Two main things I noticed:
1. Office distractions were MUCH harder for me to deal with than home distractions. Distractions at home are generally things I self impose and can control with will power (i.e., not playing with the cat, not turning on the TV, not getting a snack, etc.)... but in the office there was stuff going on all around me and no way to shut it out.
2. The guy sitting next to me was sick -- when I got back to my home office two weeks later, so was I. (Granted, travel could have been a factor here -- I live in the US and their offices are a 20 hour plane ride away in Australia.)
Oh, I hear the bug went around the entire office after I left, too.
I once was sick with mono for 4 weeks and went to work miserable everyday. I did almost nothing but sit and stare at my monitor all day.
I'm surprised you managed to stay awake with mono... I remember I stayed in bed for about 20 hours out of every 24, for about 6 weeks.
My company actually has a problem with presenteeism, that is, staff coming into work half dead instead of taking a couple of days off. Usually we send them home, but occasionally someone will take out a whole department with some bug or another.
I'm rarely sick enough to not get out of bed, but since I get to work on my bike every day, in the middle of a winter, a little cold makes it pretty difficult to make it to the office. On those days, I simply head into the home office and put in my time. And others have pointed out, I tend to be more productive at home.
The transmission of illnesses would be greatly
reduced if companies gave decent sick time benefits.
Also, often diseases are contageous before you are aware of them. I think chicken pox is like this, maybe common virii also.
You'll have to do better than that; it definitely isn't like the immune system stops adapting after the age of 20; otherwise vaccines wouldn't work.
(this is not meant as a troll or a flame, I really didn't know how good European work laws are until reading things like that).
We also give 7 fixed holidays and 5 floating holidays.
Of course, come crunch time, I had to stay in just as late as everyone else, so my 8am starts quickly disappeared, and productivity along with it.
The communication argument for open-plan never made sense to me: if you want to talk to someone who isn't an immediate neighbour, you need to get up and walk over anyway. And you can still talk to your neighbours if you have shared 2-4 person offices, which are a vast improvement. (I prefer being on my own altogether, but maybe that's just me being a misanthrope)
You may be right, but the mindset of needing monitoring technology to root out the slackers in your workforce seems symptomatic of a larger problem of lacking meaningful metrics for whether actual productivity has occurred.
I believe in the Pareto 80/20 rule and wonder some days whether I am falling into the other category (I don't believe it's static)
I was joking the other day with my co-worker about a new chat status message.
"Mike, Active, 15% brain activity"
Work is not all about your own personal work. In fact, in the large organisations where I worked, I'd say at least 50% of the work that people ended up doing was a result of miscommunication, and so there are clearly huge benefits in finding ways to decrease that miscommunication.
Even programming work was largely dependent on communication. The projects where I worked didn't do any rocket science that required weeks of solitary work to chew through, but it did require a good understanding of arcane, bizarre business (finance) rules and interface requirements, and the bottleneck there was definitely communication rather than concentration.
open plan offices may actually make people more defensive about distractions and hurt team interactions.
That's all? Doesn't sound right, if you put people in offices each person gets a lot more space, so you'd need a bigger building, etc. I think it's a lot more than 20 percent.
On the other hand, if you compare the cost of a typical, Class-A cubicle installation to a typical Class-A private office instalation, they're about the same. In both cases you give workers about 100 square feet of personal space; the main difference is whether you build drywall partitions, which is relatively cheap, or buy fancy cubicle systems, which is actually more expensive. The cubicle systems are supposed to be a bargain "in the long run" because you can move or reconfigure them, something which literally never happens in the real world.
Curiously, cubes count as office furniture (and hence business machines), which means that you can depreciate it much more efficiently than you can if it was a capital improvement cost, which makes it cheaper on paper. Even better, if you've got some crafty people, you can have someone else own the things and lease the cubes - which is even better from a tax point of view.
While this probably doesn't apply in a startup context, it has a significant impact if you're moving into a larger space and will be paying for the improvements yourself.
Sounds like a lot of software!
I.e. a closed-offices building might cost $1 billion and house 10,000 private offices with 10,000 employees, whereas an open-plan-offices building of the same area and volume might cost $800 million and house 50,000 employees in a bunch of open areas with a few meeting rooms peppered around.
If you haven't read this you should have! http://www.amazon.com/Peopleware-Productive-Projects-Teams-S... I think Joel just cribs articles directly from it some days ;)
Thanks for the link.
