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The impact of the ‘open’ workspace on human collaboration (royalsocietypublishing.org)
303 points by tosh 10 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 281 comments

I joke that my career went downhill from when I started. At first I had my own office, with a door, desk, computer desk, bookshelf with books, two chairs in front of my desk for small meetings. Then I had a large, tall cube, with reasonable space. Next I had a small, short walled cube I could barely fit in and would bump into my neighbor. Finally I was in a open space, with tens of other people yapping in their speakerphones many times in the same online meeting, with maddening echo. One person got sick, everyone got sick. If you want to get any work done you need to wear Bose cancelling headphones. Finally I managed to work from home. Once again I have my private office, silence, communicate via Slack and email, and never been more productive in my life.

OMG I do the same thing. First job out of college, I had a private office, bookcase, huge filing cabinet, everything. As my pay increases, my working conditions deteriorate. I hate working from home, though. I am now on the FI train (Financial Independence) so I can either take lower paying jobs and live partially off my savings, or do whatever I want. I also, of course, maximize my income. Making 4x what I was making back when I had my own office takes the sting off a little, you know? But still. Ridiculous.

I love WFH. It helps that I have been happily married for many years, I have home cooked meals, more family interaction (well when I am working I am working but whatercooler conversations in your own kitchen are great). And I can literally work from anywhere, be it visiting relatives or travelling to Europe. I really hope I can continue like this for a long time; I might accept going back to the office - but it better be a real one.

Working from home... For some of us, that too, is becoming impossible due to noise.

I moved, to my own house, in part in the hope of starting to consult as a sideline. To end up tortured by a series of neighbors.

I just had another one move in next door, and find my previously quiet neighboring property now has a fellow who plays music while he works in his garage. At least that I can't hear, inside my own house with the windows closed and the A/C on.

This "all noise, all the time" culture has invaded home life, too. And, it seems, for more and more people, not just from those you choose (or, are forced to...) live with.

Like the selfish people with their straight pipe Harleys. The absolutely ridiculous car stereos, which around here at least, the police finally seem to have cracked down on, a bit. (Once we got a noise ordinance, that for a long time they weren't really enforcing, I felt like pointing out to them, "Look! Here's your revenue stream! Third or fourth violation: $1000. You can afford to buy some calibrated sound meters.")

Choose where you live carefully. Home, like work, is a place where inconsiderate -- or, bad -- neighbors can drag your life and productivity down. Whereupon your options shrink, rather than grow.

I have this same problem as well. I don't know if the world is getting noisier or I'm getting more sensitive. Probably the latter. My neighbor to one side has two vehicles with massive car stereos that he enjoys just letting run most of the day on some days. He's told me to pound sand when I ask him to turn it down. My neighbor to the other side has a straight pipe Harley that he warms up at 7:30 on the morning. He's told me that loud pipes save lives when I ask him to not do it so much. My neighbor on the other side of the duplex has a stoop that faces my window and enjoys holding mobile phone conversations in the outdoors where it's nice and breezy. That's roughly the same effect as people gabbing in the open space.

I tried renting one of those small offices in a quiet neighborhood. Nope, they're apparently built with tissue paper so when the tattoo parlor moved in across the hall and started dropping the beat, there went all semblance of calm. Same for the small business just to the other side where they have loud stand-ups (with applause) and lots of sales calls.

So, yep, I know the old saying of "if everybody else is the asshole it's you who's the asshole." I still can't shake the feeling that I have nowhere to escape. Work is people loud, home is people loud, away is people loud, even the bus to and from work is getting people loud, the plane ride to vacation is people loud. Maybe I just need to hermit.

I commute by car, but frequently take the DC area Metro train to go into town for recreation. It's actually pretty quiet; people don't talk loudly usually. The exception is sometimes on the weekend when you have tourists on the train.

At home, it's pretty quiet too: I live in a tiny condo on the ground floor. Sometimes I hear sounds from the plumbing from people flushing toilets above, or from someone dropping something in the shower above, but otherwise it's very quiet. Large dogs aren't allowed here.

Years ago, I lived in a subdivision with my own house. It was much noisier: every neighbor around me had dogs that barked at all hours, we even got into a war with some of them that went to court (they lost: the police testified they heard dogs barking and that was that, since there was a noise ordinance). One neighbor had friends that would drive up to pick them up every day and honk the horn (the police were no help here). That neighborhood was miserable.

I recommend NOT buying your own house in a subdivision, and moving into a condo instead, preferably in a fairly new (and somewhat expensive) high-rise. The whole culture of cars, motorcycles, big dogs, etc., and the individuality that goes with that is anathema to people who want peace and quiet.

It's not you who's the asshole, it's Americans who live in the suburbs.

Sounds like you're unusually sensitive to sound.

However, regarding work: any chance you can move somewhere rural, e.g. many parts of Vermont?

Not necessarily. I had neighbors do that with the car stereos -- across the street and down a house.

They played them so loud, and the subwoofers were so strong, that I would hear the glass panes vibrating within their frames, in my windows. In addition to the bass, itself.

There is simply no way to stop such noise from penetrating right through nearby structures.

In my last corporate job, that moved from offices to shared, low wall "cubettes", there was a contingent that would stand up and shout their conversations across the aisles. There was my immediate neighbor, on the other side of my cubette wall, who would pound our connected desk system incessantly while on hours worth of personal phone calls. (Sometimes "multi-tasking", which would show up when her work products would have to be redone.) Not only would I hear it, it would shake my own desk. When I asked her, very politely, to please not to hit her desk repeatedly, she reported me to HR and I ended up in the dog house.

All the... well, corporate propaganda, was about "collaboration".

And within that cubette you shared, you were supposed to tune out hour long cube meetings taking place 3-4 feet from your shoulder.

Grandparent commenter: I sympathize. That... "sounds" very familiar.

I had no support from family and friends. Actually, sort of active anti-support, until they experienced it for themselves. Which few, other than family, did, because I was so uncomfortable that I didn't invite people over.

My strong advice, after having let the stress pull me into a downward spiral, is to do whatever you can to get yourself out of it and to someplace safe. Screw what other people say; they're not living with it.

And, we don't all have to be corporate -- or start up -- environment drones.

Get out, before it's too late.

P.S. Lest people say I'm "anti-social" or poor at working collaboratively, at one BigCo, I had a senior manager outside my reporting structure present me with a corporate-wide award for independently and pro-actively throwing a cross-country team together to troubleshoot and solve a process that had been in chronic, repeated crisis for some years. These weren't people who reported to me, just people across the organization who benefited from -- collaboratively -- establishing responsibilities, expectations, deliverables, dates, and a process for problem resolution, for something we all depended upon and knew needed to get done.

"Collaboration" does not mean tuning out a bunch of noise that has nothing to do with what you're working out.

One of the most effective, and senior, development teams I was on, within a rather large corporation and development shop, was about 50% remote, with developers upping their remote time as much as they felt they could, as that became acceptable. (This happened particularly after the move from offices to those "cubettes", for those who had been working in the office. Oh, and the distracted, desk-pounding neighbor was not part of that team.)

The team had no problem working together, nor with other teams, internal and external. People knew what they were doing, and they could make the space to concentrate on it effectively. One of the most effective guys, off in Atlanta, I never even met face-to-face, over the course of a few years.

Sorry if I've gone on about this, a bit. But this "mythology" of the primacy of "open space collaboration" needs to be... "dispelled" is too weak a word.

As far as I'm concerned, if people want to work that way, let them. Somewhere away from me. I'll outperform them, if my own work preferences -- needs -- are respected, and the metrics are fair.

Furthermore, you need a living space under your own control, to enjoy and also where you can rest up from the parts of the world -- including the work world -- that aren't under your control.

The idea that you should somehow learn to ignore, or even "enjoy" your neighbor's loud music and other behavior. No. And, I've found, most often the people making such comments aren't putting up with such circumstances, themselves.

People in other circumstances may live differently. Even then, I think there is a difference between community noise and penetrating, amplified noise that invades your space and triggers your autonomous nervous system.

Kids playing in the neighborhood, quite audible through an open window, are no problem for me. There is a difference.

> There is simply no way to stop such noise from penetrating right through nearby structures.

I'm not sure that's literally true. With enough budget, I think you could pull it off with the judicious use of (a) lawsuits, and/or (b) extensive soundproofing.

Although it you have that ^ much money to solve the problem, moving is probably the best first step.

> They played them so loud, and the subwoofers were so strong, that I would hear the glass panes vibrating within their frames, in my windows. In addition to the bass, itself.

I gotta admit that I'm one of those people. But at home, not with a car stereo. However, I make sure to live in places where sound won't bother my neighbors. Partly because I'm a nice guy. And partly to avoid the hassle.

