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The open-plan office is a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad idea (signalvnoise.com)
613 points by ingve 9 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 447 comments

The argument of "increased collaboration" that I keep hearing is kind of negated when people have the soccer game on and you're bombarded with constant cheering, which is my current situation.

Even when soccer is over, you have to contend with people playing grab-ass all over the office, or jerks (like me) with annoyingly loud keyboards. The modicum of utility of me "jumping into a conversation" really goes out the window when I'm forced to wear headphones all day.

I really don't have a good way of measuring or fully quantifying how much less productive I am personally, but haven't there been a ton of studies that indicate anywhere between 1-1.5 hours a day is wasted per employee due to the open office? I assume that labor is the most expensive part of any big-ish company, so it feels like the "offices are cheaper" argument shouldn't work.

Yeah and what kills me is how ubiquitous tellocomms are for multi-site corps. I can't tell you how many meetings I've been in where everyone was at their desk, headphones on and each was playing the mute/unmute game in order to not blast everyone else on the meeting with the surrounding noise.

Then, given all that, you get the coworker two seats down Slacking you. If you're Slacking folks within 10 seconds walking distance then what's the point of being in the office at all.

I think the ideal would be commuting to the office one day a week to take care of meetings which are more productive in person such as sprint planning, grooming etc.

I slack and email co-workers who are within spitting distance of me. More often than not they are busy and I don't want to interrupt their flow with something that does not require immediate attention. So I'll shoot a Slack or email their way and let them get to it when they get to it.

You are a saint. I have a near retirement age coworker in the same office who mutters a lot while working and from time to time will just start talking loudly to people across the room. It's one of the main reasons why I got a noise-canceling headset.

That's a nice sentiment, however a lot of people have notifications turned on in both their email client and in Slack, so you end up interrupting them anyway.

There was a study done on the interruption effect of e-mail https://www.emeraldinsight.com/doi/abs/10.1108/1328726018000...

While true, there's a significant difference: It's very easy to ignore a notification - the same can't be said about a verbal/face to face interruption.

I do this as well. Mostly I want a record of what was discussed because how will I remember otherwise.

The reason I slack people who are ten seconds walk from my desk is mostly because, if I walk up to them and talk to them, I'm generating noise which will disrupt the other hundred people in my open plan office

Which when you think about it is absurd really. Here we are in this open plan office that is meant to encourage communication and collaboration and yet we're communicating over Slack because we don't want to disturb our other colleagues.

As a manger who has had to support moves to these environments, I can share that it is also about money. Higher density offices, cheaper to furnish and easier reconfigure. Less fixed wiring. No desk phone, no pabx.....and collaboration.

i miss having an office. and lately i've started to miss having a desk, as it seems they are always shuffling people around, or someone is trying to have a bullpen meeting over your head. or as someone mentioned those awful group video conferences which make me resent having even bothered to commute.

seriously, lets just give up on the notion of assigned spaces, idk what value there is when we cant even collaborate because the 4 tiny meeting rooms for 100 people are sitting at the margins of the giant open office. and there aren't any other whiteboards or projectors to use to have conversations. everyone is already wearing headphones so they can try to have a thought to themselves.

there are lots of alternatives. assign rooms to projects and have the principals mostly hang out there. couch areas and pub areas and cubby areas...rooms where you really aren't supposed to talk or hum or do anything out loud.

we've given up any actual utility of the office and are just hanging on to the barest trapping.

>there are lots of alternatives. assign rooms to projects and have the principals mostly hang out there. couch areas and pub areas and cubby areas...rooms where you really aren't supposed to talk or hum or do anything out loud.

Having worked at a company, where they had couch areas: Management will place the couch areas in the middle or adjacent to the desks and it will all be done in an open floor. A couch area with no walls is an invitation to have loud conversations/phone calls in the middle of the office.

Aren’t you comparing apples and plums here? Fully wired cubes versus loosely and insubstantially wired desks.

If you’re not going to give people phones just take the phones away, not pack people in like sardines.

The thing is that this working-from-home people significantly impact the efficiency of your office. It's a trend (could be the open-office space started it) but resulted in people easily working 2 or more days from home. That implies that any desk you have is empty about 40% of the time. Or: your entire office is not being used for 40%...

So when bosses realised they were throwing money away, they came up with the open office with flex-desks: no-one has a fixed place, you can sit whereever you want. And there are less desks than people.

That can work out quite well (I work in such an office) but it depends greatly on ehtics or rules: no TVs with soccer games, no speaker-phone (but only headset) and rooms available for discussions or phone calls. And there is a general area (quite large) where you can drink your coffee and discuss the soccer matches or Tour de France results...

For me it works, but I can imagine that without the requirements listed above it can be a cumbersome workenvironment.

“flexdesks” or “hot desking” is just about the most juvenile reaction to working from home I can imagine.

If a company believes it will gain more from “saving money” on open plan offices or hot desking than it will from just paying more to facilitate more and better work from employees through buying the best tools (a private office is a tool like a keyboard or ergonomic chair), it’s self-evidently a company to get far, far away from.

Consider “flex keyboards.” Management realizes that not all keyboards are in use all day, because people are in meetings, at lunch, etc.

So nobody gets their own keyboard. You have to locate an unused keyboard at the times when you need to type.

This is no different than “flex desks.” In both cases (keyboards, desks), the unit cost of providing the dedicated resource to the employee is trivial compared to far more pressing concerns, like producing working software to increase revenue, or bullshit executive compensation.

Even real estate costs for private offices in dense urban areas are trivial by comparison.

It really depends.

I work mostly from home but I do have a cube in the local office. If we got tight for space, it would absolutely make sense to give away my space to someone who would use it more and have me just grab an open chair for those times I have meetings or other reasons to be in the office.

If I had a private office, I would still work from home most of the time. A private office doesn't eliminate a commute.

> “If we got tight for space, it would absolutely make sense to give away my space to someone who would use it more and have me just grab an open chair for those times I have meetings or other reasons to be in the office.”

Why would this make more sense than moving to a bigger office or building more space for the new employee to have a desk without taking yours? Cost is absolutely not an answer.

Because moving to a bigger office has a whole bunch of costs beyond rent. Costs which negatively affect revenue!

But the original hypothetical situation has the baked-in presumption that the company wants to and is able to hire more people. If they can afford to do this via space expansion, they should (for purposes of the bottom line).

If they can afford to hire more but not to expand and give each worker adequate space, it suggests the company is just wrong. They actually can’t afford to hire more and would be creating problems if they do. Rather, reinvest what would have been spent on crammed headcount into the ability to expand spatially and later increase headcount with adequate space.

If a company, even a sink-or-swim growth mode start-up, believes it needs to hire people faster than it can provide minimally adequate space for them, then the company is just wrong. That is just not a thing.

Costs which negatively affect revenue!

Costs do not affect revenue. Perhaps you mean profit?

Cost is absolutely an answer. If I'm not really using space and am completely indifferent to whether I have a permanent desk or not, why on earth would it be rational for the company to spend the money, time, and disruption associated with adding additional real estate?

I'm not arguing for hot-desking as a standard approach, which indeed likely negates any benefits to teams being co-located. But for people who are allocated space that they rarely use? Why not?

Why is cost not an answer?

Because the costs involved are tiny compared to lost productivity based on developer salaries and, more obviously, because these same companies spend millions on coffee stations, roof decks, alcohol-focused parties, etc.

People who think cost drives open plan office choices seem to think corporate management are too stupid to ask, what is 10% of our total salary base for these workers. It makes no sense. People have been measuring productivity and morale in knowledge work for a hundred years. Of course they can directly compare cost savings on floor space with metrics correlated with productivity lost to worse workspace, and tie it to the bottom line.

The observable spending habits of companies suggest cost utterly cannot be a driving factor here.

By your logic, the flight school I'm currently attending should have one helicopter per student/instructor pair since we could get more flying done without having to schedule helicopters. From the point of view of the instructor and student this is a fantastic idea. From a business standpoint it really doesn't make much sense. They do, however, give each student their own headset and view-limiting devices. We could share those, too, they're only used when the helicopter is used.

