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bane 885 days ago | link | parent

Most modern office layouts seem to be designed to screw with people's fight or flight instincts all day. As a result working in those environments requires lots of forced focus that wears a person out more than needed.

I don't think individual offices are good. People will spend more time away from their offices than in them, attempting to collaborate, then since it's a pain to go back in and out of their office, they'll end up just staying out of their office and socializing most of the time.

Pair offices are similarly bad simply because you end up stuck with somebody you probably don't know, and it requires you to form a close relationship, or keep an awkward distance. If you can't stand each other, it becomes unbearable.

It's been my experience that many open office plans are simply a sly way of saying that the company doesn't want to invest in sufficient space for their team or in a decent build-out of the space.

Of course there are many fine exceptions to this rule, but I've walked into a fairly large number of minimally finished floors, each of which were essentially sheet rock stuck around the support beams, and a few offices in the corner for the executives and maybe an open kitchen off to one side where the plumbing happened to have been. Nothing says, "We corral the cattle in this space" better than this kind of plan.

I have similar issues with cube farms, why not just build offices then? The flexibility that cubes supposedly gives in terms of adjusting layout are never really used. I've seen plenty of established companies with cube farms that haven't changed layout in 20 years. So now the employee has to deal with a cheap workspace, and an open roof that all sounds and distractions leaks into. It's half-assed privacy with half of the distractions of an open floor, at 3 times the cost.

The worst are the hybrids.

The half-height cubicle says "I'm not even going to pay for the material cost and decency of a full-height, and I'm going to pretend that it's important that you can pop your head over the top of your assigned cube."

The waist-height cube is the most ill-conceived abortion of office planning that I've ever encountered. They only provide a symbolic segregation of the employee's space, with all of the noise and distraction of a completely open plan. They say "see, I want you to have your own space, so I'm going to splurge and move you one step up from concrete floors and bare sheet rock, but I want to be sure I can micromanage everything you are doing by simply sneaking up behind you at any time."

If you haven't seen one of these abominations, here it is http://www.officefurnituresaver.com/images/steelcase%20conte...

edit actually this example is out of the depths of hell. It pretends to be an open plan, a group plan (see below) and a waist-height cube, but succeeds at none of them. Now there'll be a dozen groups, each fighting over each other to hear, and nothing getting done.

The best, in my opinion, are small group offices, where individual teams are assigned, their backs to each other, and a small conference table in the middle. The team can close the door to eliminate distractions, they can work together in pairs or small groups as needed and separate as needed. They don't need to screw around reserving conference rooms for group meetings and/or presentations. If done right, they'll have plenty of personal space, and not feel like somebody is about to come up behind them and choke them from behind throughout the day.

The only downside is that as teams grow and shrink, the teams tend to shift offices around alot, or parts of the team end up sitting elsewhere and never really integrate fully with the team. But it's by far the most productive arrangement I'm aware of.



rayiner 885 days ago | link

> I don't think individual offices are good. People will spend more time away from their offices than in them, attempting to collaborate, then since it's a pain to go back in and out of their office, they'll end up just staying out of their office and socializing most of the time.

It depends on how collaboration-intensive the job is. Having an office (ideally with a big, heavy door) is amazing. It's really the fight-or-flight situation. When I have the only possible entrance sufficiently barricaded, I can let myself go into a much deeper productivity zone than if there is the possibility of people intruding on my space.

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tsotha 885 days ago | link

Same here. Though I can't find it now, (I think it was) Joel Spolsky had a piece about individual offices in which he claimed study after study found individual offices to be the most productive for programmers. Certainly the case for me - productivity is all about how many mental balls I can have in the air at once. The more distractions I have the less productive I am.

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ShabbyDoo 885 days ago | link

"Most modern office layouts seem to be designed to screw with people's fight or flight instincts all day."

And I thought I was the only one who felt this way. Facing a wall in an open office space causes me to react defensively to noises around me. Is someone sneaking up on me? What's happening in my immediate surroundings? This is not rational, but I don't see any way to make myself stop other than to "handicap" my senses via headphones. Thankfully, I don't get reflections off my monitor, the wall, etc. When our cat stays out all night, he invariably comes in and sleeps for hours, even in the summer. We suppose he doesn't sleep while outside because he must constantly be aware of his surroundings. In an open office environment, I feel like our cat.

