In 30 years of working life, I've experienced a variety of working environments. I've had private offices at two companies I've worked at (ISI and Telegenics), mostly cubes, some places having strict hierarchical rules about cubical size (at my first job employees got their own 6x6 cube, contractors had to share a 12x6 cube with another contractor). One company had me literally working at a table in the cafeteria. But what I've noticed is that workspaces are shrinking and privacy is disappearing. My last in-office position didn't even have permanently assigned workspaces—in fact there was a mandatory remote day for my group because there were more employees than desk spaces (the status hierarchy still remained, but now it was defined in terms of private storage space: employees got a lockable lateral file drawer, contractors got a 12x12x12 locker which was supposed to be vacated at day's end.
I've spent all of 30 minutes in my current employer's office on a day when the only other person there was the HR person checking my documentation. It looks a little better, but not much.
I've never once had a problem with open plan. I can talk with people or not. It's easy to communicate when needs be, and I can put headphones on when I want to not be interrupted.
What I have been bothered by is the idea of someone staring over my shoulder whenever they feel like it while I'm at work. It's creepy, it's invasive, and having a glass panel surrounding the office seems like the worst of all worlds. I get that the caption says it isn't creepy. It is creepy. You're completely cut off from everyone else but anyone that feels like it can easily spy on what you're doing all day while you work.
This is why so many people don't ever want to return to an office. It's not just the commute. There are so many subtle little negatives that add up and companies don't even want to acknowledge it.
Personal space is also a very cultural thing. People in Norway will feel a lot more uncomfortable with a person standing near to them than somewhere say like South America
That's exactly what I never liked about open office plans.
It is inhumane from a deep down evolutionary biologics perspective to a rational thought. Just like open offices.
Yes, it's seriously creepy. In fact, this is what prevents me from being able to wear headphones to mitigate the noise of an open office -- if I'm wearing headphones, then I'm constantly psychologically "on guard" and looking around since I can't hear if someone has approached me.
But if I don't wear them, then it's too noisy to work.
That dichotomy is why I simply cannot function in an open office.
I've worked in this setup for 10 years or so and the last 18 months of working from home has radicalized me against it. It's honestly kind of extraordinary how much better I can focus and get actual thinking work done without a barrage of distractions from a giant room of people moving and talking around me.
Only one of the various offices I worked in with this setup even had a vaguely correct approach to it–the main floor full of people was treated like a library where people talked in soft voices and moved to conference rooms for anything more than a brief word.
Everywhere else has been a worst case scenario of salespeople pacing around on calls because all of the phone booths are full, engineers rolling a whiteboard over to their desk and having a planning session because someone kicked them out of a conference room to meet with an important client, groups of people standing around chatting waiting for someone to join them for lunch, etc etc ad nauseum. Never mind the weird sensation of people being able to see your screen all the time and wondering who is walking behind you seeing what you're doing.
He travels between offices very often and apparently there are essentially unwritten “assigned” seats, and has had people end up really angry and go off on him for taking their seat unknowingly while traveling to unfamiliar offices.
It really seems like it serves to brew discontent with your people. I can’t imagine the benefits outweigh the downsides, particularly the non-obvious ones like above.
I couldn’t work for such a place. I work best when I nest, surrounded by comfort. Photos of my wife, plushies, etc. The general feeling that I have some control over my life however thin. I have thankfully always had a cube, even if my current cube is relatively tiny.
The ability to personalize your space makes work just a little bit easier. Otherwise I feel like a literal cog in a machine.
I'd actually consider going to work in an office again if I was guaranteed my own cubicle
Since actual offices probably aren't ever coming back, I think that the return of open office plans will, in the long run, get people to really appreciate cubicles again.
That was in a different department than mine. In mine, we had cubicles. Not great but better than the long tables. The owner of the company asked me about the arrangement our department once. I was frank and told him everybody should have their own office. I told him people in our line of work need to be able to focus for long periods of time in order to be productive. He replied, "But I really want to encourage the vibrant atmosphere we have in [other department]!" I just shook my head and thought, "What you see is a vibrant atmosphere is really people not working."
I heard after I left that he replaced all the cubicles in my former department with long tables.
> We had the best seats
I am going to send this particular comment to anyone who wonders why workers do not want to go back in.
After I went full time with the company and asked if I could keep the office. They said no :)
PhD candidates came in on hot summer days being pretty jealous, as our room used to be the serverroom, i.e., the only room with working airconditioning.
I'm sure you've heard all the arguments for it, but apropos this thread, I feel less like corporate chattel and more like a valued team member. I'm not hurried into stockade-like work environments, cowering under the whims of the bosses, jostling shoulders in a cramped desk corral; I'm working in a space of my own design and in an environment that I control.
Personally, I really want to be back in my company's open office plan of tiny cubes. I don't have a strong preference for cube or office, I just liked my healthy commute and being in a bustling downtown.
But now that I think of it, all five of those buildings were converted into high-end, expensive apartments. Perhaps that's how they cover the cost of conversion?
