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Open offices are a dead end (nytimes.com)
235 points by zeveb 19 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 295 comments



I think I'd have a less negative reaction to open offices if it weren't for the attempt to sell it as a productivity booster.

The article even mentions how they're "sold to workers as a boon to collaboration — liberated from barriers, stuffed in like sardines, people would chat more and, supposedly, come up with lots of brilliant new ideas". Thankfully the author also quickly refuted that. Yet the insanity remains, and people (often times the Agile evangelist types companies hire) continue to try to convince developers that open offices are good.

I could buy into it if the rational is it's far cheaper to fit more employees in less space. That's a fine reason. It sucks to work in, but I can at least hear that without rolling my eyes and dismissing everything else that person says as incredulous.


I think I'd have a less negative reaction if people actually had a decent amount of personal space in these floorplans. In the photo at the top of the article, two people could scarcely yawn and stretch at the same time without making physical contact. If you're towards the end and you want to just take a bathroom break, you'd have to physically weave around people and chairs to get out. My home office that I use for playing video games is nearly as large as that space that houses presumably four working professionals. How is this reasonable? How does anyone think this is a good way of investing in your expensive staff? If this is all the space you can afford, I absolutely sympathize, but maybe at that point it's time to let people work from home.


> If this is all the space you can afford

I think, I saw in an earlier article, and after repeating the calculation myself, that just a 1 or 2% increase in productivity would save you so much salary it’s criminal not to invest in a decent working space.


That's the kicker for me - when I talk to people who are complaining about open floor plans, they typically work in a place similar to the one pictured in the article. Now, that's not to say that more space necessarily makes it better for productivity, but it will certainly make some difference (at least, to me). Where I work, we have an open floor plan, and we have a good amount of space around our desks. I personally like it, but I can see how its not for everyone. If I were crammed in a tiny space, I would definitely be clamoring for an office.


Agreed, same with my current workplace. Big open office with enough space and its amazing. I wouldn't trade this to go sit in a grey cubicle for anything. But that picture from the article looks like a nightmare, so I get why people complain about that situation.

Open offices have a ton of variation and they can be nice, but can also suck. It's all about the implementation.


Same for me, I currently sit in an open floor with a lot of space and people are considerate of others (i.e. not chatting much/loud).

And I actually like it a lot. I don't want to sit in a separate room all day, I enjoy being around people and to interact from time to time.


I think part of the problem is that (in my experience) open offices actually do boost productivity somewhat, but only when the office is a small 2-5 person pod. I lose productivity when I get dropped in a huge floor of people chatting and talking about things not related to what I'm working on.


A pod is a lot different than an open office from my experience. Since the only background noise is your team and your problems, while distracting it at least it's focused on things you care about. Open offices you get bled over from everything. Made worse by the modern industrial design that hates noise insulation.


I wouldn't call that an open office though, just a team room.

A shared space is fine with <5 people, can become problematic at 5-10 people and the frequently 20+ large floor spaces are just unworkable without noise cancelling headphones.


Agreed, it's just a small room with people in it. BTDT.

I worked in london in an open plan office maybe 40ft wide and getting on 200 ft long. That's open plan.

It's fine except for the noise. It's always the noise as the problem, all else is ok.

(edit: not a single company, a collection of small and medium businesses)


> It's fine except for the noise.

And the utter lack of privacy. Want to tell your colleague that Alex is a dick? Better do it in another building, or the entire office will hear it.


It's probably best not to use such language at work or one may be labelled a dick oneself. Keep it polite and any complaints formal.


Don’t worry. Alex knows everyone thinks he’s a dick.


I work in an open office with about 30 people in it and find it unbarable on times. I have some good noise cancelling headphones that help sometimes but I can't wear them for too long a period before they start getting uncomfortable.


Noise cancelling headphones do absolutely nothing when you put a loud talker next to one. They can't absorb speech.

The other problem is people trying to do Skype or other conferencing calls while wearing closed-can headphones. Their own speech level rises two notches when they can't hear their own voice. Try it for yourself and see.


Honestly skype et al should probably detect if you're using headphones and turn on direct feedback if you are. It makes not only a stark difference for how loud you speak, but also for how annoying and derailing echo on the connection is.


2-5 person offices are great. Even if you don’t work directly together you can have meaningful relaxed conversation where you can actually learn something about each other.

Open office seems to be designed for people who like to yell at each other or who isolate themselves completely via headphones. I have almost never seen any meaningful collaboration in large open office. It always happens in smaller more intimate spaces.


Also depends on the team.


And the type of job. Some jobs require a lot of immediate/high-bandwidth cross-communication between team members. Not all do.


Well, the fair comparison is to an wall separated space using the same area.

If you compare an open space office with a walled office that 3x the size, of course the bigger office will win out. An open office 3x the size would also be a big improvement.


> I could buy into it if the rational is it's far cheaper to fit more employees in less space. That's a fine reason. It sucks to work in, but I can at least hear that without rolling my eyes and dismissing everything else that person says as incredulous.

Raytheon, for all its other faults, was at least largely honest about why they were shrinking cube sizes and experimenting with open floor plans. There was some half-hearted mentions of increased collaboration, but they pretty much said it was a space issue.


I think it's an important distinction to say that is isn't a space issue, it's a money issue.


Yes and no. Ultimately, any space issue can be solved with enough money, so yes. But space usually isn't easily expanded. My company has the 7th floor of a 10-floor building. When we hire people as we've been doing, we can either fit them into the existing space somehow, or... move the entire office? Rent space on the floor above or below? It isn't as easy as just "spend a bit more money, get a bit more space," so no.

Ultimately, when they moved into this building, they spent quite a bit more than they needed to for the entire floor, knowing they expected to grow. Now they're cramming people in too closely and will probably have to move to a larger building in the future. In the meantime, however...

So yeah, it's a space issue first and foremost, and a money issue only secondarily.


Yes and yes is what I got out of your answer.

>When we hire people as we've been doing, we can either fit them into the existing space somehow, or... move the entire office?

Yes. Exactly.

My office did it with 0 days down time combining 3 separate locations spread out around a city downtown. We labeled our stuff on Friday, a company was contracted to make sure on Monday our stuff would be in a new office, and it was.

It's a money issue through and through, until the lost productivity is greater than the cost to move, more people get crammed in. Simple as that.


So for every new hire at your company, you pack up on a Friday and unpack on a Monday? Do you only hire on one day a year, or sign week-long leases, rather than year-long leases?

No, that's silly. You lease a building bigger than you need today, and then when you fill it up you either pause hiring or start cramming people in until your lease is up and you can move.

Or, I guess you can set money on fire and break lease after lease after lease, but I think there's no way around the fact that this is a space issue first and foremost, with money providing a way to mitigate/solve space issues.


In what way is this a valid response to what I said?

We moved into a building bigger than our current size yes... so?

You don't fill up overnight.

Do you hire people on a coin flip? Or make up open positions when it tickles someone's fancy?

We were hiring at an incredible rate, but never got to the point of being actively detrimental to our space because once that was barely in sight, we started to move.

But having money afforded that option.

Hence, it's always money, not space.


It's a valid response because you seem to be denying any factors other than money, which is ridiculous.

I've mentioned lease terms as one major counter-example. It is not enough to lease "larger than you need right now," but given 12-month standard lease terms, you must lease "larger than you will need one year from now," which isn't a factor of money alone.


We had that problem at a different company (lease start actually, being a little far out) and opened a temporary office for 2 months.

There is literally no situation where any moderately competent company is forced to cram people closer than normal except to save money. Even "normal" is defined by money.

Heck, even an incompetent company can pay a competent company figure it out for them.


Office/Commercial space is usually leased on much longer intervals than 1 year. It has to be or it would make no sense to complete the necessary renovations.


yes it's easy to move when everything is sorted, but it's not quick to get to that point - it's potentially months going from "we need more space" to moving day.

finding the space, contracts, fit outs - it's not a one-day task


The original question was is it space vs money. It's always money.

Unless there is literally no real estate within your location, it's always money.


> I think it's an important distinction to say that is isn't a space issue, it's a money issue.

It's not even a money issue in general, it's what money is untouchable, vs what money can be freely cut into.

Working conditions for regular employees? Sure, brand it as "increased collaboration" and cut that sucker down to the bone.

Number of yachts per CxO? Nope, can't touch that.


Great point. I feel the same. If employees are told that company can spend X dollars on office space and hence open office is only thing we can afford, it will be quite better than buzzword productivity bullshit. After all in my experience companies are reasonable straightforward in term of expenses they plan to have on office supplies, hardware/software etc.


> I think I'd have a less negative reaction to open offices if it weren't for the attempt to sell it as a productivity booster.

But isn't that how you sell anything politically? Take some real or alleged positive aspect, blow it up out of all proportion, be loud and keep the pressure up, ram the agenda down all throats as deeply as it goes.


Open offices are a productivity booster for some people (myself being one).

Of course, WeWork being a company with one product, they try to sell it to everyone, even the people who it doesn't work for. That's a valid criticism of WeWork, but not really a valid criticism of open offices.


