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“Today we moved into our new Facebook building” (facebook.com)
234 points by somerandomness on March 30, 2015 | hide | past | favorite | 449 comments

I would literally switch jobs (and perhaps careers, if every company was like this) if forced to work in an open office like this. I cannot work that way; I can't focus.

I realize that I'm adding nothing constructive to this thread; I don't care. Maybe some manager somewhere will see this and a hundred other anecdotal opinions and think twice about open offices.

I am the opposite of a prima donna. I just want to work. I want to make awesome stuff, keep my skills sharp and make the company some money. Preferably lots of it.

I'd be fine with an office that's literally 5x5', a desk, a door, a wifi connection, and some shared working areas for when it's time to collaborate. Because yes, collaboration is crucial (and fun) but if I have to hunt all over the damn building for a bit of quiet space (that might not even be avaiable) when it's time to bear down and do some solo coding then this is not going to work.

Hell, I'll even bring my own damn desk, chair, and laptop. Supplied my own laptop to my last two jobs. No big deal. I'm an engineer; I get paid decently. But I need a freaking place to focus for at least half of any given working week - and sometimes, for close to the entire week.

I don't need: famous guest speakers, catered food, fancy architecture, anything. I wouldn't even care if the office was a poorly-insulated garage that gets cold in the winter. I'll bring my own $20 space heater that will heat a 5x5' office just fine.

What I can't have, if you want me to get any work done, is multiple simultaneous conversations taking place five feet away from my head all day long.

This is why I only work remotely.

Too many tech companies are up their own asses with how hip and cool their offices are. I just want to work when I want, how I want, and in an environment of my own choosing. I 100% understand that collaboration needs to take place at certain times and I really do enjoy the collaboration of remote work with other employees. However the "collaboration" that takes place in these types of offices is just wheel spinning and time wasting. It truly is the art of not working. It's all about how you look in front of managers (who are really only interested in asses in chairs and looking good to their managers...the cycle of doing nothing continues).

I really prefer having all hands with other remote employees 6-10 times per year where everyone is together in the same room. The meetings and collaboration that comes out of these is much more meaningful. Time is of the essence so we make it count.

"However the "collaboration" that takes place in these types of offices is just wheel spinning and time wasting."

I enjoyed how you phrased that. I work at a giant multinational and yes yes I know all about the stereotype that innovation only comes from the tiny little startups on HN, but innovation flows both ways, like it or not, and over the last decade one megacorp major cultural shift I've seen is collaboration only happens in email because its documented and highly accountable. If you really want to share opinions or idea or requirements or demands in a verifiable documented backed up permanent fashion then you put it in email. You don't have a "real" opinion until its written down and sent in email.

If you just want to talk about sports or the weather or gossip about colleagues or lie to someones face about a due date or product change or a spec, you exclusively do that verbally on the phone or in a meeting or text. Non email based collaboration is seen as a fake waste of time, because, lets face it, it is. If you're too much of a coward or crook to put your name to a statement, then its not worth reading. If someone refuses to document what they're saying in email or a bug ticket they are pretty much treated as liars or ignored. Its an interesting cultural shift. I have one older boss (yeah office space style I have a couple bosses, informally) who is all about the "personal" nature of a phone call or meeting, but its always super ineffective. He's still a nice guy and overall a good manager, but "old people thinking" is holding him back compared to the other mgmt who have moved on with the times.

It seems to work extremely well, especially with multi-office, multi-timezone, multi-national, multi-company teams. (edited to add, and this factors into the "scalability" mantra heard so often on HN... don't set yourself up to fail, operate like a big company from the start) And violating the "new way" by only communicating verbally or in meetings seems to dismally fail fairly often.

This large company innovation will probably spread to the smaller companies sooner or later.

This is interesting to me, because I work at a large company and I've found it to be orchestrated slightly differently. If you want/need something done here, the fastest way is to set up a face to face appointment and put yourself in someone else's calendar. If you don't, things will drag on for months of email back and forth. If you do, things might last two hours, you'll probably leave with a solid plan, and then usually someone sends a 'summary' email that lists every commitment made in that meeting (which keeps everyone honest) along with the dates people agreed to get them done by. If there's disputes about that, they're then handled there, but if you seem to always get the wrong idea from meetings (or always dispute what you said in them), it'd probably reflect badly on you.

I've worked with plenty of people who seem to believe that. It's really frustrating when someone derails an informative, productive, asynchronous email discussion with "let's just have a meeting" or "here, let me just call you" as though dropping everything and sitting around waiting for people to finish their sentences will somehow make the underlying problems easier to reason about.

