- A a decent cultural protocol around it. One place I worked had the very strong rule that you start all non-emergency communication asynchronously (usually text chat), even if the person is right next to you. Another place I worked at strongly respected headphones as the "don't bother me" signal.
- A reasonable number of walled-off rooms for anyone to use. Need to take a phone call? Have a quick 1-on-1? Debate something loudly with 3-5 people? You need to have rooms, of varying sizes, to handle these use cases near at hand.
- Minimal noise that's not related to collaboration. Eg, no loud ringing phones. No phone-based customer support department in the same room as the devs. No kitchen (full of dishwashers, coffee grinders, etc) area facing the open workspace.
Open offices can work, but only if you go out of your way to make them work. Just throwing a few dozen devs in a warehouse is a recipe for dissatisfaction. I think that that happens more often than not, resulting in things like this study.
But that's also a really annoying part of it. I don't want to have to put on headphones all the time.
This is the setup that pro Starcraft tournaments use so that players can't hear the announcers and crowd.
(I don't have a problem with ambient conversation at, say, Starbucks, but I find myself very distracted by people talking about work stuff in the same room as me.)
They also squeezed my head which was uncomfortable after 8 - 10 hours.
Lastly, people kept trying to talk to me, which meant I had to pull them off and put them on and pull them off and put them on which was a little maddening.
The two headsets were 1) voice chat with your team 2) large 'surround sound' headphones that really signaled direction.
More recent tournaments they seem to have integrated ear defenders with headphones with Mic's on. (Previously they had 3 headsets, the ear buds for sound, the defenders then their sponsors headsets around their necks for the mic.)
Current workplace has a no-headphones rule, exactly because of that.
Many people were donning headphones as soon as they arrived in the office and not taking them off until home time, simply to avoid having to interact with anyone else.
So now no-one can avail of shorter periods of non-interruption, but I understand why they banned them.
In-ear earphones seem to be tolerated, so long as they are removed when someone comes to talk.
Either way its something to tap to find out what's going on.
Instead I use earplugs.
edit: unlike any other earbuds I have tried, they are engineered to survive the inevitable wax-plugging. Just replace the filter & you're back in business.
It's a real thing. This summer, because my room would get hot at night, I had to leave a fan on. At first, I couldn't sleep with the noise. But now that it's getting colder, I've tried leaving it off, and guess what. Ha. Now I need the noise.
The role I was going for was as a technical consultant to improve the quality of the work - go figure
I was way more productive when there were just two of us in the same office. That was when the organisation was just starting out.
Milton: Uh, they said I could listen to the radio at a reasonable volume from nine to eleven while I'm collating….
Peter: But, no, no, no. I know you're allowed to, I was just thinking, like a personal favor, y'know?
Milton: I, I told Bill that if Sandra's going to listen to her headphones while she' working, I can listen to the radio while I'm collating...
(Initially I just asked him to turn it down, and I don't recall the exact response, but it was probably approximately, "No.")
A little bit off topic, but I too have experienced this, and I have to say, it's awful for productivity, team building, and team assimilation. As a new hire, I would send my mentor a question and it might be ten minutes to fifty minutes before I would get a reply. By then, I'd all but forgotten what I was asking about in the first place, since I had moved on because of not knowing how long I'd have to wait. That led to wasted time and an overall loss of focus.
No matter the environment, text-based and asynchronous communication just aren't very effective compared to spoken communication, even when considering the interrupted party momentarily losing their flow.
I have worked at offices where this norm did not exist. I would strongly challenge your assertion in that case. My productivity definitely was adversely affected. What I think a lot of people lose sight of is that interruptions are additive. If you get interrupted once or twice, that's fine. You can recover and get on with whatever you're working on. But if the interruptions are a regular feature (especially when they're for little things that take two to five minutes to solve, but require you to drop all your current context) it takes longer and longer to recover. At some point (usually around lunchtime in my case) I'd just give up and hop on IRC or Hacker News, knowing that it was unlikely I'd get much work done that day.