So on a team with roughly half introverts and half extroverts, you'd expect it to be a wash - only it's not, because there's a low ceiling to how much productivity you can add, and the noise from the productive extroverts drives introverts' productivity into the floor. It's net negative.


It sounds like the very easy solution is to let the extroverts work together and let the introverts work in private.

Your post is a valid criticism of forcing introverts to work in open offices, but it isn't a valid criticism of letting extroverts work in open offices.


How do you measure your productivity?

What do you attribute to your increase in productivity in an open floor plan?


> How do you measure your productivity?

The same way everyone measures productivity: subjectively. With software development, measuring productivity objectively is very much an unsolved problem (which is one of the major problems with studies on productivity of different floor plans, incidentally).

> What do you attribute to your increase in productivity in an open floor plan?

1. Generally feeling happier, more energized, and more focused (I'm an extrovert). When I work alone I find myself getting restless, irritable, and distracted.

2. Collaboration. Catching mistakes, soliciting creative ideas, getting information when I don't know something. But really #1 is a much bigger factor for me.


What specific work do you do?


Software development.


How does an open space office improve vs working in a single office?


For me, it's mainly that I'm happier, more energized, and more focused. I can point to collaboration effects, but really that's less important for my personal productivity I think.

Just to be clear: I'm not saying an open office is right for everyone. If an open office isn't right for you, then you should be able to work in a private space. I'm just asking that you offer me the same courtesy. There's no reason we have to force everyone to work in the same style of office, when everyone has different working styles.


I dunno man, I (software engineer for 21 years) like the open office, at my last job we had real offices and my coworker and I cut a huge window sized hole in the drywall between our offices so we could easier communicate/chat. I can’t count how many times a random casual conversation saved the day or generated new ideas. If I need to focus I put on headphones.

Logistically it seems unlikely open offices will go away, software heavy business can’t just spread their workforce over 3x the space, especially in dense urban areas. Better to come up with novel solutions for deep work, like dedicated open area library/dark dungeon rooms.


There's a balance that needs to be struck. Team spaces probably make the most sense.


we had real offices and my coworker and I cut a huge window sized hole in the drywall

Yeah, that's not an open office.


A workspace shared between two people, or even three or four, is a little different from an open office. I've worked in rooms I shared with small groups and can definitely see the benefits. After a certain point, like maybe ten or twelve, I think it becomes too distracting.


If I could craft the perfect job for me, the one I work at would be it

- an intelligent straightforward manager who will speak his mind bluntly and can take it just as well as he can dish it out. He’s mostly concerned with results not whether you kiss his ring.

- small company without a lot of bureaucracy -- I have full access to our entire AWS infrastructure

- relatively generous PTO

- a decent free family health plan

- Pay is line with the market

- up to date with technology and great chances for resume building.

- coworkers are decent

- easy commute.

But, I’m still debating on whether I should leave in a year and find either fully remote work, a job where I can have an office or at least a quiet work area because of our open office where you have sales people (B2b), customer support managers, and developers from different teams in one office where it gets noisy.


> - up to date with technology and great chances for resume building.

Resume driver development is bad for the planet, you, for everything.

Java programmers still find jobs; COBOL programmers are still needed; FORTRAN is still alive, so I'd rather find something that will not go away in my lifetime than trying to keep up with trends.


Good Luck With That.

In 2008, I was looking for a job after being with one company for close to a decade. I knew C and C++ like the back of my hand and written programs for x86 PCs as well as three mainframes (Stratus VOS, DEC VAX, and one that I cant remember.) When it was time to find a job, after a few months,

I found one company and a mid level job (that paid more because salary compression is real) that wanted my VB6 skills because they were moving away from a proprietary VB6 like language and moving to C#. Later, my C++/MFC skills came in handy when they needed someone to maintain their proprietary development system.

Fast forward three years later and the company died laying everyone off. Knowing the situation of the company, I did a lot of Resume Driven Development with C#. It took four days from the time I called some recruiters to getting an offer from what was then a F10 non tech company.

It’s been the same every since as I slowly moved up to where my salary and responsibly has matched my years of experience. All based on seeing what the local market wants and keeping my resume in line with it. RDD means optionality. You can literally make a few phone calls and have multiple offers in hand with in a couple of weeks if you live in any major metro area. I live in Atlanta.

Even with Java if you say your expertise is writing Java applets and EJBs you will be laughed at.


I’m not disagreeing with your conclusion, but the 2008-2012 comparison is n=1, and the US economy wasn’t exactly booming in 2008 (https://www.macrotrends.net/countries/USA/united-states/gdp-...)


And I was looking for a job between 2008-2012, even though I had one, the direction my company was going was obvious. Employers looking for employees or contractors could be picky and find someone with just the right skills and didn't have to compromise. Having the right skill fit is even more important in a down turn. What are the chances that their won't be another downturn in the next 20 years?


There's really something to this. A friend of mine recently received an email to her dev shop criticizing her for using PHP. The funny thing is, she knows the guy who sent the email. He runs an IT business and sent an article to her client about the latest web technologies, then the client said "we use PHP, is that OK?" to which IT guy, with close to zero web experience, replied that it wasn't.

I was pretty upset on her behalf because she and her team do really awesome work and it's not like they are using the same PHP you'd use back in the early 2000s.

I'm wondering if paying so much attention to new tech just naturally makes people a bit more shallow when it comes to actually using tech.


Very important parts of the web continue to use PHP. Forget WordPress, we're talking fast, scaleable, well engineered applications built by software engineers, being used by millions of people a day. Built using the same software engineering principles you would use in any other language. It's just a language after all, and both the language and it's community have matured a great deal.


And the market for PHP developers is huge -- thanks to WordPress and legacy systems -- but the pay is much lower in most markets. Why hire someone who knows the fundamentals when you can hire someone who knows the fundamentals and your tech stack?


For you and your friend: http://phpdoesnotsuck.com


If it’s the perfect job why do you want to pad your CV with junk? Why not pick some stable tech and take the opportunity to get really deeply into it? The only reason to chase buzzwords is if you plan to leave soon!


> Why not pick some stable tech and take the opportunity to get really deeply into it? The only reason to chase buzzwords is if you plan to leave soon!

Or because you respect the perspective that introducing new skills brings. I'll pick the example everyone loves to hate; Java developers. I used to work at a shop where most of their people had invested in "stable tech", which for them largely meant writing Java code that would get shipped onto Tomcat or WebSphere or something similar.

It was hands down one of the worst places I have ever worked from a technical perspective. Anything that didn't fit neatly into that universe was a no go. We had some version of WebSphere that was like 12 years old because people had gotten "deeply into it". High availability was basically non-existent because everyone was "deeply into" a toolkit that didn't provide it natively. Everything was built on "stable tech" that generally didn't support HA (like putting files into CIFS without any locking, because that was the stable tech we had chosen).

I'm not saying everyone needs to chase the latest and greatest thing, but the ecosystem moves because needs change. Sometimes learning new tech is less about how to use the tech, and more about understanding what problem that tech is solving. Perhaps the newest tech isn't a perfect solution to that problem, but there is always value in understanding what problem it is attempting to solve. Kubernetes is not a perfect solution to a problem, but avoiding it to a degree where you don't even understand the problems it is trying to solve will devalue you as an engineer.


In my present job, which I am mostly happy at, which I think is the best you can really hope for, I do Python, Python and more Python, and I don’t agonise for a single second that I ought to be learning TypeScript or Elixir or Nim instead then something else in 6 months. There’s plenty of new stuff in Python 3.8 to get stuck into and plenty of Python 2.6 code we got that I can improve. That’s what I mean by deeply into it.


And what happens when that job disappears? When your company gets acquired? When your boss leaves and you’re stuck under that one person you don’t like and who micromanages. Optionality is important.


It’s not about you “planning to leave soon”. Companies leave you, they get acquired, culture changes bosses change, and salary compression is real. The best way to keep making more up to a certain point is to change jobs.

Always keep your running shoes around your neck.


Why did it become padding junk? Why can't it be valuable experience to put on your CV? He never mentioned anything about flash in the pan tech or buzzwords. Despite having a great job it's still totally relevant to build your resume. What if you get let go, the company undergoes changes, or you become unhappy?


Anecdotally, building my resume has recently consisted of AWS, Node, and Python. I don't think any of those are "flash in the pan".


Hey! I actually have all of the things on your list. But with one catch: I work for a community nonprofit in a small town of 15,000 people in the deep south, and make probably a very small fraction of what you do.

I guess life is all about compromise :)


"small town Deep South" would be a deal breaker. That's a "ha ha only serious" comment. I grew up in a small town in south GA and still live in Atlanta.


You said "all", but its not really all without "payment up to date with the market" ;).

Ps. I would not care so much for payment if I was born 5-10 years earlier. I would already have a big house with nice big garden and few cars. Now to get the same - have to pay 15x as much as my brother who is older than me :) Great times we live in..


I suppose it depends if you're defining the market locally or globally. A fraction of a FAANG salary in a small town can go a long way in the local market.


Heck a fraction of the salary in Atlanta, can get you the nice big house in the burbs, with the good school system, and the white picket fence.


