/futile" and accept working on spyware.


1) Cheaper -- different budgets. Usually the people specing the office are judged on how cheaply they can deliver (partially), not on anything related to employee productivity.

2) Open offices look way better in photos/concepts -- so they'll get chosen over a boring all-offices layout

3) Much easier to reconfigure -- this is why a lot of startups or those in high-growth periods end up in them, even if they'd prefer offices. Even cubicles require some professional reconfiguring, but anything requiring permitted construction is a big deal.


Follow the money. It’s cheaper to build, easy to shuffle, and people will put up with it. I know I do.


Cheaper in the short term. If your engineers productivity is constantly tanking because of noise and interruptions it will mean lots of wasted money.

But you can't factor that in a spreadsheet, right?


I wonder how many of these problems happen because of outdated management practices since the days of serfdom that treat people as two hands and with hours in a day whom they have to whip enough to pick as much cotton as they can.

So many companies are full of upper management who think as engineering output the way one would run a chair manufacturing firm. Too many people think everything there is in a chair has been made, and the only scope left now is a little innovation here and there. All they have to do is get people to saw, hammer and glue as quickly as they can.


It allows the company to cut costs on rent since it requires the least floor space per employee. For a room of a certain size, you can fit 20 people in a room with offices, 50 with cubicles, or 90 with an open floor plan.


> Never understood the rationale behind open floor offices.

You can have an appealing environment to work in for 5-15 and within the same space scale that up all the way to an 80 person battery farm office without spending any more money.


I've seen swoopy spacey open office environments with lower person density than cubicles or offices. There will be no walls other than bathroom walls doesn't necessarily imply high density although it makes it somewhat easier.

Three guys in a 6x6 cubicle is much quieter and more productive than an open office, but it arguably takes up less space than all but the most extreme density open offices. Another analogy is if you insist on packing people in like crowded picnic tables or middle school lunchroom tables, merely spending an inch to put up walls isn't going to impact seating arrangements.


Every semiconductor co I've ever worked for, across 30 years, provided cubicles or offices for their employees. This includes both Fortune 500 firms and scrappy 8-person remote offices.


Any companies whose business model is security may want to avoid open spaces. Among those I worked with, like some chip makers (gemalto, safran, etc), space agencies (the CNES comes to mind) or banks (labanquepostale/banque populaire have a few old school offices, bank of luxembourg has lots open plan though).

I don't think founders think the geeks wellbeing is ever a criteria to choose a floor plan. Money, space and ability to check on your team mates are the first points.


The worst place I've seen is the dev dept of a bank. It's not just that 200 persons were crammed in a single room, it was that the place was extremely noisy. I pity the guys that were sitting near the coffee machine.

The idiot that interviewed me was proud of the environment. Fortunately they didn't accept me so I didn't need to make excuses to the recruiter.


I know from experience that a few banks have open office spaces with hot desks. (Clearly not for all employees, but part of their tech staff works like that)


Yes, I didn't say "all", I said "some" that I visited.


Where I have found open floor to be fine is small companies of 5-15 people, as long as there are quite corners to retreat to. There are some collaboration advantages to open plan, and I feel that for some (small) size, these can outweigh the distraction and blender-brain effect.

I always wonder why people don't split the difference, chop up the big company office into 5-10 person mini open plan offices.


I've always thought that the idea of a "team room" with mini cubicles around a central whiteboard and gathering space would be a good compromise. People could do heads down in cubes, the team as a whole could close their door at crunch time, but people could meet, collaborate and brainstorm when they needed to.


Google Pittsburgh is like this in many places. I like it.

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