I've lived in close-packed houses. But we had A/C, so the windows could always be closed. For apartments, I've sought out old-school concrete slab and block buildings. And currently, I'm in a modern frame building, with extreme sound isolation (both floors and walls). Also, I put my speakers overhead, so I'm mainly driving the floors, which have better sound isolation.

Sorry to hear about your noisy home environment. It reminds me of a time when I lived in a house with drug dealing neighbors on one side of the property and blasting Metallica in the middle of the night neighbors on the other side of the house. What a nightmare of a scenario. The. I moved into an apartment in Irvine CA near the 405 and holy shit, the noise from the highway drove me crazy for several years before I finally had enough. I am lucky to live in rural Japan now with super quiet neighbors and nowhere near a large street. What a relief it is to live in quiet. I can actually open my windows and not hear a single thing at night!

I feel for you brother. If you have a chance, move ASAP. If not, make that chance yourself. Everyone who seeks it deserves peace and quiet.

re: music while working in garage --

I don't think that's anything new. It used to be that everyone had a boom box in their garage. What seems to be new is that the music is getting louder and louder because so many people have early stage hearing loss by age 30 as a result of cranking the music on their earbuds up too loud.

I'm semi-regularly amazed to discover the things I can hear and people 10 years younger than me can't.

You might want to talk to Leslie Blomberg of the Noise Pollution Clearinghouse. He's doing research into the kinds of noise ordinances that have been enacted in the United States and how effective and enforceable they are. In particular, it seems that giving police officers sound meters is more complicated than you'd think (they require special training) and not all that effective.

Fortunately, I like music while working. But not with coherent lyrics. Basically dance and chill music. D&B, trance, dubstep, glitch, etc.

Two words, "leaf blowers"

You’re reading my mind. SMH.

Can they be bought outside America?

I work from home. I used to put in 8 hours at an office, then went down to 5 at home. Since I had a baby my work time is now 1-2 hours. To make up for the lost time I have to be super productive. Basically, I don’t work unless I’m in the zone. I should probably mention that I work for myself so it’s not like I’m stealing time from anyone. A deadline is a deadline and I meet them regardless of hours worked. I’ve learned that there is work, productive work and super productive work. I have to be in the zone 100% of the time I work or things turn into a shitshow.

I’m only productive WFH when there’s no one else home.

Pretty sure the "great productivity while WFH" is contingent on having a dedicated workspace (I mean, I guess it can be shared with other work-from-homers in the household, but it should be dedicated). Which isn't something everyone can afford. That's why, even as I advocate for WFH as the default, I think companies should still have offices where people can do their work if they need to.

My last job was 100% WFH and I tell people this all the time who ask how I do it.

"Dedicate a work area for work and nothing else".

All I have on my work desk (which is an actual desk in a smallish room I converted for the purpose) is a monitor, keyboard and mouse and a coffee mug full of pens. The only thing in the room that isn't work is a Dualshock 4 PS4 controller that I use for gaming when I'm on lunch breaks or after work is done and I feel like playing some street fighter.

You don't just work at the house and expect to be productive. Much like muscles in the body working out for a marathon, you have to train at it, exercise and make deliberate efforts to get better. You don't just show up and run if you expect to have a good time.

YMMV though. I'm lucky to be a single-ish guy with a cat and no kids.

For me it was a walk-in closet. Just big enough for a desk and chair. And cats. My wife had her own walk-in closet. But no kids, I admit.

Yes, if I ever go back to WFH I'll make sure to have a dedicated office. You need a room where "work happens" and nothing else. The human mind needs boundaries.

I know people who WFH at their kitchen table, and do fine. Others need isolation, just like at work.

Seconded. Even with a dedicated workspace, the house is simply too noisy for me to fully concentrate.

One person got sick, everyone got sick.

Combine that with the growing popularity of "all-in-one-bucket" PTO (IOW, your sick days comes out of the same bucket as vacation/holiday), and it's a wonder anyone stays healthy for any period of time.

For the longest time I joked with my wife that I'd take a $20K pay cut to not work in an open office. The job market called my bluff. gulp Sure, it's less money (and probably right around the $20K I was willing to trade), but I'm pretty sure my office is bigger than the one I had at Microsoft back in the day. Ask me today, and it's a trade I'm glad I made. And I haven't been sick in the five months since I started. :-)

> "all-in-one-bucket" PTO (IOW, your sick days comes out of the same bucket as vacation/holiday),

This is of course illegal in the UK and I suspect most European countries:


> "You cannot force your employees to take annual leave when they’re eligible for sick leave."

Same joke here, I tell people I'm trending to card table in the parking lot.

Like my job and company alot, hate the open office. Literally have standing conversations start right behind my chair multiple times a day.

I worked in a hallway cubicle at a law office for a while. Once a day an attorney would start chatting with another behind my back and would stay there for an hour. I got so annoyed at some point that I stopped working for the entirety of their conversation any time someone started talking. I felt wrong for taking up company time but these people did not respect my space. At some point I also started just turning around and looking at them while they talked. A few got the point and left but others just kept on talking even after making eye contact.

That seems really passive aggressive. Why not just ask them to have their conversation elsewhere?

That almost never works in software jobs as workplaces are not mobile.

Move a big desktop with hardware? Good luck. Try to access local state from a laptop? Does not work or is inconvenient. Multiply by number of people talking.

Not talking also kills pair programming.

Why would he need to take his workplace anywhere? It's the talking people who need to take their conversation someplace else.

Tried that first of course.

It really was nice back when I started to have a dedicated office. When I was at Shell even the "hot seat" SA who had to answer the hotline and customer emails rotated into an office dedicated to that task for their week in the hot seat.

But it wasn't all perfect - Chevron used to allow in office smoking. Fortunately for everyone else the two smokers had their own shared office but still everything in there was covered in a yellow tar miasma and the offices on either side didn't fare much better.

And Shell's offices were in a building that could be resold as a hospital, so we sat in rooms that were meant to be a private hospital room and were jammed in with easily removed furniture: in my case that meant sharing a room with four card tables and literally getting up and leaving the office so my office mate could walk past my desk and exit the room.

OMG my office might as well sponser Bose noise cancelling headphones. "Warehouse style" bare concrete on every surface. The cheapest shittiest office space for a bunch of people making 70+k a year. It's crazy.

In my company everyone from the janitor to the CTO sits in the same shitty chairs in the same giant concrete warehouse. At least they're fair about it...

Noise cancellation does nothing for office noise. It is only useful for things like fans, engines, etc. So, any headphones with isolation will do in an office.

As someone who uses noise cancelling headphones (Bose QC35) every day in the office for ~1.5y, I can tell you that yes it re ally help for me.

It won't hide the voices of people's talking but it will mask them somewhat (like if they where more far). It's the only way I'm able to be functional and talk with clients and continue working in an open space..

However Bose mic is catching everything, but that's another problem..

That isn’t noise cancelation. That’s normal attenuation that any closed headphone will do. Real-time noise cancelation is impossible for voices.

Still waiting for the joke part...

Programmers have also lost a lot of respect, and are now seen as simple factory workers who glue things together according to best practice.

Programmers are a trade worker the same as plumbers and electricians, etc.... There was a bit of 'magic happens here' in the industry for a while but nowadays we're pretty much a skilled trade.

Trade means "skilled work", so programming has always been by definition a trade. That's not disparaging in the least. There's absolutely nothing wrong with trade work.

My only issue is the matter of supplies. If you hired me as an electrician but wouldn't let me have any wire cutters, I would have a very difficult time doing my job. Likewise, a quiet space to think is one of the necessary reagents for programming.

To be honest, I'm fine with this. My buddy is a plumber and makes almost as much as me.

It depends on how close to the sales pipeline you are, or whatever creates value in your company. It's still possible to have an outsized, leveraged effect as a developer.

Yeap, I'm looking for an exit from being a permanent programmer employed by someone else. Whether that's self-employment, or transitioning to a PM or BA type role. Code monkey is a dead-end if you're outside a tech-hub.

Make a product? I have some ideas.

I don't wear headphones that play music much (unless I want rainy mood or something) but Shooting Earmuffs are perfect. With a good pair I would forget I'm even at work at times.

At the same time if someone comes to my cube and is close by, I can still hear them. Far away noises, not so much.

I highly recommend getting a pair, they're super cheap, all kinds of styles and sizes.

I'm in a dead end job right now but I'm reluctant to leave because my office is huge. big bookshelf, multiple chairs, nice view. I'm going to need a big pay increase to go back to an open office, and no one is ponying up.

The open office meme needs to die.

Yes, the open office needs to die.

Same, except I don't work from home. After open floor plan came "flex-seating" where spaces in an open floor plan office are available 'first-come, first serve' and you can't leave pictures, papers, books, or anything on your desk when you go home.

Same here, had my own office at first job - late 90s, East Coast.

