However, one of the organize-all-the-things guys on the internal operations team once caught me in a coding marathon in one of those offices and sent an email to the entire company "reminding" everyone that those offices were for God-knows-what-he-thought-they-were-for, not for work. So I returned to my ergonomic island and toiled away, surrounded by the noise of a hundred private conversations.
I've always thought since then that if that had panned out, that you could choose at any moment if you wanted to be in the open room or in a private room in the perimeter, that would have been the ideal layout.
Personally, however, I'd prefer the reverse: offices as the default (two people per office okay, as long as there's space) with open space (with portable white boards, bean bag chairs, desks) in the middle for ad-hoc design/discussions.
Cubicles do seem the worst of both world, however: an ad-hoc meeting is no longer so ad-hoc (as it requires hunting for an available conference room), but the noise/interruption issues are no better than open areas.
I've worked in environments like that. Unfortunately, the open space looks like "not working" to people and is highly visible. Since no one wants to be publicly seen as not working, they just ended up being a very nicely decorated and inviting ghost town.
FYI, this is exactly what happens to luxurious and inviting game rooms at videogame companies.
I always like to think of the library my university had. It had rooms of all sizes going around most of the outside, and then little pockets of chairs and even some cubical type areas. The bookshelves broke everything up mentally, so I never felt in the open, but also never confined. Some of the rooms had white boards and some were just tiny rooms with a desk you could use.
For me personally, the key is variety and flexibility, and not assuming that one thing works perfectly for everyone.
This is essentially what I have now. We have four people in two very large rooms connected by an open internal corridor. There's chairs in each room, and a large table in one of the rooms. It's a very productive setup.
These booths are always full and occupied by folks for the entire day, since most people don't like the loud open area workspace and sit in these small offices so they can have phone calls and concentrate.
At one company where I worked management got offices, so it was senior developers staking out the conference rooms... at another, no one had an office, so the owner got the nicest conference room and some of the leads fought over the lesser ones.
We have a little room tucked down a hallway that maybe 5-7 people know about, and no one uses. I've been in here for 3 weeks, and it's wonderful.
FWIW, good acoustical engineering can make a significant difference in how loud an open-space "feels." Putting sound-absorbing materials on all architectural features and hanging sound-diffusing baffles from the ceiling can change a loud room into a significantly quieter and less distracting room.
It isn't a panacea, but it isn't hard to do. You will need someone experienced in room acoustics to design it for you. I'd still prefer small offices over an open space, but if management is stuck on having an open-space then getting good sound control in there will make the best of a bad situation.
You can hear the reverse in a lot of trendy restaurants nowadays where, for some reason that I can't comprehend, it is fashionable to deliberately make the dining area as loud as possible.
I also have wondered why more restaurants don't use sound treatment. I have noticed that the high class restaurants always have sound treatment. Don't these other restaurants know that if you install adequate sound treatment that you can charge more? Obviously not...
The problem with focus booths is that it's not "your" space. You don't come back to the same one every day, you can't have pictures of your family on the desk, etc.
Focus booths are a small courtesy to allow people to make phone calls and hold 1:1 or very small meetings, but that's about it.
It was an awful work environment, even though it looked very modern and stylish. It was one of the main reasons I quit that job.
I work in an open space plan at Valve now, and it's pretty decent. The thing that makes it decent is that desks are mobile; there is no assigned space (want an office? find an empty one and move in) so you can very easily choose who to work next to. This cuts down a great deal on interruptions caused by people interrupting the people /next/ to you, which I found was the actual source of randomization in most cubical environments.
Also, stuffing more than a few dozen people into a shared area is probably bad. Don't do that.
Overall though I prefer an open space environment with the ability to periodically go of to a quiet area for deep thinking. Sometimes you just need that solitude to do your best work.
The meeting/private rooms should be in the center, away from the scarce windows, and the more frequently used common space should have the privilege of natural lighting. Too many conference rooms are allowed to hog the view.
No, a good private office should have natural light coming in through windows!
From a design perspective:
- Glass walls are nice. This office was a group space surrounded by smaller rooms (which had the windows). The offices were glass on the interior wall (facing the group space), which allowed light in, but opaque on the walls between offices, allowing for privacy.
- Variety was important. Iirc, we had like 4-6 offices that would fit 2 people at desks, 3 that would fit 4 or 5 people around a table, and 1 that fit about 12 around a small conference table. This was for a 25-person company, and seemed to provide about the right amount of space.
- We ended up soundproofing a few rooms because people would use them for calls or loud music playing and it'd disturb the neighboring offices.
Not just devs. Employers should have utmost respect for all their employees.