It got to the point where I'd come in at 6:30am and leave at 3:30pm just so that I could have a few hours of uninterrupted coding time at the beginning of the day. And this was in an office where it was just other developers I had to deal with. I would probably last less than a week in an office that I had to share with non-developers (especially sales, who have to be constantly on the phone).
I go in the morning and everything is ready to go and so am I, but then attempting to load my brain with whatever I am working on, getting a question every 5 minutes or so makes it seem like a running a marathon and the cognitive load is such that I would rather just dedicate the time and work on it at home.
Today a coworker was IM'ing me and I then I realized that he was sitting literally 18" from me behind a partition so I just starting talking out loud to him. Seemed to unsettle him. Collaborate damn it!
Do they want to hear you talking to him? I sure wouldn't want people talking while I'm trying to concentrate.
"Collaboration" doesn't have to mean annoying your coworkers. If you need to do things aloud, that's fine--I sometimes find it better too--but it's vastly better go somewhere private for it.
Via email (or text based communication), then the result is clear, and I can refer back to it afterwards. Also meetings with non-technical users tend to go around in circles where they discuss trivial details that are pretty irrelevant.
Try doing that to your wife on work-from-home days at your own peril.
If my experience / observation is any guide, the result is utterly epic shitfit.
It depends on both the way you do that, and the way people talk to each other there (aka the culture).
At my last job (less applicable now as I WFH), it was acceptable practice to give a "hold on" to everyone you'd run into on a daily basis. Maybe not the CEO, but the VP of Engineering would wait a sec if you needed to get something done Right There.
This is a weaird problem to me. At my last job, we had the "ask async first" thing--but, yeah, if they're not responding and it's urgent, then of course you go ask them, that's just obvious. But the point is that this behavior should be rare because it's not "momentarily" losing their flow, it's often losing it for ten to fifteen minutes. A two-second IM is less likely to make them lose it than you walking over, so start there.
The best new hire layout I've had was purposely being assigned to share an office with my mentor. Since we were in a physical office, I wasn't afraid to ask any questions, even the dumb-sounding ones that otherwise would be overheard by everyone within ten feet in an open plan.
The collaboration stuff is marketing nonsense managers tell themselves to try and ease the cognitive dissonance of lying about it.
But for people who have to concentrate (like software developers) it's a productivity killer. Joel Spolsky used to touch on this occasionally - he claims all sorts of research shows the most productive arrangement is to put everyone in his own office with a door.
Where I work that will never happen, because there are corporate-wide rules about who gets an office and who doesn't. You have to be a director to get your own office, which is two levels above non-managers. They're so anal about it one time I worked on a floor with no directors and they left all the offices unoccupied. They crowded everyone into cubes and even doubled one up when they ran out of (cubicle) space.
Saving money on office space is money saved. People being distracted and doing poor work is money lost. I wonder how it sums up.
Productivity loss is hard to measure, and even when it's blatantly obvious, it's easy to shift the blame.
For sound? I can just put on headphones.
With sufficiently high walls (about 6'), carpeting, and acoustic ceilings, you'll actually cut noise quite a bit. Lower and sound travels in straight lines.
One of my gigs had a "pod" style cubical layout with 6' high walls, glass in the upper 2' or so, arranged in groups of four (see diagrams below). It's still one of the best workspace designs I've seen, period.
In a previous job, we had an open office layout with a handful of small conference rooms. The rooms were always being fought over -- resulting in the institution of a byzantine booking system involving Outlook calendars and admin permissions, with the office manager as bottleneck to booking a room.
As a client-facing person (i.e., someone who needed to be on the phone a lot), I hated it. More often than not, I found myself walking around downstairs, in the building lobby, or out on a balcony somewhere when trying to conduct business. I got sick of fighting over conference rooms, and sicker still of trying to evict squatters from rooms that I'd booked for urgent meetings or calls. And if I ever needed a quiet place to go concentrate on something, that was pretty much out of the question for most of the day. I ended up taking a lot of work home with me every night, simply because I couldn't get it done at the office.
I enjoyed some great chit-chat with coworkers, and I probably saw more YouTube videos and memes in that office than I have anywhere else. Productivity kind of sucked, though.