Office rents are based on floor space. Open offices require less floor space than closed offices, which means they’re cheaper. They’re also more scalable and agile. You can rearrange desks and even cram in more employees per desk when you need to quickly ramp up. Increasing collaboration is just the bullshit excuse.

Everywhere I work is an open office and we all wear our noise cancelling headphones, playing whatever music doesn’t break our concentration, and communicate via Slack.

Cheaper rent is definitely the driving factor in cities like NYC and SFO. But I think small private offices like those at Stack Overflow [1] don't really eat up that much more floorspace (maybe 1.5x-2x but then you need far fewer small conf rooms).

[1]: https://stackoverflow.blog/2015/01/16/why-we-still-believe-i...

Saying "toughen up and use headphones" is such a dismissive response to noise that employers use. I'm extremely sensitive to noise distractions, and music is, for me, just as bad as coworker chatter. Even white-noise apps make me feel like I'm getting barraged with sound. I want "library quiet." It's amazing that "open office" workplaces don't generally have a policy to keep the space as quiet as possible so people can get real work done.

Honestly I think the noise and chaos of open offices are positives to executives because it creates the appearance of work.

I follow some of the executives of the company I work at (we have an open office) and they are constantly posting pictures of "teamwork and collaboration" that just have a bunch of people standing around each others desks talking. They see all the movement and noise and they love that it seems like everybody is hard at work, collaborating and discussing problems etc. But if you look a little closer, the people doing actual work are hunched over their desks with huge headphones on, and everybody standing around are either not talking about anything related to work or they are rehashing discussions that have already happened over IM/email/meetings. I expressed to my manager that I had a hard time working in this environment and would like the chance to work from home a more often but was dismissed because he "likes the open office" and our management has the view that if you are working from home you probably aren't working.

Your bit about executive perception is a great point. I think that's a huge reason why our offices and workdays look the way they look, why we spend so much time in meetings, why WFH has so much resistance.

The executives tend to be extroverted and at the top of the primate social-power higherarchy. Much of this is unconscious, or at least un-admitted, but the people in charge of our offices get a rush when their subordinates visably do the work. They enjoy people gathering around them and telling them about the issue of the day. To an extrovert at the top of the ladder, that power wouldn't feel as good if it was manifested solely as Jira tickets, slack pings, and performance dashboards in a home office. They would not feel nearly as important.

One open office I worked regularly flew in parent company executives from around the world so they could watch all that geeky brainpower under their command grinding away at our Macbooks.

I think this psychology has had a cumulative effect on creating our work culture. Did an individual executive decide to build your office based on how it made them feel? No probablly not, but when you take the psychological profiles of all business leaders together you get the open office, the business trip, and the all day meeting.

That's an interesting theory.

It made me think of another: perhaps executives wrongly assume that what's a productive environment for them and their tasks is appropriate for everyone in the organization.

> One open office I worked regularly flew in parent company executives from around the world so they could watch all that geeky brainpower under their command grinding away at our Macbooks.

Might as well put you all behind a big glass wall, with a placard underneath that says “Developers” and toss a few bananas in every once in a while.

At my office, our team IS behind a glass wall. We have four external facing 70" monitors displaying various dashboards, and we call this work area "the Fishbowl..."

"code monkey".

I don't hear that phrase much lately. Which makes me quite happy.


Even worse for the managers, WFH would reveal how mostly unnecessary they are.

Except for doing all the stuff "100% heads down coders" don't want to do, like run the parts of the business that actually bring in revenue, you mean.

Right, I think some people honestly think that software just magically leaps from developers’ fingertips onto store shelves. Product management, project management, operations, marketing, legal, sales, BD? They just sit in meetings and play Candy Crush all day...

I never claimed that everybody but software engineers are useless, I wrote that managers are mostly useless, as in you could reduce their number by perhaps 2/3 and you would get the same results (probably better).

Where do you work? I've rarely experienced this. Current and last company, both fast moving adtech firms, we are always desperate for good managers. BUT the key is only to have managers with, well, management skills. That does not mean promoting the best engineers to management, a common problem. In fact it is often specifically not that. They get promoted in the tech track.

The book "Managing Humans" is worth a read if you're so cynical about managers. Though the actual problem is corporate culture in my experience.

I wrote that managers are mostly useless

The ones that aren't are worth their weight in gold, though.

Yes, I was responding specifically to that and specifically about management. Managers do a hell of a lot more than most coders give credit for.

I'm not sure if you're joking. IME a team with remote workers needs better management, because of the additional kinds of problems that can arise.

You need a good manager to keep all the other managers off your back so you can code.


Funny anecdote about that: I briefly worked in one of those "startup inside a megacorp" companies, which had the typical trendy NYC startup look, open floor plan, free snacks and lunch, etc. Fairly often, you would see upper management types from the headquarters walking investors around. One of my coworkers, who worked for the company for many years, believed that we were basically just a zoo to look exciting for the investors compared to the stuffy corporate office. Good developer, here's a banana!

Of course I don't think that's necessarily 100% true, but it always stuck with me.

I think this is pretty close to being 100% true. Expensive tech workers function more like office furniture in most companies, where the executives don’t actually care about productivity anyway, beyond a few senior engineers who decide everything anyway.

In a previous job I once had a VP make a quick run-through of the office to make sure everybody was at their desks doing something, anything. The reason being that they were about to walk clients through the space and wanted the appearance of hard work being done. The VP was very open about this reasoning with us as he was herding people into place. I believe a few people sat at different desks because their regular desks were away from the path.

Oh yeah I've been there as well. I've also seen upper management insist on adding more infrastructure monitors on the walls for the same reason: clients think they look cool!

Wow, I remember being a junior guy long ago and getting assigned this task. They brought in two huge (at the time) monitors and had me set them up to show “real time” graphs and plots. Didn’t matter what the data was, just find a computer, plug it into those monitors and show some techinal-looking ambiance for the 15 minutes that some investor or other big shot will be in the room.

This is eerily similar of the stories about guided tours of Pyongyang.

Yes, just like suits in hardhats walking through rows of humming machines on the factory floor. Things are getting done.

At my first startup job upper management would explicitly tell everybody to come in early and look busy whenever there was a board meeting or investors around.

Lest someone think that description is hyperbolic, this is a real, recent event at IBM [1]. The audience was a marketing department, so the "spiff up the cubicles" talk isn't solely aimed at technical staff, it is everyone (except perhaps sales?).

/r/IBM is an IBM-controlled sub, and the original was deleted by the IBM-employed mod, hence the screencap.

[1] https://i.imgur.com/ajC1kNk.jpg

Read IBM’s instructions to workers before the CEO visits: https://www.theregister.co.uk/2018/06/28/ibm_chief_rometty_t...

If they want appearance of work, just look at the Kanban board!

Or build a fancy display with lots of blinkenlights that shows git activity, CI build activity, network activity, slack activity, etc.

It doesn't even need to really show anything, just say it does. Kind of like the Connection Machine's random blinkenlights "activity mode".

> have a policy to keep the space as quiet as possible

I work in a similar dystopian open office panopticon, and I'm shocked, every day, that this isn't something that everybody is intrinsically aware of. But where I work, there are some Important People who have offices with doors - who leave the doors wide open, put their phones on speaker, and shout into conference calls all day, every day. The inconsiderateness of some people is really mind boggling.

When that happened to me, I got up, walked to their office, and closed their door. At the time, it felt a little like Rorschach saying, "no, you're locked in here with me". I was closing just one of the doors to my office.

Ah, you're lucky. That would definitely be an HR incident here.

Well, if you are like I was, you are already looking for other jobs, so by the time HR sits you down to discuss the incident, there's a reasonable possibility you might already have an offer in hand. That could be fun.

In my anecdotal experience, the same people that are loud in open offices are also the ones leaving dirty dishes in the sink. Some people are either unaware and/or don't care.

I wonder if this isn't a side effect of our moving to be a "less violent" society. Back in the day, that person would at least get punched for doing such a thing, and would not do it again. As it is, there's really no negative reinforcement to such actions, and so they don't see the point of not doing them.

No need to start punching. Just confront them on their behaviour. 90% of the time they'll back down if you call them out. They're just school-bullies grown up.

"Even white-noise apps make me feel like I'm getting barraged with sound. I want "library quiet.""

The middle ground I have is noise-cancelling headphones (bose qc20) with white noise app playing a low volume mix of grey noise and... maybe brown. The grey gives a low feeling, and helps mask out some frequencies that the noise cancelling headphones miss. It's not perfect, and it's not "library quiet", but I've found the combination is relatively calming most of the time.

Basecamp HQ has a policy like that, 'library day'.

Why not "library every day"?

> Why not "library every day"?

Just a guess: some extroverts find "library day" just as unpleasant as others find non-library days?