The market for my industry (nonprofit admin) is way different than the market for the tech industry, for example.


> Pay is line with the market

Presumably pay should / can be lower in a place where you actually want to work for than in a shitty work environment?

> up to date with technology and great chances for resume building.

What do you mean "up to date with technology"? IMO most "recent" technology is mostly hype and/or vaporware, and as I get more experienced, I see more and more value in old, reliable, well-supported technology. I mean, I'm not dissing on all new tech (Rust?), just saying that just being "new" doesn't make it also "good".


Presumably pay should / can be lower in a place where you actually want to work for than in a shitty work environment?

My major want is to get money deposited into my account. I'm at an age where I need to focus on building wealth. But that's the other dilemma -- I could go into working for a consulting company as a "digital transformation consultant"/"cloud consultant" where I would be travelling or working from home a lot, but that doesn't excite me either -- thus I stay where I am until I can make up my mind.

What do you mean "up to date with technology"? IMO most "recent" technology is mostly hype and/or vaporware, and as I get more experienced, I see more and more value in old, reliable, well-supported technology. I mean, I'm not dissing on all new tech (Rust?), just saying that just being "new" doesn't make it also "good".

"Up to date with market" and "resume building". The only "value" I get out of any technology is the ability for it to get money deposited into my account. "Old reliable, well supported technology" doesn't get recruiters beating down your door. At 45, I can't afford not to be competitive and keeping up with new technology and then whine about "ageism"

I don't care about Rust or any other new technology until I see it appearing on a lot of job reqs.


I’ve always considered the technology treadmill to be optional. You can ride it and be successful, or you can become a good generalist on old technologies and be successful too.

I’ve never even thought about messing with Rust or React or Angular or Ember or Node or Haskell. I don’t know what a Kubernet is and I think Docker is what happens when you take “it works for me” and turn it into a software deployment tool. I don’t surf the Blockchain or care about Tensorflow. There are just too many companies (big and small, FAANG and fun) who offer rewarding jobs working on mature, boring tech for me to bother.

Maybe there will come a time when nobody on Earth is using C++ and Java anymore but I don’t expect it to happen in my lifetime.


Are you willing to move "anywhere on earth" to find a job? It doesn't matter whether anyone will hire you, what matters is if anyone will hire you in a place that you are willing to move or allow you to work remotely and at the pay you want.

Also how old are you? I've seen too many people in their mid 40s who couldn't get a job because they called themselves "generalists" when a company could just as easily hire someone cheaply that could hit the ground running. Also there is a difference between the "right job" and the "right now" job. The "right job" for me would be architect, consultant, team lead, or consultant. But those jobs aren't as abundant. If I have three or four months to plan and look, I can get the "right job". If circumstances dictate that I need to get the "right now" job or contract (and get on my wife's insurance), I need to find a job quickly and be marketable.


Good point. There is a technology treadmill and a “moving around for work” treadmill. I’m in my 40s and have been ok with the moving around treadmill all my life. Not for everyone though. Landed in SV ten years ago and haven’t run into the need to move again so far. Fingers crossed the bull market runs on...


This is like saying pay should be lower for NFL players who are allowed to wear helmets because they “want to work there” (not die or get concussions, be successful in their job).

It’s mind-boggling that basic necessities like private working conditions, a tool to get my job done (which is the job that earns my salary), is equivocated with “extras” or “nice-to-haves” that I should give up salary to get. Crazy town.

Wouldn’t you love to work at Acme Co.? We totally don’t cut your hands off, so we pay 20% below market.


> Presumably pay should / can be lower in a place where you actually want to work for than in a shitty work environment?

Some people are in it primarily for the pay -- those people will not be willing to take a lower pay rate in exchange for almost anything.

For others (like myself), the pay rate is third or fourth down on the list of what makes a position attractive.

I think that both perspectives are valid -- everyone has their own individual priorities.


In line with the market means in line with other workplaces at the same shittiness level. People who tolerate worse conditions should be rewarded with a higher pay; they can want to work somewhere else, but prefer more money and other rewards.


I have all that at my current job except for "up to date ...", we're in a mature/declining market so it doesn't feel as exciting.


It's interesting to note that I had all except "easy commute" job for ~3 years before the company acquired (I made decent money). It was amazing to see the company go through a dramatic cultural shift (terrible manager and co-worker mostly). Ended up quitting within a year after. It was a while ago but I still fondly look back to those days :-)


What do you consider "relatively generous PTO"? No axe to grind, I'm just curious.


4 weeks up to 3 years and 5 weeks after that. The standard seems to be three. I’ve even seen 2.


> relatively generous PTO

Why not attribute a number to this instead of being vague? I personally think 28 days PTO (not including holidays) is "relatively generous" (for the US).


It’s just like saying “I am paid well”. But if you’re not making $300K a year, people on HN act like you’re living in poverty and then you have to explain that $135K+ allows you to buy a nice big new house in the burbs in a good school system as long as you stay away from the west coast.

In other words, it details the conversation.


I'm not sure I follow. I can't tell if you're disagreeing or agreeing with me

So, to clarify, PTO can range from something like 0 days to 60 days. Salary variance is much larger and the ceiling is higher, so OP not putting a salary number makes sense. It does not, however, make sense to provide no floor for PTO (which the OP did)

IMO the floor for PTO should be 28.


Why should it be 28 days?

On average it is only 11 days (https://www.tsheets.com/resources/pto-survey)


> Why should it be 28 days?

You must be an employer ;)

A few reasons I like at least 28 days: You get to truly disconnect/recharge, prevents burnout, I get to spend more time with friends and family, my stress/anxiety and general mental health are improved, I get to _actually_ travel. I could go on.

11 days over the entire year gives me time for what? Not much.

> On average it is only 11 days

In the US. That's also one of the worst averages in the the industrialized world and the US is one of the only nations to not set a minimum for PTO[0]

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_minimum_annual_leave_b...


A few reasons I like at least 28 days: You get to truly disconnect/recharge, prevents burnout, I get to spend more time with friends and family, my stress/anxiety and general mental health are improved, I get to _actually_ travel. I could go

If I am 45 years old working at a job that is stressful or giving me anxiety or burning me out, I’m doing it wrong. That hold thing I said about “optionality”? If any job is giving me continuous stress, it’s time to job hunt. Why would a software engineer in 2019 stress when there are so many jobs out there?

Most adults (friends and family) also have jobs.

the US. That's also one of the worst averages in the the industrialized world and the US is one of the only nations to not set a minimum for PTO[0]

Seeing that I am not going to be leaving the US anytime soon...


I am based in the US...

I know of dozens of companies where one could take 28 days PTO, get paid handsomely, and not have to solve CS trivia during the interview.

Good PTO isn’t the norm, but I feel it should be.

If you’re happy spending more of your life working, good for you.


Well, if you’re spending time at a job that is leading to “anxiety”, “stress”, and “burn out”, you’re optimizing for PTO when you should be optimizing for finding a job that doesn’t stress you out while you’re working.

I made a promise to myself that I would never stay at a job more than a month that was stressful. I’ve kept that promise for the latter 10 years of my life.


> if you’re spending time at a job that is leading to “anxiety”, “stress”, and “burn out”, you’re optimizing for PTO when you should be optimizing for finding a job that doesn’t stress you out while you’re working.

I never suggested my job was any of those things or that I practice “optimizing for PTO”. Far from it.


From the original post...

You get to truly disconnect/recharge, prevents burnout, I get to spend more time with friends and family, my stress/anxiety

At this point in my career, I wouldn’t let a job lead to any of the negatives nor would it stop me from spending time with friends or family.


Your inference is incorrect.

Where in that quote, or my posts, do I say I "optimize for PTO", or that my job is stressful or causes anxiety? I don't.

I was specifically talking about/referring to low PTO and what it does to me - and why I think 28 days as a floor is beneficial.

A final few thought experiements for you (I don't expect you to reply answering these...):

- If your employer offered you 15 days extra PTO, would you take it?

- How would you use it? Where would you go? What would you do?

- How would those extra 15 days impact you?


If 8 more days is the difference between having “anxiety” or “burnout”, that means you are already close to the edge.

If I had 15 more days what would I do with it? Stay at home and try to burn through it? My lack of PTO isn’t what’s preventing me from taking more vacations.

Visiting friends and family? They work and have families too.

Hobbies? With who? All of the people who have jobs so that we could only get together after work or on the weekends?

In other words, the impact wouldn’t be that much.


> If 8 more days is the difference between having “anxiety” or “burnout”, that means you are already close to the edge.

Truly I am at the precipice /s

More seriously, if you went from 20 days PTO to 28 that is a 40% increase. Bundled in with typically longer holidays like Xmas or Thanksgiving 8 days PTO can be 2 full weeks off


> IMO the floor for PTO should be 28.

I have never seen a company (in the US) that offers that amount of PTO without having to have been working for them for a decade or two first.


For more established corporations that's usually the case, yes.

As I alluded to in other comments, most companies in the US do not put 28 in writing currently. A subset of the "unlimited"/"flexible"/"open" PTO companies will allow you to take 28 days.

Such companies do exist, I have worked at a couple already and know people working at others enjoying the same benefit.