Can you think of reasons why maybe each student doesn't have their own helicopter but does have their own headset (assuming they were cleaned properly after each use and hygiene wasn't a concern)? Those same reasons apply to the office/keyboard situation.

I don't think that's their logic at all.

The logic is that, compared to the salaries of software engineers and revenues of many tech companies, desks and keyboards are extremely cheap.

The cost of a ~$100k engineer spending 10m per day looking for a desk, with 8h day and 200k total employee cost to employer, is ~4k/yr. Paired with the cost the company pays in developer annoyance potentially causing higher turnover or lower productivity , buying more desks and office space is likely the cheaper option. One helicopter per student is obviously not so...

Providing one helicopter per student would be cost-ineffective for flight schools.

Providing one office per knowledge worker would be cost-effective for companies.

Flight schools have a hard time surviving if they make grossly wasteful or negligent expenditures for the sake of politics and optics, because they are low-capitalized businesses with often much lower revenue per employee and less growth opportunity than highly capitalized tech companies.

A high capitalized tech company, on the other hand, can piss away money on dipshit open floor plan offices, roof decks, $500,000 Christmas parties, etc., and the executive committee doesn’t care. They have very little incentive to optimize that spending and often make spending choices based on the capricious and whimsical desires of an adult-baby CEO who is more like Veruca Salt than a competent business person.

The cost of an helicopter seems like an obvious reason.

As much as I share your sentiment, fact is that these trivial savings show up nicely on someone's target and the deteriorating effect shows up somewhere else, if at all.

The open office I am in ATM is one such places where a handfull of people (loud, discussing totally not related to work, factually completly idiotic conversations) spoil it for all others. There is nothing to be done about these people since they've been with the company forever and a day and are thus basically exempt from all rules (be it noice or dresscode).

5 Years ago I have actively stoped working from home to segrate work from family. Now I have found myself to do at least 1, often 2 days from home again and planning to change employer. No I will not tell them the reason since I can not affort to burn that bridge.

TL;DR Manager A makes a good impression by saving some office space, Manager B looses employees but will never find out why.

I don't understand why you can't tell them the reason you're leaving without burning a bridge - "I don't work well in an open-office environment, I found I was constantly distracted and inefficient. It's just not the right environment for me to thrive" isn't untrue or pointing fingers, and it's valuable feedback for your employer.

I think perhaps bigger than the open office problem is grand parent point seems obvious to me in our current society. Either you are 110% on board with what the company wants, or you aren't a team player (and implied a bad person/worker/resource). It is daring to question them, daring to say they did something imperfect.

Or more simply, if he wants to return to this employer in the future and they have the same or similar office space, they will surely ask him why he thinks that he will now, somehow, be able to work well in in that environment that was so problematic for him in the past.

Not criticizing this person, I despise my open office environment too. I also wouldn't (and didn't) tell tell my employer about this when I left for a few years in the past for the same reason.

There's a risk the word gets out that you don't work well in team, can't adapt to a new environment or can't focus under the simple stress of office life.

Communal keyboards are worse than communal toilet seats.

Especially when some people eat at their desks.

Mice too. I'm left-handed with long slim hands; the mouse I love most is no longer being made (damn it Logitech! get me that G3 mouse back!). Any generic mouse is torture. Right-handed mice are torture.

Generic rubber dome keyboards are torture — chiclet style keyboards surely violate a bunch of Geneva conventions.

Never mind the filth and grime.

I will keep a mouse and keyboard in the office under lock and key somewhere if I end up in that situation.

We used flexible desks for years as a consultant shop, but where given actual offices and could easily reserve meeting rooms. That's a much better cost / productivity trade-off.

Really though the cost of office space vs people making 100k/year means you don't actually need top optimize it that hard. The core problem is they tend to come out of separate budgets, so some middle manager can write down they saved x million on a review / resume while costing the company 3x that indirectly.

PS: Used Model S's are also something to keep an eye on.

Too many people work from home who don't need to. Some people have reasonable commutes and don't bother showing up in the office most of the week. While working from home may help your productivity since you don't have to worry about commute time, it has a negative impact on the rest of your team who walks into a half-empty office.

It's just unfortunate that the commute here in the Bay Area has gotten so bad that a lot of people end up working from home.

I'm sorry, what criterion other than the commute time do you use to determine who "needs to" work from home? Increased productivity while working from home does not simply stem from lack of commute. It's all in the article.

Why bother with offices at all then? Why are companies paying tons of money for office space on prime real estate in SF, or dishing out free lunches and dinners, if people are more productive working from home? Google and Facebook should just mandate that people work from home.

I didn't say that commute was the only factor, but it is a major factor. Give each person a private room and eliminate the commute, people will still work from home. It's comfortable, you don't need to deal with your manager or colleague in person, and everything's async so you can focus without getting interrupted by a knock on your private office door.

I have heard that argument before, mostly its by people for whom the office is some sort of social life replacement/ bro club experience. Also there are sun-king-middle-managers who only get that power feeling when a huge crowd of admirers tours the hallways with them.

All of it is completely unrelated with work. And sort of sad, although its a good thing, that no matter what happens, humans will needs humans.

I've worked with teams big and small, mostly as an individual contributor, and the issue with not having a good team culture is you get churn. You can't have good team culture when half of your teammates are just at home most of the time, or if you're at home and the rest of your team is in the office. People jump around companies too often because they get jaded, bored, enticed by better offers elsewhere, and without team camaraderie and connections that bind the team together personally, you're going to get a high churn rate.

>You can't have good team culture

There is no need in this.

Well, churn is just capitalism at work. The only stock you gain for loyalty is the laughing-stock, of everyone else who gets rewarded for double-jumping every ship.

This is the world they wanted, when they dissolved unions and other pillars of stability, one mans grape-vine over "Unreliable mercenaries" is another mans freedom of choice.

Here's to Sienna and Florence, their high towers may stand a thousand year or crumble under the siege tomorrow, no-one cares only the chests in the deep cellars are whats important.

All those walls build to create synthetic loyalty- be it out of fear of being law suited for knowledge transfer, or cartels to avoid the rising prices of mercenary's - if history tells us one thing - in the end the war always wins.


"Wes Brot ich ess, des Lied ich sing, wes Gold ich trag, des Tod ich bring."

Slack affords a method of passive communication where waving hands or tapping someone on the shoulder is an invasive method of communication.

Unless there's an urgency, or some complication that should be discussed in person; slack is the preferred method so as to allow the party you are interrupting a chance to change their focus in the least impactful manner.

If I go to someone directly, I am losing 10-15 minutes of my own productivity + the length of the conversation and that's multiplied by the number of people I interrupted.

Some people who I've worked with, love to have to have a face to face for questions or information that is not urgent and could easily be taken care of via slack. They seem to do so because they prefer to small talk, lament, debate or some other personal reason; they don't do it for technical reasons.

If your team can effectively communicate passively, on slack, your on a team that has a foundation from which a remote-work policy can easily be enacted.

I agree. But I like slack more than talking because I get time to think and a transcript after. Probably yet another reason I love working from my home office.

plus with CYA, Tim can't deny being told about the remogolio project direction change if you can screenshot the slack message you sent to him at 14:28.

> what's the point of being in the office at all

Amen. We can work remotely. Let me work in my home office.

Writing from my home office:

I'm sitting here now because there's scheduled railway maintenance going on. If not I prefer traveling to the office (it's more than 45 minutes each way.)

But as long as everyone can choose for themselves I think more people probably should work from home.

Then, given all that, you get the coworker two seats down Slacking you. If you're Slacking folks within 10 seconds walking distance then what's the point of being in the office at all.

I have a coworker within ONE second of me, I can lean back a few inches and tap them on the shoulder. And I do, frequently, when they send me a 1:1 slack message.

"What's up?"

"Oh I had a question for you in Slack"

"I'm three feet away from you, I'm not doing this over slack, what's up?"

