Anecdotally, the open-office haters seem to outnumber the others.
Personally, (and this has been said before), I think an arrangement where you have private spaces, and a common central space, like a large/long table, would be best. The common space would be great for times when the team needs a lot of communication (i.e. bootstrapping a project) while the private spaces are good for more mundane tasks.
Allow teams to move between the two. Just my speculation, but the real culprit behind the productivity killing seems to be forcing people to work in an environment they don't like.
Headphones provide an alternate type of noise, they don't make things quiet.
To the people who prefer open offices I have two words. Cognitive. Dissonance.
:-) More seriously: It is somewhat a matter of personal preferrence but I think all/most people need some space and are not comfortable by others being constantly inside their personal space. You can do this experiment. Go to an empty meeting room and work there. Then ask your coworker to sit exactly behind you while you work. How does that feel?
I've had some of my best team and communication in an environment with offices. Need to talk, get into someone's office. On most days we had the entire team in someone's office talking for hours about architecture, code reviews, etc. We weren't disturbing anyone else and it was just the right space for our small team. Most of the time though we were able to focus on what we were trying to do without distractions. I contrast this with open offices where people never talk to each other and seem unable to do work that requires any concentration.
Not everyone can wear headphones all day. Those that do I recommend that you get your hearing checked. Visual distractions are also a prolem.
To conclude again on a slightly humorous note, is Oculus VR the next step in open space? Get an office while we cram you one on top of another? Your very own virtual personal space? I just need my man-cave, sorry.
Edit: It's also very much a question of how much space per person is available in whatever scheme is used and how many people per open area. It's not a problem for me to share one large office. I once visited one large known tech company where they built a new space and offered people the option of going two per office or one in the open. All the offices were full.
"Individual analysis is bad! Collaboration is good!"
"Thinking hard takes too much time! Instead, keep shipping!"
It seems to reflect a culture that prefers ambient noise to quiet reflection, focus, and productivity. It's almost as if people would prefer to see me typing over having the results of what I make. It is this notion that makes open offices a bit worrisome. I've been productive in both private and open office environments, but I'm very much an introvert. I need a certain amount of physical space that feels private; this manifests itself mentally as breathing space to explore whatever problem domain I'm working in.
Aside: it's amusing that SV prides itself on being progressive while not trusting their workers with a modicum of privacy. Guess it fits the whole 'privacy is not for plebes' notion that powers it, eh?
That said, when I'm in the type of environment where I need to wear headphones, I think brown noise (e.g., from sox) is a nice alternative to music, and white or pink noise behind music helps create a consistent sound screen.
Here's my brown noise script for sox (it's supposed to sound a little like waves):
play -q -c 2 -n synth brownnoise band -n 1600 1500 tremolo .1 30
One day I came in and a new person (non developer) had set up shop directly behind me in the same corner (about 4 feet away). It was so jarring and distracting--I couldn't get anything done all day. I eventually had to move to a different corner.
I also hate being seated in a restaurant with my back to the room. It makes me so uncomfortable. So maybe I'm just more sensitive to this sort of thing in general.
Open offices also require trust on all levels. Management layers must recognize the reality of an 8 hour work day involves many breaks of non-work browsing. If you have an open office plan with management demanding you be on-task for 8 hours a day, that's a recipe for nervous breakdowns (or a recipe for people fighting over desks where monitors face windows instead of the open hallway areas).
Another endless plus for open offices: If you sit with your team, you have open-air information sharing. "Oh, X is walking over to talk to al of us about problem Y. We can collectively address their problem in 5 minutes instead of three days of emails back and forth."
You're probably not as important as you think you are. You only need an office if you're dealing with sensitive HR materials. (Or: if you have an annoying laugh. Or if you have flatulence problems. Or if you talk on the phone all day and have an annoying voice. Or if you bring your loud kids to work. Or if you video chat over speakerphone all day long.)
I interviewed at Fog Creek once and probably the coolest thing about the company is every developer gets a private office. Notably, these offices (as best as I can remember) are not particularly big. They may not be much bigger than a cubicle. The main distinction is they have glass walls extending all the way to the ceiling together with a door that closes.
Do they take up extra space compared to normal cubicles? Probably, but not significantly more space--certainly not nearly as much space as traditional "this is 5x as much space as I actually need" offices, with unused couches sitting around just to fill the room.
But this sort of construction is expensive, so it's almost never done.
It's staggering how I had to wade half-way through piles of double-think comments until someone finally spoke the truth.
1) Cubicle Farm. In the article, this was voted as "even worse" than an open floor plan.
2) The Open Floor Plan, which is getting a pretty bad rap on HN as of late.
3) Everyone gets their own private offices yay! If you're not working at Sterling Cooper & Partners (where there are private offices for pretty much everyone but "creative" and the secretaries), this might be unfeasible.
4) Some sort of hybrid pseudo-open-but-still-private layout that engenders the best of both worlds. There are a few silicon valley companies that hit this one on the head, and that's awesome.