However, off the top of my head, Mailgun offers ~28 days PTO in writing. Wikimedia foundation has "flexible" vacation and 19 paid holidays.


None of this "unlimited PTO" either. It's just a way for the company to save money as they don't owe you anything come the end of the year or when you leave and still have PTO days.


I'll add "flexible"/"untracked"/"open" PTO to the list too

I find myself having to scour the internet for what that even means. Turns out for some companies it's a hard limit of 20. For others it's OK if you take off 40 days. Most of the time it appears to mean around 4 weeks or 20 days - which is not great.

I have been fortunate enough to enjoy > 28 days PTO for the last 5 years of my career at 2 separate companies. It has been life changing.

I will never, ever, again go back to accured, or highly limited, PTO - and I encourage anyone who will listen to try to do the same.


In our world with the flexibility most of us have, you can do a lot without using your PTO. One of my coworkers went to India for three weeks and only took about a week off. The rest of the time he worked remotely and put himself on the same schedule as our team based in there.

I’ve hardly ever needed to take PTO because of sickness. Most of the time I can work from home if I am contagious or catch up later.

I relocated out of town for a whole summer, stayed with my parents and worked remotely when we were literally between homes - our lease was up, we were waiting for a house to be built, and my wife doesn’t work during the summer (she works in education.)


> One of my coworkers went to India for three weeks and only took about a week off.

Sounds less than ideal. I feel bad that he wasn't able to take all 3 weeks off and fully enjoy his time there.

> I’ve hardly ever needed to take PTO because of sickness. Most of the time I can work from home if I am contagious or catch up later.

Sounds like a great place/way to work

> I relocated out of town for a whole summer, stayed with my parents and worked remotely when we were literally between homes - our lease was up, we were waiting for a house to be built, and my wife doesn’t work during the summer (she works in education.)

Sounds stressful


Sounds less than ideal. I feel bad that he wasn't able to take all 3 weeks off and fully enjoy his time there.

If he is anything like me, it gives you a good excuse to spend some time with your family and spend some time away from your family without having to be on all the time.

Sounds like a great place/way to work

I can’t telk if you’re being sarcastic. But, I have cold induced asthma. I can go weeks after I’m over my cold and still coughing. But even if that’s not the case, there are plenty of times I feel good enough to work or even work out (at home) but want to be considerate enough not to be around other people.

Sounds stressful

Why would that be stressful? At the time, my parents house was larger than mine and they had two spare bedrooms - one for my wife and I, one for me and they had a separate office I could set up in.

The alternative, was staying in an extended stay (not bad, just small) - which we did while school was in session.


Do you own noise cancelling headphones? Mine are worth their weight in gold to me (Sony W-something 1000x Mk2).


Funny you mention this... I previously worked in an open office layout where it was discouraged and frowned upon to wear noise cancelling headphones.

They wanted to support the ability of others to be able to come up to you without feeling like they were interrupting.


They wanted to support the ability of others to b̶e̶ ̶a̶b̶l̶e̶ ̶t̶o̶ ̶c̶o̶m̶e̶ ̶u̶p̶ ̶t̶o̶ interrupt you without feeling like they were interrupting.


Exactly. lol


I can't do 'em, because of the constant pressure in my ears when I have them on.


I never saw this discussed before but I experience the same.

I tried different noise cancelling cans and the effect is more or less the same:

Audio wise they are great but it feels like I am on a airplane with the need to 'pop' my ears.

Like you describe as if there is a stationary positive pressure wave.

Anyone know the reason for this? Can it be eliminated?


They to make "passive" noise cancelling earphones. Basically, headphones that are thick and insulated enough to block surrounding noise without needing to cancel it. (Also sold w/o speakers as something construction workers would wear for ear protection.)

I like noise cancelling headphones when on an airplane, but in everyday life I tend to not like the effect either. The older ones gave me a bit of a headache. The new ones just have that pressure you describe.


I may not be understanding your ask, but they do make passive noise cancellation headphones.

https://www.amazon.com/slp/over-ear-active-and-passive-noise...

Also, there are earmuffs and earplugs - I'm not sure what need those don't meet that a construction work requires.


Those kinds of headphones sans speakers don't actually do much noise cancelling. They just reduce the volume to safe levels.


Have you tried earbuds v headphones? Anything that sits on / rattles my cartilage is excruciating, but after finding a comfortable pair of earbuds with the big silicone tip on them, I can go a full workday no problem.


I hate wearing headphones, so decided I don't need noise-cancelling

That allows me to get on-ear headphones like the Logitech H570e.

It's enough.


Yes, maybe mine aren't the best, but the only way to drown out noise with them is by playing white noise and eventually that gets irritating. I'm also (overly?) concerned with the long term hearing affects of using them.


get the newest Sonys. in terms of audio, nothing beats them atm. - some well invested 300 bucks IMO.


For me, wearing noise cancelling headphones increases the amount of stress that an open office causes.


I'd have a far less negative reaction to the article if it didn't attempt to blame "capitalism" in the title.


[flagged]


"If I could craft the perfect job for me, the one I work at would be it".

Seeing that neither my company nor my manager are hypothetical, the term "he" is appropriate.


I don't think that a hypothetical person will object.


re-read the parent, this isn’t a hypothetical.


and even if it would be. there could be a reason that OP wants to work with a male. And that doesn't mean OP is a sexist pig. Maybe its just OPs preference. thats ok


Of all the places I have worked over the years, my preferred office layout so far is conference rooms. That is, each team has their own room. Open within, closed to noise from other teams. Depending on how well you get along with your teammates, you can turn on some music, decorate however you like, etc. Of course it won't work for everyone, or for every type of job, but as a developer it is the arrangement that I enjoyed the most. And anecdotally, my coworkers also seemed to prefer it to either open space or cubicles.


This is the arrangement at the place I've been working at for the last 9 years and I have to say, I prefer it to everything else. Our team is all in the same room so useful impromptu conversations happen semi-regularly. We don't have to reserve a conference room for daily stand-up. Asking questions (e.g. useful interruptions) is encouraged. If you want to be in the Zone for a few hours with no interruptions, there are places in the building where no one will bother you, or you can work from home that day.

Certainly, it's not for every kind of personality. But that's why companies evaluate for cultural fit as well. If you can't stand being interrupted ever for any reason, you're probably better off with a remote gig working from home. It doesn't work for extroverts who are compelled to strike up conversations regularly or who can't think without also talking because these things interrupt the whole team.


My preference is the ones I have experienced in national labs. Probably too many meetings, but when you are done with your meetings you get to go to a dedicated office where you can close the door and get your "deep work" done.

This is counter to my experience in a _dedicated_ WeWork office. Have a neighbor that takes calls throughout the day, you'll need to wear headphones because it's basically being in an open office. Have an office on a busy corridor? Get ready for people walking and talking past you all day. The sound design at WeWork is pretty awful, to the point it is non-existent.

I made a complaint at one point before moving offices because the music was too loud during nights and weekends in the lobby. I was told they would see what they could do but that the CEO [Neumann] preferred there to be loud music in the lobby.


I've worked in a situation like that and felt productive but that was only because we were all basically on a tiger team locked in a room together to work on the same project. Me and one other developer, a tech writer, a QA person, and a PM. In the end we were successful and it was a successful product for the company.

Compare that with being thrown in an office with long rows of desks working with everyone in the company. That's not productive. That's a din of noise and people either interrupting your flow or interrupting the flow of the people immediately next to you, thus interrupting your flow. That, for lack of a better term, is a sweat shop.


I have a visceral response to that photo in the article. I do not need folks right on top of me like that.

My solution is that I often wear Shooting Earmuffs (you guys who listen to music all the time, i don't get it, i can't do that) to lower my awareness of all the chatter... even when I do have an office.

Fortunately folks around me are understanding.


Unfortunately, noise reduction is not a very important part of it.

The problem is a genuine need for actual privacy and isolation in order to engage states of flow required for depth of technical knowledge work.

There’s no way to avoid it: all knowledge workers even in dense urban areas need to be afforded a reasonable private office with a door that shuts, and it should be viewed as a basic tool necessity like a keyboard or monitor. Just part of the cost of doing business.


Agreed. My earmuffs are not a total solution.

You also need to limit things like visual things, potential interruptions, etc.

I actually used the "mother's room" at a place I worked for that from time to time. Good lighting, quiet, comfortable, PRIVATE. Granted I made sure nobody needed it, but it was a small office so I was reasonably sure that there would be no conflicts.


I just recently discovered I have a super power: easily zoom out from a lot of chatter in a crowded small room.

The secret is that I am a non-native English speaker working in the US. I can understand and speak very well... when I am focused on it. If I am not consciously making an effort to understand the chat in the room, it is almost like white noise.


Same for me and all the french/swiss french colleagues around me, I don't think its that special of a skill. I can easily block them talking right through me and they don't interrupt my thought process.

English is a bit harder since I am much better at it and subconsciousness catches up. Never worked in open space in my native language so no clue, probably the hardest.


> If I am not consciously making an effort to understand the chat in the room, it is almost like white noise.