As an introvert, working in an open office was a daily struggle for me. I have never worked in a private office before the pandemic, and I have seen the tremendous shift in productivity. Open offices are particularly disruptive for any activity that requires focus (programming, planning, writing...). I am glad that we have more choices now of companies that would hire people remote or work in hybrid mode.
Back in the days before open offices, when I had a cubicle, I would always have a book open about whatever the newer thing I was supposed to be mastering was, and I would alternate between programming and reading: code for a while, read while the thing was compiling or starting up, go back to coding and testing, read some more and work an example, etc. I learned almost everything that I really have true mastery of that way.
What I discovered the hard way, when open offices took over, is that seeing somebody reading a book PISSES EVERYBODY OFF. I can't comprehend why, but when people could see that I was reading a book - even a book about Java or XML or web services or whatever happened to be new at that time - they would come over within a few minutes and ask "what are you reading? Why are you reading that? Shouldn't you be programming? Aren't you a programmer? Why aren't you staring at your computer all the time?" Even people that had no business policing my time.
So, of necessity, I shifted from reading printed books - which are much better quality and more efficient - to reading online documentation because staring at the monitor all day long, with fingers on the keyboard, is required in an open office, whether the boss is around or not.
That's a red flag right there.
I've seen companies where you were expected to have a stack of books on your desk or in a bookcase in your office. Not reading was considered bizarre behavior.
I was a PM at the time and was working through some quite complex stuff, but any time someone caught me looking engrossed they'd come over to ask me what I was doing that looked so complicated. In the end I went the other way and got large bits of paper so I could at least mind-map without anyone feeling the need to interrupt
Now I got tired of this and switched to Kindle and go through the book on Kindle web app. Curiously staring at my mobile screen does not evoke such response.
People exhaust me though because I feel an obligation to engage them. A subconscious need to interact with someone walking by. And I pick up on every single noise that occurs around me wondering if someone needs help or would benefit from a bit of information I have that they need.
And yet I've learned even if I have information they are seeking, they often don't want or appreciate me sharing the information if it comes off slightly wrong, so I have to tip toe through the process of delivering them the information in a way that doesn't come off as patronizing, only supportive and at the same time belittling myself or making the situation seem like it was only luck that I was exposed to this information so as to not seem like a know-it-all. It's exhausting.
This is barely scratching the surface of why I dislike full time office work. And yet I need at least part time office work. I feel lost and out of touch without it.
edit: and wow apparently I'm not the only one.
If so, there's only one route: Start ignoring people. Don't offer advice until asked for. Never give full answers, only pointers.
You'll be doing others, and yourself, a big favour. It won't clear all distractions, but it'll start you on focusing on yourself rather than others. When people come to you, they'll be ready for an answer, you'll be more appreciated and have more capacity left to provide more clarity.
Took 10 years to get anywhere, so have patience and be kind.
It's fucking exhausting sometimes...
I generally try and be friendly with my coworkers, which I think is not really a "bad" thing), but that's a double-edged sword in open offices: if I'm friendly with my coworkers, it's easy to get pulled into their distracting (though generally more interesting than work) conversations, and if I'm a bit introverted, I might be a bit more productive but I also might come off as "snobby" if I'm always just sitting there with noise-canceling headphones for six hours a day.
I wonder if it is not actually harder for extroverts. I don't really have a problem with open offices, if I want to focus, I just ignore what happens around me, as if other people didn't exist. It is only annoying when they deliberately interrupt me, but it can also happen in closed offices (knocking on doors, phone calls, etc...).
I guess it may be harder for extroverts to focus because they are actually attracted to people around them. In the same way that may be easier to work when the weather is terrible because it doesn't feel like you would be better outside.
Without going into too much detail, offices (or for that matter any place I would return to frequently and where people would know who I am) would murder me with anxiety, resulting in a kind of chest pain which at times, maybe once a week, would be unbearable. Other days it was just painful, but managable.
Of course since WFH this has gone, but not only that, it's improved things in those settings where I do sometimes have to return to frequently. I was always told that the more I put myself in that position the better it would get, but it ended up being the opposite. It feels liberating that I don't need to plan for that anymore, whereas it used to be part of my daily life.
I switched back to WFH last year (permanently) and it's been amazing.
Pair programming ratchets this up times 1000. Maybe it's the most productive way of working ever invented. I don't care. As long as I have the option of working for companies that don't do it, then I'm not going to do it. I think it died as a concept because of just how awful the experience is. Emotionally, it's like doing a week's worth of work in an hour. Totally draining.
It's almost like there are two parts of my brain that are mutually exclusive; understanding abstract concepts and communicating, pick one!
...OK now that's the credit has been given: I have never seen him actually work at that workplace. He spent 10 minutes between meetings there 6 times a day, and that's it.
Or they technically also use open office desks but spend little of their time at them, and the majority of their time commandeering conference rooms, using executive-only meeting rooms, staying at expensive hotels, resorts for "offsites", working from home, and the like.
The few days they spend per year doing non-focused work in an open office environment is probably enjoyable enough, and helps them rationalize torturing everyone else.