The logical outcome of this is that your office layout should be different for employee groups doing different types of work, but since having an office is seen as a perk of upper management, giving offices to some groups and open plan areas to other groups is seen as favoritism and elitism rather than simply providing the best environment for everyone's job, and I think that's a big reason why it doesn't often happen.
Only in the most simplistic understanding – anyone serious will factor in limited information and human irrationality rather than assuming that observed market behaviour represents Econ 101 game-theoretical optimal decisions.
If you work at a large company, you might be well paid because you're working on the CEO's pet iOS project and there's a developer shortage. The market is working to give you higher pay but there's no relation to any sort of actual value. Most places don't even make a serious effort to quantify value or cost in a remotely scientific manner.
Open layouts are a way to save lots of money per employee. They provide no tangible benefit over private offices that are big enough to have coding sessions in, but they cost a hell of a lot less. Next time someone tells you that they are more productive in an open layout office ask them if they had ever worked with an engaged and energetic team where everyone did have large private offices. Chances are, they did not and therefore have no basis for comparison.
My mood changes, some days I can deal with others other days I just want to put my head down and program alone. This was a great option to have.
And no one's ever told me I can't work in one of them all day if I wanted to (I don't). I bet there'd be a discussion if I moved into one permanently, or even for more than a straight few days, but for now at least, we have the best of both worlds.
I am one who needs some control over his environment. In the majority of cases, these means peace and quiet particularly/mostly from human noise, as well as a lack of visual distraction. (Although there are times when I work well -- best even -- in a frenetic environment; however, these are limited in both type and frequency.)
I'm a bit older, and I fell into a generation that was subscribing to and prescribing whole-heartedly the "open", "collaborative" environment.
It did not work for me. Yet I received unrelenting pressure, including from medical professionals, that I was the one who... "simply" needed to learn to adapt.
Well... now we know a bit better. (Although I don't trust society to have truly "learned" this in any permanent fashion.) But the chronic stress of this situation has caused for me major adjustments in career and, eventually, rather run me down.
To put the bottom line at the bottom, here: If a situation is not working for you, IT IS NOT WORKING FOR YOU. TRUST THIS. TRUST YOURSELF!
"Professionals" of varying occupations and levels of training will all -- ALL -- tell you all kinds of crap. Even several years of medical school does not divorce most from their prejudices nor from cultural suasion.
Don't waste your time -- your life -- running yourself down trying to live up to someone else's idea of the "right way".
I'm in a large shared office of 4 desks. I have a single coworker that sits right next to me though him or I moving to the vacant lot doesn't really cross our minds. I am however consistently distracted as he's particularly fidgety, talks to himself (I do when I'm alone), and either chews really loudly or I've just grown to hate it. I have had no problems with him as a person but the effects of the constant disruption bring about a certain disdain towards others that distract him or myself. I can't divorce myself from it and my ears can't take a full day of headphones even if I severely enjoy the music I listen to.
I see open plans as facilitators in nothing but pain all around and where I am currently. We've always been in a open office cube farm of some nature but something about the move to a new place specifically designed to be this way was a bigger kick in the balls than I had anticipated. I can't think of any place that would prize distractions as a badge of honor either, at least not where developers are concerned. Yet that's exactly what we have now and that I've allowed some shitty process to make me this much of a shitty person is the real problem. Its like I can't ever correct it either so I just need to move on or it's going to continue to push me into atrophy.
Basically your last paragraph is key. Notice this early. If you can change policy for your sake, good. If you can't, run away. You don't deserve the inevitable downturn it'll have on your livelihood.
"The office cubicle was created by designer Robert Propst for Herman Miller, and released in 1967 under the name "Action Office II". Although cubicles are often seen as being symbolic of work in a modern office setting due to their uniformity and blandness, they afford the employee a greater degree of privacy and personalization than in previous work environments, which often consisted of desks lined up in rows within an open room.[2
Image of an office circa 1937: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Photograph_of_the_Division...
I've never liked the open office layouts anyways. The two companies I worked for used it and it was tremendously noisy and so I usually did anything I could to avoid having to work in the office. Either by going to the cafeteria to work, or staying home. It made both of the teams I worked on very inefficient. The exact opposite goal it was meant to address.
The desk layout on the "engineering floor" of the building seated senior engineers behind the junior engineers. All the way back to the VP of engineering in the back.
As a foreign visiting engineer from a California startup, I was seated in the back near the VP. I think they were trying to be respectful to me. Engineers then came back to my desk to ask me questions, although I was actually very junior to them. Hilarity ensued, when they actually took my advice.
Does anyone know of any companies in Japan that offer their engineers private office spaces?
Tax law all too frequently shapes behavior, and this is one of those cases.
Do you have any other (terrifying) examples?