I really like the way Amtrak handles this: At least on the Northeast Corridor, most of their trains have a "quiet car". Whether or not you sit in it is optional.

How about ...

extroverts work at the office

introverts work from home.

I would dearly love to see some class action lawsuits for hearing damage due to coerced headphone wearing. This is an occupational health hazard as much as anything else.

(and yes, noise cancelling headphones is still sound, even if it's out of phase! I even wonder if it's worse, as the effect might be constant sound pressure on the eardrum -- does anyone have the science on this?)

The reason noise cancelling headphones work is that, by being out of phase, the two sound sources sum to zero (or closer to it). It's not just a trick of the brain making you ignore the sound because an out of pass signal is also present. The out of phase signal causes the actual sound pressure level to decrease by cancellation. So yes, there is less sound pressure.

The fact that noise cancelling headphones cause me pain made me question that. I wonder if the wave interference does indeed sum to zero, or to a constant DC offset. Obviously there's no such thing as a constant pressure in acoustics, but something's happening...

It is possible that the cancellation is not perfect and there are still pressure waves hitting your ear at frequencies outside the range of human hearing. Or it's also possible that just having the cans over your ears is causing fatigue, separate from any actual sound pressure.

As far as a DC offset, that doesn't exist in actual sound pressure waves. That's an artifact of discrete representation of sound as an electrical signal. When a DC offset is connected to a speaker you don't actually get any sound pressure, because the sound pressure comes from the cone's movement pushing air (resulting in pressure waves in air).

A DC offset just means that the speaker is being held still at some offset from it's "zero" or resting position. But the speaker is still being held still, un-moving, so no pressure waves are created. The "pop" you sometimes hear when a DC offset is present is the transition from a neutral signal (no offset) to the DC offset. The immediate change in the signal causes the speaker to move as fast as physically possible to get to the new position, creating a short, often very strong pressure wave (the pop). But once the speaker is at the offset it doesn't move unless the signal changes.

As you say, there is no "constant pressure" in acoustics. Or more accurately, it's typically not a factor in sound reproduction. Technically we are all subject to the constant atmospheric pressure. But it's not the pressure that causes acoustic phenomena, it's the rapid fluctuations in pressure. It's even possible that the headphones are forming a seal around your ear and subjecting your ear to varying pressures as you move and the headphones shift on your head (too slowly to be perceived as sound).

Most likely it's high-frequency (ultrasound) noise cancellation artifacts that you don't exactly hear, but they might manifest in what you experience as pain.

You should differentiate between active noise cancelling and passive noise cancelling.

Active noise cancelling is what fancy Bose and Sony and (simply put) it involves cancelling outside sound out by playing the opposite sound. This shouldn't cause hearing damage because the opposite sound waves actually sum to 0, but I'm unaware of any studies about this so who knows.

Passive noise cancelling is when your headphones block out outside sounds the same way that typical ear protection does - by physically preventing it from getting inside the ears. Most headphones (excluding open-back headphones) will have some degree of passive noise cancelling just because they need to cover your ear.

You can buy headphones designed to passively block as much noise as possible. They are typically called IEMs (in ear monitors) because they are commonly used by musicians on stage to hear their instruments and what not.

This kind of noise cancelling will absolutely not damage your hearing or cause pain. In fact, because of the lower ambient noise while listening, you will be able to listen at lower levels. That will cause even less hearing loss and pain.

I've got a pair of these [1] Etymotic IEM's. I also use Etymotic's musicians earplugs and the IEM's block out pretty much the same amount of sound and fit in the ear the exact same way. Other notable brands are Shure and Westone.

If you want, you can go the extra mile and have custom molds made of your ears. Those will be far more comfortable than universal IEM's and will block more noise, too.

[1] https://www.amazon.com/Etymotic-Research-Noise-Isolating-Ear...

Have you tried ear plugs? You can even combine them with headphones for ultimate cancelling.

In two separate jobs, I had managers tell me it was “rude” for me to wear ear plugs, even after I explained to them that the office noise was unbearable and noise-cancelling headphones are painful for me to use.

It’s 100% about virtue signalling to management. Headphones fit the visual stereotype of a hacker, so it’s OK. Ear plugs carry a connotation that the stuff generating noise is somehow “a bother” or “a nuisance” ... which of course is true, but you’re not allowed to actually acknowledge that truth.

Just get an old pair of headphones that don’t work and put them on over your ear plugs.

The physical feeling of wearing over-the-ear headphones, ear muffs, etc., is extremely uncomfortable for me. Even with very expensive “ergonomic” headphones, I can’t stand the feeling for more than a few minutes.

When I’m actually listening to music, only earbuds will work for me. I suppose I could try to get earplugs that look like decoy earbuds.

However, if your comment was meant seriously, i.e. that employees should do some noise-cancellation arms race song and dance with employers, that mildly terrifies me. How could any person actually think that it’s acceptable to let your employer treat you that way? It’s insane.

The actual best option is to first do excellent work that makes your employer respect you and really count on you to such a degree that firing you for expressing reasonable preferences is not realistic for them. Then once you have established that bar of credibility, find the right ways to constantly remind your manager and other managers that the workplace conditions are unacceptable. This requires political tact because outright grumbling or long-winded feedback sessions will be used against you. Rather instead, you have to find key moments to unassailably undermine your boss by visually demonstrating just how hard you’re working but keep pointing out that because of noise and distractions, nobody (not even good, old trustworthy you) can get the thing done on time or get the full set of features implemented, etc.

You have to convert your pain into your boss’s boss’s pain, or it will never change. Capitulating with headphone contortions is a terrible approach.

I agree with what you said in principle but I was going for a practical solution rather than an ideal one.

So was I. Above all else, capitulating to change the debate into a question of which type of headphones to wear is not practical, because it doesn’t address the underlying negative health effects. To qualify as “practical” an idea would first have to at least meet the criteria of alleviating the physical disergonomy of the situation, or at least contribute to that over the long term. Anything which proposes to just “put up with it” in some way or another would be as impractical as possible, because not putting up with it is the sole property required for anything to count as a productive approach.

Better yet, quit and get away from such micromanaging morons

That's funny. Plenty of "real jobs" like welding require ear plugs.

If the ear plugs are for a “real” reason, like safety or even required OSHA regulations, then of course the workplace culture around it develops to lend it credibility.

But in tech companies it’s all about optics.

Earplugs and brown noise. I can just, if I concentrate, make out _that there are people talking_. But since I completely can't parse it, it doesn't disturb me. The earplugs mean that I can listen to it at a much greater volume that would be comfortable/safe without them.

The downside is that every time someone wants to actually talk to me, I have to take my headphones off and take at least one earplug out.

I have a pair in my pocket now!

It's not only that, just from having to have such a loud work environment and no ear protection. Because if you have a room with more than a dozen people in it, it can be whisper quiet sometimes, but then when one or two groups of people start talking it gets really loud really quickly.

If you're turning your headphones up loud enough to cause hearing damage you're doing it wrong.

Employees are still more expensive by far than floor space. It seems crazy to have all that investment in people and then not optimize the environment they work in.

They are different budgets (different buckets of money). I worked at one company that had no money for new computers, but had plenty of money to fix a broken computer... so... my computer happen to break one day so bad all the internals needed to be replaced. The case was old, but all the internals were brand new. Companies are often short sighted and don't look at the whole picture.

In Silly Valley, employees are a Veblen good. The whole point is to display as many as possible without actually doing anything useful.

Or sequester then from your competitors, like so much carbon

Especially at a place like Apple. Depressing to see them, of all companies, moving toward more open workspaces.

Well that and the people who make "open office" decisions are often immune from them. It's rare to see someone like Gordon Moore actually sitting on the floor in an open cube with everyone else. Making ED or MD (depending on location) in my company means getting an office, even in buildings that are otherwise strictly hoteling setups with no assigned desks. The higher up you go, the more dedicated resources you get.

That doesn't fit with my experience. 100% of managers who have tried to push me to an open office have tried to claim (among other things) that the company couldn't afford private offices for programmers -- but when I asked how much it was and offered to take it out of my salary, they all admitted it wasn't really about money at all.

Increasing collaboration is a bullshit excuse, but so is cost.

I wish employers could realize that they employ grownups and could at least be honest to them.

> I wish employers could realize that they employ grownups and could at least be honest to them.

As someone who only tries to hire grown ups, I can assure you that many employees do not act like grown ups at all.

If you expect people to do the right thing, you are going to live in a world of disappointment.

The only way to avoid this is to have the chance (e.g financial and social opportunity) and to use the chance (e.g by working and choosing) to set yourself in the right environment for you. Wanting the environment you are in to change does not work.

Just like you don't get more money by negotiating with your current boss, but by negotiating with bosses in other companies.

You can, and my, decide it's your mission to change your environment. It's possible. But you usually can only one mission in life, so choose carefully.