In EU, I have seen different opinions on who should pay for home office. In Germany, some entities pushed to introduce *WFH Tax* for those who work remotely (those who work from home need to pay a fee/tax), you can read more details here . In Switzerland, the government asked companies to pay a share of rent for employees working from home.
I've seen executives sit on the floor with employees. Whether or not it works depends on whether the type of work requires attention or concentration.
Jobs like answering phones, clerical work, mail processing, negotiating/trading, selling, etc... - those are jobs that require attention and can be done in an open setting, and it often increases productivity for people to be working together in an open environment.
Jobs that require concentration, like planning, programming, etc... - those are jobs that are better to be done in quiet, without distraction.
The people who believe in it are extroverts. They are never in the office, they are walking around looking for people to talk to. The only time they are in their office is when they are have a conversation that truly does need to be private.
The introverts in the mean time need time away from people to recharge. They don't want you interrupting if it isn't an emergency.
The above only works if no-one does it.
Thus open door for the CEO needs to be replaced with something that gets more general feedback. I'm not sure what that might be though.
Whether acknowledged or not, there is a power discrepancy between executives (especially C-suite execs) and everyone else. That discrepancy means that executives can't expect to get the real picture by relying on workers to tell them.
Personally, I’m capable of deep focus but also easily distracted. In some sense it almost physically hurts to be pulled out of that focus. When it happens too often, I’m “scared” to try and get back in.
Putting me in an open floor (as has happened repeatedly in the last decade) is certainly not the key to maximizing my impact.
I’ve also worked at a company that considered offering private offices to anybody who wanted them, but the numbers on it suck. For our office sites it was going to cost an extra $20-30,000 annually per employee in floor space. Salary is very important to employees, but the total cost of employing somebody is more important to an employer. If it costs an extra $20-30,000 to employ somebody, that money has to come from somewhere. Most people wouldn’t choose to take a pay cut of that size in return for a private office. The extra money could come from increased productivity, but even if you believe you’d be more productive in a private office, you’re not going to be 15-30% more productive. In this case most people spent 1 or 2 days a week WFH, so to cover the cost the change would more realistically have to increase productivity by upwards of 50%.
I know they’re “notoriously unpopular” but if you did a survey I’m sure you find waking up to go to work in the morning is pretty unpopular too. The alternative is to increase the cost of employing you in a way that doesn’t result in any form of compensation, which if you think it through is likely not a very good idea.
Personally, I worked in a cubicle for most of my career, but when I switched to an office, it took a good year for me to get used to not turning around to look who's behind me when I heard an ambient sound. Not because I'm doing something I shouldn't be doing, but simply because I hate the idea of somebody being behind me (I even sit in restaurants with my back to wall when I can).
> I know they’re “notoriously unpopular” but if you did a survey I’m sure you find waking up to go to work in the morning is pretty unpopular too. The alternative is to increase the cost of employing you in a way that doesn’t result in any form of compensation, which if you think it through is likely not a very good idea.
People also hate sitting cramped in an airplane, yet they still fly. But given the choice to drive, they would. Meaning that morale will be low and people will take the first opportunity to find something more comfortable. I understand that it's a balance between cost and morale, but there's a point at which you cannot recover morale by other means.
The proliferation of work-from-home policies is the best thing to come out of the pandemic, in workplaces where it is possible. If you took this survey now, and divided it among wfh and wfo employees, I suspect you would find a big discrepancy.
Long term effects are yet to be seen, and anybody who thinks they know what they’ll be is just guessing.
15-30% is probably low for quite a few individuals. It could be as much as 2-3x. I have experimented with it and it certainly is for me.
The problem is that on average you may be right, since there are also a lot of people who barely benefit from it.
I’m way more effective at writing complex code in an office. I’m not any more effective at random administrative tasks (due to procrastination tendencies, I might even be less effective at them). I’m modestly more effective at reading emails or design docs, but not integer factors more productive.
I’m a huge supporter of offices and was extremely salty when we got kicked out of them (for cost reasons). It’s why I love remote working now.
I worked with a guy recently who was a notoriously poor communicator. He’d spend 4 days/week WFH, would barely give any updates on what he was doing, and was in general incredibly hard to get a hold of. He did write a lot of code, and most of it was very high quality. But almost none of it was ever used. His excellent code would almost never end up solving the problems we needed it to solve, or provide the functionality we needed it to provide, and nobody ever learned anything from working with him and his very senior-level skill set.
In my experience, people who make extraordinary estimates about how much more productive they’d be if left to work on problems alone are much more likely to be similar to that guy rather than the person you’re describing. This person was a rather extreme case, but I’ve worked with plenty of people like him.
It’s not an extraordinarily claim. You are making assumptions you have no insight into.
> In my experience, people who make extraordinary estimates about how much more productive they’d be if left to work on problems alone are much more likely to be similar to that guy rather than the person you’re describing.
This is an extraordinary claim.
You are making the generalization that the large majority of people who have high productivity gains when working in a private office are poor communicators who don’t contribute usefully.
The extraordinary claim is that your experience has given you access to the large number of people, their productivity, and their work habits to understand this phenomenon objectively.
If you are a researcher who has done field work and published papers in this field, please feel free to link to one.