Hence the lack of much brick or stone, built-for-the-ages construction beyond veneers.
I was going crazy the first 6 months here because I was holed up in a office by myself with little in-person communication. There was no benefit to being in the office versus working remotely. My first attempt was to get the company a HipChat account for engineers to stay more connected. I even pushed for a couple of monthly engineer events so I would have an opportunity to interact with other engineers.
Open office setups can go horribly wrong. Never allow anyone who spends time on the phone into the open office setup. That stifles all interaction due to the need for silence. Additionally, engineers are forced to listen to a single side of a conversation that likely has nothing directly to do with the engineers. Project and account managers have a valuable job, and engineers should not need to be distracted by work that is not related to what they need to accomplish.
Additionally, I believe an open office for engineers should be reasonably small (4-10 people), and there should be some common responsibilities or projects between the engineers.
Other steps can be taken to give people the appropriate space for the task at hand. I've used a stand-up desk for the past three years. I hardly ever spend a whole day standing. I alternate between sitting and standing as my body gives me signals. Similarly, having quiet space (alternatively headphones, if desired) to crank on certain work can be useful useful. That said, three of the four of us have not used solitary space in the past 2 months.
Basically all of this is to say the issue is not black and white. If you prefer to work in a private office, like more than half of the engineers at my company do, that's fine. If you prefer to work in the company of others, that is fine too. Not everyone wants to work at a startup, and not everyone hates working for big financial companies.
As an afterthought, now that phones are all VoIP, are there WiFi endpoints available for sale?
It helps to have a phone that is not the computer you are working on. At least for me that excludes any tablet I have on hand (if I have it nearby, there's probably something there that I should read). I didn't think about using smartphones - bring your own SIP endpoints for work, could be nice.
Agreed. A coworker of mine rolled back to a restore point, which caused his computer to get kicked off the domain. He couldn't log in at all, so he had to call IT. The problem was his phone was a softphone on his computer.
Not sure if we have 2 drops per cube. There's 2 ports, but I don't know if they're active, cabled but not hooked up to a switch, or not even run to the cube. Haven't bothered to test because our old Cisco phones had a pass-through port, and now I only have 1 device that could use an ethernet port.
Eventually i got shifted to sit with my team in an open space and its really great. It's a small enough room with around 20 people, people sitting in teams. i suppose The presence of other teams can be a bit distracting at times, but it also gives you more people to interact with. You get a grasp on more than just your current assignment. You connect with more people than just your current team. So it ain't all bad. there are pros and cons. I guess when you're a senior, you want more space to yourself.
All of this disturbs me while I'm trying to code.
I think the simple trick to this is 2 person offices.
Additionally, it has some nice features like cross-device chat history, various embed support, etc.
If you want my attention, send me an e-mail. Also: get off my lawn.
This is now pure anecdotal, but the programmers I know prefer to communicate over email, if they're forced to communicate at all. Typically, because this allows them to take the time to get their point across perfectly before sending it.
Programmers have done amazing things while collaborating on massive projects across the planet using nothing but mailing lists and the occasional IRC chat. While this doesn't disprove they might not have communicated better if they were all in one big room together, I'd say it does shine some doubt.
Also, for what it's worth, I'm currently typing this from an open floor plan and I quite dislike it. I miss my quiet office.
Taken as a whole, I think programmers realize that email is a tool like any other- it has its uses, and its times when it should not be used. I feel the same could be said for group settings- there are times it makes sense, and there are times when it doesn't. I'll never understand the tendency of corporations to say "This methodology is good in this particular set of variables, therefor we will use it 100% of the time for every situation."
What they often don't realize is that the recipients of their carefully crafted emails don't read them, or at best, skim them.
For one guy I work with, every email is a PhD thesis. They are WAAAAAYY too long-winded and nobody else even pretends to read them anymore.
In a face-to-face discussion you can drill down and explore exactly those areas which need exploring... If it's a subject you know well enough to talk about without a lot of offline research, this is often way easier.
Email, IM, chat have 1 big thing going for them: documentation. I can pull up the chat logs of every decision we've ever made in the company. Want to remember why we did something 8 years ago - is that a bug or a feature? We can find out if it is, and why.
Face to face communication definitely has it's place, but it can also lead to cliquish and insular behavior, and can lose out on some benefits of having a paper (well, electronic) trail.
> Face-to-face communication is the [...] most efficient way for humans to interact.
For some people, id rather shoot myself in the face than be face to face or try to comprehend their "email".
Its all "lean", "agile", and "we need to test your test cases manually just to make sure they work, thats what tests or for".
The problem is that people look for ideological purity and look to absolutes because an unambiguous answer seems simple, whereas the reality is quite grey. The reality is that some people work better in cubicles, and some prefer open layouts. To complicate things even further, some situations call for one, others call for the other.