I'm this person right now. I'm living in a world of disappointment, always trying to encourage people to communicate, collaborate, work together, do things better together. It seems I'm always doing it in places that don't appreciate it.

I've learned the hard way that you appear to be right, one can't change this alone and doing so is maddening, depressing and frustrating. Especially when the verbal outward presentation by people is that they want and value the things I mentioned, but the actions don't match up.

I think I need to change, but, I can't help feeling cynical, like I'm giving up and running every time I see such a situation. And then I wonder, if everyone follows the same pattern, how are we actually improving the situation on a bigger scale?

I guess a question is, is it better to stand whatever ground you are on to help encourage positive growth and values, or just find new ground, as you seem to be saying.

I'm getting older and I still haven't figured it out. I think you might be right, but it seems depressing to me to accept it.

I've had precisely the same experience as you're describing.

I don't have a total answer, but I suspect a basic problem is that we have too simplistic an understanding of human psychology.

It's also possible that it's a chasm you and/or I can never cross, because to effect the kind of improvements you're describing requires having a particular persona.

I'd love to hear any ideas people have on solving this issue.

My experience is that environment vastly trumps individual psychology. If you aren't in some way empowered to reshape the environment then the best you can do is swap environments. Environments resist change so it takes sigifigant leverage to change them.

What kind of growth and interaction are we talking about? If forced, it doesn’t surprise me that people are not willing to cooperate. Everyone views things differently and you shouldn’t have to change anyone. Change yourself or change your setting.

The challenge I see in my day-to-day work is that people talk much about wanting collaboration, openness, sharing, cooperation, etc. However, their actions do not follow their words, and they often revert to protectionist, silo'ed or defensive behaviors as some kind of response.

I agree completely and have no argument with change cannot be forced. And I also agree that most of the time, the thing you have more control over to change is yourself and your environment.

My only thought was, there must be some kind of equilibrium or balance that tips one way or another here. For example, if you're in a place that cannot achieve what you as an individual see as best - so you change your position - what if everyone does that and then nobody is left to do the work in that place?

That might force the place to change. Or, it might just attract people who don't care about how that place is. So in that regard, while it might have been better for you as an individual, and in a sense, by leaving you did that place a favor by demonstrating your convictions, you also didn't stay to work through the challenges and maybe improve the place you were.

So, I'm saying that, if everyone does that, is anyone staying to fix things in place? Or does the world really work if everyone gravitates to only the places where everything is working well and we leave behind the places where things don't work so well?

Yeah, just apply to work at one of the many companies that hasn't gone to an open floor plan (?).

Like everything in life, that comes down to:

- can you pull it off ?

- does the cost outweigh the benefit

In that particular case, some people can't pull it off. They need the job or don't have that many opportunities. Some, like as both the chance to be able to, and have the mean to. That's a combination of luck and the result of your previous choices.

Now, does the cost outweigh the benefit is a personal evaluation. Personally I will decline working for a company with an open floor plan unless I can work remotely. It's on of my important items.

For some people, the prestige, the project, the team or the money can override this.

It's not rocket science really.

Between the dirty dishes, the nasty pee-on-the-floor urinals, the condition of my desk used as a hotel when I'm away/WFH, etc. I question the accuracy of that statement.

> the dirty dishes, the nasty pee-on-the-floor urinals

Here's a weird one: There's a number of people at my work who leave filled coffee mugs on the restroom countertops.

Oh that can go so much larger, too. But yeah, spot on.

Where are you working that everyones a grown up?

The cost argument makes sense until you look at the numbers. Giving closed, private offices to each employee is expensive, but there are other options. You can surround each employee with portable walls eight feet high for $2000 or less. If the lifetime of the wall is ten years, that's $200/employee a year. If you're working for a company that is so strapped for cash that it can't afford that, you should be looking for a new job, because your next paycheck isn't going to clear.

I wonder how much of a pay cut the average programmer would accept for different working conditions?

I suspect cubicles effectively cost more than $200/year because they eat more space than open-plan desks, which forms the real cost. But even so, I suspect you could find a lot of people who would give up $1000/year of salary for that benefit.

And even closed offices could probably be offset on a salary level. I think a lot of mid-career or later devs would probably give up an annual raise in return for a private office if they were offered an explicit choice.

I could be wrong about specifics, maybe it's not cost effective to offer. But I seriously doubt that's how the choice is being made - I think a lot of people really do believe the hype about 'better collaboration', or just want to look like other companies.

I wonder how much of a pay cut the average programmer would accept for different working conditions?

Somewhere else on this page is a comment from me that I'd take $20K/year less for an office with a door. I got my wish. There are other aspects to the job that make it appealing (short commute, laid back atmosphere, etc.), but if it were open office, I wouldn't have taken the job for the money it pays.

> they eat more space than open-plan desks, which forms the real cost

Midway compromise, that we've joked about at work: Use those walls per-team instead of per-person.

One small place I worked made walls out of pairs of tall bookcases. The "cubicles" were along the perimeter of a large room, separated by the pairs of bookcases. Each cubicle was bounded by sets of bookcases and one wall, with one side open to the center of the room.

A little more spending would have obtained traditional cubicle walls to close off the open side, but it worked pretty well in practice.

On the other side of the room were a whiteboard and a conference table, and lunch was typically eaten at that conference table.

That said there were only like 5 desks in that room, and I'm not sure how well it would scale.

Somehow I don't think putting up eight feet walls around these "open plan" desks is not going to solve any problems.

They eliminate all visual distractions, provide privacy, block some noise, prevent others from talking to you directly, and force others to move discussions to a more appropriate place. And they have an advantage over a private office - others don't knock on your door to see if you're available.

>You can surround each employee

Refers to cubicles which in my experience DID solve a lot of problems. People talk less when they don't see other people around them.

It might not solve all problems, but wouldn't you expect it to at least help dampen ambient noise from conversations, and visual distractions as well?

You'd be surprised. Somehow we actually lost 2 desks after going open and our personal workspaces shrunk to about half.

The architect insisted on 8ft aisles and cramming in so many completely unused "collaboration" spaces we couldn't get enough desks in.

We soon filled the collaboration spaces with desks. The large isles though help put people farther apart so it’s slightly harder to here conversations of people nearby.

> Office rents are based on floor space. Open offices require less floor space than closed offices, which means they’re cheaper.

Just note that the kind of "open space" that's designed to both maintain/boost individual "deep concentration"/research work and boost collaboration requires more space pr worker than individual offices.

In the typical "cramped open" setup; either any one on one conversation will disturb everyone, so people are polite and don't collaborate that way as easily as dropping by an office with an open door; Or people gets lots of collaboration done, but no "deep work" done.

In Germany there are laws dictating the minimum size an office work space must have. Is there something similar at your place?

In the US we mainly just have fire codes, usually set locally, which dictate the number of people that can be in a building, but this is more about how fast the building can be evacuated in the case of an emergency than how much space each person has to work in. It's possible some local zoning laws dictate the density of the office, but again that's mainly about traffic and parking, not about workers' wellbeing.

Microsoft used to classify a- contractors as one half head, v- as one quarter head, to get around occupancy requirements

No, no, it's because contractors being contractors, they aren't in the office half the time. And vendors are in the office even less.

Though try working as a contractor at Microsoft without your ass in that chair eight hours/day and see what happens.

I completely agree that cost is the driving force, absolutely, be it floor, reconfig, density, etc.

BUT, why the elaborate dance around that fact? It’s always dressed up as something else? It comes across as a sham explanation when anything but cost is attributed.

I'm not really convinced cost is the driving force. A lot of tech companies with open-plan offices throw around money pretty lavishly, and programmers feel so strongly about focus that I suspect many would accept a direct offer of "no raises this year, but you all get cubes/offices instead".

If you're taking the whole company on an international vacation, or paying to do their laundry and offer daycare, or offering whatever other widely-mocked perk you care to name, it's hard to imagine that worsening employee experience to cut costs is the goal. (Especially when you see open-plan offices even at non-urban companies.)

I think a lot of people really do believe the hype about open plan being better, especially if they're the boss and don't have to actually experience it.

If there is another force behind this, I’ll take a stab at it and guess it’s conditioning against the idea of privacy.

If you can get a community of people who work together to ignore the basic human idea of privacy by cramming people together such that they are forced to live out in the open without privacy, it then becomes easier for them to ignore questions about privacy when creating privacy violating services.

I think the reason is simpler than that: fashion.

Big successful new companies started out scraping by being built in garages with just a computer, table, chair to use, no private offices. When they grew up they saw no reason to change because it worked for them. So now the company is big and successful and believes that part of its success was the open plan office. So now other companies try to emulate the new young fresh hip fashionable company and so everyone gets open plan, even if its worse than offices.