If not, what you are saying seems like bullshit.
> Almost everyone I know who has tried time tracking and life logging is shocked at how different their expectations are from the reality (mostly that they do less and work less than they think).
Right, and time tracking and life logging are now widespread practices, so people who do these things can do a pretty good job of estimating their productivity. Also we have things like the Pomodoro method, commit histories, etc. to give indications.
I completely agree that guessing your own productivity difference without doing anything to measure it will not yield good data.
Now look at what the GP is doing - they are using an anecdote of one person’s productivity to make a claim about the productivity of a wide range of people.
My point is that their experience is very unlikely to give them the data and insight needed to make such a generalization because they aren’t measuring anyone’s productivity - they are just using an anecdote.
And then he blames the victim and you fell for it.
GP states that their experience gives them enough insight into other people’s productivity to make a detailed assessment.
> They do not need a peer reviewed paper to describe their experience.
They aren’t describing their experience. That’s the point. They are adding the words ‘in my experience’ to a generalization that they almost certainly don’t have the experience to make.
What would make their claim plausible would be if they were a researcher.
> That's ridiculous.
No it isn’t.
In my experience people who make extraordinary claims about how bad the “guru” employee is are just ignoring his actual contributions because he is focused on getting things done rather than shouting “yes sir” to their arbitrary and clueless demands.
Worse they think this anecdote justifies destroying the productivity of the entire company.
And yet here you are repeating this exact cliche.
It is still not logical.
Do you really think your corporate overlords could get the same productivity from 1/3rd the payroll, but choose not to because they’d rather torture you with an open-plan office?
Who’s more likely to be wrong about this? You, or the majority of businesses in the world?
(Also, I didn’t manage that person I was talking about. Him and I were both managed by the same person, and she was one of the most compassionate and patient managers I’ve ever worked with).
Would it kill you to just do a search?
I did suspect that’s the only piece of data that “2-3x” person keeps posting about all over this thread though.
I don't say that you are, and online person could be anyone saying anything (ie. to troll). For educational purposes, test can be tried to learn about oneself: https://www.idrlabs.com/psychopathy/test.php
I scored 1.5% less than average.
This second post is a bit unfairly judged. We all know LoC don't matter. In fact, your point of someone doing irrelevant work is spot on. You know what would help? Actual technical leadership, being included, having a say and a tight feedback loop.
That would require actually seeing people, collaboration and building an organization. Exactly the opposite of the past 20 years tear-down of workplace culture.
At one company I was at we had a lack of computer storage for our developers to work. They were constantly deleting work they'd produced in order to make more room. - I won't say the work product to safe the company some face). The employees begged me (the sys-admin) to buy more storage for them, so I planned out a nice storage array that would handle their needs, be reliable, network available, easy for me to manage, backup, etc.
I took it to the CEO and he and the CFO wanted to know how many more work units the developers would produce if we got them this. The CEO went further, saying he didn't care how long it took for developers to develop- they were paid a salary.
I was so flabbergasted that they didn't care about productivity or about employee comfort.
Back to this conversation... 20-30k is a lot of money certainly, but let's look at the full comparison. I don't know how much you pay your knowledge workers, but let's assume a round number of $100k, so then yes, we need them to be 15-30% more productive. I actually do think you can get them to be at least 20% more productive, and then you have some secondary benefits of employees feeling better, etc.
But that's also talking in extremes.. Private offices vs Open-Plan. What about cubicles? Cubicles where you have at least 3 walls are not private offices, but give you more of the benefits of one than open space.
You might find that cubicles cost, say 5-7% in lost floorspace, but that's paltry compared to private offices.
> if you did a survey I’m sure you find waking up to go to work in the morning is pretty unpopular too.
Yes, and many companies are moving to remote work for knowledge workers, and many don't have set work hours, for just this reason. Some people are morning people, but others aren't.
The modern office is designed around a type of person: A morning person, an extrovert, and someone with no kinds of sensory or attention issues.
As someone with a sensory disorder, I'm literally looking for a new job now to avoid getting dragged back to the office full time. WFH has been a real blessing to me, my morale is far better as I can completely eliminate the horribly harsh lighting and endless churning soundscape of noises that all offices seem to have. Add that to my being very much not a morning person I genuinely think I'll never set foot in an office again, certainly not on the traditional schedule.
Companies will have to adapt or die to the new reality that many people who aren't morning people, aren't extroverts, and/or have sensory disorders find offices shitty environments to spend a third or more of their life in. The future is giving employees a choice of environment that suits their quality-of-life needs I think.
The other area we considered it to be beneficial (which I forgot to mention), was that we hypothesised it would decrease turnover (and all the costs associated with that). We never got to measure that, so I can’t tell you how much you might reasonably expect it to change things. But our estimates put the number as being rather trivial overall.
I have ADHD, and with it a son of sensitivities to noise, to smells and other things. A person who wears too strong a perfume can effect me in a major way.
My former fiancee is Autistic and she is affected by light- light that's too bright, things that move in her field of vision, etc. She's doing her Ph.D in computational biology.