Obviously this is different if they send a code snippet or an app screenshot that I need to look at, but even then when we need to discuss the next steps relevant to that snippet or screenshot, I'll still tap them over the shoulder

"Hey, did you try x?"

"Oh no I didn't, lemme see what happens..." pause "Yup that worked, thanks!"

"No problem"

You are part of the problem, disturbing the whole room for no reason.

The increased collaboration angle is most likely bs.

According to this study open offices do reduce face to face communications: http://rstb.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/373/1753/2017...

The only two rational factors why anyone would choose open office:

1. the floor space really is so expensive you can waste xx% of capital output of labour.

2. You inherit a dysfunctional organization or just a one you cannot trust, and want to "keep an eye" on everyone so they behave. Michael Bloomberg gave this rationale in New York.

3. Bonus round for hotdesking : You expect/have a fairly high churn rate. Why bother assigning people personal spaces since it's so much work to keep track of the facilities. Let the people find their own space. Besides, you might outsource xx% of your operations in near future so it's not like you plan on investing in long term team building.

So, any linear combination 1,2 or 3 should suffice as an explanation. Any serious publication which praises open offices is likely a piece by a consultant who makes a living out of peddling said solutions and are offering political propaganda to make the employees less resistant.

The most common irrational reason: You don't really have an opinion what consitutes a good working space but open offices seem to be trendy ("It's what the big boys are doing") and a consultant made you an offer to redesign your office space, so, why not.

> You don't really have an opinion what consitutes a good working space but open offices seem to be trendy ("It's what the big boys are doing") and a consultant made you an offer to redesign your office space, so, why not.

I'm pretty sure the lemming see, lemming do explanation is one of the top actual reasons.

Considering the high regard for fiduciary duty towards stock holders among corporate officers I would imagine it's stratified - company officers accept the financial rationale since it's explicitly affecting profits positively, while lower rung troopers might accept the political explanation of increased something something interaction as at least a plausible one.

Sure. Just don't forget that corporate officers are also people, and no amount of fiduciary magic will enable them to exceed the typical limitations of human nature. And that includes falling victim to trends, gossip, and me-too.

In general, let's not elevate anybody to superhuman status, no matter what Ayn Rand wants you to believe. It's never true, and it never ends well.

> bombarded with constant cheering

At least it ends. I work in a gigantic "airplane hangar" open office with no noise barriers of any kind stretching out to infinity. Everybody around me is on conference calls all day, every day. They put their phones on speaker and then yell louder and louder to be heard over each other. One of them is even one of the Important People with an office with a door that closes... which he leaves open all the time anyway.

Get any generic in-ear earphones and thread those under a pair of 3M peltor optime III ear defenders.

You can listen to even fairly quiet music and you won't hear any conversations around you.

This unfortunately doesn’t work because these types of over-ear sound blockers are extremely physically uncomfortable. I can’t get work done while wearing anything like that because it feels like my head is being squeezed.

This is the big problem with headphones as a solution. You just trade sound disergonomy or physical discomfort, and it solves nothing. Like breaking your finger to distract from the pain of a gun shot wound.

Combine it with the fact that managers have repeatedly told me that wearing earplugs is “rude” and it’s just more of the no-win optics that drive open plan offices in the first place.

I did this at my previous job and got in trouble for “trying to isolate myself from the team rather than making myself available.”

Glad I got out of that hellhole.

I've done this. I have a whole collection of over-the-ear ear-protection. I can still hear my co-workers. It also made my tinnitus worse.

Thanks though.

'It also made my tinnitus worse.'

I've found any earplug or headphone option will make my tinnitus worse - sometimes days afterwards.

I explain my tinnitus to non-sufferers as being on the threshold of noise intolerance 24/7.

I'm surprised there hasn't been a lawsuit against any of these companies that expect employees to damage their health just so they can save on floorspace?

I've also wondered about that. I didn't feel like I had tinnitus (I have a very mild one) until after I moved my apartment to a noisier street and wore earplugs for about 2 weeks.

Now I have a very faint one that "toggles" once or twice a week and ALWAYS when I wear earplugs.

I had it 'mild' for years.

After ignoring the warning signs and also having an ear infection which I never bothered getting medical help for it got much worse.

It's settled down to a manageable level for me now but heed the warnings, you may save yourself a lot of misery in the long run.

Are you suggesting that I get checked for an ear infection or saying that I should stop using ear plugs? I have pretty much done the latter, only wearing them for the occasional nap once every other week.

I'm suggesting if you ever do get an ear infection to seek medical attention asap.

I had a random infection a few years ago and just waited for it to pass. Which it did, eventually, but my tinnitus became much worse afterwards. I'm guessing, because the infection did further damage which could maybe have been avoided?

I can't say whether you should stop wearing earplugs because you may sometimes be in a situation where they protect your hearing. But, for blocking out background noise in an office, they're probably not a good idea? [based purely on my own experience]

Same here! I had very faint tinnitus (from headphones in the office all day), but after we moved offices (open office space) and I started wearing earplugs UNDER my hearing protection earmuffs, my tinnitus started going wild.

I think it's because when you double-stuff like I did, the only thing you can hear at that point is the ringing in your ears (and high heels on concrete floors). My brain seemed to lock in on the ringing at that point.

Has it gotten any better since? I feel like mine has on a given day but it actually feels worse than ever before when I wear earplugs.

It's gotten better, but not gone away. I've worked hard on identifying the things that bring it on and avoiding them.

When I wear earplugs, the tinnitus is more prominent, so after I take them out, my brain is kind of "latched" on to it for a while.

>I explain my tinnitus to non-sufferers

I thought everyone has it.

Nope. Mine developed a couple of years ago.

You could go the opposite route: good earplugs with good noise canceling over-ear headphones. The advantage of this over the other setup is that the minimum effective volume from music is lower, protecting against tinnitus. I had the same issues and found this setup works well for me.

As an added bonus the obvious rigamarole I have to go through when a coworker taps me on the shoulder makes them more likely to send an email next time.

What's the difference you notice in the "earbuds + noise cancelling headphones" setup vs using the noise cancelling headphones to also play music?

I prefer the music to come from the headphones because my in-ear phones can be overly loud, even on the lowest volume setting on my phone. Having music coming from them hours every day had me feeling like I was damaging my hearing.

With earplugs inside noise-canceling phones I still get two layers of sound isolation but have a layer of sound isolation between me and the phones, providing finer volume control so I can add just enough music to finish the job of drowning out loud people around me without hearing damage.

earplugs + noise canceling headphones is better noise suppression than earplugs or noise-canceling headphones alone.

Thanks, I've tried this and it works slightly better. Can still hear noisy co-workers though.

It seems the best solution is to not have loud people around.

Any passive, over-ear firearm hearing protection also works (and most are cheaper than $40).

Finding over-ear gear that works well with glasses can be problematic, tho

At the risk of sounding like a shill, I recently picked up a set of Noisefigher Sightlines (https://noisefighters.com). They're replacement ear pads with a notch cut out for glasses. My glasses don't fit in perfectly, but the frames put noticeably less pressure on my head now.

All firearm hearing protection is meant to be used with glasses. If the design is tested in the real world, it would be tested with glasses.

Laser eye surgery is a fantastic choice as well, tbh.

I've heard too many nightmare stories, even from people who went to the most reputable providers. Not gonna screw with my vision, thanks.

Laser eye surgery is a fantastic choice for many people, especially people who are nearsighted, under 40, and don't have any contraindications. It's less effective[1] and riskier[2] for farsightedness, and there's only so much it can do for presbyopia. It's also riskier for people who have autoimmune disorders, immune deficiencies, diabetes, or dry eyes.

[1] https://www.la-sight.com/services/lasik/lasik-results/ [2] https://www.la-sight.com/services/lasik/lasik-explained/fars...

It's also great for correcting astigmatism. The nearsightedness that I got corrected was reasonably well managed by glasses, but my astigmatism was compensated for by my brain. I got noticeably more well-coordinated after laser eye surgery freed up visual processing ability this way, and I've heard other anecdotal evidence of this phenomena as well.