I'm not sure that explains Apple moving away from offices.

Why not? They're following the fashion of minimalism, first in their hardware and software styling and now in their offices. They're making their workplace look like they aspire their software to be, even if its to the detriment to the users.

Fashion certainly seems like an explanation for a lot of what Apple does. Whether it's selling thin phones while knowing they bend, insisting on a metal unibody that drops calls, or converting to an 'elegant' touchbar for function keys that cripple usability, it's not hard to find bad decisions made for style reasons.

Apple's definitely following fashion to the point of self-harm, but Apple started in a garage but then had offices until just recently and were kicking ass that way.

Do cubicles really take up that much more space?

Given that some open plan employees sit shoulder-to-shoulder (as in, roughly 4 feet between chairs), yes, absolutely. I've also seen open offices with employees seated at 3-foot intervals around glorified dining room tables.

I’ve seen places where developers were nearly literally shoulder to shoulder and back to back. As in, the distance between people was determined by monitor width. With a normal sized keyboard, a 27inch monitor gives you about 6 inches of mouse space before you hit the next guy’s keyboard.


"They’re also more scalable and agile."

Considering everyone is wearing noise cancelling headphones, and everyone is on Slack anyway, I don't believe this claim.

I’m angered that this trend saves the company money by creating new costs that employees are now more likely to pay. Eg. Headphones.

"new costs that employees are now more likely to pay. Eg. Headphones"

More importantly: Stress.

They tried to cram in 30% more at my employer by turning U shaped desks into L shaped, and adding more rows. They were stopped by fire code and OSHA bathroom/employee requirements.

Aka a terrible configuration for encouraging collaboration. Which is the conclusion of the linked study.

"What is surprising is that more open, transparent architecture prompted such a substitution."

Why is that surprising? You removed offices so of course people don't talk anymore - politeness dictates that you don't want to interrupt other people.

And performance declined, which they blamed on switching to email rather than talking, while ignoring the even more obvious: now every time your coworkers have a conversation it interrupts you.

The use of cubicles and open plan has been shown in every actual study to have a negative impact on performance.

I have friends in open plans, and literally the best thing I have heard is that if you get the right place there isn't that much distraction.

My opinion is that if managers and executives are convinced open plan is "better" they should be placed in an open plan environment for at least 12 months before /any/ employees are moved into it. Of course that will never happen because the real purpose of open plan is to make sure that non-management employees know their place: they [and their health] are not individually important, and are just fungible units that can be replaced at will.

> managers and executives [...] should be placed in an open plan environment for at least 12 months before /any/ employees are moved into it.

Making them "take their own medicine" is unlikely to be effective in this case, because the nature of manager/exec work is perfectly suited to the open layout. That's probably a large part of its popularity -- the people who decide for it fundamentally don't understand its problems. Even if they intellectually grasp that writing code requires concentration, they don't likely understand how fragile concentration can be.

Much of their job consists exactly of moving around, having conversations with various people. They have less use for stretches of uninterrupted concentration.

Cf. the excellent "Maker's Schedule, Manager's Schedule" essay http://www.paulgraham.com/makersschedule.html It's about the organization of time, but the basic insight applies to space/noise as well.

I've seen executives agree to such a plan and then commandeer a conference room for months at a time because they're always on an "important call" or something else.

Right? The arguments I have is that there a “meeting rooms” for conversations, to which I say: there are hundreds of employees and 5 such rooms. If they’re for conversation they should be limited to maybe 30 minute stints, and cannot be functionally boomed for longer.

Of course again the purpose is to denigrate the employees who actually do work, rather than to be a better work environment.

And as other people have pointed out: the turn the office into an experiment in the spread of contagious diseases

"I've seen executives agree to such a plan and then commandeer a conference room for months at a time because they're always on an "important call" or something else."

That was apparently rampant when TBWA Chiat/Day tried a radical open plan office redesign.


> politeness dictates that you don't want to interrupt other people.

Maybe, but I think it's more of a clash of personalities rather than politeness.

People in my area (all technical/engineers/product managers) are all quiet and communicate mostly over Slack.

The people opposite us are from business development or something definitely more people oriented, and they're all yapping away at each other all day. Have no qualms about interrupting other people, because that's just the way they work.

Might be a bit of an extrovert/introvert thing too

However this study was comparing communication and productivity from the same group, just moving those people from offices to an open plan with same general layout of people, in the same area (they were just moved up one floor). The amount over face to face communication decreased (more than 50% I think), and the overall performance (according to the company’s own metrics) decreased as well.

It’s basically the closest to a controlled study of office vs open plan in the real world that you could ask for.

The one thing open plan is meant to just “obviously” result in is collaboration and face to face communication. The numbers they got directly countered that.

I just left the office after failing to concentrate on a method that took 6 booleans as an argument and constructed a set of > 10 SQL queries, despite blasting Chopin on my headphones, because there were 3 different conversations being held behind my back.

My current employer has a "strict" no WFH policy.

And this is the best working environment I've had. By the time I left my previous jobs I was almost clinically depressed and a big part of that was the horrible open office culture.

Can't wait till the entire industry goes mostly WFH so it's easier for your average dev to get such a job.

You may want to get tested for ADD. IIUC, as we age our ability to compensate for ADD diminishes.

I didn't get a diagnosis until my late 30's. Once I had the diagnosis, not only did my life's quirks make a lot more sense, but I also had a clearer idea of what I need to stay productive.

I have quite a few related traits but I don't really believe in clear cut diagnoses for this sort of thing, and I wouldn't medicate either, so I'm not sure whether having a professional making a decision on this would be helpful. I do have my own rituals, but thank you for your suggestions, might be time to look into some more tricks.

Well, if you ever find yourself in a big, bureaucratic organization with decent job safety, I wonder if an ADD diagnosis could force them to make special accommodations.

Also, I'm not going to try talking you into medicating. But just a data point for your consideration, based on my experiences: - The problems generally get worse when not mentally alert. - The following things help with being mentally alert: - Good sleep - Stimulents - caffeine - Vyvance - Adderall - Keeping a healthy body weight (obesity --> poor sleep) - Daily vigorous exercise

- I've found Vyvance to be all upside with no downside

- I can supplement with Adderall as needed, but it has downside: - Easy to hyper-focus on the wrong task - Can cause insomnia many hours later - Can make me grouchy during wear-off - Can make me seem emotionally flat to others

Hope this is useful.

Thanks for the tips, I'll keep this going although it's very off-topic, hopefully this will get downvoted into hiding so it doesn't pollute the thread too much.

I've been fit before getting a desk job and caffeine doesn't do much for me, so these are out.

Sleep impacts my ability to be productive I have noticed, so I am indeed getting as much and as good quality sleep as I can while having a baby.

My current rituals are, have something I enjoy for breakfast, ideally while in front of the computer doing something work related. I feel like ego depletion is a real thing for me, and I am more likely to be able to focus if I baby myself in some ways. I take very (too) frequent breaks and walk around, get coffee etc. without judging myself for slacking, and the positive attitude helps me feel good enough to really buckle down and get work done when I feel I really need to.

I try to stop working for the day at a point where picking back up should be straight forward.

I also started getting to work earlier in the day, before most people, so I get alone time in the morning. This works out great for me despite not being much of a morning person.

Seeing as I need to use music to drown out noise, I choose agreeable classical music, nothing avant-garde or noisy, when I really need to get things done. I try to avoid music that I enjoy too much, as I tend to get sucked into it and find myself hand-picking "just 1 more" song. Or when music gets tiresome but noise is still present, something like brain.fm helps me eek out just some more attention.

Finally, although it's a bit of a cheat, some autonomy in what you work on helps me immensely. I am way more likely to procrastinate if I have to do something too hard (for my current skillset, even if technically accessible) or too uninteresting. So I leave these tasks for someone else and try to pick up things that I am more likely to keep working on.

All in all, at work I can manage myself fine due to the added structure and the routine around it. I have a lot more trouble getting things done outside of it.

FWIW, it sounds like you're dedicating tons of time and mental energy to dealing with this. Honestly you sound like me on my worst days before I started treating my ADD.

I sincerely wish you the best. My one parting piece of advice, as someone who I think has been exactly where you are, is to connect with a healthcare provider that can test you for ADD and help you find more effective solutions.

That's advice that I really, really wish someone had given me 15 years earlier.

" I've found Vyvance to be all upside with no downside"

Fortunate. Vyvanse poops are a thing.

Also made me watch a lot of porn all of a sudden.

> Can't wait till the entire industry goes mostly WFH

when and why would this ever happen?

This is my gut feeling. It's a combination of it being trendy (because people love it, and companies love to seem hip), saves companies money (one of the reasons for open office plans incidentally), and as more and more workers prefer working that way, it will be a good perk to have. Once something like this reaches critical mass (ie. after a few success stories) I feel companies will jump on it.