No, they're universally bad. No door, no privacy and a constant stream of chatter from other people. Yuck.
Many companies grow from open offices as startups but then they have to change they way they do the open office if they want to preserve the "open office".
(Also, the nondevelopers are in constant verbal communication.)
All that said, I'm not dissatisfied. Our office is always very quiet and cool. The kitchen is stocked. The chairs are comfortable. It's not a bad set up at all and I don't find that it really hinders my productivity too much. But it does feel unnecessary, and I personally know I'd be more productive telecommuting 3-4 days a week. Dressing up and behaving professionally for 8-9 hours straight does take a toll on my ability to output good code, albeit a minor one, and the location of the office in the city certainly takes a huge toll on my bank account (housing is 2-3x more expensive in this area, but the commutes are horrible from far out).
One works through a 25 minute time block (a pomodoro) using the kitchen timer, deferring all interruptions until a time block can be assigned for communication. Pomodoros are grouped into two hour sets when practicable. Tasks and projects are broken down into, or, combined into 25 minute pomodoros, and the pomodoros checked off when completed. Interrupted pomodoros are "cancelled" and lost. Breaks are taken between single pomodoros and extended breaks after a set.
Time management in effect becomes a game in which one seeks to perform X number of pomodoros a day while losing as little as possible.
I'd always attributed a state of flow to good luck or simply having a good day. After using a kitchen timer and the workflow above I now realize that I was previously rarely if ever in the flow state because of repeated interruptions and distractions, distractions which were and are largely in my power to control.
I have to say, that is a rare situation in every office I've worked in. Maybe it has to do with the types of people I've hired, but it is incredibly common to see collaboration during the day between 2-3 people and heavy collaboration anytime difficult problems comes up.
Are you hiring? Are the pay and benefits competitive?
Instead, everyone's too busy maintaining social facades for the entirety of their day, day after day, rather than focusing on their work.
I don't care. I've come here to work.
I enjoy interacting socially, but I really honest-to-goodness would rather talk about work at work. I really truly don't care about your personal life at work. I would feel so relieved if I never had a conversation about something personal at work.
It doesn't have to be Nazi Germany, but it doesn't need to be constant chatter.
Yes I'm an engineer.
Good Lord, now we're doing social-life standups. Agile really has taken over.
If all your co-workers are such uninteresting people, maybe you're at the wrong company.
My bend at work is definitely more towards the antisocial simply because I would like to focus on work. Bother me if it's work related otherwise maybe wait until 5pm or whenever we're all wrapping up.
I'm down for making friends, but we don't need to talk all week long about the camping trip we're all going on this weekend. It's a thing, it's happening. Why don't we talk about it after it happens?
Honestly, I know it sounds cheesy, but I wish so bad to have worked on an Apollo mission or the Manhattan project. In my fantasy, those engineers just showed up and talked about the most interesting and fascinating and craziest shit and then went and built it. At lunch people talked about the minutiae of putting a dude on the moon or what the hell Rutherford scattering was and NOT the perfect temperature to roast a coffee bean or why the iphone sucks.
I know, I know, some people want to decompress and unwind throughout the day and not be so preoccupied with that intense shit all the time. I just think it'd be cool if people were more like that.
Otherwise work is a priority, but not the only priority and maybe not the top priority. I love building things my customers love, but that's not the only thing I love. I expect to share some of who I am and learn some about my coworkers during the 9 to 5. The ability for my coworkers and I to click, on multiple levels, is important. It helps both for building rapport among teammates to solve business issues and as compensation in the form of a positive work environment.
And while I expect many intense work environments are much more focused, I also know some of the most intense environments still have small talk, sometimes intentionally thrown in to diffuse that intensity. It helps people view each other holistically as actual people, not just tools to solve problems or obstacles to overcome.
I don't like feeling like an unproductive schlub at work.
Y'all are paying me all this money to work, not to socialize.
Sorry it took so long to get to that point, but ultimately that's it. I'm getting paid a lot of money to work. Not to socialize. And I will gladly work my ass off so don't think I need to socialize a whole bunch throughout the day to get shit done or to enjoy myself.