Heh, I also feel the same, as a non-hungarian working in Budapest, and what's funny is that historically Hungarian was (is?) used by movies as the "white noise background language" by some directors.


> you guys who listen to music all the time, i don't get it, i can't do that

Basically, it's just background noise to drown out other people. I don't listen to the music I really like when I'm working, I listen to quiet stuff that won't distract me; rather than what I most enjoy and on which I would want to focus.


I do use background noise like rainy mood when I want to so I get that.

But songs with words or that go too fast for my liking, can't do it.


I tend to pick an album and leave it on repeat for weeks / months. After a few days, you have all the words memorized and it acts as a pacing device as much as anything.

Part of it is probably that I tend to listen to music with actual lyrics instead of catchy pop songs. It's just a big long story that you've heard a thousand times. Comforting, but also easy to ignore.


Yep, my music is moderately-paced and doesn't have words. It's not that different from background noise with a little tonality. I tried rain and slower music, but they made me somewhat drowsy.


That's spacious by the standards of open offices.

I have seen (interviewed at) a company, not a startup, that had two feet deep work surfaces, basically enough to put up a monitor, and chairs about three feet apart. Not really even space to open a notebook on the surface without bothering your neighbor.


A friend ended up at a company like that and for every other reason I'd be happy to work there... but I just don't think I can do the mass of humans and my desk is now cluttered because I have a drink on my desk ...


> (you guys who listen to music all the time, i don't get it, i can't do that)

While working, I can't listen to music that has any lyrics in it whatsoever, otherwise my mind is listening to the words instead of focusing on the work.

So, electronic music. I used to love being immersed in code while listening to house and progressive except that in the last decade or so most of the new stuff has shifted closer to mainstream pop in that most tracks now have divas or bros in the foreground. Blegh.

Anyway, clearly we're all wired differently because lots of the people I work with (and have worked with) can focus just fine while listening to lyric-laden pop, alternative, metal, whatever. It's interesting.


I'm the same way, Except I've been listening to a youtube playlist that has all of the OC Remix on it.

The benefit is that every once in a while there WILL be a song with lyrics, and that's my indicator that I should take a quick break.


The best office I ever worked in was an open office... with an open remote work policy. On any given day, only 15-30% of the office would be in; meaning while the office was "open", it was also usually empty and quiet.

People came in when they had in-person meetings, and teams generally fell into a loose schedule to come in on the same days 1-2 times per week.

I thought it provided a good balance; the company need to have a huge space to give people private offices etc, and it was quiet even if someone nearby was on a call.


I think offices are a dead end.

With 4G, Slack, Zoom, and Google Docs we're able to work from anywhere. No need to commute anymore. And no need to constrain your team to the city you have an office in.

The only thing is that remote should not be an afterthought but you should organize for it https://about.gitlab.com/company/culture/all-remote/ just like you invest time to run an office.


I agree to an extent. I think remote work is a swing in the opposite direction of open offices, but it can go too far. Remote work does not allow developers to collaborate easily; sometimes getting several people at a white board is necessary and efficient. Offices or very small cube farms (of 4-6 people in an enclosed area) seem an ideal middle ground where people working on the same thing can talk while not being bothered by others that have nothing to do with their current team/task.


Remote situations are also difficult to manage. I'm in management role at a new (to me) company and despite having a virtual meeting with one of my reports virtually every day, I've got a better understanding of the psychology of people that I see around the office casually even though they are in a completely different and unrelated department. Those interactions are unscheduled, have no agenda, and have no goals. And I'm realizing those interactions are invaluable at understanding what makes people tick.

And that's not even opening the can of worms regarding remote productivity. To be Captain Obvious for a moment, it seems much easier for remote employees to hide a lack of productivity, especially in roles where productivity is hard to quantify (like software development). Sure, people like Nilay Patel (who was mentioned in the story) work from home with great success because it allows them to control their environment. But people like Nilay Patel are extremely unique in their motivation, commitment, and aptitude. Companies should be extremely cautious to extrapolate success stories like his onto their own resources.

We moved to open workspaces because of success stories and consultant pitches and hip office trends despite its obvious flaws. The move to everyone being remote has the ingredients of a fad, too.


> To be Captain Obvious for a moment, it seems much easier for remote employees to hide a lack of productivity, especially in roles where productivity is hard to quantify (like software development).

If you can't trust your workers to get work done without surveilling them, you should fire them, and focus on hiring employees you feel capable of truly trusting, not lament your inability to surveil them.

An under-discussed benefit I've found in years of remote work is that it tends to come with a much higher percentage of supervisors who are actually capable of trusting their employees to be professionals and get work done, rather than managers who pay lip-service to ideas of trust but then use butts-in-seats-I-can-see as a security blanket to assuage their fears that employees are somehow "getting one over" on them. I find the latter sort of manager infantilizing and insulting.

I also can't really say that I find it difficult to judge the productivity of remote software developers, having been in position to evaluate it for remote reports over a number of years. It's actually, in my experience, more or less identical to judging the productivity of local developers? I don't really understand what work output you'd be not seeing from a remote developer that you would see from an in-person developer, that would impact your ability to assess their productivity? Are you just attempting to count butt-in-seat hours and call that productivity, or something? Do you not have rough estimates of how long work items should take? Estimates in software miss constantly, of course, because consistently and correctly evaluating the complexity of a task a priori is well-understood to be very hard, but when a task misses estimates due to unexpected complexity, the extra complexity of the task will generally be obvious in the code you see in the eventual PR. Is the end work you see in PRs from your remote team consistent in terms of size/complexity/quality with the time that daily standup updates indicated was devoted to it?

If the former seems "consistently inconsistent" with the latter team-wide, have you looked at how your project management processes might be causing a loss of productivity that you're misinterpreting as being related to butts-not-being-located-in-the-magical-seats-you-can-see? If it's "consistently inconsistent" with only one or a small subset of your team, have you devoted time to jumping into regular pairing sessions with those team members, to evaluate whether it's a skill-gap situation, or them perhaps struggling with a lack of detail (or too much detail) in the tasks they've been assigned, or if it's truly just a lack of effort situation (in which case, again, fire them, don't imagine that somehow a magical seat-in-your-sight will fix their fundamental lack of professionalism. Open offices are not even remotely immune to the presence of freeloader developers).

Even apart from evaluating the effort, quality, and complexity of output you're seeing in PRs, or tickets they're writing, or solutions to problems they're proposing, in my experience daily standup updates are pretty qualitatively different between people who are doing the work versus people who aren't and are just spinning bullshit, and that's no less true on a remote standup than an in-person one. It also becomes instantaneously obvious the second you say "hey lets jump on a hangout after standup and you can walk me through the problems you've run into and we can brainstorm some work arounds".


Perhaps I don't have the skills to make such remote discernment as you seem to be able to do. Perhaps I've only had the wrong resources. Or perhaps the projects you're managing have a different sort of complexity and domain knowledge required than the projects I manage. After all, some projects might lend themselves to remote teams than others. Who knows?

There are some scenarios (domain knowledge, budget constraints, lack of office space, etc.) that justify people working remotely, so don't take my original comment as a statement that remote teams never work. Clearly they have, and clearly they do. But even if you're just some sort of management Jedi that I'm not, I think there are inherent flaws in remote teams that aren't solved by just having the right people.


> Perhaps I don't have the skills to make such remote discernment as you seem to be able to do.

If you're a non-software developer managing software developers, that's (in my experience) a profound organizational issue that simply does not work in any situation, open office or remote. If you lack the skills to actually evaluate the work output by your reports, then you're left with piss-poor proxies that are more noise than signal and frequently have no correlation to what productivity actually looks like in the field.


I'm not sure things are as universally true as you're saying. I've been managed by developers, non- developers, and people who haven't written a line of code in 20 years but were once developers. I can't say I've really noticed any quality/effectiveness differences correlated highly with their ability to develop software. And I've been both on-site and full-time remote.

Evaluating ability, progress, and effort can be done as more of a human problem than a technical one. Heck, current or former developers are more prone to overconfidence in their assessments, especially when they're not personally neck-deep in the exact area.

A good people manager can smell a slacker based on a wealth of signals from 1-1 meetings and the overall flow of work. But the strongest signals come from what the manager picks up from your coworkers, who are almost certainly going to be more qualified to evaluate your progress than the manager could be.

People can still slack off and put up a bullshit screen that'll fool their coworkers for a while, because they're not watching for it. That's not their job anyway, that's the manager's job, and they don't need to be able to hand-code an encrypted distributed hashtable to smell a rat.

That said, it depends on who you have. Some developers need oversight from a knowledgeable manager, especially when remote. Some don't. The purpose of management extends well beyond evaluation, which is more of a cure that you'll need inversely proportionately to how well you do prevention (team dynamics etc.)


> Remote work does not allow developers to collaborate easily

Laughable; phones have worked for decades. Your brain and mouth and ears don’t stop working, do they? Furthermore you are greatly overestimating the proportion of high intensity local collaboration to grunt work. The vast majority of tech jobs could be remote overnight and nothing would even slow down. These jobs are not hard or collaboration intense regardless how cool your employer makes you feel about coming into the office. It’s just hard work like any job, and in person collaboration is a miniscule part of that. In reality people like their offices and that’s 100% fine, just don’t ask me to move to your city so you can feel more comfortable asking me how something is going or what I think about x idea.

