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We still believe in private offices (2015) (stackoverflow.blog)
221 points by dandaan on Sept 10, 2021 | hide | past | favorite | 277 comments

It's been six years since I even had a cubicle. Most offices I've worked in since then had us in barrierless rooms, often kind of cramped, with just enough space for a computer and monitor. Look past your monitor and you see a co-worker. Stretch your arms and you hit a co-worker.

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.

Looking at the article I'm not sure what's with the choice of photograph at the top.

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.

A compromise that I’ve found to make open floor plans work for me, is L-shaped desks. I don’t need a cubicle, but an L-shaped desk gives me the personal space that lets me focus. Unfortunately in my experience, companies are more interested in saving money by cramming us in, than providing a healthy environment to get work done, and L-shaped desks are rare.

I think there's something about having distractions in your peripheral vision which speaks to this.

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

> I think there's something about having distractions in your peripheral vision which speaks to this.

That's exactly what I never liked about open office plans.

My biggest problem was that I sat parallel to the hallway that held the only bathrooms. So doors would swing open and closed and people would walk by in my peripheral. I never learned to ignore this and would often glance which would feel rude. I also felt uncomfortable leaving my desk for a 30min afternoon walk while my director could see my empty desk and everyone else putting in their 10 hours.

Creepy or not creepy? That's the wrong question!

It is inhumane from a deep down evolutionary biologics perspective to a rational thought. Just like open offices.

> I can put headphones on when I want to not be interrupted.

See: "workaround"

> 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.

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.

Back in the day ThinkGeek (IIRC) sold a little curved mirror to stick onto the corner of your monitor so you could see when people were behind you. I suspect you could do much the same with stick on curved mirrors designed to be attached to outside car mirrors.

That's what I did the last time I had to work in such a setting. I didn't find it really helped me, though, because the issue isn't how far I need to turn my head, the issue is that I can't get into the flow because I'm always checking.

I so get this. I'm twitchy by nature when I see people approaching from the side or think somebody behind me, which is probably good instincts in nature but sucks in open office. I can do open but need my back to a wall, or better yet a corner.

Open offices reduce face to face interaction.[1] Music generally impairs complex task performance.[2]

[1] https://royalsocietypublishing.org/doi/full/10.1098/rstb.201...

[2] https://psycnet.apa.org/doiLanding?doi=10.1037%2Fxap0000202

You are ok with having to wear headphones in an open office, but not taking the effort of putting paper or something on the inside of your private glassed in office?

> It's been six years since I even had a cubicle. Most offices I've worked in since then had us in barrierless rooms, often kind of cramped, with just enough space for a computer and monitor. Look past your monitor and you see a co-worker. Stretch your arms and you hit a co-worker.

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.

My friend works for a major manufacturer who switched a few years ago to a similar setup where desks are all unassigned and workers have a locker.

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.

>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 need to bring in my own chair. It makes a significant difference.

I had a coworker a couple years ago who brought in his own chair (a Herman Miller Aeron). When we came in after a weekend it had been removed and replaced with a cheap, office special that was the default in the cubicles. After a couple days he found it. The facilities manager had moved it into a VPs office because it was an “executive” chair. He had to go through a couple levels of approval, a meeting, and get the chair tagged in order to keep it. Dystopian.

I was having pretty significant back pain when I worked for a very small company and decided to buy a chair with fancy adjustable lumbar support. It's 15 years later and I have brought my own chair to every office I've ever worked in.

Your employer should provide an adequate chair. Even the US federal government is capable of meeting that bar, albeit with more delays and paperwork than a private-sector employer.

My definition of adequate is different than my employers.

I wish cubicles weren't derided so much in popular culture

I'd actually consider going to work in an office again if I was guaranteed my own cubicle

People forget that cubicles were invented to mitigate the serious problems of the open office plans that were predominate before them. When they were introduced, workers really loved them because of that.

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.

Cubicles weren't just used as the inventor intended.[1]

[1] https://medium.com/robin-powered/the-accidental-arrival-of-t...

I hadn't thought of that. I'd always thought it'd gone; offices > cubicles > open plan

Check out movies from the 40s and 50s that showed non-executive office environments -- they're depicted as large rooms full of people working at desks, because that was the norm.

Maybe if we rechristened them “radicles” they’d come back into vogue. “Cubicles” sounds sad.

I worked at a company that did away with cubicles in favor of long tables where you had just enough space for a laptop and external display and looking past that display, or to your immediate left and right, you saw the faces of your co-workers.

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.

Back in the 90s, a very large company you've heard of had all their development contractors in cubes with the call center. Headphones to block out the sound were pretty much required to get things done. Me and a college were assigned to a cramped broom closet. We had the best seats because at least we could close the door.

> were assigned to a cramped broom closet.

> 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.

I was a contractor to another very large tech company. They were better and tried to give each employee a private office, but were out of space. Employees were doubled up, but they put 8-10 contractors into a converted executive corner office. I was one of them. Then all the other contractors rolled off and they kind of forgot about me for a couple of month, so I, the most junior of junior devs, ended up with a giant corner private office all to myself.