"Then there's our building. Steve Jobs basically designed this building. In the center, he created this big atrium area, which seems initially like a waste of space. The reason he did it was that everybody goes off and works in their individual areas. People who work on software code are here, people who animate are there, and people who do designs are over there. Steve put the mailboxes, the meetings rooms, the cafeteria, and, most insidiously and brilliantly, the bathrooms in the center--which initially drove us crazy--so that you run into everybody during the course of a day. [Jobs] realized that when people run into each other, when they make eye contact, things happen. So he made it impossible for you not to run into the rest of the company."
Edit: here's the source article, although you'd have to register to read the whole thing: http://www.mckinseyquarterly.com/innovation_lessons_from_pix...
The also conclude that small offices with 2-4 people and a door that can close is best.
Everyone says that Peopleware advocates private offices (e.g. 1 per person), but their main problem seems to be with cube farms.
The real problem is packing large numbers of people in a big warehouse, regardless of walls. I think the best solution is having a small number of people working on the same project share an office. There should be numerous small conference rooms for when maximum concentration is required.
They're not suggesting the use of cubicles - I know I wouldn't really consider cubicles to be much different than open plan offices.
And I suppose it has the added benefit of only getting one team sick at a time :)
My current place is a very open floorplan, but it just works. We all know that one of the problems we have is that we spread around disease more than we would like. But the thing is we are all extremely happy with the format, and with the benefits we get out of it. There have been offers made in the past to change it, and the team decided to turn it down.
I think breaking it down to floorplan alone doesn't address the issue fully.
From the responses here, I'm guessing not a lot of people on this board have tried XP or any other programming methodology that thrives on high-bandwidth communication. There are plenty of other development methodologies that work for people, of course, but XP and anything close to it really requires a constant level of communication betweeen developers, product managers (and customers), and testers that's just impossible to achieve if you're not physically sitting right next to everyone. In the worst case, maybe the distractions mean I only get 6 hours of work done in an 8 hour day, but it's the right 6 hours of stuff, which isn't always the case when I can't constantly talk with everyone else.
It's certainly possible that people have tried XP with pair programming, story cards, etc. and just hate it, but my experience with new hires is that there's often a lot of initial hostility to the open seating plan, but after a few months most people figure out how to deal with the distractions (generally via headphones or even earplugs if necessary) while coming to appreciate the benefits of a high level of cross-team communication.
There were definitely positive things about IRC being the main communication tool, but it killed off any potential benefit that having an open-plan office would provide.
Tiny cubes are the worst of both worlds. Can't have a private phone call. Can't pair program or work with others.
There are pros and cons both ways. Sometimes you just gotta be alone and other times you gotta be together. Depends on what you're doing and who you're working with.
And the talk about viruses was hilarious. Perhaps they should turn off the AC and open a few windows on nice days. That probably has much more influence than where you place your internal walls.
I don't think that open-plan office layouts aid collaboration. It creates a lot of hostility and stress that don't need to exist.
Open-plan is the modern analogue of the assembly-line/factory work environment. I'd guess that the productivity loss for a programmer in that environment is 70-80 percent.
Have you experienced/heard of such horror stories yourself? I'm guessing there are good ways to do an open-plan office and bad ways to do it, but I personally haven't seen any of the bad ways.
I confess I liked one aspect, the feeling of being in contact with people, but it wasn't productive, I could almost always hear 3 conversations going at once. The worst was, packing people at long tables with laptops. Not even any place to put books. Teh shite, a triumph of cost-cutting and having Indians willing to put up with anything.
Probably for me, high-walled cubicles with not too many people in the same room is a good compromise.
My current part of the floor has maybe 35 people in it, and there's kind of four sides of a rectangle to the building, so overall there are about 140 people or so on the floor. Generally, the clusters are spread out enough that you can't hear conversations that are happening more than about 20 feet away anyway, so the primary conversations you'll overhear are from other people on your sub-team, which are exactly the conversations you really want to be overhearing anyway. It really helps to keep everyone on the team in the loop about what's going on.
We have offices around the perimeter of the building that are unused so that people can grab them to have impromptu whiteboard discussions or make phone calls, which also keeps the general noise level down.
It sounds like your open-plan company was an exception though. Personally we have 50 people in our open-plan office and I hate it. I can't get into flow without loud music via my headphones.