I think acceessibility is a broader issue with remote work—remote desktops don’t play well for the blind.


I worked at a satellite office where all of my team worked 200 miles away. We worked well together, but there was nothing like the times I would drive up there and we could be in a room, at a whiteboard and drawing things out.


Sure, but that’s ultimately a per-capita performance metric whose reduction might be acceptable if costs for remote come down, much like accepting that an open office has an acceptable per-capita efficiency decrease. I am perfectly capable of pairing over video chat, even if it is not ideal.


As a remote employee, I fully agree. Also, can we stop polluting the environment unnecessarily? There are too many cars on the road with just one person inside. How many of those people really need to commute into an office every day because the job requires it?


Unpopular opinion, but I actually think open offices make me more productive. When I'm in a private office, the temptation to watch YouTube, or otherwise read/do unrelated work stuff is much higher.

However, I do like having a private office to eat lunch.


Even if you're an outlier, the overwhelming evidence suggests that the overall output of an open office is substantially less for virtually everybody. People get sick more frequently, and lots of time is lost in non-work-related conversations. This has been measured, and I don't know that it's really up for debate.


I think it is very much up for debate.

Let's hypothesize that 60% of people work better in private offices, and 40% work better in open offices. You force everyone to work in a private office, and they perform slightly better than if you force everyone to work in an open office--that perfectly explains the results of the studies.

But obviously if this hypothesis is true, then the best solution would be to let the 40% who work better in open offices work in open offices, and let the 60% who work better in private offices work in private offices.

Sure, if you're going to force everyone into one style of office, the evidence probably says we should force them into private offices. But why are we forcing everyone into one style of office?


If you google around, you will find lots of studies on that subject have already been done, and most of them find, that open offices are for the most part are less productive.

The only way to find out if you are right is to test it. Until that is done, it makes most sense to go with, majority of studies.

That said, you suggestion (about having both types) might work in ideal world. In real world you wouldn't really have a choice most of the time, because if your team mostly works in open office, you will miss* out on a lot if working in closed office. And if majority of people work in closed offices, then you loose all the benefits that open offices bring anyway.

So you would end up in whatever team lead decided that its best.

* And likely be considered antisocial.


> If you google around, you will find lots of studies on that subject have already been done, and most of them find, that open offices are for the most part are less productive.

If you Google around, you will find lots of studies that tested which office style you should force everyone into, without considering the possibility that forcing everyone into the same office style might be a bad idea. That doesn't address my point at all.

> The only way to find out if you are right is to test it.

My entire career has been a test showing that I can't get much done in isolation. Open offices work great for me, and at this point, I will not take a job that requires me to work in isolation.

Again I'm going to ask: why are we forcing everyone into one style of office?


> Again I'm going to ask: why are we forcing everyone into one style of office?

I addressed that in my reply: "That said, you suggestion (about having both types) might work in ideal world. In real world you wouldn't really have a choice most of the time, because if your team mostly works in open office, you will miss* out on a lot if working in closed office. And if majority of people work in closed offices, then you loose all the benefits that open offices bring anyway.

So you would end up in whatever team lead decided that its best.

* And likely be considered antisocial. "

> My entire career has been a test showing that I can't get much done in isolation. Open offices work great for me, and at this point, I will not take a job that requires me to work in isolation.

Well if the rest of the team, is in their own offices and you are alone or with people from other groups/teams how exactly will that work for you, you might as well be in coffee shop across the street.

I am not trying to say that you should like individual offices, but you can't really mix both of them together, unless your teams are huge (which I personally dislike).

Edit: Not sure if I explained myself correctly (I am not trying to say that some people don't work better in open offices), and I come of across as a bit of a jerk, which was unintentional.

Edit2: and its a moot point mostly anyway, because open offices are cheaper, so there will always be plenty of companies with open offices, whatever studies show.


> So you would end up in whatever team lead decided that its best.

That's poor leadership on their part.

> Well if the rest of the team, is in their own offices and you are alone or with people from other groups/teams how exactly will that work for you, you might as well be in coffee shop across the street.

If the rest of the team is in their own offices, sure. That hasn't been the case for most teams I've worked on, however (which may be self-selection on my part--but it's never been hard for me to find a team I work well with).

> I am not trying to say that you should like individual offices, but you can't really mix both of them together, unless your teams are huge (which I personally dislike).

1. What's huge to you? The only team I've worked with which had a really mixed open/private space ranged from 6-10 people while I was there. There were 2-3 people who worked consistently together (let's call these extroverts, which includes me), 3-5 who worked consistently on their own (let's call these introverts) and 1-2 who floated back and forth (let's call these ambiverts). The shared space was mixed with other teams--it's also worth noting that even if the people around you aren't on your team, there still needs to be some collaboration between teams, so even if you're the only extrovert on your team, working in a shared space that still isn't the same as working in a coffee shop across the street. A team of 10 is starting to get a bit bigger than I like personally, but 6-8 feels pretty ideal to me.

Now I work for myself and I'm not seated with my client's team at all. But I tend to work in coworking spaces[1] frequented by other people working in my field, with people who frequently bounce designs and coding questions off of each other. This is a lot like your coffee shop idea, so that has some validity. But it isn't super ideal for me--if I continue getting consistent business, I may hire some people just to have some more direct collaboration in my life.

2. There also doesn't need to be this kind of diversity in the same team. You can have a team that's all introverts, or a team that's all extroverts, and in those cases, picking a completely private layout or a completely open layout, respectively, is fine. The point is to assess the needs of your team and build your workspace around their needs instead of looking for a one-size-fits all solution for some "normal" team that doesn't exist.

I'll note that it's harder to integrate one extrovert into a team with a lot of introverts than the opposite. I don't really have a good solution for that problem.

[1] Not WeWork. They're so expensive and overcrowded! Just because I am an extrovert doesn't mean I want to be sitting on top of my neighbor.


How about we let people who want to work from home to work from home and people who need others arpund to work in the office ?

Win - Win situation. Unfortunately it seems too hard to understand for the majority of managers.. (most likely because they represent the later)


> How about we let people who want to work from home to work from home and people who need others arpund to work in the office ?

Sounds good to me!


Unpopular, yes, but you're not wrong because you're talking about only yourself.

I think the point many people are trying to make is that open offices decrease productivity for most people.


> I think the point many people are trying to make is that open offices decrease productivity for most people.

I don't think people stop there, however. Many people, including the author of the article, go the extra step to say that open offices are bad.

I don't think you can argue against the fact that a significant portion of the population works well in open offices, so when you say stuff like "open offices are a dead end", that's a direct attack on the work habits of a significant part of the population.

The combativeness, I think, comes from the fact that almost everyone has been forced to work in a situation that doesn't work for them. But the solution isn't to try to force everyone to use your favored office situation: that's just doing the same thing to others that was done to you. Instead, we should be focusing on finding office situations that work for each of us, and letting others choose office situations that work for them.


> I don't think you can argue against the fact that a significant portion of the population works well in open offices

Can you cite a study which asserts this fact?


You've got numerous people on this page saying they work better in open offices. Do you have some reason for disbelieving them?


There's a pretty wide gap between "numerous people on this page" and "a significant portion of the population".

Given actual productivity studies tend to show a big, big decrease in productivity among workers who have individual or small group offices replaced with open office plans, the "significant portion of the population" claim seems unlikely, since they're apparently not significant enough to move the needle in productivity studies.


> Given actual productivity studies tend to show a big, big decrease in productivity among workers who have individual or small group offices replaced with open office plans, the "significant portion of the population" claim seems unlikely, since they're apparently not significant enough to move the needle in productivity studies.

That's not how statistics work. If 60% of people see a 20% decrease in productivity in an open office and 40% see a 20% increase, then: .6 x .8 + .4 x 1.2 = .48 + .48 = .96, so you'd expect to see a 4% decrease in productivity.

In fact, people who work in open offices could even be the majority if the effects have different magnitudes. Let's say 70% of people experience a 10% increase in productivity when working in an open office, while the other 30% experience a 50% decrease. .7 x 1.1 + .3 x .5 = .77 + .15 = .92. So you could see an 8% reduction in productivity in an open office, even if 70% saw an increase in productivity.

You would, of course, see an increase in productivity in both scenarios if you let people work in the office spaces that are appropriate for their needs.


Yes? It's easy to feel productive in an open office. There's activity and buzz and you can accomplish nothing for four hours and still feel like you did something. You can't do that in a more private setting, what you're actually getting done is staring you in the face.


I've always received performance feedback which roughly matched my experience of my productivity.

This comment strikes me as more malicious than is warranted.


You said "significant portion of the population".


Yes, and?


The fact that there are people on this thread saying that they work better in open offices does not imply that such people make up a significant portion of the population.


I suppose "significant" is subjective. Is it good enough for you if I adjust my statement to simply: "some people work better in open offices"?