I see a similar debate going on between proponents of traditional schools (rows of desks, and teacher in front) and structure-less/self-pacing schools. Which is better? Well, some kids thrive in one, others thrive in the other. Worse, some kids get absolutely destroyed within the wrong king of system.
There are no simple answers.
And cubes were a response to open layouts which were noisy and provided no privacy. Shit's cyclical.
Cubes were much cheaper than offices.
Open layouts were much cheaper than cubes.
The programmers sat near the printer so that people could hassle them every time it ran out of paper. You could identify where the sales team sat before you entered the room. Everybody above the rank of team leader had an office elsewhere.
The next interview I went to was also open plan - in the sense that 5 programmers shared a decent size office. Stayed there for almost 10 years.
Basically, they were in mental cubes when they were lacking physical cubes.
P.S. The company I worked for went with the open office, productivity plummeted and the office is now closed. When I pointed out the above issues in the pictures I was told: "You don't like it? Maybe you need to work somewhere else". Well, now, they all work somewhere else.
A few years back I worked for a prominent design company. Our small group (of 4) had a nice little corner of 1/4 of an entire floor. "Oooh, nice, brick walls and people that look busy" I thought when I first joined. Not even a week later, reality started to set it. It was so ridiculously noisy.
And there were, of course, a few people that contributed to everything. I would sometimes get in around 8, it would be quiet and the usual offenders were actually working. From 10-6, it was like, forget it, noise non-stop. After 6, back to quiet.
This became really frustrating and after asking the offenders to chill, I made a trip to HR to ask wtf? HR was basically like, meh, nothing we can do. I ended up wishing those offenders would quit or worse. It was so bad and they were so loud.
After that I was like, never again an open floor plan. It was the worst thing ever and a total sham for those that want to focus and just get things done. Requiring the people whole want quiet to put headphones on only adds insult to injury.
Too bad quiet just isn't valued anymore..
Were I appointed to be king, if you're noisy then STFU, full stop, whether you're getting your work done or not. Indoor voices, people, or take it somewhere else.
Are those people productive? If yes, you keep them, if not you warn/fire them.
This is a bit bad, but I just wear PPE Ear Defenders all day, on top of in ear headphones. With both of these, I can't hear a thing.
The eerie quiet is great for short bursts of concentration, but it also means I can turn my music up to a normal level without worrying about escaping noise annoying my colleagues.
It looks very nerdy, and people need to email me or wave if they want something (which cuts down interruptions a lot). I take them off about half the time so as to be social, which I guess is like leaving an office door open.
Sort of sad it's necessary though. Hope this helps people with a similar situation.
Ear defenders, buy good ones -> http://goo.gl/NlgnPv
I recently was fortunate enough to have my own office for a while and I haven't been as productive since...well, since last time I had my own office some five years back. It's an awesome feeling to enter flow almost as you enter your room...
It's interesting to think back at my 15+ years long career and realize that the times when I've been most productive coincides with the times I've had my own office.
Another thing that would help is moving to a different desk, but I'm guessing that might be a bit more difficult to negotiate.
(These days I'm self employed and work from home but that's what I did when I worked in an open-plan office. Also, if you can, come in to work before everyone else, while it's still very quiet. Usually more acceptable than coming in later than everyone else and staying later.)
The sad thing is that even if you look at it economically it doesn't make sense. Say that in order for each employee to have their own office you need 10m2 extra space per employee. Where I live, that would amount to ~2.5% of the employees salary, i.e. if a private office makes your emplyees more than 2.5% more productive you're profiting from private offices. In my experience my productivity boost when working in a private office amounts to maybe as much as 25% or more.
Good lord, this is not an elegant solution.
Have you ever worn over-the-ear headphones for 10 hours? It's uncomfortable.
And that's not even the worst part. Drowning out coworker nonsense with loud music is permanently damaging to your hearing. Focusing on writing some crappy Ruby isn't worth sacrificing a sense.
I can barely wear 'phones for 10 minutes. Because it physically hurts.
I have worn 'phones for hours on end a decade or so ago (my weapons of choice were K271s before my ear issues flared up and made that a non-option). They could get pretty hot around the ears, but they were very comfortable.
> Drowning out coworker nonsense with loud music is permanently damaging to your hearing.
There are cans and buds with good isolation (or noise-cancelling).
I know for a fact that when I got some nice etymotic earbuds (-20dB of outside sound), I was able to turn the level down from my average of about 70%, to more like 40-50% on my ipod.
It's my understanding that sound pressure is the damaging element we're concerned with, however, does blocking the ear canal with a headphone increase the pressure (, and damage,) as there's nowhere for the frequency to dissipate?