After I went full time with the company and asked if I could keep the office. They said no :)

Reminds me of being a msc student. We got a "lab" environment which was just a couple of tables, the lab part was bringing your own laptop, because computer science.

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.

Early 2000s, me and two others, all working for major US-multinational companies you've all heard of, were onsite for one major US customer. We were all shoved into one cube, ONE. I used to joke that if the cube was any smaller it would have been fornication. Three laptops, gears, writing implements, three chairs. There was one power strip and one desk phone. This went on for probably 5 months. We were all polite, agreeable people so nobody came out with lasting damages.

Myself and another developer got put into a vault one time. It was really nice; we liked the same type of music and just jammed and programmed the entire time.

Thinking of going full remote? That seems dismal.

I've been fully remote for six years, and intend never to work in an office again. I'm not sure what's dismal about it?

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.

I was referring to being packed into an ever more crowded and open office as dismal. I am team remote too.

Ah, I misunderstood.

I figure remote work will eliminate cubes for engineers regardless. Like many companies, internal surveys show a lot of people preferring perma WFH. With so much empty space, why build out cube farms for the few people that are left in the office? Private offices would be yet another amenity touted by the company.

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.

Office space is crazy expensive; the small and medium size shops will see the benefit of closing the office entirely because it amounts to being able to hire another employee or two, in most cities.

It won’t be crazy expensive soon if the remote trends continue. In some cities probably we will see office space being converted into housing. Which, along with remote work, is a good thing on my book.

Converting office buildings into housing is incredibly expensive according to everything I've read. Plumbing is inadequate. HVAC is designed for central control of large uniform spaces.

This conversion has been done with three buildings in my area (that I know of), as well as with two schools that have closed. It is expensive, yes -- but it's still cheaper than building something new as long as the building is in good shape.

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?

I can't really believe that there isn't a lot of regulatory capture, nimbyism and general bureaucratic idiocy behind this. Yes, some buildings are going to be harder, specially newer ones, but it is no like we allow partitions in offices to be built with asbestos.

The open-office concept was designed by executives who have their own private offices.

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.

When I'm tasked with learning something new - like Rust, for example - my inclination is to go pick up a book about it and read it cover to cover, working through the examples as I do. I spent six years of college practicing learning this way - by reading and working through controlled examples - and I'm really good at it. It seems to me that the entire point of college is to sharpen your ability to learn things from reading books and practicing with them.

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.

> 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.

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 swear the same thing happened to anyone in an open plan office I used to work at for anyone who was clearly concentrating!

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

Are you me? I used to do the same thing i.e. read books cover to cover and I still do. I still used to bring books very recently and as you said people get pissed off. There are other curious and rude people who would pick my book and think that I am acting superior or something. Very irritating.

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.

I am not an introvert (per the general common definition) but I don't work well with others around me, they are too distracting even if no one says anything or move. The presence of other human beings around is enough to distract me and feel self-conscious (edit: which is only a problem when I want to concentrate at work).

Per Myers-Briggs, I am an extrovert.

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.

Have you considered that you may be sensitive? Most people don't give a fuck, but you do?

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.

yeah.. I don't even do well when my wife walks around behind me while I am working, and she's my wife! Usually just wait until returns to her office desk. It's just something innate in me, I don't know what it is. I know some people (very small minority) have the ability to get into flow no matter the situation, but I don't.

I have the same thing and I think it’s because there’s a chance she might interact with you, which is enough to prevent you from getting 100% focused. Just having someone close enough that there’s a chance they will distract me is enough for me to feel mildly distracted by that possibility.

I'm the same. The mere presence of someone that I might interact with throws me off. I worry that I'll have to interact so block myself from focusing on the off-chance I'll be thrown out of focus.

It's fucking exhausting sometimes...

I feel like open offices are bad for me because I'm not an introvert.

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.

> As an introvert

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.

I actually used to really enjoy talking to people in the office and would welcome the distraction, but WFH has been a godsend for me in ways I previously couldn't imagine.

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.

Same (introvert).

I switched back to WFH last year (permanently) and it's been amazing.

> As an introvert, working in an open office was a daily struggle for me.

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.

I attended a bootcamp that learned through pair programming and it was one of the most stressful times of my life (and I'm a veteran who served in Afghanistan!)

It's almost like there are two parts of my brain that are mutually exclusive; understanding abstract concepts and communicating, pick one!

I'm going to give the one executive credit who I worked for and who also just worked in the open plan office.

...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.

> The open-office concept was designed by executives who have their own private offices.

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.

It's the cheapest, easiest option. Of course it's going to be the default. Anything they say about interdepartmental communication is secondary to the reality of saving a bunch of money just cramming desks into an empty space.

Now that you work at home during the pandemic, who pays for your home office?

Many companies (where I live) provided the option of moving company office (chair, desk, monitor .. etc) to the employees' apartments, and most of these companies pay moving fees as well. I personally have an office already, so I didn't need that. Some other companies [3] gave Cash Bonus to help people.