Is there some threshhold of significance where it becomes acceptable to force everyone into an office space that doesn't work for everyone? Or can we just agree that we don't need to force everyone to work the same way, and people should be allowed to work in the office space that works for them?


> Many people, including the author of the article, go the extra step to say that open offices are bad.

So would I. Suggesting they're bad for most people means that they're likely "bad" (i.e. not the best available workspace).

> I don't think you can argue against the fact that a significant portion of the population works well in open offices

If you're defining "works well" as "gets their work done", then I won't dispute it.

That's not the issue though. Do they do their best work? Do they lose productivity to the open office? Do they try to find jobs without open offices?

Yes to all of those questions[1][2][3][4].

> Instead, we should be focusing on finding office situations that work for each of us, and letting others choose office situations that work for them.

That's the thing, though. Remote-only companies are exactly that. You can opt into an office if you want to -- just gather some coworkers or go to a coworking space.

The oppressive decision-making you're referring to is inherent to open-office-only companies, where they say, "If you want to work here, you'll work in a large, loud room full of distractions."

1. https://www.inc.com/jessica-stillman/new-harvard-study-you-o...

2. https://www.theladders.com/career-advice/harvard-research-op...

3. https://www.chicagotribune.com/business/success/tca-the-open...

4. https://www.forbes.com/sites/kateharrison/2018/11/07/new-stu...


> So would I. Suggesting they're bad for most people means that they're likely "bad" (i.e. not the best available workspace).

Why are we trying to force everone into a one-size-fits-all workspace to begin with? Why not let people work in the spaces that work best for them?

> If you're defining "works well" as "gets their work done", then I won't dispute it.

> That's not the issue though. Do they do their best work? Do they lose productivity to the open office? Do they try to find jobs without open offices?

> Yes to all of those questions[1][2][3][4].

What you have is an impressive collection of links that study how the majority of people work best. None of that disproves what I'm saying, which is that there's a significant minority who works quite well in open offices.

> That's the thing, though. Remote-only companies are exactly that. You can opt into an office if you want to -- just gather some coworkers or go to a coworking space.

Sounds great to me. I've no idea why you're bringing this up as if I would disagree with it--I think remote work with the option of coming in to an office is a great idea. It's an effective implementation of what I said: "[W]e should be focusing on finding office situations that work for each of us, and letting others choose office situations that work for them."

> The oppressive decision-making you're referring to is inherent to open-office-only companies, where they say, "If you want to work here, you'll work in a large, loud room full of distractions."

Okay, so why are you attacking the open office when the oppressive decision making is clearly the real problem?

The company I'm currently working for has an open office, and most of the company works from home most of the week. I, the extrovert, have spent exactly one day in the office ever (not by choice--I live too far away or I'd be there every day). So there's nothing inherent to open offices that suddenly turns management into authoritarians.


Same for me. See the point of the sibling comments though. So maybe I prefer an open office because I don't procrastinate (which would leave me with a feeling of unproductive guilt in the evening) to a private office, even though the latter might be actually more productive.


The temptation to slack off depends on the quality and quantity of work to do, not on your office.

You are probably more productive at slacking off (for example, reading fast and with full concentration), in addition to more productive at actually working when you get around to it.


Ideally companies shouldn't care what you are doing minute by minute as long as you produce quality result


Doing all of those things is not necessarily unproductive. You would be better off spending some time why you want do do those things and whether it’s a real problem.


I'm not a fan of open office spaces, but I don't think the article fully captures the problem that the open office space is addressing. Our company has a team dedicated to the design of our office space, and they're trying to balance against multiple stakeholders' needs, from different functions (engineering vs legal), to work environment needs (1:1 vs meeting room vs quiet place), all shoved into a fixed and (relatively) small space. The result is you have to do trade-offs, just like normal engineering problems.

From my understanding, it's easier to scale environments that are open-office. For a startup that's always have to contend with finding space for their ever-growing teams, I can see why executives may reach for an understood solution to that problem, even knowing the downsides.

My guess is there's a necessary iteration to work environments in the future, since I don't think open offices truly optimize for knowledge workers. Presumably knowledge-based companies (e.g., tech) will eventually start thinking about how to optimize their internal efficiency as a lever to growth in addition to their product development.


From my understanding, it's easier to scale environments that are open-office. For a startup that's always have to contend with finding space for their ever-growing teams,

I’m sure there is plenty of space if they let everyone work from home or come in on an ad gov basis.


All you need is some guy to talk loudly on the phone next to you all day and you'll soon come to abhor open offices. Not to mention the scrutiny of others - keeping an eye on how you work, how much you work, when you arrive, when you leave, what you eat etc. It can really be quite horrible at times, especially if your office is quite politically charged.

I run a small company in London, and we advertise our jobs with "closed" offices/remote as being a unique selling point! I think people prefer to work without being watched, and can really take ownership of their task without feeling conscious - they can get into that coveted state of "flow".

As a manager, I also don't want to watch over my staff all day. I'm not their owner, I'm just their manager. My aim is to let them do what they're good at, and being comfortable enough to let them get on with things is the best way to keep them productive.

And if someone isn't productive, it's obvious from their results. No open office/constant scrutiny required.


Possible to reveal the name of the company please ?


Privacy deprivation. It's cruel.


The best office layout is the office layout that fits the needs of the people working in it.

Open offices aren't a dead end. I work really well in open offices.

I can barely get any work done in a private office by myself. Yet there are many people who work well in private offices, and would be as non-productive in an open office as I am in a private office.

It's obvious that people have different work styles. The problem here isn't open offices OR private offices, it's people who look only at their own work style and then extrapolate that out to the entire rest of humanity.

The solution is to let people self-select the office situation that works for them. Ideally companies have a mix of open and private spaces that allow people to work in a way that's best for them, including the option to work remotely, but that's not always possible. Sometimes that means that someone isn't a good fit for a team, and should be self-aware enough to self-select to not work on that team.


This is hilariously accurate and reasonable from my experiences. Being surrounded by hard working people tends to help some work better.


In the four years at my current company we went full cubes -> half cubes (you get like 2-3 regular walls and one baby wall) -> open office -> open office no assigned desks. I can't wait to see the next iteration on this.


I have an idea, break furniture apart into their fundamental pieces, such as chair legs or the top of a desk, and allow the employees to construct their workspace lego style


10 seats. 20 employees. First come first serve. Saw that actually happen. (well they wanted to get rid of people though)


We're gonna get those pods they have in Tokyo hotels, next. Screen right above you, integrated keyboard/mouse on your legs, your hands just rest on that as you lie down. Get slotted into a rack and work... It's the future!™


oooo but all that neck tension should finally get addressed


-> no assigned computers -> no assigned tickets, each day you'll continue working where someone left it the day before.


I love it. You could call it x-functional hyper-agile.


-> Bring Your Own Desk


Stacks of unassigned, multi-level scaffolding to fit more people in the room?


Remote work with compulsory video surveillance and screen snapshot uploads?


You have that at FAANG already but without the remote part.


Scott Adams nailed in in "The Joy of Work".

>After your boss has taken away your door, your walls, and your storage areas, there aren't many options left for the next revolution in office design. One of the following things is likely to go next: the floor; the ceiling; your happiness.

They can't take the floor, you need that to not fall out of the building. They can't take the ceiling, they need that to keep them safe while they have money fights or whatever it is executives do.

So I know what they're coming for next.


next step is gonna be something shift-like. you are required to attend your tuesday and thursday standup meeting in person, and required to attend one or two other meetings/things per week in person, but you're not expected every day and you don't have a designated space.

its the worst of both worlds, you "mostly work from home" but still have to do almost the same amount of commuting and live in the same cost-of-living area.


Downsizing


Cubes are worse than open office IMHO. You get roughly the same noise and distraction but it's also harder to actually talk to or collaborate with your neighbors.


While I agree cubes are worse, they aren't worse for noise and distraction. The felt walls absorb quite a bit of sound and reduce the audible range of a conversation. WeWork offices, on the other hand, are the complete opposite with their reverberating glass/hard-floor designs.


Same auditory distraction (which might not be much depending on your coworkers), but much less visual distraction. I’d much rather have cubes.


The noise and distraction of open offices comes precisely from how easy it is to "talk or collaborate with your neighbors".


These kinds of articles surface every couple of months, and when they do I always leave a comment about how much I hate the open office design.

I have trouble focusing with people talking around me (like most people), and I have trouble focusing on coding when I'm listening to music. I don't have an office, so how am I supposed to get stuff done exactly? I could work from my basement office at home, and I do sometimes, but at that point, wouldn't it be better to have just given me a proper office (or at least cubicle) so that I'm actually in the building if people need me?


I used to think that noise was the worst distraction to deal with in an open office until I took a job where a coworker in our open office decided not to practice basic hygiene. The smell is just horrible. It’s far and away the most distracting thing I’ve ever experienced in my career.

They dress up and put in effort to look nice in the office, but everyone instantly knows when they walk into a room.

Honestly, I’m hesitant to go to HR about it in case it’s a religious/cultural thing, but I will never, ever complain about noise again in my career after this. Woof.


After I checked the legality, I went as far as not hiring someone who was a smoker and told my manager exactly why I wasn’t hiring him. I didn’t want to be around the smell.