To get to the point, I think I'd rate each option I've outlined above (using their numeric value) as
3 > 4 > 2 > 1. But it ultimately comes down to a comfort/feasibility ratio. Cubicles are the most feasible, but also the most hated. Private offices for all(TM) is the most desired, and the least feasible. Option 4 is somewhere in the middle, leaning toward less feasible (need a lot of space, etc...). It would seem that the open office is (currently) the most feasible option for companies with little creativity and a tight budget. This is the way I see it. Love them or hate them, in my opinion, open offices have the highest comfort/feasibility ratio.
Thoughts? I'd love other people's opinion on this.
OTOH, millions every year in executive bonuses is not only "feasible", but apparently preferable.
5) Small offices with 3 to 5 people in them.
Their discovery was that people who had closed door offices were more productive. In general people with less interruptions got more done.
The book is somewhat dated, so this may have changed since, but one of the interesting things they found was that there weren't really any studies showing that open offices helped productivity for software teams. It was purely a cost saving measure by execs wrapped up in wrapping of "being collaborative".
I don't think anyone disputes that people are more productive without distraction. That's not what open plans are for though: collaboration helps everyone orient around the right thing, so all that individual productivity isn't wasted pursuing the wrong stuff.
Only his circle of 5 get private offices.
That building will be amazing - but it is the pinnacle of the open office idea... that's OK for them though because everyone at FB drinks the kool-aid.
Also in all these articles they say "its too noisy..." Has no one ever heard of headphones. They let each individual employee get the best level of noise they need. Want it quiet get a set of sound isolating headphones and put on quiet background noise. Do you like music to work to go ahead and put that on. Do you like the organic background of distant communication and the peaceful methodical hum of the ventilation system. Leave the headphones off and enjoy it. What I have found as the big turning point is you need to have an entire office that is respectful of others no matter what floor plan you have. If one worker insists on playing loud music or having conference calls all day no matter what set up you have chances are he will be annoying his direct neighbors.
As an aside as much as I like my open office I would trade it for a botanical garden. I love gardens and would gladly set up shop in a nice greenhouse maybe with some birds in it, and a nice central waterfall and river running down the middle.
All of these items are fixed by giving me an office with a door. If I want interaction and noise, then I'll open the door, head out to the shared conference floor space and work from there. I'm not sure why more offices don't do this by default these days.
Someone doesn't need to be sitting right next to me able to interrupt me whenever they like to "promote synergy"
Of course, I once mentioned this on HN and someone replied that the need to communicate readily with my fellow programmers is a sign that our code base isn't well-documented. I thought that was pretty funny.
Also, you may find it odd to know some people (myself included) typically prefer no noise while they're programming. I'll use headphones when my options are music or "loud obnoxious conference call on speakerphone" but it's hardly the best option for me.
To some, headphones are just another form of noise and distraction and not a solution to the problem.
So how about a library? Corporate space with study carrels and dead tree of a vaguely useful nature (books in mass on shelves absorb a lot of sound).
Oh sure, it's all well and good to whine about offices not being the way you like. While we're at it, I'd also like shorter work weeks and higher pay.
If adjustable sitting/standing desks are all the rage nowadays, how about cubicle walls that raise/lower (all the way to the ceiling)? Scrum time? Lower the walls. Need a bit of quiet contemplation? Shields up!
I'll bet that somebody with better time/money/smarts/connections/looks/luck/location than me could get funding for this invention ;)
That's what docking stations are for.
The vertically adjustable cubicle walls sound neat, though.
So, open floorplan sucks, cubicles suck even more, can't give everyone offices (reduces collaborative work). WTF is one to do?
Idea: what about movable wall sections to complement this? Whenever you want to go heads-down, move a few partitions to your desk and block everything else out.
Note that I did't say put your music on, headphones are enough to say 'do not disturb'
Currently, some at my company use unused meeting rooms as quiet space but generally prefer an open environment, with headphones on or off. A growing number prefer a casual, social environment like couches and tables rather than desks.
A strong influencing factor is the amount of collaborative work. Those who are working alone on projects tend to be solitary, while those who make many collaborative decisions want to be closer to others. This may reduce the need for formal meetings, which allocate blocks of time for a whole group that may not be necessary or efficient.
I just can't imagine going back to cubicles, or isolation. The distraction I get is more than made up for by the camaraderie and communication that naturally occurs. Although to be fair I've never been in a seriously dense open office environment -- that might change my perspective.
I was apprehensive moving from cubicles to open space, but I actually find that I appreciate the social aspect of it. I'd rather not be alone all day in my tiny enclosed corner of the world. There's a good reason movies like Office Space exist.
That said, I think all it would take is one successful lawsuit alleging such damage and the open office plan would die a quick and merciful death.
Aren't you supposed to be doing focused work all day? The "social aspect of it?" Again, you're at work. Work is for working. I don't want to socialize at work, I want to get my job done and go home. That's what I'm being paid to do.