Of course, all this because we generally, since we invented the internet, seem to avoid commuting to things we would rather spend less time on and don't require out actual physical presence. Same reason we pay our bills online, do our shopping online etc.

We've ended up with everyone getting a "mandatory WFH day" (not everyone takes it) because our open floor plan can't accommodate everyone in the office, and we keep hiring more people.

If it helps the bottom line, it's guaranteed to happen.

"Can't wait till the entire industry goes mostly WFH"

They're probably more likely to start designing office buildings with 6 foot ceilings in order to squeeze more workers in without exceeding the occupant limits per floor.

The problem is not the office, but you having a method that takes 6 boolean. A method should not even take one boolean ever.

A boolean simple means you need to split the method.

That function was an atrocity but you're taking things a bit too far.

There are occasions where a longer method makes things more readable.

And "a method should not even take on boolean ever"? So you split that method into two methods, and then every call site needs to have a conditional check. Or you hide that under a method that checks and calls your 2 methods. That new method, takes a boolean. Oh...


6 booleans can just be a way to represent 6 flags - it might be modeled as a state-machine - but depending on the language and code base passing in 6 booleans to a function (or procedure) might be a fine way to isolate the entry point.

Now given that you have such a function, you need to be able to concentrate in order to refractor it.

I've recently untangled some hairy old front-end js code that takes in parameters from an "advanced" search form in order to validate the input, and construct a proper search.

Basically the same thing, but with much more than six inputs.

After squinting at it for an hour and trying a few things, it boiled down to a few simple checks and a map() over the remaining parameters.

I'm not disputing that a longer method is fine. But booleans going into a method makes it hard to tell what the method is doing. Every call needs to call explicitly what it needs. Every method needs to also tell exactly what it does. State is the enemy of understanding what code does, the deeper the state lies, the harder it is to unravel.

he probably would have seen it himself if he were able to concentrate...

Outside of the discussion about the cheapness of open floor plans. I think the heart of the matter is that companies are looking for passive collaboration creators. This is because actively collaborating: reaching out, holding team sessions, scheduling meetings, following up, etc. is hard.

These companies ask themselves, why put energy into a system when we can foster serendipitous collaboration?

There is something to it, and especially with putting people geographically near each other, but I think reliance on this kind of form actually is a detriment to most white-collar type jobs. There needs to be a reason for people to interact in a work context, to find common or linking skills or activities.

I think it would be better served if most companies just had a once a month mixer and the rules were that you had to sit at a table with all strangers, introduce yourselves, your background, what you did and what you were currently working on. In my experience that exchange seems to bring for more promise of future collaboration than any number of passings at the coffee machine or trying to drown out your neighbor 3 cubes over with headphones and loud music.

A communal eating area tries to follow the same logic - let's get everyone eating at the same place and collaborating that way. Instead it's the same group of extroverts talking loudly and the majority of the office scampers back to their desks to eat while they work.

I feel like a once a month mixer would be social anxiety hell. It would be the one introvert per table making noise.

FWIW, I've had the opposite experience. In the one office I've been at that had this, it was a really nice experience.

It was cool to break daily bread with the CEO. It probably was one of the keys to avoid having org-chart hierarchy become social hierarchy.

It's ultimately not scalable though. You end up with floors of open offices, or different buildings, and you just end up scheduling meetings again. The upper limit for just naturally working with the group is quite small.

From my personal experience having been in both offices and open workspaces I notice that when we had offices people would go in, close the door and have a conversation. With an open space either people wanted to have private conversations (and didn’t want to make the other person have to move) or were afraid of disturbing others so IM became more commonplace.

I miss having private quiet conversations about things. Now it seems to be all about meetings where only the loudest people get a word in. There is no time to develop a thought slowly.

It's really frustrating. I'm an anxious, big person with a naturally loud voice and poor perception (not due to bad hearing, but due to being very easily overwhelmed). Talking in open spaces makes me really self-conscious, and, conversely, trying to be "moderate" is about as efficient as not speaking all — which is the option many of my coworkers choose.

Lately I've been thinking about this and I feel that it's a prime example of a situation where it's better to measure than assume. I get the impression that there's a particularly compelling assumption to be made that getting people into closer proximity will lead to more social interactions, this tends to be unquestioned however. It has always seemed to me that more interactions doesn't imply a higher quality of interactions, but the underlying assumption that it leads to more interactions might not even be true.

The other day I was in the city and I noticed that there's large crowds of people and that people not interacting as much unless they already know the other people. And this is in absolute terms not just percentage terms for some people. In regional areas there's fewer people but the times you bump into people you tend to have much higher quality interactions, even if the people you bump into are strangers you tend to say hello at the least. I wonder if open plan offices have some of this sort of effect going on.

More social interactions can be a goal itself - in making e.g. a workplace a fun place to work. However, that comes at the cost of productivity. If there is a pressure on the employees to perform, they'll get grumpy because the open workspace stifles productivity.

Right. I'm one of those always-grumpy guys. I totally dislike (um... hate actually) the idea of open workspace.

I work in a high pressure, open plan office, and I quite like it. I think stopping a few times a day to have a chat with someone is good for my productivity. You don’t work at full capacity for every minute of the day, and breaking work up with a distraction every so often seems to work for me.

I think the biggest difference between where I am now, and other places I’ve worked is that all my colleagues like and respect each other. I like talking to the people I sit near, because I like them.

Occasional chat is great and everyone needs break. However, when everyone's break is interrupting me because it is too close and loud, then it sums up to too many breaks and situation in which it is hard to concentrate. No matter how I like the people - it might be even more interrupting when I like them and I am interested in what they say.

I’m not bothered by the background noise in my office. The sales floor is a different story, but the engineers I work with speak at a reasonable volume.

What sort of work do you do? I find that the role I have will greatly impact how distractions and conversations will impact my overall productivity.

I’m an engineer.

You sound nice.

"an F2F interaction was recorded when three conditions were met: two or more badges (i) were facing each other (with uninterrupted infrared line-of-sight), (ii) detected alternating speaking, and (iii) were within 10 m of each other."

I wonder if condition (i) makes sense. From my experience in open offices, communication mostly happens when I and some colleague are both sitting behind our pc's. So there is no uninterrupted line of sight.

I was thinking the same thing.

Based on the image of the Sociometric badge and how it lays on your chest, it seems like this condition would miss a large portion of the communication that an open office incentivizes including talking over your computers, turning your head to the side and speaking, and speaking without being face to face.

EDIT: grammar

If this result is replicated a few times it really puts to bed the idea that open office environments are about "increasing collaboration". Hopefully, at that point management can at least be honest and say: "We need to cut costs, so we're not buying any cubes."

Do people really like cube farms? Honest question.

"Gosh can anything be worse than a cube?" Management: "hold my beer"

One of the rare moments that I miss Slashdot's "+1 Funny" rating.

I just took a job in a long established financial company specifically because they had cube farms. I can confirm it’s a thousand times better than the open offices I’ve worked at previously.

I won’t take any job with an open office floor plan for the rest of my career. The stress of environmental oppression (noise, people cramped together, close quarters, etc) is just not worth it.

I am much happier now.

I remember decades ago when I went from having an office with a door to having a high wall cubicle, and I thought it was a disgrace and a sign of office working conditions having finally gone down the drain. None of us thought it could get worse!

I think "like" is a strong word, but cube farms are still better than the high-school cafeteria environment most of us are stuck trying to work in these days.

Beats sitting at a bench with zero walls between you and your neighbors.

I've worked in some big, comfortable cubes next to windows, and they were quite nice. Even going to a smaller cube with no view would be a luxury compared to open concept hell.

Heh, I remember one gig where they had cubes, and one guy was right next to the window. But they still had to put the back of the cube up, so he couldn't enjoy the window.

Having worked in wework, open floorplans with 'pods', and the cube farm setup, I prefer the farm. The problem is that most cubes don't actually cancel out noise too well so you are constantly overhearing things causing distraction. There really is no substitute for uninterrupted silence which is probably not achievable in any office where the company is not willing to invest in individual rooms for each person.

When I was first installed in one many years ago, I thought things couldn't be worse. Then came open office and I longed for the days of carpet-walled cages. Then came standing desks (for our health!) and I longed for the days when I was issued a chair. I can't say for sure how things will evolve in the future, but I suspect it involves being chained shoulder to shoulder in 4 man rows with an oar in front me.

I suspect people here that like them have worked in them prior to open office. In contrast I started my career about seven years ago and have only worked in open office environments.

So to me the idea of being in a cube farm seems more uncomfortable.

I think as more people start with open workspaces it'll become normalized even further.

Why? Do you like having everyone see everything you do?

I don't know why this was downvoted. I do my job really well, but I hate having people look over what I am doing... It might be an introvert thing or something, but I'm surprised when others view this as "what do you have to hide?".