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 [1][2]. In Switzerland, the government asked companies to pay a share of rent for employees working from home[4].

[1]: https://www.cnbc.com/2020/11/12/deutsche-bank-proposes-a-5pe... [2]: https://www.bbc.com/news/business-54876526 [3]: https://www.bbc.com/news/technology-57750142 [4]: https://www.swissinfo.ch/eng/court-decision_companies-must-p...

In the US, if you devote the space entirely to work, you can at least take the fair market value of that space as a tax deduction.

Hmm, that's disappointing.

So the edit would be: In the US, if you devote the space entirely to work as an employee, you pay for it.

> The open-office concept was designed by executives who have their own private offices.

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.

Very simple: does c suite use open offices? No, because they freaking suck lol. If you think collaboration is benefitted from open office layouts, provide more offices or dedicated meeting rooms instead. In a private office i can put an air filter, control the temp completely, take a nap, and so on.

In the '80s when my dad was a C-level at a major Canadian telcom the first thing he did was move the knowledge workers to the edge of the building where the private offices were and moved his setup to the middle of the floor. His reasoning was that he'd constantly need to talk to different people anyway and the people with more technical roles would benefit from the silence. It kinda blew peoples minds at the time, though I can't say I know how well it really worked in practice.

About 15 years ago my boss got promoted from VP of Engineering to CEO. It was a weird move for him, and one of the ways he handled it was to move out of his private office and onto a desk right in the middle of the R&D lab floor. He did his CEO work right in the midst of smelly chemical experiments and random hardware prototyping work. It must have worked for him, because he's been tremendously successful in the years since.

On that line, open door policies are worthless.

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.

Nothing like the CEO telling everyone that we have an "open door culture" and to feel free to come to him when they have concerns for the well-being of the business.

The above only works if no-one does it.

The CEO actually wants a FEW people to do that though. He wants feedback, the bigger isn't isn't the number of people is too much (though that could be a problem), the bigger issue it is that the few who do come to him skew his thinking to their biases instead of the real thing.

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.

Not just more general feedback, but honest feedback.

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.

It sounds like your dad had some sense to him!

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.

It's like if you tried to bend over and pick something up and right before you picked it up, someone kicked it away a little. And then you tried again, so they kick it again. Over and over. Eventually you stop reaching for it.

In my experience, upper management like that tends to listen to those people that know what they're talking about. They understand that they hired these people to be experts, why would you ignore their opinion when that's literally what you're paying them for.

I worked at a place with open offices and lots of conferenc e rooms, C-levels were notorious for 'permanently occupying' them.

A previous place I worked at had open plans and lots of "Audio Privacy Rooms". Open plan was like a library, things hushed and almost no talking. For any call or conference to be joined, it was done from the APRs, which had a comfy seat, a phone (redundant with video collab software), a door and some sound proofing.

I have been a C-Level at a (medium sized) company before, I had a go at using an open-plan desk (which I strongly prefer), but it’s not practical. The reason it can’t really work, is C-Levels spend a lot of their time in meetings discussing confidential information. An open-plan desk is a bit of a waste if you can only spend 1-2 hours a day sitting at it, and you need to spend the rest in a meeting room.

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.

Open plan offices are unpopular partly because the C-level suite tries to sell the idea that they are somehow superior to offices. Everyone knows it's a way for the company to save money. Being lied to, on top of feeling miserable in an open plan office, is what really gets people's skin boiling.

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.

The cost of providing open plan office facilities is already priced in to most office-working people’s salaries, whether they’re aware of it or not. If it turns out that office facilities are cut back over the long term, you would expect that to apply some upwards pressure on wages. WFH is complicated by a number of other factors though, there’s lots of things that will also be providing downwards pressure. Like all of a sudden having to compete on expected compensation with somebody who lives in rural Ohio, or Manila, or any other place with a lower cost of living than the place you currently live.

Long term effects are yet to be seen, and anybody who thinks they know what they’ll be is just guessing.

> but even if you believe you’d be more productive in a private office, you’re not going to be 15-30% more productive.

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.

Do you think it’s 2-3x averaged for the entire year?

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.

The 2-3X factor includes the lower return from administrative tasks. For code writing it is probably 10X - 15X.

It's not that people are more productive with private offices, it's that some (many) people are extremely unproductive with open floor plans. So that 2-3x figure is realistic, no matter how you average it.

The problem with extraordinary claims like this, is that you’re much more likely to be estimating your own productivity incorrectly than you are to be correctly. There’s no doubt that most people would write more LoCs sitting a in quiet room undisturbed, but that’s likely a rather poor measurement of your ability to productively provide value to your employer.

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.

> The problem with extraordinary claims like this, is that you’re much more likely to be estimating your own productivity incorrectly than you are to be correctly. There’s no doubt that most people would write more LoCs sitting a in quiet room undisturbed, but that’s likely a rather poor metric of your ability to productively provide value to your employer.

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.

But people are notoriously terrible at estimating their own productivity and how they spend their time. Almost everyone I know who has tried time tracking and life logging is shocked at how different reality is from their expectations (mostly that they do less and work less than they think).

