1. People like having their own desks.
2. With enough space to actually work on.
3. Where they can hear themselves think.
I feel like it's time to carpet-bomb management and B-schools with PeopleWare again.
A few years ago I did a 3-week internship in the consulting arm of a Big 4 accounting firm. They had hot-desking in their office -- you were supposed to book it on the day. In practice certain folk had "ins" with the space and planning staff and so certain desks were never "available".
The practical upshot was that you had to wander around the vast office for 20 minutes trying to find the desk you booked from home that morning. And meetings were a pain. "Where are you? Red battleship 27 omega-B? I'm in pink rubber ducky 14 sigma-epsilon-J".
>People like having their own desks.
The lack of assigned desks was explicitly mentioned as one of the changes designed to keep people away.
Accidentally creating a poor working environment out of ignorance is one thing, but deliberately doing so borders on madness.
When our customers had critical incidents, our ability to respond and resolve the issues became worse and worse. The effect of working from home caused the teams (and even people within the teams themselves) to often fail to see the problem holistically. They would check their specific area and then pass the buck to another team.
Telecommuting definitely has benefits in the right situations, but if your work requires groups of people to collaborate closely and quickly, telecommuting can have a very adverse effect on your performance.
Especially a mix in which certain team members are perpetually "outside" the main group. The remote participants simply don't have access to the same side-channel discussions office residents do. Location, bandwidth, and multi-channel communications (sight, sound, and even touch) matter.
The places I've seen this work well (very rare) involve people who travel frequently between locations (expensive and personally disruptive), and in which work and participation are forced onto the same channels remote workers use (chat/IRC/voice).
And sadly, in 2011, speakerphones and audio conferencing still sucks massively.
If you've got a very strong, very cohesive, very long-lived team, with a history of strong direct interpersonal relations, you may be able to get away from this.
Another factor I suspect has a strong bearing on this is a team in which members are chosen by merit (or at least on a broad-based acclaim, not by a single hire/fire entity), and who cannot be easily shed. Scientific communities, some forms of government collaboration, and much of the Free Software community operates on this basis.
Knowing your job is NOT at stake for any given mistake, error, or political misstep you make does a great deal for such activities to engender stronger and better participation.
In my experience.
I do some work at a large university where they have abundant bandwidth and the latest "telepresence" hardware, and as often as not you are still dealing with laggy audio/images, freezes, dropouts, echos, individual participants having technical issues or ignorant of how to use the systems, etc. It just doesn't work smoothly enough to be a pleasant experience, and often times is such a distraction as to render the entire exercise a waste of time.
One time, it was 2am and my friend and I had just been kicked out of a bar near our office. There was also a severe thunderstorm warning in effect (with a lot of lightning) so we decided to go back to work instead of riding our bikes home in a tornado. Being rather inebriated, we did not do much work. Instead, we wandered around the building and found the telepresence rooms. We wondered, "how do we link these up and have a conference". There was a phone in each room, and they had some digits on them, so I went to the other telepresence and punched those digits into the phone-like device there. Connected! We then had a conversation for a good hour or so; it was so much like real life that it wasn't worth the effort to get up and walk back to the other room to have a "real" "in-person" conversation. There was no latency. Eye-contact was eye-contact. Everything was the right size. The displays may have even been Retina Displays; I didn't notice any pixels like I might when watching HDTV.
So all in all, not bad when done right. It passed the "wait out a tornado while drunk test", which I think says a lot.
So: being right next door was practically like being ... right next door.
Just as "open floorplan", hot-desked, minimal personal space offices make lousy working environments for technical workers, a glass, steel, and dry-walled office with no acoustic absorbing materials, poorly distributed mikes, wide range of speakers with varying levels of accent and enunciation (one Russian I'd worked with was the black hole of speech, even in person words were unintelligible beyond an event horizon of approximately 12 inches), and the usual technical glitches (digital distortion, dropouts, varying volume levels from multiple remote locations, ambient noise locally or remotely ...) and the experience is uniformly barely tolerable.
There's a reason any professional AV situation (panel, conference, broadcast session) has one or more sound engineers. People may not appreciate the complexity, but it's a non-trivial problem.