I am very jealous. Some of us have very boring, unchallenging, crap corporate-drone jobs in which the 30% social distraction is the only way to make it through the day without going mad.
Feeling 'unproductive' doesn't factor into it when one's work seems meaningless.
Quick riposte: 'just leave' doesn't pay the mortgage.
Such people should be understood and given the distance that allows them to work, not browbeaten into keeping up with the extraverts.
Nope, just introvert.
If you don't know what an introvert is, here is a quick guide: http://i.imgur.com/f2BmB2x.jpg
I also recommend reading the book "Quiet" by Susan Cain. Even if you're more on the extroverted side of the spectrum, you will learn a lot about introversion and extroversion and how to deal with introverted people. (And even if you don't realize it, many of the people you know, whether they're friends, family or co-workers are introverts and have to deal with living in an extroverted world.)
This person still sounds more antisocial than introverted. And if they're just extremely introverted, then news flash: they live in the real world with /other people/.
I'm introverted but at work a lot of what people want to talk about is not work but /does/ align to my interests (software, engineering, etc.). So talking happens, and this person trying to shove their workaholic no-nonsense BS down everyone else's throat is no good.
I want to work, and only focus on work, then take a break, go have a coffee in the break room, and chat about whatevers.
The problem with open office plans is that it gets mixed up, and it's really hard to do the context switching when working on hard problems.
It really reminds me of being a first year student at university, when a lot of people prefer to study in groups, while having coffee, and are convinced it's the best way to study.
By the fourth year though, you know that to really do well, you need to withdraw and get into productivity mode, then socialize when studying is done, as a separate activity..
gasp! blah blah
Now years later it's obvious why they took over the world, CEOs everywhere saw the bright open office spaces, with just desks and
gasp! cost savings!
Open office plans are a way for a company to be cheap and that's about it. No investment in offices needed, no investment in fussy cubicles, no interior decorators needed (just expose the brick!). Rent a warehouse, buy desks at IKEA , assemble and voila instant office.
These days management even tries to get strategic about open plans. I'll put this department next to this one and this one so they can talk to each other more freely and voila synergy!
Absolutely the worst environment for thinking jobs possible (the contrapositive is, if it's a good environment for your job it's probably not a thinking job).
There are closed off spaces to make phone calls, and client-facing people are sectioned off slightly so their phone calls don't bother the rest of us. If we were in a big farm of fluorescent-lit cubicles or airless private offices I think I'd be less productive simply because I'd be fantasizing about not being there.
Open offices that don't have a culture of quiet, however, could indeed be total hell for 'thinking' roles, but an open office doesn't have to be the unequivocally bad working environment that you make it out to be.
Here's what I think they did right:
- High partitions around team cluster, low partitions within cluster. Means you don't see just anybody who's standing, but can easily get eye contact with the people you actually need to communicate with.
- White noise generators. All ambient noise is suppressed--I can't hear the people in the next cube if they're talking quietly. Only the shrillest beeps or sneezes disrupt my concentration.
- Lots of natural light. If you're going to do open concept, at least take advantage of the #1 benefit.
- Lots of small meeting rooms with whiteboards.
Even then, I noticed a massive difference in how much I enjoyed the open plan when I transitioned from working on a project that was very collaborative (pairing being the norm) to a project that required a lot of solo effort. I'm very conscious of distractions now, and end up working later hours to take advantage of the quiet when everyone's gone home.
So I think there's a lot to be said about the dynamic of your team. And in that regard, my current employer again does well by giving QA, support, and other "solo acts" individual high partitions.
Do you need quiet time where you're thinking for 5 hours a day and coding for 1? You need your own office.
Graphic designers, phone support, this kind of stuff seems to work great in an open office. Crazy team trying to crank out something fast? Also works great.
But they just add to burnout and aren't a good fit for writers or programmers. If this is the case, give everyone a small, modest office with drywall and a drop ceiling, and then have LOTS of common areas or meeting rooms so people can get together to chat or bang stuff out.
My most productive and cherished hours were those after the close, when I could snap in headphones and burn through theoretically intense if P&L-vague projects. Incidentally, it was those projects which made the bank's quarter for every quarter I worked there.