> But people are notoriously terrible at estimating their own productivity and how they spend their time.

That’s true.

> 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.

True but irrelevant to the fact that this guy is rationalizing the reduction in performance (as independently measured by researchers) by ~%70 in favor of reducing costs %~%15.

And then he blames the victim and you fell for it.

I didn't fall for anything. And, quite frankly, I have only an academic interest in the topic. I haven't set foot in an office as an employee for twenty years. I work from home as a freelance contractor. I'd immediately quit any job that did try to make me work in an office.

GP explicitly states that it is their experience. They do not need a peer reviewed paper to describe their experience. That's ridiculous.

> GP explicitly states that it is their experience.

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.

I love it, you dismiss long established, well researched logical conclusions based on understanding of software development and backed by studies…in favor of your anecdote about an engineer you failed to manage properly.

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.

Where is this study you keep mentioning that shows a private office will provide a 2-3x boost to productivity? We both know this doesn’t exist.

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).

How about 3,5 (72%) less time having face-to-face interactions with each other in the open-plan office:


Would it kill you to just do a search?


As interesting as that is, it is not a measurement of productivity.

I did suspect that’s the only piece of data that “2-3x” person keeps posting about all over this thread though.

Added other post now. It's good to be curious, and asking questions.

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.

In your first post above, you claim open office doesn't work for you, since you need confidential meetings and then would need to be away from open plan anyway. This is asinine reasoning, as your phoning and meetings would disrupt everybody around you doing knowledge work. If it's not you, then it's all the other people. With open plan, there's in fact less collaboration, as there's less space. Even pairing makes too much noise. This, while gossiping and all the other distractions are much worse than in an office. So it's a failure on all accounts, which research do confirm.

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.

It's understandable to take this perspective; it's the perspective a CFO might need to take, but it leaves out a bunch of things.

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.

>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.

Not having the tools to perform your job is something that very directly effects your productivity though, the case for applying that same rationale to sitting in a floor plan you don’t like is much less convincing. I’m sure it would increase productivity for some people, but I’m also sure it would decrease it for others. People who are widely relied upon by other people would surely show an increase in productivity by some measurements if interrupted less. But people who who widely rely upon others to get their tasks done would surely take a hit. I’m not convinced that the aggregate productivity change would be significant, and I’m quite certain that it wouldn’t be significant enough to justify the costs.

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.

> the case for applying that same rationale to sitting in a floor plan you don’t like is much less convincing

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’ve raised some valid points here, but your argument has changed from being about the productivity of the general workforce, to being about the productivity of people with a particular type of disability. Ensuring disabled employees can participate properly is obviously very important, but this is a very different topic from the one we were initially talking about.

This counterpoint is also explicitly called out in GP's post:

> 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".

You can Google the “curb cut effect” as much as you like. The entire body of evidence in support of this “effect” is that curb cuts (which weren’t originally designed for disabled people) and closed captions are useful to more people than just disabled people. It’s essentially a design philosophy that disability advocates promote. There’s nothing wrong with it, but it’s not at all evidence that accomodations made to support disabled people will always be universally useful. Especially when the issue at hand is “basic social interactions are harmful”, rather than a more universally shared experience like “getting over this curb is challenging”.

What makes your arguments weak, isn't the slightly condescending tone or tonedeaf, endless rhetorics about other peoples lives and experiences. No, it's the stunning absence of facts and evidences.

I described quite explicitly what the numbers looked like when I did a real analysis of the associated costs. The productivity gain required for that change to make sense is significant. There is no study that suggests the change would result in anything approaching the level of required productivity.

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.

It's funny because I don't think you're lacking citations in your argument; but I think that people aren't asking you the right questions either.

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.

This article clearly show several factors that show more dissatisfactions: https://hbr.org/2013/11/research-cubicles-are-the-absolute-w...

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: https://duckduckgo.com/?q=open+plan+research+sick+leave&t=br...

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.

Autism isn’t a disability.

An environment that lets you focus is literally a tool you need to do the job. Focus is literally the job.

That you think this is about whether people like some floor plan or not tells me you are speaking from uninformed opinion lacking experience.

> C-Levels spend a lot of their time in meetings discussing confidential information

“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.

30 grand a year for 1 office means you are paying upwards of 10 dollars per square foot of space, your office space is waaay too expensive.

"Average office rent in San Francisco rested at $87.18 per square foot in 2020."


The offices I work out of in a suburb of DFW are >$20/sqft and its not really that fancy of an office building. My wife works commercial property management in the suburbs of DFW, most of the properties she manages have rents >$30/sqft. And real estate is considered cheap in Texas!

Where I live and work, the average cost of high-quality office space is around $5/sqft (the average cost overall is $2). And no, I don't live in the boonies. I live in a city with a considerable tech presence.