My reason for pointing this out is to help shift your thinking from "they don't like" to, imagine someone put a thumbtack on your chair and when you said "Wow this chair is really uncomfortable" they said "We determined that your productivity would need to be 30% higher for us to not have these thumbtacks here and since that's not possible, the tack stays."
It's probably true-ish that the productivity won't be affected that much...
I've met programmers who can power through any distractions, but they're by far not the norm in my experience. Many programmers are neuro-non-typical, either by being ADHD, or Autistic, or something else, and sensory issues and distractions work against them.
The one open plan office I worked at, where I could see other employees at eye level, it was having like tinnitus- the stress was a constant monkey on my back, from 8am until I left at 6pm.
You might be thinking "Well that's just him, or people who are weird like him." but it turns out that other people often benefit from the same accommodations as disabled people, only less so. You can look up the term "curb cuts".
I'm not saying you made the wrong decision, but I do think for people who don't have these experiences, it can be hard to differentiate "don't like" with "is like an unceasing low level pain".
> You might be thinking "Well that's just him, or people who are weird like him." but it turns out that other people often benefit from the same accommodations as disabled people, only less so. You can look up the term "curb cuts".
There’s a couple of people repeating several times ITT that private offices are proven to result in a 2-3x increase in productivity. There is no such study, and they’re most likely talking about the study that you posted in another comment that reports a measurement that is most certainly not productivity.
There is also no academic study of the “cut curb effect”. If you Google it, all you’ll find is a collection of thought leader style blogs that all reference the same few instances of accessibility features primarily implemented to benefit disabled people, that have been found to have a wider benefit for the general population. The outrageous claims about productivity ITT are entirely unfounded, and the fact that non-hearing impaired people also find closed captions useful sometimes doesn’t change that.
In reality this is just one of the topics that the HN user base seems to be passionately irrational about.
Different work environments would certainly facilitate different kinds of needs. For example if you worked in an office that was primarily sales or human interfacing, such as an insurance broker, then you'd certainly see no measurable performance benefits from private offices.
On the other hand, if you were working in an office whose primary product was science research or deep engineering, you might.
Big companies like Google were early proponents of open plan, but have begun reintroducing walls because they've seen the productivity benefits for their employees.
As for 2-3x increases, or even 15-30% increases, I think this belies the fact that so much of what knowledge workers do is challenging to measure.
I've met people who think that a programmer must be producing lines of code, or be typing away, but some of the best development I've seen doesn't involve programming at a computer at all, but writing things down on a whiteboard, time spent thinking, reading, absorbing knowledge and producing high quality solutions.
This makes the job of quantifying output very challenging.
The people who are complaining that you're not producing concrete numbers are simply asking you the wrong question- and you may simply not have the answer.
As to my curb cuts mention, I mentioned something else that I think got lost in the shuffle, which is that so many people who work in technology are neuro-atypical, whether or not they're officially diagnosed.
Ultimately these are business decisions. The CEO I mentioned who said that he didn't care about employee efficiency because the employees were salaried (and thus fixed cost) was making a business decision.
Similarly, you looked at the cost of private offices, which was calculable and contrasted it against output- measured however you felt it was appropriate, and decided it wasn't worth it.
For all I know, maybe employee output itself wasn't even a constraint in your system! If that was the case then slowdowns in employee time would actually be just fine, since they weren't your resource constraint.
Too many people are making assumptions; I just wanted to bring up the issue of neurodiversity playing a role in these decisions and why these may be hidden issues for many employees.
I left the sociopathic world several years ago. I came back, but now everyone is at that stage where they're ready to ditch the sociopathic behaviours of past 20 years. At that stage you go through with it, as there is nothing left to lose.
Someone not familiar with your excellent points aren't competent to make the judgement. We don't care about their preconceived biases and domination techniques.
Also not for the lies that it was about better collaboration, and not just to cut costs, as confirmed above.
Since the other poster can't be bothered to search to challenge own prejudices, here's another one:
This one should be of interest (62% more sick leave for open plan): https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21528171/
Of course what's discussed here is about impacts on deep knowledge work.
My assertion is that this kind optimizes for less productivity and creativity in others. We all know why, but perhaps this needs more open discussion now.
That you think this is about whether people like some floor plan or not tells me you are speaking from uninformed opinion lacking experience.
“Confidential information” is presumably a concern because (a) at a certain point broad enough knowledge you’d rather keep internal leaks outside the organization and (b) some of it is about managing internal tensions and focus, so you keep information quiet that could disrupt the directed focus of employees on their roles and business goals
When it comes to (a), it’s easy to see how open office plans can become at least a marginal liability: anything discussed privately in C-levels that has external strategic value is absolutely going to get discussed “on the floor” as execution even appears on the horizon. And if (b) is a concern, why not other impacts on focus and productivity?
I’d guess, personally, that office setup costs are highly legible and therefore easy targets for someone looking for a marginal win. Productivity has more inputs and is less legible which makes it easy to imagine the org can make it up elsewhere (or make up stories about how it was made up elsewhere). Assuming orgs value margins of individual productivity in the first place, of course, and it’s not always clear that’s the case.