Highly recommend this option as well.
Edit - best-seller on amazon: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00009LI4K
You can just about hear people through them, whisper quiet. But if you are also wearing some in ears, then music, or white noise at a comfortable volume will eliminate it completely.
You want headphones that do like -30db noise attenuation.
This blog talks about the 'filtering' you describe, completely new to me... http://eardefenders.org/2011/07/filtered-v-s-non-filtered/
The other 5% of the time is great - as other people have already mentioned, it's really easy to listen in to conversations and get an idea of what everybody is up to.
work in an open office with no dividers.
Unfortunately for me I don't have selective
hearing, so 95% of the time I'm trying to
drown out the buzz by wearing over-ear
headphones (usually with no music playing)
Then recently, an odd combination if sinus infection, cold, and related ear troubles inflicted this on me. I was attending a company/community even with several hundred attendees. Quite suddenly, it was like every conversation in the common area was happening right next to me. It didn't matter how close or far, or how loud - it was all happening at once, and I while I could still hear the person I was talking to, I could no longer distinguish what they were saying as there were too many other conversations that my brain was trying to interpret. This went on for about two hours, then my ears popped, and things were roughly back to normal.
Ho-ly crap. Even with that experience, I find it difficult to fathom living with that nonstop - I don't know how you do it without going insane, particularly if you have to work in an open office.
TL;DR: I finally understand the experience of lacking selective hearing, and sympathize. While hoping it never, ever happens to me again.
You end up tuning out everything, and can't have a conversation in a noisy area.
That's why I prefer something in the middle of open office and having a private office: One office per team of 6-8 people. Then one is always in the loop of what's happening, not stuck alone and don't have to listen to that much noise.
A good thing with such an arrangement is to have designated "person of contact" per day that handles all disrupts from outside that team's office, leaving the rest to work uninterrupted.
Usually this is the job of the 'manager' (assuming that the role of 'manager' is filled by a specific person, and not just another one of the engineers).
I think I learned it by working in a loud dorm, then a loud house, and then a loud work environment. It's no issue for me to ignore other people now. It's actually a joke in my office where people struggle to get my attention while I'm focused.
It's definitely not anti-open. They basically found that closed offices benefit individual engineers the most while open plans benefit the team. Interestingly, while noting the need for concentration, they note a whole bunch of ulterior careerist motives for developers wanting to work in private.
They found that the nature of communication was markedly different in each environment. Open was not only more frequent and immediate, it raised the bar for what was considered a frequent amount of team interaction, suggesting greater knowledge-share. The conversations were also shorter and subject to "cues" about whether it was a good time to interrupt someone. And the stronger social bonds encouraged more people to ask for help and bounce crazy ideas around.
They do note that it comes at the cost of distractions, and in the end they call for a balance.
Everyone having their own private office was detrimental in the opposite way. Everyone was closed off and really inaccessible. Knocking on someone's door felt invasive and wrong, so people would avoid doing it.
Cubicles give everyone privacy and space, but not so much that it stops collaboration dead. The impediment to interruptions seems to be at just the right level.
I'm also interested in offices that have open collaborative spaces combined with private offices. I've never had that and I think it could be a good compromise too.
You only close the door if you're super focused and want absolute silence, if you need some privacy for whatever reason, or you are having a group-discussion/phone-call and don't want your voice to carry down the hall.
Some bright spark changed that - got rid of the counters, and made the offices all open-office plan. You wait off to the side, and when it's your turn for whatever, someone comes and fetches you to their desk in the open-office plan with some space between desks. Instead of shouting your personal issues across a counter, you could discuss it in a normal tone, and if it was private, you could be quieter or more subtle about the topic. Aggressive incidents dropped off a cliff - and there was much less of an 'us-versus-the-gummint' mentality seeded by the demarcation line of a [fortified] counter.
So in this particular use-case, an open-office layout was clearly superior for employees, bosses, productivity, and clients.
Compare with the normal take-a-number bank queue system, when you have a fairly good idea of how long it will take to go from "now serving 123" to "your queue number is 567".
I'm guilty of participating, too, but no more. My assumption will now be that any article with a headline that presents an absolute for a subject that is a matter of preference is garbage. It's all part of growing up, I guess.
Pretty much everyone on the team loves it, and has felt a major boost in productivity and team cohesion, as virtually anyone you might need is "right there" in the room with you, and you can tune in to some of the chatter for an organic understanding of what everyone's up to. I imagine if everyone were in offices it would feel dead and empty, and totally kill the team spirit.
I think the only thing we're missing is more ad-hoc space - more conference rooms for breakout groups and individuals seeking temporary escape from the floor.