>Honestly, I’m hesitant to go to HR about it in case it’s a religious/cultural thing

Oy vey.. do you know how absurd that sounds?



What about libre offices?


This was the perfect comment to read with my coffee this morning. Thank you.


And 365 offices?


I never see this mentioned, but one of the things I hate most about open offices is having people always looking at my screen. To be clear, I don't waste much time. Does this bother any one else as much as it gets to me? Regardless of what I'm doing, I'm not comfortable being constantly observed doing it. I previously worked in an open office where the manager would basically creep up on people, walking quietly throughout the office and looking to see who was doing what. Creepy as all get-out.


I hate open offices. What software companies offer at least cubicles?


Oracle still has individual, soundproof, locking offices, with real doors and walls, in their HQ. I had one, with a mountain view, as an intern.


I spent two weeks on-site with a client at WeWork.

They had a large, glass-windowed open office overlooking the city. It was a beautiful office and view. It had a relaxed, social atmosphere.

Predictably, despite all those things, everyone fought over the tiny, phone-booth-sized desks that WeWork offered in the hallway. There was barely enough room for a single person and laptop -- basically an upright coffin with a glass door. And yet they were always occupied, even by people who weren't on calls.

Basically the most pleasant open office experience I've had, and people were still fighting for cubicles.


If you’re going to choose a company based on whether they offer cubicles you’re going to be very disappointed.


That is why I ask first.


Find a place away from the coasts that isn't trying to be cheap/trendy.

I had half-height cubes at my last few jobs.


Last I heard Microsoft still have it's engineers individual offices.


I'm not sure how widespread it is (it might just be a few teams), but I've seen a few Microsoft engineers complaining about moving to open offices over the past few weeks. Ex: https://twitter.com/NerdPyle/status/1174732849699704833


I don't really like talking about real life too much, so I'm hesitant to mention the company by name (you can probably find it in my history though), but I work for an enterprise ISP, and we have cubicles.

I'm very happy here.


Remember "The office space" where they were making laughs on cubicles? Guess what, now we're dont even have this.


I work for a no-name company in the midwest. Have my own office with a door. Pretty nice.


We have actual offices with doors at Silicon Labs in Austin.


mine does /shrug


i would be shocked if any did.


In some ways open office designs are a symptom of company cultures that do not value deep work more than the perceived value open plans offer such as cost savings or "collaboration".

From my vantage, there are quite a few more companies installing places for deep work in offices.

But even if companies install these spaces, if the company does not value deep work away from your primary desk, employees will feel discouraged about using those facilities.

It was probably the same culture disconnect for companies who would put a ping-pong table in the office even though deep down they would not actually want staff spending time utilizing them during the day as opposed to sitting at their desk working.


There is a Harvard study which says "Your Open-Plan Office Is Making Your Team Less Collaborative". Open office plans lead to more email less collaboration.

So it is better to have traditional office setup with collaboration areas than open office spaces.

link to study: https://royalsocietypublishing.org/doi/full/10.1098/rstb.201...


everyone wants to have offices in all the trendy downtown areas. a lot of the cost of the office goes to rent, so even if a desire for cubes or offices was there (which generally management doesn't because they are expensive) the budget won't be.


At my first job space was at a sort of premium, and we all worked at a bench with computers on it. But, there were walls that separated about 6-8 workers. I think this is a very nice happy medium. I can openly collaborate with my "pizza-sized" team, but there's enough separation from other teams that I have a modicum of privacy. That said, I quite appreciate my 6'x7' cube my current company has me in.


I don't have an issue with open offices per se but the person in front of me is from another culture and is literally 24/7 in skype calls which distracts me to no end, and the worst part is the he/she is literally /burping and farting/ without any shame. And I don't mean once a day, no, constantly burping and farting, it's honestly disgusting.

/rant


So, in other words, you do have a problem with open offices.

The fact that everyone has a different idea of what’s acceptable behavior in a group setting is pretty much the whole issue with open offices.


> I don't have an issue with open offices per se

Sounds like you do. An open office would be just fine if I was the only one in there, but that is what is intrinsically bad ( or at least the main thing) about them. You aren't alone in there.


So this was happening in my office too. Turns out the person didn't know how to do their job and was interfacing w/ someone back home to get the answers if you will.

Basically the overseas contracting house figured it out was profitable to just get someone hired and have a team of people that actually know what they're doing that can provide support working back home. It's a pretty interesting model but sucks if you get stuck w/ someone like this on your team.


I've worked at three places that embraced the open office scheme.

What I've learned from those experiences is that I do not operate well in those environments. So much so that I now know that if a company uses it, there's no point in exploring employment with them as right off the bat I know it's a poor fit for me.


There's a lot of hate for open offices, yet they're everywhere. There's high demand for developers, and accordingly, the salaries are high. Open offices mainly exist due to cost savings (lower sqft per employee), yet for most businesses salary costs will completely dwarf the cost of office space. Something doesn't add up.

Do places with open offices have a harder time finding people? I was trying to find some comparisons of average salary at places with open offices vs private spaces, but I can't come up with anything. Intuitively, I'd think the salaries would on average be higher at places with open offices, but perhaps that's not a consideration of most people.

How much more money would you need to be paid to make working in an open office worth it? Conversely, would you accept 5% less to get a private space? 10%?


The term that may answer your dilemma is "investor story-time" -- open offices tell a story to investors, acquirers, etc. of a docile team that collaborates in a creative way, without too much annoying individualism. This story is in fact quite accurate. Possible cost savings are just extra.


I think the trouble is more that open office is generally not something that most people can stomach as a deal killer as a seeking employee. You also generally are deep into the interview process by the time you see the quality of the open office space, and the place you would work maybe doesn't look miserable but its one desk reorg away from making you utterly miserable. There's also the comparative misery- is this more miserable than the job that you are trying to leave? Of all the jobs I looked into in urban northeast areas all but one was open plan, and the last one was cubes. I didn't really have much of a choice.


More distractions have been introduced since open spaces had been “invented”. Simple as that.


For some reason everywhere I’ve ever worked the POs get offices and devs don’t. Why are we treated like sweat shop workers? Why don’t devs get their own offices? We are paid so much money but have to sit in open offices or cubes like call center workers.


I get a bit bewildered every time I see someone complaining about open offices as it always begs the question - what kind of alternative do they demand exactly? I have addressed this on many threads and comments but somehow I never gen an answer.

Only thing I can think of are cubicles but to me they seem a lot worse than the open office and they're definitely not a thing here in Europe. Out of all the companies and interviews I've been to and people in the industry that I know, I have yet to see a cubicle outside of a hollywood movie.

The other thing I suppose is where literally every employee gets their own office. But is that really a thing? Because I've never heard of something like that.


Cubicles, working remote, conference rooms. You ask for alternatives but automatically rule out the largest alternative (cubicles)? Feels like your expectations are the odd ones


As I said, they're basically non-existent here, so they're definitely not an alternative for me.


> The other thing I suppose is where literally every employee gets their own office. But is that really a thing? Because I've never heard of something like that.

This used to be the case. Companies like Microsoft gave everyone their own office (I'm not sure what the current policy is, I would assume they kept it the same).

I for one hate cubicles the most. They have none of the privacy but also none of the social collaboration, you can't lean over and talk to your coworker.


An entry-level job gave me an office in 1992. Microsoft gave me half an office in 2005. Nobody else.

> lean over and talk to your coworker

There are no quick questions when you were concentrating. If we need to talk about the project, first we should step away from the desks, because everyone else is still trying to code.


That's your perspective, and that's fine. From my perspective and the way my team works, we lean over and chat. It doesn't bother our team because this is how we have been working. Your mileage may vary and that's perfectly reasonable to feel differently.


If you cant go individual offices than go, small offices, with 2 - 3 people inside.

If that doesn't work try going bigger, I'd prefer three separate 10 people offices that, one open.

And if you cant do that, and are stuck with one big place, put desks at sides, and put some kind of separator (whiteboards, message boards, kids pictures, self standing walls whatever) in the middle, and every few desks.


> The other thing I suppose is where literally every employee gets their own office. But is that really a thing? Because I've never heard of something like that.

2-3 people in an office with a small room, with a door and a window. put all of the break, utility, conference, etc rooms in the middle. build more like a hotel than a brutalist cube.


> The other thing I suppose is where literally every employee gets their own office. But is that really a thing? Because I've never heard of something like that.

Maybe not an office each, but 2-5 people to a room, with real walls and a door? Absolutely.


I want a traditional cube farm.

I actually work in one right now. I love my company, and pretty much the only thing that could get me to quit would be if they dropped the cube farm and switched to an open office.


In my city, mid-sized city in a larger metropolitan area with a few million people, I tried to work at one of the We-Work type places and found it completely overpriced.

If I can work from anywhere, then I don't see the advantage to renting an office for the day. The real appeal for an office is that you can leave stuff there and use it for a multitude of things. We-Work type places seem to be good for one thing, giving a desk to remote workers that don't like working at coffee shops or libraries?

Do sales people like them?

What exactly are the type of professionals that like We-Work type offices?


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