Why does it have to be black & white?

Cube farms (with high walls) are probably 100x to 1000x better than a fully open plan office.

I would say they are maybe 1.5x better. I work in a cube with high walls and it's still really noisy and it;s really awkward to yell over walls so there is almost no direct conversation even with neighbors. In addition I hate staring at a grey wall the whole day. It feels like prison.

"In addition I hate staring at a grey wall the whole day. It feels like prison."

You can cover that up with stuff. One of the benefits of a fabric covered cube wall is that you can use pins to stick things up. I went to a fabric shop, got a bunch of the remnants that they sell cheaply, and put them all up over the gray.

What does staring across your paired desks at your tea-slurping coworker feel like?

We shouldn't limit ourselves only to either staring at a wall or a tea slurping coworker. They both suck. There are other ways to set up an office like having a window for example.

For some reason the people higher up the chain don't work in cubes or open space. So they shouldn't tell us that these are the only options.

> They both suck.


In comparison to open offices, yes.

I liked them much better than the open office zoo the bay area subjects us to.

When they have the tall walls, I like them a lot better than open plans.

I really liked them.

I sadly got into the developer game a bit too late to know the paradise of private offices or even cubicles, and have had an open office my entire career.

Personally, I find them incredibly distracting; there is a TV right behind me playing the World Cup right now, and people cheering every couple minutes whenever something happens. I work relatively close to the eating area, so I have to hear lunch conversations.

I'm also not innocent of office annoyances; occasionally I will argue with my coworkers about a design or how some code should be written, and I'm sure that that is annoying to the other people sitting on my floor, not to mention me typing on my IBM Model F keyboard noisily.

I live in the NYC area, so I guess rents are expensive enough to where private offices are out of the question until you're a CTO or something, but I would definitely prefer if this trend of open offices were to die. It's gotten to a point to where I'm thinking that my next job will have to be remote so that I can work in my guest room on my desk.

I've heard it claimed that offices with about 6-8 people are best for people being able to talk to each other in a productive way. Any larger, and most people will use e-mail to avoid disturbing other people. The effect might vary depending on country, age group and so on.

can the same be said of slack?

I've been in all kinds of office setups. The one office I had the most collaboration between developers had cubes with a high side wall and the wall between the cube behind you was lower.

The cubes were very similar to these: https://tse1.mm.bing.net/th?id=OIP.sZX3B6yJTUoJHOJ-t_3-TQHaF...

At the time, we had a fairly small group. Four front-end devs, three back-end devs, and a two designers. The devs all sat together on one side in a row and the designers on the other side. When the back-end guys had a JS or styling issue, they could just stand up and walk around the desk. If they needed a PM or a designer, they would use the interoffice IM system. We had a ton of back-end and front-end collaboration since we had several large whiteboards on the wall next to our cubes. A lot of time, you would be working and hear two devs talking about a problem. It was easy to just swivel in your chair and see if you had any input or ideas. We solved a lot of issues just with devs overhearing something and chiming in.

In the open space I'm in now, people won't even look at you when you're sitting next to them. Everything is done over IM. It's like there's invisible walls around everybody, even though we're all working shoulder to shoulder and on the same team. Our team is scattered throughout the building we're in so in person collaboration is really rare. It's practically the exact opposite of what they were hoping for.

The "benefits" of open offices are just PR/marketing speak and corporate white lies because they don't want to state the real (and ugly) reasons.

Well we know this right, but we're still subjecting ourselves to these bizarre environments that make us less productive and less happy. On top of that, this is just one area that we're sure is obviously stupid and it's measurable. There's about 100 other things at work that are also obviously stupid but might not be as measurable or popular to critique.

There is no floor-plan that compensates for strong leadership and effective management.

And contrary to common belief there's no development methodology that makes up for incompetence and lack of trust.

I will work for the first tech executive who takes all of this data and uses it as evidence to crush the open office BS once and for all. I remember when Jensen Huang started pitching this folderol as "the office of the future-ture-ture-ture-tire..." back in 2009 during one of his NVIDIA quarterly revival meetings. It was a dumb idea then and nothing has changed about in the intervening 9 years except that he was indeed right that it was "the office of the future-ture-ture-ture-tire..."

Die Open Office Die...

Open Office spaces is another prevelence from startups copied elsewhere in corporations without thought. For a startup in Silicon valley where rents are high it makes sense to save cost on office space to decrease cash burn rate.

Just because it is good for Silicon Valley startups does not mean its a good fit for the rest of the world.

As a programmer you need peace and quiet when solving problems. You also need non interrupt time. Working in open office space is both loud and interrupt driven.

As the article shows open office space decrease collaboration which is not what was intended.

Where I've worked before we had a hybrid of open/closed. We had 'pods' of 4-5 people and single cubes at each end of them for tech leads. There were traditional door offices scattered around the office for those that really needed focus or for reasons of seniority etc. This system worked really well. It was quiet but we had lots of easy collaboration within our team pods.

Office design can be as creative and unique as you need it to be, there is absolutely no reason to have the black and white approach to open plan / cubes.

This is the way some Amazon offices are laid out more or less. Team areas seating 5-10 are "open areas" (with the stupid door-desk things inside) but have half- or full-walls between each team area. Most team areas have 1-2 doored offices for manager-types or some are used as a quiet space. Older implementations of this use those cubicle half-wall things between the team areas which is better than nothing. Seems like a nice compromise and lets each team decide how they want to balance the distraction-versus-collaboration equation.

Last night I randomly decided that today I'd like to work from the cosy city next door. (It's a one hour train ride.)

Before heading out, I did a bit of homework about coffee shops from where I can work from. I woke up early, biked to the station and took a pleasant one hour train ride to my destination city. After a small walk, I arrived at a good Coffee Bar / Roastery (with a decent internet connection). Spent three hours of my productive morning work day there.

Then, a longer walk for lunch break at a not-too-expensive vegetarian place. Following that, walk to a calming and tastefully designed book café that I already researched about; it was one of the most relaxing and productive coffee shops I've ever been to. I worked a good three-ish hours there. During my break time there, I also discovered a wonderful book. Then I walked back to the station, took the return train, and biked back home.

It was a long day, but a nice change in scenery. Glad I work remotely.

Do u get lonely?

Occasionally, like any other human. I keep healthy work hours. And I try maintain a decent life besides work, with hobbies that doesn't require me to sit like a vegetable and stare at a screen.

Back when I worked in a place where everyone having an office was common it was probably the peak level of collaboration I've experienced in my career. When everyone has an office it's easy to have small meetings with people (either scheduled or impromptu), and small meetings are where a lot of stuff can get done. You can gain and exchange context effectively, you can safely talk about institutional problems, even heavily critically, without worrying about what management might think, you can easily cover multiple topics because you don't have to worry about keeping your talk short or on an agenda (which is more of an imperative if you are having a chat in an open plan office or having a planned meeting in a conference room). You can also develop camaraderie and friendship more easily because you don't have to worry about your talk about "trivial" things (like tv or video games or whatever) interrupting everyone within earshot.j

P.S. One of the most fantastic things about offices is learning from your peers. This doesn't happen to the same degree in open plan office that I can see, but with the privacy of offices it's much easier to have a conversation open up into talk about various subjects. And those can take the form of a lecture (here's how this system/algorithm/process/whatever works) or a conversation (here's an opinion I want to share about the fundamentals of software development, or such-like). That sort of thing is pure gold in terms of personal development and career advancement, it not only shares knowledge between people and opens up people's eyes to different takes on "the craft" in general, but it clues people in to the idea that it is worth caring about and thinking about fundamental questions like best practices, people management, interpersonal relationships, and so on. Some of the best and most lasting insights and advice I've had in my career have come from impromptu conversations in offices with small groups of people.

I actually read the paper and I have a question for someone who really understands this kind of research or maybe even worked in similar related research.

The paper states that one criterion for an F2F interaction to be counted is that the devices ("sociometric badges") used to collect the data must be facing each other with uninterrupted infrared line of sight.

From my experience, in an open workspace this is most of the time not needed to conduct a short F2F conversation. It's possible to quickly talk to people walking by, standing behind one's chair or sitting on the other side of the table. None of these requires an uninterrupted line of sight.

Also the device seems to have been located at chest height so a visual line of sight between eyes has not been recorded.

I wonder whether these considerations have been taken into account. The paper doesn't say anything about that.

Counterpoint: I joined a company in a senior role and had a private office. I started getting more and more depressed about life and thought it was the company. I was planning on quitting when due to a hazardous condition in the building we all had to move to a new building into open space temporarily. I loved it and now work by choice in open space.

Counterpoint to your counterpoint :) What about smaller offices - say 4-6 people. Not as noisy, not as lonely.

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