There is a personality that thrives on open office plans. I, sometimes, am one of them. But open layouts encourages rapid, myopic collaboration over deep thinking. The ideal solution might be an open office layout with a "library" retreat.
- higher skilled workers are in closed offices more often
* and satisfaction varies by skill level
- p(open office) varies by industry
* and satisfaction varies by industry
- people feel more comfortable doing non-work items behind a door
* and they like getting personal tasks done
That said, I have worked in a few class A office spaces and the difference between class A and any other arrangement is huge. Always the perfect temperature, designed to muffle noise, enough glass to see what's going on but enough partitioning to avoid distraction. I'm not sure the cost can be easily justified, however.
My most productive moments were when I could close the door and turn my music up on my high end speakers and blast through the work.
My office was also cozy with an old chair that people came in and sat down for impromptu meetings. No need to schedule conference rooms and we all had our own white boards.
Jumping to startups that tout open spaces and the engineers I've met since who've praised them, I wonder if it's because these engineers haven't worked at companies who have actual real offices for everyone.
The collaboration is definitely different for sure, in open spaces you can share in the tension and keep pace with everyone. Yet I find I need a day or two a week to work from home to get in those purely productive days.
I'd love it if engineering culture went back to demanding offices as a perk, but I fear those days are gone now that we demand living and working in expensive cities.
...because it makes upper management feel good to keep the peons in a bullpen.
The most important sound paths in most office spaces are refraction ( low cubicle walls may as well not be there, just because you can't see your neighbor over a 48" cubicle wall doesn't mean that wall in contributing much of anything to sound isolation ) and reflection ( hard walls, cheap ceiling tiles, ceiling air vents with open air returns, etc ).
"Movable Walls" vary widely in their absorption profile, as do ceiling tiles. In both cases high quality models are fine. Most issues with movable walls had nothing to do with their absorption profile but rather poor installation/fitting causing 1/4" air gaps around the edges creating a perfect refraction and / or reflection path for sound.
As an analogy, it's like saying "Who has time to implement safety measures when we're so busy administering first aid because of all the accidents?"
I've worked in open plan, cubes, and my own office. Open plan is by far the worst. For me, it comes down to perceived privacy more so than noise.
We're an open office plan and I love it. I couldn't imagine working in an office where everyone is quietly tucked away in their offices. Worth mentioning, is that we're a pair programming shop and everyone on the team is a big fan of pairing all the time.
But it is loud as shit in the team room. We have a Spotify playlist constantly going in the background. When a BA passes a story for completion, this is signified by the ringing of a cowbell, at which point everyone will pound on their desk and play with noise makers to celebrate. That happens a few times a day. When a build breaks, a siren goes off and noises play from the build computer to let everyone know.
I think part of it might be the pair programming. Before I started pairing, I was a headphones kind of guy, too. I liked it quiet and I was easily distracted. But when you're talking through a problem with your pair and you have someone to help keep you on task, it's really easy to avoid being distracted.
I guess the point is, in the right culture and with the right personalities, open office can work really well. No one complains about it being hard to focus on my team and it's rarely quiet. We also get shit done and everyone is pretty happy.
In a couple weeks, I'm moving on to another pair programming shop in an open office, but really only because I felt like it was time for me to see some different challenges. When I'm ready to move on from there, I'll probably be seeking a similar atmosphere.
p.s. I'm a pretty extreme introvert.
* High school: desk in bedroom. Unaware there are worse options: Productivity: 9.
* College, year 1: dorm with roommate, cop-style desks facing each other. Shut up! Productivity: 4.
* College, years 2-4: two roommates, desk under bed. Vaguely cramped, but not bad. Productivity: 6.
* First ship: Flight of the Intruder style aluminum desk/dresser/bookcase measuring 24" wide, aligned athwartships, so every roll of that frigate dumped my work all over until I hacked some retaining straps in. (http://www.maritime.org/tour/img/fbc/fbc-captain.jpg, except our bunks were 3 high). Productivity: 3.