I pity the poor fool who tries to point a laser at my eye.

I consider a set of bluetooth headphones a part of any office now. I got a really good pair for personal use and work provided one set at work.

Wouldn't be necessary if we had actual offices, but there you go.

Thank you! I'm going to hunt for some 3M peltor optime III ear defenders on Amazon right now.

Tbh, a good pair of 'closed back' full size headphones with noise cancellation would do just a good job (if not better musically) as wearing ear defenders over earphones.

...and probably be more comfortable. Which is something one doesn't think about until one is wearing headphones for 8 hours straight.

I've used typical ear plugs plus headphones playing whitenoise.

Have you tried just closing his door for him?

Here's a recent story from our open office.

We have a couple of mobprogramming stations with big televisions, each team has 1 or 2 of these so there are about 5 in a 20m radius from where I sit. When the first game that Sweden played all of a sudden 3 of the televisions are turned on and of course they are _not(!)_ in sync.

So here I am trying to do some work with three TVs games all slightly delayed from each other, meaning one cheer turns into three.

Now I work at a large newspaper and we sit 40m from the editorial staff so that adds to the background noise. To top it all of someone in the sports department thought it would be a good idea to @channel (usually reserved for "OMG the website is down what do we do!?") when some of the TVs stopped working (not really a job for the developers..).

That just killed whatever positive things I used to think about open offices.

OMG, you need to run away from that place!

Until I read that, the worst I’d ever heard was a friend who worked next to a slamming fire door. He had to wear hearing protection/ear muffs. Get this: he was the PhD physisist that did all the hard math coding for the company.

He has a private office where he works now thank goodness.

cubicles wouldn't have helped in this case anyway, unless you're referring to an office where everyone has their own personal room

>> The argument of "increased collaboration" that I keep hearing is kind of negated...

Yeah, they say it promotes more collaboration because you may overhear something where your input is relevant and join in. Or something like that. While that may be true, the increase in UNwanted distraction completely overwhelms any benefit. So then they tell us to be respectful of people around us and keep things quiet - we don't want people to overhear you. Wait wasn't that the point?

> I assume that labor is the most expensive part of any big-ish company, so it feels like the "offices are cheaper" argument shouldn't work.

This probably depends where you are. An open office plan might well let you use less than half of the square footage per employee, which in somewhere like Manhattan would potentially be saving you on the order of $5-10k per employee. Depending on how significant the productivity hit is, that might well be worth it.

$5-10k saved yearly to produce an unproductive $150,000+ employee... I don't think the scales are balanced even then.

And, from personal experience, companies do it even when the cost per square foot is 1/10th of that of NY.

Yeah, I'm on my phone so I can't do a full break even on this easily, but here's my rough estimate. If you're losing 1.5 hours of productive work per day, five days per week, and employees are otherwise productive 30 hours per week for 50 weeks out of the year, that's 375 hours per year out of a 1500 hour work year. That means for a $10k per employee rent savings, you lose more in wasted wages for anyone making over $40k per year. Even if we double the estimated productive hours per year, it still doesn't make sense for anyone making $100k or more.

Thing is, it is different deparments that save and loose. The link will never be made in an organisation > 1000 people.

> An open office plan might well let you use less than half of the square footage per employee

Relative to what? Here are some portable room dividers: https://www.screenflex.com/

You would be starting with a very tiny space if that doubles the square footage per employee. They completely eliminate visual distractions, give employees a feeling of privacy, and stop a lot of noise. Being portable, they can be changed around as needed, and you can easily create small groups.

Real offices would have more furniture and such than a bunch of tables or even cubicles.

Faster to deploy, wire, etc.

My previous employer and I had a conversation about the open office he wanted to set up in our new office space. I kept telling him it was a bad idea. He really wanted to encourage a "vibrant and collaborative environment!" I kept trying to tell him that what he perceived as vibrant and collaborative was his employees not getting any work done. Those generally weren't work conversations. They were jokes, catching up with life events, etc... Of course, he won. I wish I had this study to point to at the time.

Since then I've heard they have installed what can only be described as rows of tables. They're not really desks. Just long rows of white tables where one row of employees faces another with an 8" glass divider between the two employees. You know; for privacy.

I don't think any manager who chooses and open office plan because it's cheaper (and I'm betting that that is almost all of them) has considered, or cares about, the cost of reduced productivity. Otherwise it wouldn't be so common.

But that's just my experience. I've found it's difficult to underestimate management.

It's impossible to measure, and thus isn't data that is taken into consideration.

Sabotage your employees and you don’t have to give them a raise. Win win!

> The argument of "increased collaboration" that I keep hearing is kind of negated when people have the soccer game on and you're bombarded with constant cheering

Is there anything less professional than watching a game at work? I really don't get why people do this, and why they think it's okay.

Granted, I don't like sports — but I like TV, and I wouldn't watch TV at work. I like computer games, but I wouldn't play computer games at work. It's just odd that sports fans think it's okay to distract people during work hours.

At least pop off down to the pub or something.

I agree. When I suggested putting on a low-budget 50's monster movie on as background noise (e.g. Gamera, Godzilla, The Giant Claw, something that's amusing to look at for thirty seconds, laugh a bit, but not overly distracting), people act almost offended that I would waste company time like that. But if the TV has some form of ball on it, drop everything.

I worked in a highrise office that had TVs ringing the floor that you could remote into to display dashboards and whatnot. One day I decided to play, on mute, endless episodes of How It's Made.

For reference, I work in a hardware engineering group. Some mesmerizing process would show up on screen, one person would stop and stare, and 5 minutes later we have a half dozen engineers who've stopped what they were doing to watch How It's Made.

Eventually we settled on Bob Ross as a happy medium in terms of "Pleasant Ambiance" and "Not Too Distracting."

the important people in the office both get to dictate what's allowed, and are in my experience more likely to be extroverted/sports-watchy types. Thus they exploit their position to watch sports with the other important people and who cares what the nerds think/want.

I think people are generally more tolerant of live events. I've been in offices where everyone's watching a political inauguration, or dramatic rescue, etc.

Last time (perhaps the previous football World Cup?) my manager simply said I could go home once the game started, as no-one else was going to do any work so that was fair.

People have been waiting for it for four years. And your national team only plays 4 or 5 games. Give'm a break.

Just watch it in the breakroom or somewhere where it doesn't disturb others. At one previous employer, they reserved a big conference room / auditorium and got food, like a mini team building event. At another a bunch of people just went to a bar en masse. If you can't take 90 minutes out of your team's schedule, or if it's considered OK to just blast the game in an open-office, there's something wrong with the work culture IMO.

That's making the assumption that they stop watching when your national team is not playing, which hasn't been the case here.

Also, as stated, even if you love sports, if I were to turn on something like Die Hard and cheer at the screen every few minutes when Bruce Willis does something awesome, or play a video game and yell profanities because I died, people would (rightly) think I'm a jerk and distracting everyone. Even if I only did once every four years.

They have a break. It's called "time off".

In America, people tend to watch any of the games, or at least that’s been my experience.

I don’t begrudge people their entertainment, but surely it’s polite not to foist it on others? I don’t play Minecraft let’s play videos for hours at the office, after all!

How does that change anything whatsoever?

And I've been waiting for years for a bunch of new Anime releases and other shows.

Should they just give me a break to watch TV at work?

Not really, because it's probably just you. Quite a few people in this thread really don't understand how big of an event thr World Cup is...

It seems they also don't realize that people are watching a LIVE event, which is completely different than watching a movie.

I've worked places where we would watch live streams of rocket launches (back when launches were less routine than they are now).

It is not unreasonable to ask people to move to an area where people aren't trying to work, even if the event is live. Many people do not care about <x>ball and would like to work, and typically an office is the place where you are supposed to do that. Having the game on in the common work area is incredibly distracting with people cheering.

Many people who are trying to work do not care if the event is live. Even as someone who also enjoys watching rocket launches, I wouldn't cheer loudly when it took off, and I'd probably go to some kind of common area to watch it to begin with.