Even cities like Cincinnati or Huntsville are nearly $20/sqft average for rent, $5/sqft for an office space in a city is seems absurdly cheap in the US. Its extremely outside the norm for most offices in the US.

https://www.commercialcafe.com/office-market-trends/us/al/hu... https://www.commercialcafe.com/office-market-trends/us/oh/ci...

Average cost $2?! You must be thinking monthly, not yearly. Most of the time you hear commercial $/sqft it's the yearly rate, as 5 year leases are pretty common in commerical leases while extraordinary rare in residential.

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.

Yes, I'm talking monthly.

The residential prices in my area are MUCH higher. A 1000sqft apartment goes for around $1200/mo.

Ah, that's where the disconnect is. $2/sqft/mo works out to $24/mo yearly (obviously) which is definitely more in line with the numbers I was talking before. ~$20/mo seems to make sense to me, much higher than that and I just don't understand paying those rates. There's plenty of wonderful places to live and work with commercial real estate in the $20's.

fwiw the commercial asset management product I did data stuff for always quoted it by month so that's what I was talking.

> your office space is waaay too expensive

I think a lot of people who rent office space (especially in expensive cities) would agree with you here.

Sounds like that company was considering some luxurious offices. I'd be satisfied with my cubicle walls going to the ceiling and a simple door. The goal is privacy/focus. Hell if I was allowed I would get some plywood and hinges from home depot and install them myself over the weekend.

Unfortunately, you can't just erect 4 walls and a door, and call it a day. The problem you quickly run into are building codes.

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 very important to employees, but the total cost of employing somebody is more important to an employer.

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.

The productivity estimate from focus is off, especially for employees who do more than solve immediate, light problems (you were already taken to task for essentially claiming there is no such thing as a highly productive employee.) The additional cost also isn’t typical everywhere. Going by your math, you should be recommending full offices in much of the country.

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.

So you confirm that all these talks about "innovation" and "stimulating collaboration" and all is just BS. It all comes down to cost to cram as many workers as possible in the available space.

Did very many people ever believe it was about those things?

They undoubtedly lead to more efficient collaboration, just as they also undoubtedly lead to less efficient focused work. The reason you don’t really get a choice these days in how you want to tune the floor layout is undoubtedly down to economics. Office space costs more than it used to, and as the service sector grows, so does the demand for skilled labor performed in front of a desk (along with demand for places to put those desks).

> They undoubtedly lead to more efficient collaboration

They do? That's not been my experience. Is there data on this?

Is that true post-COVID? There's an awful lot of empty office space now.

I don’t know about every market, but in the places I’m familiar with, generally yes. Commercial rent didn’t change much at first, now it’s dipped a little bit. If it keeps this downward pace long term, then the economics of office floor space could change significantly. But that’s highly speculative territory.

You undoubtedly have a habit of claiming your uninformed opinion is fact and ignoring decades of research to the contrary.

Cutting performance by %70 to save %15 in costs is never going to be economical.

> The reason it can’t really work, is C-Levels spend a lot of their time in meetings discussing confidential information

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.

Honestly though, I went from loving my company to hating my company when they moved us to the new open office plan.

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.

> if it costs an extra $20-30,000 to employ somebody, that money has to come from somewhere.

Maybe by using office space somewhere that isn't insanely expensive?

You’re right, you’re not going to be %30 more productive in a private office. You will be %100 more productive.

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 real question that one should ask the higher ups is how much time do they expect us to be collaborating. The only way you can justify open floor spaces is if the collaboration is the most important element of the majority of the people's time and effort and the majority of the people need to be both aware of and contributing to that collaboration. I very much doubt that leaders believes that developers should be involved in every conversation in the space for the majority of the day.

> I very much doubt that leaders believes that developers should be involved in every conversation in the space for the majority of the day.

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.

You're right, teams should collaborate, but I've never been in a place-where only one team was in the space. It's a handful of teams from a bunch of practices all taking the same space.

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?

I've been on projects of 100 developers all on the same floor. However the only way to sanely manage such a thing it break things into smaller parts. You then have a a bunch of small teams (around 10 people) that need to work together. When one person on your team says/asks something you should pay attention because it will affect you, but if someone on a different team says something ignore it.

Given that at any one time that means that at least 90% of the developers will be trying to ignore one or more conversations (while trying to work or having their own) it comes back to the question the intent of that space and if that's actually helping productivity.

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.

LOL. Unfortunately what people say that you can hear can affect your team because of product interactions. And people tend to talk about other things than work. Additionally, they are often wrong which requires correction.

> Unfortunately what people say that you can hear can affect your team because of product interactions.

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.

The problem with the model where everybody is inputting all the time, is that nobody is actually doing any of the work to turn that noise into product. It's not a sustainable model for actually accomplishing anything, unless you've got engineers taking things off-the-clock and turning that discussioning into code in the late night or early morning hours.

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.

Isn't collaboration the primary role of the executive? If the open office had benefits you would expect them to be the most pronounced among management, wouldn't you? Since salaries in the executive are so high and according to them the open office has massive efficiency benefits doesn't that mean that the cost of executives having private offices is unacceptable as it is hindering the efficiency of a very high cost role?