I realize that this isn't viable for everyone, which is why I think we need more rooms for people to have that isolation when they need it.
edit: There certainly are times where I experience a lot of interruptions, and I'm glad for the after-hours when most people have left. But those interruptions are generally pretty necessary, because important things are happening. On the whole I think it is a net positive for teams that work together to be "on the floor" together.
Now, as a self-employed individual I rent a seat in a shared open office to maintain that focus. It's far too easy to turn on the TV or play a video game or linger on the phone with a friend when I'm working from home. In a different setting -- with people around: all focused on work -- it's much easier to maintain a focus on work and getting done what's important.
I'm not advocating for an open office or a closed office but I do appreciate something balanced. People around me are always collaborating and discussing a great number of things which really makes me lose my focus. I usually come in early when it's really quiet and no one's in yet to get things done. After that, headphones on but even then, I miss the sound of silence rather than drowning out noise with more noise.
That was actually going to be my response. Speaking as the person typically on the other end of the "hey, quick question" it's crazy-distracting and it typically takes me 5-10 minutes to get back to whatever I was coding. It's demotivating that my time in the office is split between meetings and interruptions (direct or just general office roar), as well as why I'm currently receptive to interesting job offers.
If you're trying to build software in an open office where people are constantly talking then I'm sorry, good work will not get done. Decisions to change your office layout should be in the interest of boosting communication, team cohesion and productivity. Cubicles are too restrictive, completely open is too distracting.
I think open offices are a terrible idea with huge productivity hits that are not made up in any way by the small advantages they provide, but they aren't going away any time soon.
This was a good article, but again, it won't have any effect. The bottom line means we all have to suffer in noisy, distracting environments whether it's helpful or harmful.
And I think that developers should be in private offices, with doors. However, I will add that I think that a good environment also features plenty of open spaces, conference rooms, breakout areas, etc., where group can coalesce on an ad-hoc / temporary basis, on those occasions when people benefit from the high-bandwidth, face-to-face communication.
On the other hand, I hate talk from other teams or projects. The mostly unrelated and in worst case interesting (thus 10 times as effective in distracting me.). So the current open office plan with 6-7 teams in an open area is occasionally really annoying.
It's weird that the author notes that, but then proposes that the solution to focusing on one half of the vacillation is to just focus on the other half instead. Surely the ideal is to support both.
If I could I would run an experiment like this:
1. Have a large number of small, quiet office-like spaces.
2. Have a big open plan area.
3. Have a fixed schedule during the day where for a certain number of hours, everyone is required to be in the open plan area.
You can still hack there if you want, but you're expected to be there, and you understand that during that time you're free to interrupt and be interrupted.
The reason for making the open space mandatory is so that people actually go there. If it's optional, then it looks like people only go to the open spaces to not do "real" work. Since no one wants to be seen slacking, the open space just ends up unused.
You make it sound like solitary confinement cells around an exercise yard.
Doesn't that tell you something? Why force people to work in a less productive way?
A second point. There is a design challenge here too. How much open is too open? How many cubicles is too closed?
Headphones would be too distracting for me--however I am developing tinnitus, which has become a blessing in disguise.
Although I find it difficult to listen to music now, I would rather listen to the ringing in my ears than office chatter.
I don't work in an open office, but I wonder what it smells like. When in closed meetings or an elevator I can keenly smell people, sometimes good (women's fragrance) but most of the time distracting (perfume, odor). I'd hate to be surrounded by distracting smells all the time.
This can be fixed with proper ventilation (and proper hygiene let's hope), but ventilation can be hard to come by in the non-summer months. (without freezing everyone out)
Look at it from the startup's side of things: The ideal office that we'd all love to work in - that perfect 4-6 person bullpen with private offices surrounding (x number of 4-6 person teams), is _expensive_. Very few companies can afford a build-out like this until much much later in company-life.
If we're talking about an Apple or Google, fine - let's have the debate. But for a vast majority of early-stage startups, this simply isn't a viable discussion to have. Office space is very limited in many parts of the big tech hubs, and often it's a matter of just getting an affordable space in the first place, much less being able to build out the perfect working environment. And the fact of the matter is, most spaces are open and filled with $200 IKEA tables because that's all the company can afford.
So I'm not sure what the answer is. On the one hand, you can say "well, budget more for office space", but we all know it's not that easy. It's not a small expense -- big buildouts for private offices costs tens of thousands of dollars (or more), precious capital for a small business.
Not all of us. My (and I assume many others) ideal office is a room with a door, with my computer hooked up to 2-3 monitors and a bunch of other things I find useful to my work. Moving out of the open space to a side room... losing my monitors, taking the time to setup my keyboard and mouse, etc. That is far from ideal for me.