This is the better approach. Make arrangements for people to watch while not disturbing the rest.

I don't think that's a fair assessment. Quite a few people in this thread do not share the same values that you do, even the more fundamental ones like patriotism.

It isn't a big event though. They kick a ball into a rectangular volume.

And us software devs push buttons on a keyboard. You can make anything sound useless if you make it your goal to do so...

It doesn't matter how big a deal it is. It's not work. Even if it's a natural disaster or a war, if it's not work you go watch it in a break room or you take PTO and stay home or you do whatever you need to ensure that it's not disruptive to others. The level of entitlement necessary to believe that your company and everyone in it should accommodate your personal non-work video watching boggles my mind.

But when the non World Cup watchers are in the minority then you have it exactly backwards. You're asking all the football fans (which at World Cup time is nearly everyone) to accommodate your idiosyncratic personal desire to carry on working.

The desire to carry on working isn't an idiosyncratic personal desire. It's why you're paid to be there, why the space exists. How is that not supernova-level obvious? Can someone's sense of entitlement be so huge that it blots out even that? I wouldn't have thought so until now.

It's completely obvious, you're right, but you are missing my point to some extent. It's nothing to do with personal entitlement. I'm guessing you've never been in a European office when the national team is playing an important World Cup match. Probably around 90% of people are not working at that point. Its like a public holiday. Consider the reaction if someone asked all the support staff to come into the office on a Sunday because they felt like getting some work done.

Did I say it is OK to disrupt others in the workplace? Of course it isn't, regardless of the event.

I was responding to a comment that compared watching a movie to following the World Cup live. The two are not comparable at all. I was also responding to other comments that were somehow dumbfounded by others wanting to watch the World Cup in general.

Yeah they have been waiting four years four that, four years for euro cup, a year for tour de france.

Plus of course all the normal games, etc.

Add it all up and there is fucking sports all the time.

Again not a problem as long as you don't drag me down to that level.

That and dogs in the office. Jesus what’s wrong with people. (The fact you’re being downvoted is proof we are living in the end times.)

Agreed! Some people are allergic to dogs. Some are afraid of dogs.

And some dogs are jerks. Worked in a place where the boss brought their loud dog to work. Barked constantly, disrupted work, growled whenever clients came into the office. The boss acted like she didn't hear anything.

I’m semi-allergic to dogs and deathly allergic to cats. One of my previous jobs started out as people bringing in their dogs (which was always fun when I was on a call and two of them got into a fight), and shortly before I left they started allowing cats, as well. I raised the fact that I’m allergic to both and mostly got ignored with an “apology”. And most people in the office looked at you like you were an animal-hating monster if you even suggested they take away that policy.

I like dogs. I have dogs (they came with my wife). But I don’t want to work in a goddamn kennel.

To pile on, I used to work in an office where a coworker's spouse sometimes showed up with their dog and newborn baby, in the middle of the day. Then I got to enjoy 20-40 minutes of high-pitched screeching in the office as the Slack channel was littered with things like, "WHERE IS THE LITTLE HUMAN. I MUST SEE THE LITTLE HUMAN" and "LOOK AT THE FLUFFER!"

Sartre was right. Hell is other people.

Hell is other people and their stinky microwaved seafood leftovers wafting through the open office.

I did a recent stint in a central government office (London, UK) and having your dog with you in the office seemed quite normal... to them. To me, as a seasoned IT contractor... not so much.

I once worked in an agency where the MD had a dog. Sometimes he used to wash it in the sink in the kitchen.

(That said, they had the most expensive and best coffee machine I've ever seen in an office, and a guy who used to make brilliant cocktails on a Friday afternoon - he also stands out in my memory as one of the few front-end developers I've met who couldn't write JavaScript or CSS. That was a surreal contract, it really was.)

One dog usually isn’t a problem, but it might not scale up from there depending on the dogs.

When will they allow us to take our toddlers to work? Could really save on daycare costs :)

Not a toddler, but I did take my 4 year old to work for a half day once when childcare fell through. I have my own office though and she was quiet, playing with blocks in a corner.

One of my colleagues brings his 5-y/o to work once a week (open office of course), and let me tell you: a chattering, running, squealing kid is even more distracting than the dogs and televisions put together.

Yeah, had a dev manager that used to bring his daughter, who I'd guess to be around 10. She was so noisy and obnoxious, I seriously thought she had a mental disability, so I cut her some slack (not that it suddenly made it okay to take her to work). And then I figured out that she was just undisciplined...

That same office (which, as I'm sure you have figured out, was an open office) allowed dogs. Mostly fine, I'd take our well-trained, quiet female pit bull into the office. She'd bug me to go play around outside more than I would have liked, but was otherwise inconspicuous. But as someone else in the thread has pointed out, dogs in the office doesn't scale. There's gonna be the one (or more) dog (much like the one child noted above) that doesn't belong in an office. One lady brought her other-dog-hating dog every day. "Bark, bark, bark" every time another dog was in sight. Etc., etc.

I guess my point is, yessh people, what happened to the professional work environment?

So much this. Workplaces used to be for working. Then you could go home after 8 hours and let go. Now you spend 12 hours getting half the work done because the office is no longer a workplace but a hangout.

'I guess my point is, yessh people, what happened to the professional work environment?'

Maybe related to bullshit jobs since these people are obviously not doing any real work, just bringing their homelife to the office in order to make time pass quicker?

Mmm, possibly; I cut down to taking the dog only once or twice a week because she took a non-trivial bit of maintenance and, well, I have work to do.

we have dogs in the office. they're quiet and most people love them. in any case they are the least of the distractions...and usually only if you made the miserable decision to eat lunch at desk (which in an open office can be even more of a nuisance)

Dogs are fun to have around. I love to give them scratches and bellyrubs when I need a distraction from frustration. I'm allergic and my arms will get itchy but it's worth it.

This thread of Hacker News kvetching has really lost focus on the case against open offices. This reads like a contest of who can be the most uptight in the office.

I like cats, dog and my son. Do I think added any of them to my office would be a good idea? No.

I go to work to well, work. I like my co-workers, don't mind talking with them a bit and am even friends with some of them. That doesn't mean I want them to bring all their distractions and things that bring them joy to the office. I want us all to get everything done quickly and correctly so that we can all go home and enjoy the things we like.

If you spend well over 50% of your day in a certain place you should damn well enjoy being there.

This sort of outlook might work for those of us that are workaholics, but for everyone else it's a major mental health hazard. Not everyone has wives or children or partners or scores of friends to spend their nights with. I wouldn't be so blase about taking all enjoyment out of the rest of the time those people are spending on this earth.

I agree.

What, you don't like meeting Dooglers at work? What kind of heartless person are you?

(Fun fact: Google is officially a dog company. Cats are highly discouraged.)

I really cannot see the comparison, unless the dogs are barking. I find sportsball* at work extremely annoying, but dogs are relaxing to have around.

*Yeah, I know, live and let live, but that is basically impossible with the current sport fanatics around here.

For one thing, they shed and make your clothes and personal spaces look disgusting. They also try to interact with you and touch you without your consent. Dogs are animals. They belong outside, not in shared people spaces.


Though much has been discussed on the topic, I consider down votes to be for those comments that don't contribute to the discussion, even if I might agree. In your case, however, I not only disagree, I don't feel your comment has contributed positively to the discussion. Whereas the parent comment did bring a different viewpoint to the discussion, though I might disagree with them.

In conclusion, have a down vote. Parent: have an upvote.

I'm happy with that. I was just kvetching really (and I didn't actually downvote). I strongly feel that votes should be used as you statrd., and not in lieu of a reply expressing disagreement through the courtesy of a reply. my complaint really is that downvoting is so capricious. people who hate dogs in the office downvoted me for saying that dogs have not been a problem at my office. the statement was factual, respectful and related. meanwhile I can say some snarky thing and get upvoted like crazy. it's just silly

Or, as Androider said, put it in the break room. Where I work, that's exactly what they did: there's a TV in the break room that's on all the time, so for world cup it was tuned to that. No problem: if you want to watch it for a few minutes, go do it in the break room. If you want to not be bothered while you work, don't hang out in the break room.