Well yeah, but that collaboration is also often done via phone/videoconference, and some of the things discussed may not be for everyone's ears, so I can understand them wanting a private office. The logic behind cramming developers into open-space offices is more along the lines of "their job is more or less silent, and they don't have as many calls that could disturb the others, so we can put them all in a big room and save money, yay!".

Walls are cheap. Depending on who you ask the HVAC is enough cheaper as to be worth it. (open offices are a nightmare to heat/cool: there are always temperature gradient across large rooms)

Walls and HVAC are cheap. What’s not cheap is all the additional square footage of floor plate to make offices work (additional space in the office itself, additional space for corridors, laying out architecture to allow sight lines to natural light, etc)

Outside light is not required. There are a lot of offices without any windows in the US even in these days of the open office fad.

Different countries have different rules. Check you local laws before you put in an office without windows.

That additional footage is cheap too when measured against the costs of the salary of the additional employees you need.

In fact, offices are cheaper because you don’t need to over staff by %100 and incur all that communications overhead.

cheaper still: open office and don't worry about things like temperature gradient or air quality.

While executives primarily do collaboration work, they also do a lot of confidence work. I think there are legitimate reasons for a lot of strategic planning and feedback to happen behind a door.

The typical move I've seen is C-level execs permanently booking one of the conference rooms. I've seen one who had no problem doing his work in a 20-person conference room all day.

Also seen this - meeting rooms where like gold dust. Had a few meetings that were suddenly cancelled when the CEO came into the office.

> Very simple: does c suite use open offices? No, because they freaking suck lol.

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.

When top leaders are in the same open plan: How inviting is it to come on over and chat up? It's wide open to misinterpretations and unintended skip-levels.

In the company I worked at, it depended on the seniority:

* 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.

The offices I've worked in gave private offices to roles that need to discuss confidential concerns. Which means all people managers, which in turns means all executives. I also have had a private office as an individual tech contributor, but most places just gave us cubes.

I agree that open offices suck, btw. I'd much more readily go back to an office if I got my own space.

That's usually just an excuse. For example, that issue can be addressed in a more budget-friendly way by simply adding a few temporary meeting rooms. Need to discuss a confidential concern? Just book it.

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.

There's usually some excuse along the line of "Oh, the C-suite is constantly on the phone" / "Oh, the C-suite has to conduct business that cannot yet be shared with all the employees" / "Oh, the C-suite has to conduct private HR business" that makes it necessary for the C-suite to have a private office.

Our C-levels use the exact same open offices as the rest of us

Yeah? How often are they at their places in that open office doing work vs traveling or in conference rooms? I betcha for most of them it's 'not often'

I mean they’re in meeting rooms pretty often, but they’re not special fancy conference rooms. Just used for meetings like everyone else, and they have a lot of meetings because they run the company.

I could use the meeting rooms just as much if I wanted. I don’t see them having very special facilities.

My point being c-level executives don't need comfortable, low-distraction work stations to perform their work, so its not like their work life alters much in the open-office fad. Their work is done primarily in conference rooms and in meetings. Engineers, for the most part, do.

My current office is the best one I've ever had. It's in my home. I have plenty of space for all of my working computers and screens, and I have ample desk space. Everything I need is a few steps away at most. I have windows that look out on the big trees in my yard. My standard poodle commonly sleeps behind me whle I work. I can close the door when I need to focus, or leave it open when I want to hear the goings-on in my house.

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.

Author here, surprising to see this blog post of mine trending, but it has held up pretty well! Happy to answer any questions about my time at Stack Overflow.

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-...

Nice! Your profile still says you are VP Engineering at Stack Exchange (http://stackexchange.com)

I remember when Microsoft had the "every engineer gets a private office" policy.

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 had an office when I was at Microsoft. It wasn't dark or depressing. It was very nice. Throughout the entire Redmond campus, can't say I ever saw an office that was dark or depressing. But with that said, I found the offices made communicating and collaborating harder. This was in the mid 2000s though. Nowadays I think offices like this would effectively be similar to everyone working from home but with the added option of knocking on doors or meeting in a conference room. So in today's world, private offices like I had are probably the best option.

Thanks for that. I remember visiting the Redmond campus, back when you guys did the "Longhorn" dog-and-pony show.

I remember these narrow corridors, deep inside single- or two-story buildings, and small (like 8' X 8') offices, that were, nonetheless, surprisingly comfortable.

The campus is large, and I certainly didn't see all of it. It's possible some of the older buildings weren't designed as well? The buildings I frequented had wide hallways, large windows and a decent amount of natural light (as much as you can get in Washington anyway :))

It was a long time ago. If you remember, "Longhorn" became Vista.

That was an ... interesting ... visit.

> The offices were often these dark, depressing, holes

So, nice and free of distractions?

Exactly. A lot of folks would think of them as "depressing," but us geeks don't really mind the only light being our screens, that much.

I had one of these "programming holes" at a previous job at it was fantastically productive. A few times a day I'd join my coworkers on their smoke breaks outside to get some air an d sunlight.