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gte910h 884 days ago | link

Never accept that positioning. Constant stress hormones are very bad for you and I don't see why shortening my life by 6 months to many years is worth them being able to sneak up on me and scare me 1x a week while I'm working.

Move your computer so you can see people and have a flat surface behind you.

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bane 885 days ago | link

One solution. http://www.thinkgeek.com/computing/accessories/2940/?srp=1

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HalibetLector 885 days ago | link

I had one of those. If anything, it made me MORE paranoid. Before, I only responded to noise. Easy enough to fix, put on the headphones. But with the mirror, I can now see constant movement out of the corner of my eye. all. day. long.

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ams6110 885 days ago | link

It's been my experience that many open office plans are simply a sly way of saying that the company doesn't want to invest in sufficient space for their team or in a decent build-out of the space.

That's exactly the reason, and it's the only reason. Open space is cheaper. All the song-and-dance about "collaborative environments" is just psychological manipulation to make the employees feel like they are not team players if they don't like it.

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kabdib 885 days ago | link

I'm a quiet type, and I often need time alone to think and write code and documentation. Nearly as often I also need to be communicating with cow-orkers and scribbling on their whiteboards. It's never all isolation, or all collaboration. It's a mix.

The "rah rah" social types railroaded us into a terrible cubical-based environment where scrums are taking place four feet from my desk and I cannot close a door to get a moment's rest away from people. I am becoming bitter and resentful, and while I am doing well, it is in spite of the system, not because of it.

Management loves it because they get to cram more people into the same amount of space. Managers get offices, of course.

Look: I've worked in collaborative environments. I know what they're like. I also know when I'm being fed a line of bull-poo about how open offices make things collaborative and agile and stuff. I can cope.

The real hidden cost? These environments drive good people away. Work area design is really, really tough.

In my experience, when someone who has designed your new area says the setup is for productivity and collaboration, what they have really done is optimize cost, and you have never had the opportunity to talk to them about your work habits (because that would have made them wrong, and increased the cost if they had truly listened).

Thank you for letting me vent. :)

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vacri 885 days ago | link

The "rah rah" social types railroaded us into a terrible cubical-based environment

It wasn't anything other than economic rationalism.

Hell, one of our big banks - the kind that report record profits every quarter - moved a segment of staff into new offices... and only provided 80% of the seats. "Everyone will work from home one day a week". They hotdesked these staff - no guaranteed desk, no personalisation, no real way to even know whether a colleague was in or where on the floor they could be found. The kicker is that this wasn't minimum-wage call-centre staff oe similar, this was six-figure employees.

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jacques_chester 885 days ago | link

I had a similar experience as an intern in the IT consulting division of a Big 4 accounting firm. Hotdesking was the official process.

In practice, certain desks were "reserved". Mere peons who hadn't been in the office on the first day it operated could take their pick of terrible desks on any one of three floors.

... if there were any left by 8am.

So in practice you had to get up at 6, log into their utterly terrible booking system (IE6 required and about two dozen ActiveX controls) and book it first thing.

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fennecfoxen 885 days ago | link

I must protest.

I'm at a small startup with ~8 people, which is currently working out of a 5000+ square-foot warehouse with dozens of spare office rooms along the side. And you know what? All the engineers work together in just one large room, so they can ask each other what's going on with some part of the code and things like that.

Of course, it's only a few people, chatter is limited (and usually informative), and most of the time it's fairly quiet. I'm sure a variety of open-plan offices don't meet those needs, and could use additional partitioning and quiet spaces like the article talks about. I'm sure you run into a variety of issues trying to scale the open-space office. But contrary to your cynical assessment, the concept of open-space collaboration has some intrinsic merit and works well in a variety of cases.

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ssmoot 885 days ago | link

I think that's basically what the person you're replying to suggested as the ideal.

For example, I work in a relatively open space with two different teams mixed in. It's also the central hub for all the offices. So if anyone feels like chatting, in their office or not, or gets a bit boisterous, the developer's focus and productivity goes into the toilet.

It really is excruciating during those times.