Drinking alcohol at work? Taking out the Mulled Wine on Friday afternoons around Christmas is not too uncommon.

>you have to contend with people playing grab-ass all over the office


Do you work at Sterling Cooper Draper?

You forgot about Pryce!

What is "grab-ass all over the office"? I tried to google it to find whether it is expression, but got tons of porn as result.

Ah, sorry, it's a bit of local expression from where I grew up. People would say "grab-ass" when people are running/playing around and yelling like children at the office. It's not too uncommon for startups to have Nerf guns or something.

Gotcha, thanks.

> people are running/playing around and yelling like children at the office. It's not too uncommon for startups to have Nerf guns or something.

I hate this sort of environment combined with expectation to stay late. It always seems to me that if people would work instead of playing, we might not have to stay late. And that we are not working as much as we brag about, because people play a lot.

I agree. I typically come in at about 9:15am, leave anywhere from 7pm-8pm, and it's not because I'm some great worker. It's because I need to finish up the sprint and too much crap is happening around the office.

I don't know that I wouldn't work late even if I had a private office, but I do think that I'd be able to accomplish more.

I found that when I am really working and focus on producing quickly, I get tired much sooner. As if, there us some max I can achieve during day, faster or slower.

Of course then, I am tired also in the evening and that limits what I can do in the evening. (If I am too tired to code, I am also too tired to play logical game or learn something.)

I come in at 10-11am and leave at 4-5pm (including an hour of lunch). The rest of my work I complete from home. There's no need to be in the office for all of your "workday".

Yup. Nerf guns, indoors basketball, watching soccer games - I've seen it all.

One day I'll write that book I keep thinking about. It'll be glorious.

I've worked in offices where wrestling was not uncommon.

That does sound pretty awesome, but only in a room where you aren't working.

> but got tons of porn

Sure hope you're not googling it in an open-plan office...

Not large open office, but very visible screen.

I closed tab very very fast.

I believe he's referring to in office flirting

No, grab-ass is like horseplay. It's unneeded, juvenile physical activities. Think tag, keep-away, or nerf gun fights, things like that.

Uncommon but not rare term where I grew up.

Ah yes the world cup - kills productivity for 6-10 hours every 4 years. Definitely worth changing office layout for.

I think you might have missed my point; it's not about the world cup (or any ball-based sport you want to talk about) in particular. I'm complaining about the fact that <event x> can make people loud and therefore very distracting.

I wouldn't suggest changing the office layout if I were only distracted by events every four years. I get distracted by events related to the open office every single day; the latest one just happened to be the World Cup when I wrote that.

The it is cheaper argument works because the savings are short term, easy to quantify and the person making the open office decision can easily claim credit for them while the costs are long term, hard to quantify and difficult to assign directly to the decision for an open office.

That sounds like a workplace professionalism issue than a seating issue.

If you want to watch soccer, take a vacation day.

>I'm forced to wear headphones all day.

Didn't you know that you shouldn't use headphones in an open-plan office, because it prevents you from collaborating with others? /s

I think it's less about increased collaboration but more about fostering culture and relationships between team members. Imagine a soccer team where everyone trains independently and only heads in to the office for video sessions. Teams with good culture, good bond between team members, often succeed (there's a particular sports team in the Oakland that is a good example).

What exact property of private office space prevents fostering a team culture ? At some point, people need to stop discussing and get something done, and that requires quiet, un-interrupted, work time.

> Imagine a soccer team where everyone trains independently and only heads in to the office for video sessions.

Riiight, because soccer and office work are so similar!


IME it only fosters slowly simmering hatred of co-workers' irritating (and often noisy) foibles.

"the soccer game on and you're bombarded with constant cheering, which is my current situation" You are lying, the game was yesterday.

EDIT: I get the point, that was a joke.

Ha, yeah, fair point, I was just informed that it's almost over. Don't worry, there always seems to be more sports to watch. They'll probably move onto curling or something today.

> And for what? Because a minority of people kinda like that configuration? Because it’ll look good in a few photos? Because it’ll impress strangers who visit the office?

Somehow the author missed the primary reason for the open office configuration: "Because it cuts the costs of office space by a HUGE amount (certainly more than half)."

I suppose "Because it makes it easier for managers to keep an eye on their employees and see when they are slacking off." figures in also. Although it's probably a sign of poor management.

Yeah this is one of HN's favorite topics to bash on while completely ignoring the primary reason why the open office exists and persists.

It's not about collaboration, it's not about socializing, it's about money. Just like all other business related decisions.

It's a penny wise, pound foolish decision though, considering engineering salaries. It's hard to quantify, and often an externalized cost to the facilities management and decision makers, but my own experience suggests open offices are incredibly expensive as a negative multiplier on the engineering output. The "actual work" starts getting done in the evenings, on planes, and on weekends, while the business hours are a circus of meetings and "grab-ass" as the top comment in this thread so eloquently put it.

I'm building my own company now, fully remote, and from an engineering output point of view I've never seen such productivity. No ass-in-seat supervision, no assigned hours, just straight throughput of engineering tasks being closed and features being shipped every day.

> I'm building my own company now, fully remote

How do you counter the common argument that face-to-face communication is the most high-bandwidth and one shouldn't throw away that competitive advantage unnecessarily? I'm not a proponent of that position; on the contrary, I don't want to accept it. But a lot of people think that way.

Face-to-face is more effective than video conferencing, but not in the way that you'd trivially expect.

Most designated meetings, you can have just fine over a video conferencing system. Where f2f excels is in the conversations after you leave the meeting room - just a casual question to some other person from the meeting, which evolves into an impromptu 5-minute chat. (That is usually more valuable than the entire meeting :)

Spontaneous conversation is incredibly valuable. (Which, ironically, is also cited for open offices). I believe that if you start with a fully remote setup, you are growing a culture that will move these conversations to IM or other channels, by necessity. You'll likely be fine.

But you cannot move a company that has grown up with a culture of f2f meetings to a culture of IM conversations - it's too deeply ingrained.

IOW, you're not "throwing away" something if you build a remote culture from the start. Both models can work, but switching models is hard.

It does seem plausible that requiring an in-person team to switch to IM and other electronic communication would be more difficult than starting out remote.

I work on accessibility for people with disabilities, and I'm blind myself (well, legally blind), so I think a lot about including people with disabilities. It seems to me that working with people with some kinds of disabilities, e.g. deafness or a severe speech impediment, would be akin to forcing an in-person team to switch to IM. (I have no direct experience working with people with those disabilities, so I'm happy to be educated.) So I speculate that starting out remote would also make the team more inclusive in this area.

It's not the most high bandwidth for all of us. More information doesn't always equal better.

What specific drawbacks, or groups of people for whom face-to-face is a problem, do you have in mind?

FWIW, I personally don't benefit from the "high bandwidth". I'm legally blind; I can't read facial expressions or body language, or even recognize specific faces. SO for me, face-to-face amounts to little more than audio communication with full frequency range and zero latency or drop-outs. All that to say that I can only understand face-to-face communication (edit: as it works for most people) second-hand, so I'm curious, not being argumentative.

Some people are hyper-reactive to certain types of information. Whether you want to call it a preference or a handicap, I don't know. I personally have PTSD. I will nearly instinctively read things into faces that I can never be sure is there. This is perpetually confusing and often overloading for me, not to mention a useless waste of thinking cycles. It's taken me years to learn how to be less reactive, but it's always a process of reducing information down to a minimal set of what is most consistent, structured, and true with respect to the social environment. Which often does reduce down to pure language, the direct translation of a statement and the direction it aligns with.

It gets labeled many things, like social anxiety, aspergers, many other stigmatized disorders - but this is often my root problem - being overloaded with the amount of information present in social environments.