Our company just went open plan/ cubicle hot swap: italian law on windows that must be had.

Re-reading this, it's actually quite instructive in many ways. A lot of their approach to private office spaces maps really well to our present circumstances.

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.

At last some sanity. I'm really starting to wonder what the incentives are for leaders who disallow things that are proven to be non-optimal: - Open plan has been proven to be less effective than offices - 4 day weeks proven to be more productive - The pandemic showed that productivity sky-rocketed in remote working

Is it control? i.e. they don't mind if profits go down as long as they can control or see it?

Part of it's control, part of it is the market seems largely apathetic. The impact of private offices and 4 day weeks is probably small enough that their lack won't kill companies on their own (you don't have to be the best, just good enough), so the effects are still speculative and on a case-by-case basis. Maybe offices and 4 day weeks will slowly trickle into the market place, like remote work pre-covid. But it'll be a generational change, not a revolution.

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.

Making it worse, it is already known that changing things improves productivity, so it is really hard to study what works. If you make the lights brighter or dimmer it will improve productivity - this has been repeated enough to conclude it wasn't the starting brightness it was the act of change.

I don't think most management are that experimentally minded

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

At least a few are and that is enough to find the above.

There are three reasons I see:

- 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)

It could be immediacy.

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.

> 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.

That's just extremely poor management right there.

Personally, I can't stand open plan, and prefer working remotely. HN has a population which has the same tastes, enough to only see a one sided view on HN.

Simply put, the productivity debate isn't as settled as we may think. See [0] 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.

[0] https://conversationswithtyler.com/episodes/edward-glaeser-a...

I've heard a lot of "private offices are massive 200-300% boosts to productivity claims" in this thread, but I've never seen any actual evidence further than "I feel it gets more done".

I agree that saying you're 200%-300% more productive is hyperbole, but there are studies indicating that you're significantly more likely to be sick enough to call into work with an open office [1], and that doesn't even count the people who "power through" their sickness, working somewhat sub-optimally (since that would probably be harder to measure).

[1] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31647108/

One has to assume this is it. I think a lot of management types do a lot of gut-level decision making, even the ones who claim it's all about the data. Which is stupid and arrogant, but they're convinced that because they are successful in life, they must be making good decisions. So when their gut says "I need to see everyone, they all need to be together in a space," they don't have the followup thought, "well, that's really just what I want." Instead they go, "yeah, thank you gut. Very wise. I'll do that."

My bosses aren't aware that any of these things have been "proved". Some of us have anecdotical evidence that we worked more during the lockdowns, but that doesn't mean the managers are convinced of it.

> The pandemic showed that productivity sky-rocketed in remote working

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

A few studies showing something works does not make an executive comfortable.

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”

Which is all the more bizarre since the pandemic lockdowns gave a lot of companies first-hand data that it was more productive (and a lot less costly)

The one thing I have learned from the pandemic is that remote work is even better than an office. I save three hours a day in commute time, it is always quiet, the food is way better, if I am feeling unwell I can simply take an aspirin and lie down, if I stayed up too late watching Rick and Morty or had a really heavy lunch, I can grab a cat nap and nobody cares. I've never been happier or more productive - silence and no commute being the key factors.

Yes! It's like having your own office suite. And it's even more efficient when the calendar is full of meetings because you can "teleport" to any meeting instantly.

Nicer chair, better equipment, work from couch, work from bed, work from basement on hot days, etc.

Who pays the rent for your home office?

There isn't any for mine; it's included with the house.

Doesn't that mean you pay the rent for it then?

The offices in the picture(s) don't look very private to me, more like glass cubicles with the larger (but transparent) partitions.

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...

Right. Anyone passing by can look at employees' monitors. So they feel the pressure to "look busy" at all times - not much difference from open office.

I think it's still a little better. You probably get a bit of noise isolation that you wouldn't otherwise have.

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?

Yeah, a glass-walled office doesn't really cut it. Although perhaps there's some sound reduction, for me, it's still no better than a cube.

Glass walls behind you... "It’s not as creepy as you think." That's good because I think it's pretty creepy. It's great that everyone get's their own quiet space but what they don't get with those glass walls is privacy.

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.

The article is self-congratulating and glosses over its contradictions. An office enclosed in glass is not private. The insistence that remote workers have an equal footing in terms of online meetings is rendered dubious when it's followed by the fact that lunch and beer are considered highly important for connecting with coworkers. These contradictions are acknowledged, but then quickly glossed over. It's a corporate PR piece, not a rigorous take.

There is nothing more you need to know about what your company thinks of you than how much personal and communal space they provide. Cubicles and a tiny kitchen? Do your work and shut up. Open office with elbows touching your neighbors, but a common area the size of a 747? Do your work with "constant collaboration" from your "peers" who never shut up. Agile / hot-desks? Don't even think about having a personality that the Company hasn't issued you.

My favorite workplace layout was a long hallway with offices for everybody. Then they'd put us 2-4 people in an office (including the execs). If you wanted privacy, you closed the door, but most people left them open. And you got to know your office mates well. It was a great time.