I've had my own office before and didn't really care for it. The best work environment I've been in was a "double-sized" office (maybe 20x12?) with four or five desks against the walls. Pairing up meant just rolling your chair over. The door was most often shut to keep the noise out. Impromptu team meetings were quick and easy. Everyone in the office kept conversation volume low to respect the rest of the team. When there's only 4 or 5 people in an office you can make that stick. When you center a small company around a main area, where I'm also expected to work, that's a losing battle and you end up looking like the cranky old man who just can't stand it if other people are being cheerfully sociable.

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donaldc 885 days ago | link

I'm at a small startup with ~8 people, which is currently working out of a 5000+ square-foot warehouse with dozens of spare office rooms along the side. And you know what? All the engineers work together in just one large room, so they can ask each other what's going on with some part of the code and things like that.

Well, yes, of course. 8 people can all work in one room without constant distraction. The question is, will everyone working in one large room still be ideal when your startup reaches 80 people?

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mindcrime 885 days ago | link

That's exactly the reason, and it's the only reason. Open space is cheaper.

I would agree that it's the main reason, but I'm not sure it's always the only reason. Some people (for whatever reason) actually buy into the idea that working in an open space is better for creativity, collaboration, etc. Even some developers, who ought to know better, seem to have drank enough Agile Koolaid that they believe in this stuff now.

It's actually, IMO, one very unfortunate side-effect of the Agile movement... people somehow started equating "agile" with "everybody must be in one big room together" and that meme stuck, and now it's contributing to the propagation of this "open plan" nonsense. Never mind that you pretty much never, ever, need to actively collaborate with somebody for 8-10 continuous hours in a day. Or never mind that Tom and Suzy collaborating is keeping Joe from getting anything done due to the constant distractions... sigh

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nknight 885 days ago | link

> Some people

They're called extroverts. They get into management and then fuck everything up for the mass of introvert engineers because they're incapable of conceiving that a human being wouldn't want to be in constant contact with other human beings at all times.

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gte910h 884 days ago | link

I'm an extroverted engineer, I far far far prefer offices, so the very pleasurable people don't distract the living hell out of me.

I think many of the open plan office advocates have no idea how much they produce on a given day or not, and don't simply know how much MORE they make in a quiet room.

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edderly 885 days ago | link

I loathe full height single person cubes personally, however it was explained to me at my current job (large multinational) that one rationale for cube farms is that legal can treat these as 'laboratory conditions'. It's common for us to work with prototype hardware which might involve legal agreements, but from a practical level I find this rather pathetic.

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JimmyL 885 days ago | link

There's also the fact that in many jurisdictions, things like cube walls can be depreciated like office furniture, whereas building actual walls counts as an improvement on the building - making the cubes even cheaper/more tax-efficient.

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AJ007 885 days ago | link

I think the best thing is to cycle through a workspace based on what you are doing. As long as you can work on and laptop and out of 1 bag, you are pretty much set.

This can also help prevent workplace injuries as you are not always sitting in the same position. The way I work I get to sit in multiple ergonomic chairs, a standing desk, and even laying down on a sofa.

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nknight 885 days ago | link

You want to avoid injuries, so you suggest using the least ergonomic piece of equipment possible?

I do all my work on laptops, but 99% of it is with a monitor, keyboard, and mouse attached at a workstation calibrated to me. Hunching over a laptop is the last thing you should be doing.

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samstave 884 days ago | link

Cubes are used more because they are cheaper than building thousands of offices more than they are used because they are flexibly reconfigured.

Individual offices are great for privacy and noise control - especially if one makes a lot of calls.

Shared offices in my experience are fine - you sound like you have some social issues, no offense.

The only things I would worry about sharing an office with another are hygiene and if the other person is a "lights-on" worker when I am a "lights-off" worker.

I shared an office with this developer in 1999 named Srini. We were both lights-off workers. I was IT, he was development - so it worked well.

The only issue was that he was rather comical to look at - so whenever we would have lengthy conversations, I would giggle as he was talking, which annoyed him because he would be talking about something serious and I would be laughing. He would ask me what I was laughing at and I would always have to say "nothing, your comments just reminded me of something else that I thought was funny."

I had to avoid looking at him as he talked for this reason.

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