To put that number into perspective for those used to thinking residential leases, that would mean a 900sqft apartment would rent for $150/mo. Normally commercial leases are slightly more expensive per square foot in literally every market I've ever looked at.
Please, do tell me market in the US where I can rent a 2,000sqft apartment for $333/mo and live in a decent metro area.
The residential prices in my area are MUCH higher. A 1000sqft apartment goes for around $1200/mo.
I think a lot of people who rent office space (especially in expensive cities) would agree with you here.
You need to think about electrical codes, HVAC, accessibility, fire codes (sprinklers, flammability of materials, etc), evacuation planning, etc. In California, there's even a rule that at least half the outlets in an office area must be motion controlled.
Not saying I don't agree with you, just more things to consider about the complexity and, ofc, the cost of doing things like that.
Salary is arguably more important to an employee than the total cost of employing them is to the employer because for the typical employee their salary is close to 100% of their income, while labor expense is less than that for nearly all corporations.
Finally would note you don’t have a monopoly on executive perspective in this thread. It’s to the credit of others that they can understand why they perhaps should eschew a traditional visual indicator of power disparity that would favor them.
They do? That's not been my experience. Is there data on this?
Cutting performance by %70 to save %15 in costs is never going to be economical.
So do managers down to the first-line, everyone in HR, and in many organizations lots of other people.
Most of those people use shared meeting rooms for the purpose.
I'll tell you, that has about an 80% efficiency drop.
I love my coworkers though, that's why I stayed. And they are revisiting remote work, so I'm hopeful.
Maybe by using office space somewhere that isn't insanely expensive?
In some cases, %300.
That you are willing to sacrifice %70-%80 of an employee’s productivity to save %15 of their salary shows the problem.
That you don’t realize it is because “management” is no longer drawn from those that do. Instead “management” has become clueless MBAs who can't do either job.
The funny thing is for software/tech companies they probably should be. The people who will be doing the work should probably have input into the work to be done at every stage of the process. Tech companies should value the informed input of the actual people who build their company.
But most leaders who value open plan offices see developers as unimportant ticket robots who take in JIRA tickets and output code and who need to know nothing about what exactly they're building.
I've never been in a company where the couple dozen people all on the floor are on the same project. I'd imagine even if they were there would be subdivisions there - do 30 people all effectively work on the same stuff?
Is that team of 10 collaborating and trying to ignore everyone else while doing so more productive in that space than they would be in their own team office or sets of offices? And are the other non-talking developers not being less productive because of the distraction? It doesn't take a lot of distraction for a team of 10 to drag down the productivity of the other 90 people into a net loss for the room.
Absolutely. However that is a lot less common than things that you hear that don't affect you. If you want everyone to know everything than you can't have more than 10 developers - a team of this size (or slightly smaller) will be far more productive than larger teams because they know all the interactions - but the larger team because of the larger numbers gets more done at the end of the day anyway (and good architecture will minimize the interactions and thus help productivity)
> Unfortunately what people say that you can hear can affect your team because of product interactions.
When it is only a small number of people those non-work conversations make your teammates more human and thus gel your team and so are worth thee cost. However if the number of people is too large it is a distraction.
> they are often wrong which requires correction.
If they are your teammates you should be correcting each other. If they are not - you shouldn't be the expert in the subject and so you won't know they are wrong in the first place.
Been there, done that, it's not any fun, and a good way to get resentful and burned out. It's really helpful to formalize communication to a greater degree.
Different countries have different rules. Check you local laws before you put in an office without windows.
In fact, offices are cheaper because you don’t need to over staff by %100 and incur all that communications overhead.
Sure they do. I worked at a FTSE-100 company that had the CEO and full director team working in an open office. You could walk right up to the CEO no matter who you were. In fact, I would say that CEO's being in the open office is increasingly popular.
They did have access to pre-booked meeting rooms they could use for private conversations which would not be appropriate to hold in an open office.
* CEO - He was in the open office but had his team of PA's and assistants around him, so if they didn't recognise you they would triage it first (and everyone knew not to just walk up in reality - open office at that scale means you can technically walk up to them and start talking but it doesn't mean that you should). The CEO in this particular company was a public figure too (i.e. the kind of CEO where reporters would follow them and would be recognised on the street), so again it's kinda like walking up to a celebrity in a cafe - you can but it's not always polite.
* Board/Exec Directors - They usually had 1 or 2 PA's sitting next to them but would be very approachable. Typically would have the desk against a wall to discourage disturbance slightly (i.e. it meant you had to walk past the PA desk). If you are in their department usually you could just walk over and chat. If you weren't in the department, the PA's would probably chat to you first and suggest speaking to one of the directors that reported into them first, although if they had done that already then they probably would either have a quick chat (director is in ear-shot anyway) or schedule a meeting if it needs a longer discussion.
* Non-Exec Directors - Were in the full open office, typically with one PA but they could be remote. You could walk up and start chatting openly.
For reference it was a company with over 100k employees, and 5 levels of hierarchy below director level. To be honest the whole setup worked really well, and I personally didn't feel like there was any barrier between management and everyone else.