I have greater clarity when I can think separated from people physically, most often through text. I've gotten better with audio, but in person communication is still something of a struggle.

I'm not being argumentative either. Just people have differences, and they aren't always easy to notice, identity, or correct.

Thanks for that. So I gather that audio is also more difficult for you than text, but less difficult than face-to-face.

Audio in a business environment, at least from my experience, is more predictable and algorithmic, so my sensitivity to that has reduced significantly. Every face to face interaction in my organization routinely feels like a disaster I can't understand in entirety, during or locally near the experience. Reasoning out of it (grounding) is often challenging, I prefer focusing on inanimate objects to ground myself as this ties me to a structured reality, as well as focusing on math and logic because I need those reasoning systems to maintain self direction. It has gotten better in some ways and more difficult in others.

I have some folks I'm very close with where this is not the case. But that's taken a very long time for me, and it is something that has required a lot of patience, understanding, communication, tolerance, forgiveness, hope, and perseverence. It's still something that is just about, the opposite of easy, for every new person I'm introduced to. I am generally told that I'm a reasonably easy to get along with person casually, aquaintance wise, although I consistently apologize for random social behaviors, masking them over with the words awkward, impulsed, compulsed etc. I have a tendency to ramble about technical things and this is bad when I have a tendency to be hypercritical over software (as I'm never sure how my preferences about code may approve or reject the preferences of those I talk to, but that's getting off track). There'stuff that just goes down to the core of us that is intrinsic to our orderings, organizations, and structurings of information - which I'm sure you understand from being blind. In my experience, attempting to change these things is more costly than the benefit 'correction' would provide.

But that's me, PTSD and an understanding of psychology has made me a better software developer by refining my understanding of automation, as well as helping me remove myself from the headspace of what originally was so painful to experience. It doesn't go away, but it gets easier to live with, some days are harder than others, but I still consider myself fairly lucky given everything I've been able to do with what I have.

Text is just crystal clear. I have a tendency to ramble on the internet and I've gone into that wormhole of introspection of 'what will this do to me if I say this', some variant of the halting problem, recurrent infinite descending chains of when minds decide to stop inferencing using limited, selective sets of information, but, shrug. People have said I'm good at writing, and I hope my tendency to overthink has only led to improvement.

Do you think you would be happy in an environment where all business and technical communication was text? Do you think that could even be productive? Or is some amount of spoken communication practically necessary?

This whole exchange has been interesting. Thanks again.

I'm not sure honestly. I think generally I do better not confined to total isolation, but life is a process. There's always going to be challenges regardless of how able someone appears to be.

I do think having diversity in all things is important, they push one's boundaries and allow oneself to redefine oneself. Taking care to reflect on the moment and the big picture, that's important.

Too much of anything is not a good thing, so there is always a need to balance. This allows one to translate skills from one interface to another. The big picture / in the moment reflection / introspection is important because it allows for self direction, instead of just getting caught up in all this mapping of skill set to skill set towards some ideal of being 'well rounded'.

I generally just prefer my base to be text because I code a lot and that's the headspace I need to stay in. Some communication, sparsely distributed in other forms is fine, but too much can direct away from the focus, which in my preference is produce good code, and solve problems in ways that get the closest to perfect I can get, without tipping the balance of losing sight of all the other code information, retaining structure and direction, uniformity, solutions for problems.

I don't enjoy living in a text vacuum as that can get severely isolating when done to excess, but sometimes having that space is necessary for me to continue laying out my own foundation of structure, preference, and direction, as I continue to learn new stuff.

Thank you for your interest and questions.

For me it's hard to describe but I get a feeling of knowing how the other person feels from a face to face meeting. Keep in mind, this only works for people I know well and in person (close coworkers, girlfriend, etc.). I still get this over a video chat but it's at a 10% level so I feel like I'm operating without one of my senses.

I often express myself poorly and this extra feeling helps me realize it and take some corrective measures. Really helpful when trying to communicate a difficult technical concept.

I find video chat to be as productive or even moreso than face-to-face meetings for small groups of people.

In face to face meetings, many companies (like ones I have worked for) have limited meeting spaces and it's quite hard to book a conference room for more than an hour. Often times, we'd shuffle from one conference room to another.

So even in-person isn't quite as effecient and productive as it could be.

> The "actual work" starts getting done in the evenings, on planes, and on weekends, while the business hours are a circus of meetings and "grab-ass" as the top comment in this thread so eloquently put it.

And thus, there is no incentive to change it. Cause total productivity is the same.

"It's a penny wise, pound foolish decision" Yes, and repeated infinitely throughout the global corporate world. Basically saying over and over again: corporations care more about dollars than their people, and the people must change or leave - if you want this job at all. What? you're the top in your field? So what, you're not special. Get to work.

> It's a penny wise, pound foolish decision though, considering engineering salaries.

Yeah, but people are replaceable. Whereas you, as an entrepreneur, only have one life to live. Choose wisely.


That argument doesn't hold water.

Employee time is usually a lot more expensive than the space they occupy. At least in tech.

You could save quite a lot of money on furniture if everyone sat with their laptops on the floor. But in reality that would be more expensive since the difference in productivity will outweigh the furniture cost.

Ah, but accountants don't measure productivity, only cost. It doesn't matter if it takes 3 times as long to ship your product, the only way they'd justify the higher cost of the office is if it meant cutting jobs.

I agree, and often times is several engineering teams that have their own budgets for labor, verses an entirely different department (facilities) using a different pool of money. Each department has incentives to cut costs independently and often at the expense of other departments.

I would happily buy my own sodas (I don't drink them anyway), chips/snacks (I don't eat them at work), coffee (I do drink coffee!) if it meant I never had to sit in an open office environment again.

> Ah, but accountants don't measure productivity, only cost.

Accountants don't get to decide the office layout in my experience.

You'd be surprised how often accountants run a company unofficially, and all the ways that it happens.

You're missing the point that the people configuring the office (most of the time) do not take productivity as a major factor, unless is something extreme and unrealistic like your example. Now it's more like: "everyone is already used to this configuration, and it's 50% (or some big %) cheaper to setup now"

Maybe companies should just be honest about why they run open offices instead of trying to sell it as something they do for the employees.

I work in a place with younger developers, who basically run things themselves with management's blessing. They love the open-plan office layout. I think a lot of this is generational: younger programmers are much more social and like noisy environments where they can chat and banter endlessly.

Personal preferences vary but, yeah, a lot of overall preferences are probably age-related. I remember in a long-ago job I had for quite a few years (with an old-style high cubicle arrangement), we had a lot of walking the hallways F2F informal catchups, ate lunch together, had sports teams, etc.

These days I mostly work remote by choice and am good with that. Some of it is better tech to work remote; I didn't even have broadband for most of my time in that former job. But it's also that I have no particular interest in spending a lot of time with coworkers generally beyond what I need to get my job done.

I'm not claiming that it's age-related, but that it's generational. The people who are going into programming these days are not the same type of people who went into it a generation ago. In the 80s, these people would have gone into a different career field.

And I'm not sure I agree with that in general. If I look back at the engineers of the computer company I worked for in the late 80s, I would say there were more women and it was whiter. Certainly, more were from traditional EE disciplines given how relatively new CS was.

But I'm not sure that new engineers at that company were fundamentally different from new engineers joining, say, Facebook today.

Every time the topic comes up on HN half a dozen people insist that the only possible reason anyone could ever consider an open plan office is cost.

Meanwhile, there's a thriving and growing industry selling desks in trendy open plan offices to self-employed people who for the most part could do their work in the privacy of their own home if they didn't think the atmosphere of an open plan office was worth paying for.

Working at home has other issues (distractions, lack of separation between home/work, loneliness) so I can see someone wanting to rent a desk especially if they find working at home that particular day challenging to their productivity.

I mostly work from home these days but I can't imagine starting out that way after school.

A lot of people I know work remotely in whole or in large part. But I've also worked with people who either felt the need for work-home separation or just found home to be too distracting a work environment in one or more ways.