* Second ship: Double-wide version of same but it's a carrier, no rolling. Productivity: NA because I also an actual office, with a door, and it was right next to wardroom. Downside: back wall of office was next to the trap wires. Had to wear double hearing protection during flight ops. Office productivity: 6-9.
* Staff at the Naval Academy, Annapolis: more desk acreage than I could use, huge vaulted window, rich blue carpet, could hide out all day. Productivity: 0-8. Home office: got an Ethan Allen desk on clearance. Productivity: 6.
* Med school, year 1: Katrina. 5' folding table next to the foldout couch two very kind University of Houston students let me sleep on all year. Still have that folding table. Not bad. Productivity: 6-8.
* Med school, years 2-4, New Orleans: Ethan Allen desk tried in every room of the house, but little kids make it impossible. Productivity at home: 0. Starbucks: 7.
* Internship. Same as above, but also had a cubicle in the 180 desk "resident storage facility". Had no desire to be there and rare could be. Productivity at cubicle: -1.
* First job as a doc: moved to San Diego, converted falling-apart cubicle desk in our office (incidentally the server closet, possibly the only reason it had an air conditioner) into a standing desk. Joy. Could work all day. Had a 34" stool that helped on occasion. 3 officemates: productivity: 5. A Navy clinic, "doctor's office" set up during the weekdays I took clinic, productivity: 4 (they seemed to feel doctors were cheaper than medical assistants). Starbucks: 7.
* Oh, during that job, worked at an urgent care on the weekends: sterile "doctor's office" with a desk and computer. 4 exam rooms. Highly routinized workflow seeing 30+ patients in 12 hours. Productivity: 11.
* Currently: professionally designed cubicle set up in an office with one office mate. We face opposite directions, neither face away from the door. Most productive ever. Productivity: 8-9. Starbucks 7. But also moved my Ethan Allen desk into my bedroom and installed a door lock. Home productivity: 4-8.
My favorite part of the setup was the utterly useless desk safe, easily jimmied open (and then permanently broken) by using two Navy-issue pairs of scissors. Then, invariably, someone would forget to wedge their safe door open and you'd have to barge through staterooms in officer country during heavy seas at 3 a.m. to look for the offending thunk, thunk that was driving everyone insane.
Oh, to be 23 again...
And, thanks in part to years of great posts on Hacker News, I'm much better at scripting mundane tasks than the average pathology resident.
I think another thing is that I took up surfing. I'm from Kansas. I go surfing with dolphins at least once a week. I own a home in SoCal, wife and kids are happy and smart. How did I get here?
It's interesting your productivity goes up in Starbucks. I'm the same way too. Distracting conversations are bad but white noise is fine. Plus there may be something to the whole anonymity thing, in that you don't think about or engage the people around you as much.
I have now had 15 years of experience with different plans, 6 of those with my own 60 people agency and a lot of time spent trying to figure out the optimal space.
Its really simple. Size vs. number of people is the defining factor.
Maybe this is just NZ. Is having your entire development team each having their own private office something that actually happens in America (bar the amazing fantasy land that Spolsky's office sounds like).
Also, it's worth mentioning that this is just a survey, and just addresses how people "feel", not efficiency or anything like that. My ideal "work" environment (i.e. a beach) doesn't necessarily line up with my most productive.
It's impossible to think in bullpen/cubes. Well, that's hyperbole, but it is both wearying and distracting. I'm sure there are personality types that thrive in that situation, but it is just really hard for me to be in an environment like that for long. There's a reason there's a "no talking" rule at libraries, after all.
-- SQUIRREL! --
... I won't be very productive.
I can still see my coworker hacking SQL into some XML (wtf is he doing) out of the corner of my eye, but I'm not sure wearing horse blinkers to work would be socially acceptable.
Even after rearranging my desk such that I mostly look towards the windows, the hardest part I tend to concentrate on is staying focussed, and by now, maintaining that for more than half a day is extremely hard.
It's also making me sad. I can go long durations with intense focus. Given the right problem and atmosphere, something like 6 - 8 hours of intense focus and progress is possible, my high score is somewhere around 15 hours with minor breaks at a ludum dare. This is just not going to happen in this environment.