Current company sent out a survey about the office remodel. The options were "2 to a cubicle" or "1 to a cubicle". Ugh

Those of us "of a certain age," may remember Les Nessman's "office":


So, so many times I thought about doing this in one of the open offices I worked at as a joke/protest of open offices.

When people think "private office" they think "corner office." But I've worked at places with private offices, and they aren't really that nice. Just cubicles where the walls go all the way to the ceiling basically, and maybe a bit more square feet. No natural light, etc. Maybe there are places with really nice private offices, but I think not many.

My building has a lot of "private offices" but due to overcrowding, you end up doubling or tripling up in offices meant for one person. These are traditional offices with a window and solid wood door. Honestly, I'd rather just have my big cubicle from before the last time I got moved around. I don't need an actual private office, I just want some sort of semi-enclosed space where I can't hear my neighbor on the phone and just enough room for my desk, some boxes of hardware, and maybe a guest chair. If that means a cubicle with great soundproofing, so be it. A window would be great but I'm also content with just some natural sunlight somehow entering my space.

Doesn’t have to be nice. I just don’t want to be distracted with noise or people walking by and waving at someone else.

Having some visual privacy and ability to talk on the phone guilt free is nice too.

Is it quiet? That's what I care about.

Until my company fired everyone else in my department,there was just an endless stream of meetings going on in this one room.

I think the good trade-off is small-ish rooms with O(4) desks/people, ideally ones you work with. It is still sociable, reasonably private, but without the constant droning sound of the open floor.

Nitpicking here but O(4) is nonsense, that simply means “constant”, and would be written O(1).

only in CS order, not in physics approximations.

Following this comment, I looked up the definition on the nearest Wikipedia server, and it seems that you are simply wrong.

U sure?I work with physicists

I can't picture anything more boring than being stuck in my own office all they. Might as well work from home, then. At least I then can wear sweatpants.

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.

> 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.

When I've worked at places where everyone had their own office, we still had plenty of interaction with coworkers of the sort you want.

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.

The only question that matters is will you force me to work in the conditions you prefer against my will?

Why assume ill intent by me..? I'm just stating my opinion, which differs from others here in similar vein then "forcing" separate offices on everyone.

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.

To be honest this is probably in the top 3 reasons why I haven't investigated leaving academia for industry with any seriousness. A private office with a door and windows is very nice to have, and I don't think I'd want to downgrade. (Would I consider if the industry job were 100% WFH? Maybe... only recently started hearing about that as a feasible option.)

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.

In academia you are usually free discuss anything with anyone, are pretty free to explore different ideas, and most campuses are really nice places to be. I've been lucky to work in great neighborhoods, with lots of conveniences, restaurants, and parks. But it's just not the same atmosphere as a university campus.

When I was at Oracle even the interns got full locking sound-proof offices with mountain views.

Has Joel blogged lately? I would like to hear his thoughts and experiences with WFH, but he's probably not involved with the day-to-day of a software company like Trello anymore.

It's weird all this negative press of open plan yet it remains the primary way we all work?

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 I don't understand is, why has no company attempted to bring back private offices? Every time it comes up on HN (which is multiple times per year), hundreds of commenters say that they're distracted and less productive in an open-plan office.

What's the term for "Everyone thinks it's probably good, but no one wants to be the first to try it"?

Executives make the decisions and they emotionally value the ability to walk around and easily see that everyone is working, and that is more important than actual productivity since it reinforces their ego and sense of importance.

I personally do like open floor plans IF everyone is in the office, nobody remote. Though I realize it’s definitely not for everyone, and it’s only a slight preference.

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.

when I was at Apple no one other than execs from our office wanted to move into the newly built (at that time) “space ship” building because it has open office setup whereas our old office in Cupertino had private offices for everyone.

Even glass rooms would distract me. I just get a distracting tension in my brain which steals like 20% of brain power whenever I have to think about how what I have on my screen could be perceived by a random person walking by.

So do I, but I'm not in charge :-/

I've moved to a work from home arrangement so I can have my own office.

One of the reasons I dread going back to office is that I will be FORCED to hear chatty coworkers.

Some people like the noise. But others don't. My productivity suffers in the noise. What a waste of time!

In our office we apparently got a machine to add background noise. I had no idea such a thing existed and assumed the office manager was pulling my leg, but multiple coworkers also weighed in on it.

I’m still confused because I worked from home while this thing was installed (was it?) and have noticed no change in the office.

The background noise machine installed when my office switched to an open plan drove me absolutely nuts. Some engineers used to turn it off every morning, until management put the switch behind lock and key.

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.

What does it sound like? An untuned radio? That would drive me nuts.

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.

> In our office we apparently got a machine to add background noise.

Oh, man, those things take a bad situation and make them even worse.

Same here. All it takes is one person who projects their voice when talking to someone a few feet away for productivity to suffer for everyone in a 20ft radius when working in an open floor plan.

And if that person loves the sound of their voice? Good luck ever working long stretches without noise-cancelling headphones on.

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