I agree that open offices suck, btw. I'd much more readily go back to an office if I got my own space.
The real reason is that it's harder to find quality c-suite candidates who would accept an open office. Since stockholders care so much about the quality of leadership (rightly), companies usually spare no expense in enticing the best candidates.
I could use the meeting rooms just as much if I wanted. I don’t see them having very special facilities.
The second best office I ever had was when I worked for Apple's Newton team at the Bubb Road office in Cupertino. Each person had a proper office with a door that closed and a window to the outside. The offices were arranged around common spaces that we called "living rooms" and populated with couches, coffee tables, whiteboards on wheels, foosball tables and musical instruments. People who needed privacy to focus closed their doors. Those who were open to conversation left their doors open. Those actively seeking interaction sat on the couches or puttered in the small kitchens next to the living rooms.
Apple later moved us to a couple of the buildings at the Infinite Loop site when it was new. Those offices were pretty good--private offices with doors that closed and easy access to comfortable common areas--but they weren't as good as the ones at Bubb Road. (To be fair, though, Newton needed more space. There weren't enough of the good ones at Bubb Road for the team as it grew.)
Third best was at NeXT, which was about the same quality as Apple's Infinite Loop, or maybe a little better. My office at NeXT was larger than the one at Infinite Loop.
I've worked in cube farms, and sitting at a cheap card table, crammed into a room full of other people seated around the same things. I've worked stuffed into a small room with half a dozen other programmers, perching machines on whatever surface we could find. I can work in awkward situations.
I'll choose a good office every time, though, over something less good. I'll do more and better work in a comfortable office in which I can close out distractions. Headphones don't work for me, because anything I hear in them is just another distraction. Well, to be fair, I haven't tried something like weather or forest sounds. Those might work.
I've worked mainly from my home office for about fifteen years now. I've occasionally agreed to work from someone's idea of what a office should be like, but I'm always looking forward to getting back to my "real" office when I do that, and if you want me to work from somewhere else, there has to be a pretty good reason for it.
I've since moved on to Heap (https://heap.io/) and we are hiring. We're virtual first so we don't have private offices, but we have the same values about treating developers well and giving them the space they need to do deep work. We're hiring for basically everything https://heap.io/careers/departments/engineering-product-and-...
The offices were often these dark, depressing, holes, but many folks liked them.
I believe they have gone open plan, and I'm not sure how that's being received.
I know that Intel had a cubicle culture, and even the CEO had a cubicle. Not sure if they still do.
Japan has the open plan offices from hell. Huge rooms, with rows of desks, and the manager's desk, crammed at the end of the row.
Even Vice-Presidents, with billion-dollar (hundred-billion-Yen) budgets, would have a small, "schoolteacher"-style desk, in the corner of the room.
The offices that I liked the most, were in Germany. They would have a couple of engineers in each office, with big windows. Someone told me that there is a law, in Germany, that requires windows in offices.
I remember these narrow corridors, deep inside single- or two-story buildings, and small (like 8' X 8') offices, that were, nonetheless, surprisingly comfortable.
That was an ... interesting ... visit.
So, nice and free of distractions?
The US doesn't have as "explicit" a culture of "Don't leave before the manager," but it is still implied, in many corporations (especially startups).
By encouraging folks to use on-line tools and develop communication styles that work well with those tools, lifting and shifting your team to their homes due to a business continuity interruption won't have quite the same impact to continuity. This is especially true for knowledge work focused businesses.
In addition, the small office approach they took to their offices likely assists with implementing improved ventilation as well as social distancing protocols. This is important where you have mixed work teams where knowledge workers have to work alongside more hands-on workers.
The other thing I think sticks out is the role of scheduled time for "cross pollination". Every remote organization I've worked for has had scheduled times where the team would gather for direct, in-person interaction. Typically this has taken the shape of quarterly gatherings. If you look at successful open source projects, teams defined by their distributed, decentralized "organization", they also have these kinds of gatherings. In fact, my own practice as a manager to leverage these kinds of gatherings was born from my experience on an enterprise open source project.
There are important lessons to take from this. I'd be curious to read about their experience with Covid in relation to this blog post.
Is it control? i.e. they don't mind if profits go down as long as they can control or see it?
Plus management lives on metrics. If you don't have metrics to capture an impact or potential impact you have no argument. Very few companies currently using open offices/full work weeks are going to expend the capital to experiment with private offices for all and 4 day work weeks. So to make your case at said companies someone else your leadership admires has to do it first and then you can quote them, similar to how every startup office basically turned into a Google knock-off once Google took off.
One quote which stood out in the article was: "hire smart people who get things done, and get the hell out of their way"
Perhaps hubris is preventing managers from seeing that their bad-management is actually detrimental. The Michael Scott (or David Brent) effect
- Open offices are cheaper because they require less material and allow people to be more densely packed
- The C-level decision makers are likely to be extroverted sales or product people who believe that synchronous, always-on f2f communication is better for collaboration
- It makes it obvious at a glance who's in the office and what they're doing, which can create social pressure to work longer hours (and can satisfy a manager's need for control)
Too many times in my admittedly short career some exec or PM has come up with something and immediately wanted it and asked the developer to do it.