Not being able to go into someone's office and talk for an hour cuts down on one form of interpersonal bonding. On the flip side, having larger group conversations encourages another type of bonding.
Arranging dinner and lunch outings is 100x easier, we go out as a team quite often now.
Code reviews are fast and fluid. It is easy to get someone to walk on over and take a look at something. Junior programmers worrying about their designs can easily ask more senior members for help.
Productivity in some regards is down, noise level is higher for some things (yes even with headphones), and there are certainly some days where it is hard to think. On the other hand, really hard problems can get a lot of brain power thrown at them really quickly and solved in a matter of minutes. No more of that "well if I had known you were working on that, turns out I found a fix for it yesterday, I could have saved you 4 hours!"
Time spent chit chatting is probably the same. I have gotten to know some coworkers I didn't know before.
I'd say it has overall helped with code quality and team cohesion. Then again our areas are not that small, 8x10, so we are by no means cramped. I have two actual desks in my area so people on external teams can drop in with a laptop if they need to work with me.
It is a royal pain when trying to focus on solving a really hard problem however. Especially if doing pair programming on a super hard problem, when two people's thoughts are all that should be occupying a space.
I've found that it's extraordinarily difficult for me to do my best work in a cramped open space when there is activity surrounding me. From my own experience, it seems that some % of our minds are actively processing movement or sound, even if we're not consciously aware or distracted by it.
Unless I'm bootstrapping something, or working at an ~angel seeded company, I'll refuse to work in an open space unless there is a flexible policy about working from home, where I do have my own private office.
I'll agree with what others have said: Open spaces are about saving money, but they're also a big part of the dog & pony show that tech company executives put on when courting potential investors. This is possibly more important now that most software deployments are no longer happening on accessible data centers. Beyond that, open spaces provide an easier path to scaling engineering headcount, often in a Fred Brooks-ian sort of way.
To me, more than anything these decisions speak to the engineering or C level culture established within a business. If the talent feels the need to wear noise canceling headphones to function, then there is a problem that isn't being addressed.
If a company is FORCED to implement this because they have decided to base their operations in an urban area with outrageous rent, then give the talent the flexibility to work offsite. If the management doesn't trust their people enough with that degree of autonomy, well, I guess that's a different discussion altogether.
You know, not everybody is young and cool enough for this lifestyle..
I think the holy grail of offices would be to let you choose at any time where you want to work...grabbing an isolated office some times and being in an open area at others.
Every developer has a private office with "a door that shuts". They all have a view that doesn't look into another office. When they need to work alone, they can work alone.
Each office is large enough that a second person can come in and work alongside them, whiteboard together etc.
Social areas are placed towards the centre of the X. Offices are on the outer. This controls the spread of noise from the social areas.
These buildings were inspired by IBM's Sillicon Valley Lab (née Santa Teresa Lab), which itself was inspired by studies of programmer productivity which found that private offices improved performance markedly over cubicles and open-plan offices.
There's a discussion in Peopleware.
Some buildings aren't strictly cross-shaped but still use right-angled wings for a similar effect:
IBM published a paper on STL/SVL in 1978; I haven't gotten around to piercing the IEEE paywall to read it yet: http://ieeexplore.ieee.org/xpl/articleDetails.jsp?tp=&arnumb...
Even sadder, IBM used to publish their journal archives online, available to anyone, for free. IBM Systems Journal wasn't always behind some shitty IEEE paywall.
Yet sadder still, the price to subscribe to IBM Systems Journal through IEEE? $1,400 USD for a one year sub.
Frack... I now remember why I'm sometimes ashamed to admit to being a member of IEEE. Guess it's time to get move involved in the elections and leadership stuff... sigh
However it seems that there is a growing body of supporting literature coming from other fields that open-plan is usually a decision with unseen costs. The linked article is an example.
Some director saved 10% on deskspace costs and got his/her bonus but screwed the productivity of all the staff by 10/15%
Yet, why are startups trumpeting these as great places to work? Particularly as an engineer, having a door I can close is essential. (That's why I love working on Fridays, when nearly everyone else works from home.)