In the 1880s, various inventions made it possible to use high-voltage AC to transmit electric power without significant voltage drop. It became cheaper to put the power plants near the fuel and move the electric power. Furthermore, it became possible to generate electricity from power sources, like great waterfalls, that could not be moved at all.
The moral of the story? If anyone ever invents a way to move code from programmers to employers more cheaply than moving the programmers themselves, Silicon Valley is doomed.
Here's an example. (Ignore the desk, which looks a bit fragile. I'm just asking about the hood.)
However one thing we do is, that it is perfectly within your right to work from home if you feel you have enough to get on with and people do this often.
As to headphones, we have golden rule, if they are on, the building better be on fire if you disturb somebody. Not quite a sackable offence but damn close. :)
I've also found that sites like www.coffitivity.com offer a 'break' from the music. They can kill any background conversation distraction. ANY. Investigate white noise.
As to socialising, jokey things still get passed around. We're encouraged to use IM, and we also go in groups to the coffee machine which is kept in a cafeteria area, away from workers where you can chat freely and loudly.
I personally hate open plan offices, but in my 20+ years of working, I've only worked in an office once and that still had 4 people in there because they could squeeze that number into it.
Man I hope that's not the rule here, because when I have headphones on it's to wake me up, not keep the world out; I really don't care if someone disturbs me. Maybe I need an additional indicator...
(open plan office, I like it fine, clearly some here would like more seclusion though)
It's the price paid for what often seems like blind fad-following; rather than analyzing whether X really makes sense given the attributes of the organization (people/culture, type of work, department, etc.), it's adopted, used, and eventually, revolted against. A more thoughtful, situation-specific analysis might produce better results.
Obviously you can still code in an open-office and you can still collaborate working from home, but it's sub-optimal. With the setup above, you're in the right environment for the right type of work most of the time, and employees love it.
Lots more about this here:
But headphones can't replace quiet. They can just replace one source of noise with another. And they aren't necessarily comfortable to wear for extended periods of time anyway.
Headphones help mitigate the grotesque and evil nature of "open plan" offices, but they are no panacea.
I think the breakthrough will come when workplace interiors get much more modular and flexible. I'm envisioning different teams getting to choose (within reason) what types of setups they would like from enclosed offices to bullpens to cubes to open desks.
And I can even see planned re-arrangements every 6 months or so to eliminate the moss.
This of course gives those willing to make offices for everyone (like, say, Fog Creek) a competitive advantage. But your average corporate manager doesn't care about that. They still get their office and get paid.
In essence they found that performance was roughly the same as before but the employees preferred the new arrangement and that communication was improved.
Here is part of a summary of the article, made when revising for an exam:
> "The most important and most obvious conclusion that this paper found is that the non-territorial idea works. It not only reduces facilities costs by eliminating the need for rearranging walls, air ducts, etc. every time an area is re-organized, but it also allows for the allocation of space based upon an expected population density at any point in time. More important than the cost savings, however, is the fact that people find it comfortable to work in."
The open plan arrangement is not only to benefit the employees, which it may or may not do, but to reduce costs. Office space isn't exactly cheap in many locations.
Having a private office is bad for some employees and some people's productivity.
I went from an open office that I loved to having my own office, which I hate.
I could write this same article saying the opposite things and it would be no less correct.
I hate my office. In the almost 2 years I've been at my current company I feel like less of a team member than I did in 2 months at my last job.
Has anyone thought about doing a study on the effects of people wearing headphones all day to drown out these distractions? I mean ear infections and hearing loss must surely be long term side effects.
This is in sharp contrast to my last job, a fully open office where it was pretty much one gigantic room and everyone was LOUDLY talking over one another. Pretty much had to have the headphones on the whole day just so people wouldn't bother me. I'd even have them on without playing music just to signal to people not to come around...that's how annoying it was. It was truly interruption-driven development at that place.
The balance is quite subtle, as usual. So-called brain-storming sessions (which in the language of normal people is called a discussion group) could be very effective (only if participants have something to be stormed) while meeting of committees of idiots is always a disaster. The first activity is centered around subjects and goals, while the second is dedicated to the action itself and a sense of self-importance.
In other words, for those who think of software development as an assembly line (which is very wrong) mass-production best practices are quite appropriate, while others, who think of it as a process of writing poetry, the best practices appropriate for a writers and thinkers should be considered.
Unfortunately, idiots dominate the world.
If you want privacy and focus, nothing is better than remote work.
In my current company, I work from home and go to the central open space something like once in a month or couple month. My productivity is way lower in open space, but I get to know my coworkers and share thoughts way easier (those thoughts being wild ideas, because written asynchronous language is always better to make very specific suggestions).