Yes, it's cheaper than flying a bunch of people all over the planet (a lot cheaper), but "cheaper" != "good experience". And when the result is that the time is in fact wasted as you say, I'd say it's worse than the alternative (no meeting, written communications, personal travel).
And casual, informal communication is a major factor in teamwork.
Some of the people I enjoyed most and worked best with were offsite. One I met in person after many months. Another I never met in person. Nonetheless, we could joke and get along quite well on the phone.
These were people who got stuff done. And they figured out that I did as well. We could trust each other.
On the other hand, there were people on-site you couldn't trust unless you practically stood there staring over their shoulder.
Different settings may work better for different people. But when you start telling them what does and doesn't work and mandating your solution -- then you have a problem.
P.S. Hmm. Now that I think about it, in a prior job, some of the people I worked best with were at plants in different states. I never met many of them, either. Being at plants that, you know, actually made stuff, they understood very well getting stuff done. When they said they'd do something, usually they did. If they couldn't, they let you know and why. I appreciated this, and I didn't use my headquarters role as an excuse or reason to blow them off. We got along well.
I've found "having a beer" to have little correlation with working well with people. I remember now the one fellow who wanted to "have coffee" -- just long enough to make sure he could do next year's calculations after I'd left.
P.P.S. I did not downvote you. I think this is a difference of opinion worth expression or even debate.
Over the course of my career, one of the most frustrating things has been to work with people who not only hold such a differing opinion but who give zero consideration to and have no willingness to discuss differing opinions.
For example, I'm perfectly happy to let others work in open space, if that's what works for them both subjectively and objectively. I couldn't care less. I just don't want it prescribed -- mandated -- for me.
I'm regularly sick of the overhead fluorescent lighting, blame-shifting meetings where nothing happens, awkward "what did you do last weekend" talks at the coffee machine, phone calls about nothing, and sitting in a room full of cackling people being unable to think. Not even starting on all the crazy talk about "human resources"... being shifted between projects before I was even able to do anything because of all the red tape.
Also I'd love to be able to work where I want with my laptop, no matter whether that's at home, in a park, in a field, or in the train. In my mind, that was supposed to be the future.
Enjoy dying with tons of people yammering around you!
It has more to do with the people than the geography.
But those companies who treat me like a commodity, and who try to bargain me down at every opportunity -- those companies I avoid whenever possible.
Their modern facade of bright colors and "hip" furniture doesn't conceal the fluorescent lights, low ceilings, and berber carpeting.
Imagine the opposite - 20-foot ceilings, lots of natural sun light, and hardwood floors - and you can feel it's much more conducive for working.
Then again, it's really shocking how strict most office space management companies and building code bureaucrats tend to be when it comes to how you can use your space. I've seen several really great spaces with all kinds of potential just completely hamstrung by idiotic restrictions surrounding fire sprinklers and ancient ventilation systems. When you add in the stupid expectations and demands from management (like giving up tons of space for a dedicated reception area when you don't have and will never have a receptionist) it makes it even harder to create a good workspace.
It works well. I work from home 99.9% of the time, but sometimes it's nice to go into the office for a change of scenery or when the cable goes out. There's usually one or two random people also in the office at any given time and you get to have interesting randomized social experiences by going out to lunch or dinner with them.
Some people may have trouble with it and find themselves working too hard, others may find it hard to focus and are instead too lazy. Neither of these, however, are a requirement of working from home, plenty of people manage it fine.
If you start to allow yourself to work here and there with the kids playing on the side, you totally blur the lines between your activities and you end up being inefficient. You cannot fully focus on work and you cannot fully enjoy your time with your family and friends.
Note that this is only my personal experience.
Anyone here work at Sun during their Nettop hotdesking phase? What were some of the pros and cons?
Chiat Day was another notorious hotdesking failure.
Glad to see I was wrong.
ObOnTopic: I try to work from home once or twice a week. In those bursts, I can get a lot of work done that requires concentration and nobody bothering me. But the rest of the time, I make sure to be in the office, partly for the serendipitous connections ("oh hey, I've been meaning to ask you...") and partly for the easy back-and-forth with my team mates.
But it's also pointing out a major failing of your office design.