The biggest stressor for me in an open office is overhearing personal conversations. It's not the noise that bothers me, but the fact that I hear things I really just feel awkward hearing.
My ideal office is just lots and lots of rooms. Maybe you could do an open office if complete silence were enforced on the floor and all meetings were held in adjourning rooms, but that'll never get buy-in.
Not saying that this can work for everyone at every organization. But I for one was pleasantly surprised. Fwiw I'm a pretty introverted guy who deeply values his privacy.
Do you know some people get a minor feeling of background anxiety when their back is to an open space with people talking and walking around? Their peripheral vision and senses conflict with the deep concentration required for software work.
Those noise cancelling headphones are meant to take out droning noises, such as AC system fans or jet engines in airplanes. Conversations with their lack of repetitiveness and human vocal ranges are not filtered out well, if at all. The music they will have to listen to filter you out is distracting in its own right.
Open Offices also decrease the barriers for interruption. Managers like it because they make their jobs a lot easier, because they get to hear what is happening and get status on their workers progress passively.
This is what open office means to many people.
There are also personal factors at play. Different people thrive under different combinations of stimuli. I'm not a psychologist but I think it'd be related to the intraversion-extroversion axis of personality.
"...The productivity benefits of teams working together have been used to sell the open plan office for decades. Yet, if you do these evaluations and actually talk to occupants of open plan offices, very few people think that they are productive spaces..."
Note the moving the goalposts here. The survey shows people don't like the noise and interruptions caused by open plan offices. Okay fine, I get that. But the article promises that the benefits are far outweighed by the disadvantages, and then by way of disadvantage tells us that people don't like them that much. There is no data whatsoever on the benefits or drawbacks overall, just opinions from people working in open plan offices.
Is it not possible that open plan offices annoy people and are also more productive? We don't know. This entire article just tells us most people would rather have their own space to work and not be annoyed so much, which most of us should know already, right?
"Things that achieve a goal" and "Things we like doing" are overlapping sets. They are not identical.
You get a good balance of people sitting together to work on things while not being distracted by dozens of others in the same office.
I have a typical cube, located in a typical cube farm, if I want some relative peace and quiet.
And the team has a dedicated "lab" where I spend most of my day. It's not a totally open-plan area - just a conference room. Never more than 6-7 developers, of whom 4 are on my team, and the rest are transients from other teams working on related projects.
I prefer the lab and only head down to the cube if I need to take client calls. Several of the developers prefer the cubes and spend most of their day there, only coming to the lab for a few hours/day.
On my floor (much lower down the building) there are about 100-120 people crammed into tiny little desks with hardly any natural light. It's so noisy with everyone in close proximity you can hardly hear yourself think, let alone getting on with coding.
1. People who LOATH open spaces, can't handle distractions, work alone.
2. People who like open spaces, feed off the energy and "action", who aren't easily distracted (or can refocus quickly), can tune out noise.
3. People who are ambivalent.
Your success, level of complaints, productivity will depend entirely on mix of these three groups.
It was probably the most productive I ever was - you were able to get up and just go talk to someone, but you couldn't talk to them from your desk without disrupting everyone else.
That being said, I have to say that I enjoy my colleagues very much and that they definitely don't spend their day doing distracting shit in the office. If I really need to focus extra hard (or just want some music), I'll put my headphones on and that's it. If anyone wants to talk to me, I'll see them coming in my peripheral vision a few seconds in advance and take the headphones off so the conversation starts naturally. I don't get disturbed by drive-bys enough to significantly affect my productivity - at least it's definitely not worse than the productivity drop I get by having to self-motivate myself at home.
I enjoyed a lot too my previous job where I shared an office with 3-5 colleagues. As a whole, all my experience at offices and workplaces have been great so far. All the common tales of workplace hell, with assholish managers, backstabbing colleagues and so on are completely incredible to me. I feel very lucky.
Well, I hate the way it is implemented. If you reduced the number of people on a floor, with more desk space and space around desks, I think it could be a MUCH more pleasant environment.
But with managers cramming so many people onto a floor it really grinds you down.
There must be a formula somewhere that calculates the "optimum" or "agreeable" workspace somewhere