Developer doesn’t have any context on the ask, so has to go ask other people.
Execs solution is to call a mega meeting and they can easily grab everyone if they are in the same room. Online or in offices, it can be time consuming to wrangle everyone.
Overall, very disruptive to work, but it does seem to allow their particular ask to get done quickly which makes them look good. The damage to other productivity is like rust. Hard to notice until it gets really bad.
That's just extremely poor management right there.
Simply put, the productivity debate isn't as settled as we may think. See  for example, for a mention of a few studies making the arguments for the other side.
IMHO, the obvious congestion benefits are enough to suggest some form of governmental encouragement, that will allow at least some tech workers in a company to work remotely.
The pandemic proved that productivity sky-rocketed when almost everything fun is cancelled and all's you have to do is stay inside and work
They cant go to the board and be like “oh, I don’t know why productivity is down, I did all the things the studies said I should do”
Combined with people having their backs to (open, or in any case transparent) doors, this is very different from what I'd consider a "private" office.
If I were in charge of that place, I'd at least put semitransparent/frosted glass covering on the glass panels there so you can see if the room is occupied but can't peer behind someone's shoulder.
Also depends on the type of panel used, but such large surface glass panels are terrible at sound isolation...
At Apple, whenever I had to fly to California, they had similar glass offices like this, and I was always amazed at how well they actually isolated sound. People would chat in the office, and you'd only hear some muffled speech, which wasn't really enough to be distracting. I cannot speak for Stackexchange but presumably they use similar styles of glass office?
Nobody likes having people watch them while they work. Don't believe me? Go stand behind anybody while they're typing and make sure they know you're there. If they don't instantly stop and look at you, their typing speed will decrease dramatically.
Current company sent out a survey about the office remodel. The options were "2 to a cubicle" or "1 to a cubicle". Ugh
Having some visual privacy and ability to talk on the phone guilt free is nice too.
Until my company fired everyone else in my department,there was just an endless stream of meetings going on in this one room.
Not that I want open offices. But I want to talk to my colleagues, collaborate, hear their discussions and chime in, shoot the shit etc. So a small office for the team is perfect. 6-8 persons.
To start with the obvious, anything would be a huge improvement over what we have now.
When I try to imagine how I would feel about working in such office, I guess it would depend on its size and layout. I have both good and bad experience with the "one room per team" setting.
In the bad case, the team members were so cramped that you sometimes couldn't put a book on your desk, because the other guy then couldn't freely move his mouse. Also, people were sitting so close to each other that everyone had their neighbors' monitors in peripheral vision.
In the good case, everyone's desk was as wide as they could stretch their hands, with some space between the desks. Also, the room had a window that you could actually open.
They way it always worked was that people kept their doors open unless they has a real need to be left alone. So you still heard discussions, you'd still get serendipitous discussions, etc. The difference was that you could also make all that stop when you needed to.
Where I work now we have a team room, we also have offices/boxes people can use if they want to be undisturbed for a few hours. But mostly I just stay home a day or two a week for that kind of work.
It used to be pretty common for engineers to get at least close to "private office". My dad for decades had a nice office with a window and view on the 30-something floor of the Amoco Building (now the Aon Center), which he shared with one other person. Amoco later moved them to cubicles in a suburban office park.
Personally, I prefer open plan, I get bored in a static unchanging office. Open plan provides a form of external stimulis to keep the mind busy whilst I'm busy doing something mundane (much like fidget toys). The noise gets a bit much on occasion when I need to concentrate, but a pair of headphones sorts that out.
What's the term for "Everyone thinks it's probably good, but no one wants to be the first to try it"?
However, in the new world of almost all companies being part remote, part in-office, open floor plans are terrible. You’re on calls constantly, it’s too disruptive to be on them in an open office, and there aren’t enough meeting rooms to snag for calls. If you’re anywhere near half remote, then an open office simply does not work.
I think this new remote-heavy way of working is going to bring walled offices back - it just makes calls with remote employees SOOOOO much easier. And as this article notes, glass walls allow in lots of natural light, really helps eliminate the depressing vibe of traditional walled offices with minimal natural light, while still providing enough of a sound barrier to hop on video calls at your desk.
Some people like the noise. But others don't. My productivity suffers in the noise. What a waste of time!
I’m still confused because I worked from home while this thing was installed (was it?) and have noticed no change in the office.
I eventually just started wearing noise cancelling headphones every day.
I went back to the office recently after being away for over a year. It was almost completely empty since everyone has transitioned to working from home. Still that damned white noise machine was on full volume...
I understand a lot of people aren't bothered by white noise, but some people really are, which is another example of why open offices are a bad idea.
I think I remember them mentioning it was like a 60Hz electrical hum and it does seem that the office has more of that noise, but also it’s summer in Ontario so it could just be the AC.
Oh, man, those things take a bad situation and make them even worse.
And if that person loves the sound of their voice? Good luck ever working long stretches without noise-cancelling headphones on.