In my previous company, we were working remotely too, and twice a year, we were joining together in a villa next the sea. Those sessions were unambiguously called "team building", and it did a very good job at that. We were chatting a lot, laughing, and at evening, we were playing videogames together or having a beer in a bar, and we were becoming closer that way. I think this is very good to raise solidarity and friendship between coworkers. And once at home, we got the real job done.
Not complaining, just sharing a different situation.
I can imagine private office might be preferable if you really work on your own. But I work in a team, and I prefer working in the same room as them.
Though the stories about noise suggest that some people are sharing a room with a hundred people, and that's just ridiculous. 6, 12, or even 20 programmers in a room don't make a lot of noise. The occasional question or discussion really isn't that distracting (though nerf-gun battles certainly are).
Just keep it sane. Put people in a room with the people they need to be in a room with. Don't make them hide from their team. Don't put them in a crowd of noisy strangers.
There's good and bad ways to do this.
You just have to know how you work best, and hope your company can support it. If you're a startup, be flexible about optimizing workers' time...
Autodesk used to give glassed off individual OFFICE to EVERY single employee, no matter how junior. This was in 1996 or 1997. I remember being very envious.
Do they still do that?
One commenter on the article on fastcompany.com left a condescending remark how the writer of the article does not need to collaborate (for simply writing an article) with others while the commenter (the almighty coder) needs to collaborate with other coders, hence open layout is good.
Well in office when 2 or 3 coders are 'collaborating' in middle of open office, everyone ELSE (including other coders) in the space not working on the specific task is being interrupted.
Open space layout is not good.
The other thing I enjoy that I didn't expect was the social aspect, where I can chat with everyone in the room before work starts in earnest in the morning, or after 6-ish when we're all ready to leave for home anyway.
In particular, the "babble" generator. The babble blends with actual conversations so you can no longer distinguish spoken words and reduces what would otherwise be attention grabbing conversations a to coffee shop level din.
The sources I generally use are rain.simplynoise.com and a "nature sounds" playlist on Songza. The latter sometimes requires you to skip "Songs of the Whaaale" tracks you might hear in a crappy crystal-stuffed gift shop, but it's generally fine.
I've worked in open office, half-cube, full cube, shared office, and sole office. Of all of those, sole office was best for concentration and shared office was best for collaboration.
Everyone knows open offices are worse but they are also far cheaper, if productivity is down 15% but TCO of the office space saves more then that's ok.
Labour is a commodity, it has value but so do many other factors.
Part 2 perhaps will talk on this issue.
- cell phones
- social networking
- random web surfing
(when my neighbor does it)
Maybe I'm not just concentrating enough at work. But perhaps there is a way to solve these problems?
I also miss having 2 30" monitors in my office.
Who would have ever thought that working conditions for engineers would be more comfortable in florida than the bay area? Not me, and boy was I wrong.
All this point about not being able to focus and getting disturbed all the time is hardly an issue. Most co-workers are respectful of your time whether they are in open office or closed office. The ones that are not respectful will bother you regardless of where you sit. Behind closed door ? No problem, I will give this guy an annoying phone call.
Now is there a binary answer to this ? Of course not. But claiming that Open office plans are completely useless is stretching it a little too far.
"Here's the simple algebra. Let's say (as the evidence seems to suggest) that if we interrupt a programmer, even for a minute, we're really blowing away 15 minutes of productivity. For this example, lets put two programmers, Jeff and Mutt, in open cubicles next to each other in a standard Dilbert veal-fattening farm. Mutt can't remember the name of the Unicode version of the strcpy function. He could look it up, which takes 30 seconds, or he could ask Jeff, which takes 15 seconds. Since he's sitting right next to Jeff, he asks Jeff. Jeff gets distracted and loses 15 minutes of productivity (to save Mutt 15 seconds).
Now let's move them into separate offices with walls and doors. Now when Mutt can't remember the name of that function, he could look it up, which still takes 30 seconds, or he could ask Jeff, which now takes 45 seconds and involves standing up (not an easy task given the average physical fitness of programmers!). So he looks it up. So now Mutt loses 30 seconds of productivity, but we save 15 minutes for Jeff. Ahhh!"
From here: http://www.joelonsoftware.com/articles/fog0000000043.html
Ugg. The thing I want the least is to chit chat with you about random bullshit, beer or overhear you talk about your christmas, your hanukkah or your puppy or child. If you and I need to have a conversation, we can set aside a time and talk. This applies equally to whether the "you" is the mentor or the "I" is a mentor.
Just because two people work side by side doesn't necessarily mean access magically changes.
My friends who did medicine get these. Apparently the hospitals have a number of quarters that the medical staff share where they can catch up on sleep if they need it.