YMMV, but in my neck of the woods the whole office-share thing is having a very hard time. Prices are either very steep and include private offices (hah!), or very cheap for open plan offices. Many of the latter places have devolved into regular cafes because there's no demand.

I think HN is just focusing on disparaging the messaging from company leads, and pointing out that it’s cheaper but actively harmful as well to performance.

Not sure about that. Remote would save so much more on office space! Yet most companies hate remote and don't allow it.

I think the real reason is managers want to be able to see everyone at a glance; it's all about control.

Not likely, unless these managers have really keen eyes and are able to look at everyone's monitor at the same time....

And specifically, about an easy to measure cost verses an hard (if not impossible) to measure cost. Facilities can easily be measured. Productivity lost due to employees overwhelmed with sights and sounds (and even smells)? Much harder to measure, and so much easier to just not measure it or low ball it. So even if money is being lost, it looks like money is being saved.

> The Basecamp office has a row of desks out in the open which we govern by Library Rules. We also have four private work rooms.

Well it is still a bad decision. Libraries are an open work space and still manage to provide a reasonable working environment. This is less about money but more about a wrong perception of work.

Apple, Google, etc. could definitely afford team offices. Apple built almost all their campuses from scratch...

Productivity is also about money.

I'm going to argue that nothing cuts real estate costs nearly as much as a 100% remote company.

The real reason for open office layout is this:

- we do not trust ourselves and our employees to do what we say

Except that when you actually do have individual offices, it's a sunk cost, and the productivity gains easily offset and pay off the initial outlay.

It is only really start ups that cannot afford to do this. Ironically because they have a small number of employees, open plan offices do work for them because they have fewer employees.

Relocate the office somewhere cheaper than the real estate hell that is the Bay Area, pay equal, but geographically adjusted salaries, and keep the non-open-office floor plan levels of productivity while reaping the benefits of the aforementioned points?

To throw some more anecdotes in with the rest of the comments, I love open offices.

I've had my own office and found it lonely and boring. I never got less work done than at that job. Everything took longer because I had to stand up and walk to talk to my team. Instant messaging sort of worked, but if they didn't respond immediately, you didn't know if it was because they missed the message or they weren't actually in their office.

Because I hardly ever talked to my team members I never felt any real friendship or camaraderie with them. That made it harder to get help when I needed it and made my day a lot less enjoyable.

I find that I thrive in open offices. I don't even need headphones to concentrate. Everyone is different I guess.

I prefer team rooms with 2-4 people. You can chat from time to time and build friendships but you don't have the permanent noise of a big office and also some level of privacy.

But the general point is: don't force people into an environment they hate and can't work in. I probably am several times more effective when I work from home in quiet. For others an open office is good.

All my favorite working arrangements have involved sitting in small teams, either in a room or in individual cubicles (such that you're only in really close proximity to a few other people). I've had my own office before; it's seriously lonely.

I'm skeptical of people who say that being in an open office doesn't affect their productivity at all. Really? How can you be sure?

A very casual observation by me is that open office favors shallow work. Things that can get figured out quickly. Same for decisions made in large meetings. It doesn't work well for problems you have to work on for weeks and where there is not a clear path.

Just my personal observation how open office or a cube farm with loud neighbors affects me.

Exactly. I have no problem debugging or creating a small-ish feature in an open office. When it's a bigger feature that touches a lot of places in the code, or when refactoring, it's a major struggle. If it's a big enough change, it's impossible, and I have to work on it at night at home.

For me, the part of coding that is art simply does not happen in an open office.

"And, as with anything, there’s a small subset of workers who legitimately DO enjoy the open office. But unless your company consists solely of such people (very unlikely), it’s hardly worth pleasing a few people to inflect a torment of interruption on the rest." -- @DHH

That is why it should be a mix. I get zero coding done in an open office. Networking, sales etc yes, but programming nope. None. So a courtyard office works best for me.

What's a courtyard office?

Ah, I always heard it being called that, but indeed cannot find the term on Google. I mean an open office surrounded by private offices. So you gather in the ‘courtyard’ and then people who want to can sit in their own closed offices surrounding it. I was in a company a while ago that had multiple of those and it was a pleasure.

I worked at a place where everyone had a small office but they were all along the outer walls of a small open square, like 20x30 feet. So your team is right there if you need to chat, but your office is right there if you need enclosure.

I assume the office space of whoever manage to GTFO of the messy main office environment.

For me it's the large volumes of space. Our office is split up into multiple large open areas, and my current one (12 people) is next to a giant window and is generously laid out. I find the whole situatioun much more relaxing than being cooped up in a small room, I can think clearer likely because of my better mood.

I do have noise cancelling headphones, but I always have music when working - even when I'm working from home.

What we also have, which helps a ton, is an abundance of meeting rooms - some with a tiny table and four chairs. We'll still have a two minute discussion at our desks, but instinctively head to a room for longer discussions. I'm not sure if this was an intentional solution to the cons of open offices - but it seems extremely effective.

I thrive in hybrid environment. I go to office for half the day, while other half the day I either work from home, or in a coffee place or somewhere else where I can be in the zone for hours.

But the downside is I’m a workaholic. I spend too many hours working.

Can’t do this. The moment I introduce work at home, I have a much harder time not thinking about work.

The thing about work at home, you need a separate room in the house with a closed door that feels like an office. I’m fortunate enough (thank you Seattle) to afford something in the outskirts that lets me have a room dedicated to work.

When I’m in the “work room” I work, otherwise I don’t. I think the brain associates different spaces with different modes of thinking.

I can’t get jack shit done at the office other than lots of meetings. To do real coding work, I have to remove people from my surrounding.

I would LOVE this. Unfortunately, commute.

Yep this is perfect setup for me too.

Thanks, this point of view always seems to get lost when these open office threads pop up. I had a job with an office (with a door) shared with one other person. The loneliest, most depressing time at that job was when the guy left for a different company and I was by myself there. It was horrible. I basically moved my workspace to the break room so I could regularly encounter people and left the office empty.

First sentence of TFA: "Not because there aren’t people who actually enjoy working in an open office, there are."

Everyone is different, but studies continually show that the net overall effect of open offices across people is hugely negative: productivity goes down, stress goes up, disease transmission goes up…

I personally like open offices because of their casual nature. I used to work at a cubicle like setting, and I was suffocating from the upright and stricter mood they bring.

I don't love a _fully_ open office, but I do enjoy some middle ground.

I think my best working experience was when I worked at a startup where there was a big "bullpen," but it was mostly for customer service; all other teams had massive conference rooms where you would have 3-5 people _max_ in that room, with the potential to shut the door if that team wanted privacy or more silence than other teams.

Completely agree with all of this. I believe the people describing their problems with open offices, but I'm just not at all one of them. I'd love if the conversation was less about open space offices being objectively bad for everyone, and more about finding a balance for both people who hate them and people who prefer them.

Thanks for posting this. I also find single offices lonely and isolating. It is much easier to both help people and get help in an open office environment versus the friction and isolation of single person offices.

insteresting point of view that kinda explains it.

now I imagine dilbert's boss being sad in an office, looking at all the workers in cublicles and thinking of ways to make friends :D

for the sake of adding data points, I prefer not being alone in an office as well

I kind of think being in a group of 4-6 cubicles is pretty ideal

I also love open offices but I do find it heavily depends on who you sit around with. I'm pretty fortunate because everyone prefers deep work and if they do want to chat we just do it over Slack even if we're right next to each other and if we needed something more urgent we'd just give them a look haha.

Thanks for sharing this!

I am a IC and I love open offices.

Also agree that privat offices feel lonely and are a hassle.

I think like with many things there is just a vocal minority that bitching about open offices...we need more people speak up about all the benefits of open offices (besides the economic ones for the company that get cynically cited every time).

'minority'? doesn't the parent blog post cite studies that claim the direct opposite, that people that prefer open offices are in fact the minority?

Same here ... it's ideal for me, though I can definitely agree that even better is the "hybrid" concept mentioned by a few others, where I have some time spent amongst the team, and some time spent in isolation.

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