I guess it must work for them, and I have gathered over the years that I must be something of an outlier in my comfort with and preference for communication via writing, but god I wish we could just cancel all meetings forever and just solve things simply and quickly via email.

This is one of the reasons working for Microsoft was an exercise in misery. People who haven't worked there have trouble believing me when I describe the amount of time people there routinely waste in bullshit status meetings. It was maddening.

I've worked at small to medium companies for the last couple of decades and your experience matches mine.

Oh God, yes. I'm freelance working 100% remotely. I hate phone call meetings. For one, I am half-deaf in one ear from years of wearing headphones to block out noise in open-office floor plans in my previous life as an employee, and often I can't even hear what is being said. A bunch of people are sitting too far away from someone's smartphone set on speakerphone, and the timid mouse in the corner won't speak up. No matter how many times you ask, they go right back to whispering.

They'll ask me questions about how things work and I just don't think well on-the-spot like that about code I wrote 2 years ago. I remember it well enough that I could look it up and get them an answer in an email in 15 minutes, but they had to call to ask, so they want the answer NOW. They'll call at 7:30 at night and complain they couldn't get a hold of me. They won't leave a message. They could have sent an email and I would have an answer for them first thing in the morning. But they would rather call during off-hours, then wait until nearly the end of the next day to call back.

Then, they will say a bunch of stuff, nobody will write it down (except me, IFF I actually hear it). If they are bad ideas, I'll argue a little, but not having the time to research the pros and cons, I can't provide a good recommendation with alternatives (and I hate complaining without alternatives). So everyone will "agree" that it's the direction we (meaning I) should go. I'll bust my ass to get it done, present the changes, and they'll question why I would do things in such "confusing" ways, when what makes it confusing is what I complained about in the first place.

"Just brute force it!" They'll say, like it's somehow a magical incantation to turn a programmer from architecture astronaut to a pragmatic realist "like them". "No, we can't brute force it, because the problem is exponential and runtime explodes when we apply it to real data." "Don't quote that math mumbo jumbo to me, we just need to get it done, I don't care how good it is." Then later, "wow, this is really slow, maybe we should find someone else to be working on this."

Sorry, getting a little off topic there. But basically, I hate not working with people who know how to communicate properly, but I've learned to work within the system (or lack thereof, rather). I've just taken to agreeing to everything they say, then doing whatever the hell I want. I know what their goals are better than they do. I can make a better project then they know how to, and they never remember what they actually told me to do. I just tell them it was all their idea, and they don't have the documentation to contradict me, so it works great.

You should record your calls. (Assuming you live in a jurisdiction where only 1 party (you) need to know the conversation is recorded.)

I'm much more open to receiving phone calls now, because even if it's much harder to search an audio file, at least I have something to search. If I'm not sure if I forgot something, I can just open up the file and listen to it again. I would still rather get an email, but some people just NEED to take a phone for whatever reason.

Given that you have some trouble hearing, you can take the time you want to re-listen to a conversation with the volume as you like it.

As a bonus, it's also helpful to get a hold of a certain kind of people that thinks they can say anything and are not accountable because it's not in writing.

I work remotely. I'm pretty sure that no company has as cool an office as mine. My office looks out onto a private garden. The office is a new wooden building, climate controlled, reasonably spacious, with my own paintings on the walls, and a desk with two large monitors. When I want to chat with my colleagues, I turn to IRC or fire up a video conference on a dedicated extra screen (the 80 Mbps line to the office is more than enough for a high-quality video conference worldwide).

What you describe is a systemic lack of leadership.

It stems from a lack of understanding of systems and the way people fit into them and work together toward a genuine goal. This lack of understanding comes from beliefs in individual aptitude and attribution bias, among other things.

It doesn't have to be that way. Deming's system of profound knowledge provides a good start to undermine politics and ineffective work cultures.

What you're seeing is not a problem of office layout or design, is what I'm saying.

I work as a fairly senior SWE at Google, coming off 20+ years with private offices (some of that time full-time remote), and I agree with everything you said. I knew it would be hard going into the job. I actually get up at 5am so I can have a few quiet hours at my desk before the rest of the folks show up & it turns into a total zoo.

Having the top of the cream, Google/FB can allow themselves to have their engineers' performance be half of what these engineers can potentially produce. Too bad for the rest of us as our employers look at Google/FB and say "we want that success too" and make open floor offices too...

It has more to do with their sheer size IMO, not having the "cream". I've worked for ATT, Sprint, and a number of companies that are pretty big but not super big and somehow they function despite the idiocy that goes on. It's a form of "too big to fail" IMHO. There are just too many people to average out the slack and the ship has too much momentum. It's going to keep succeeding baring some huge market shift and/or gross negligence on managements part. I mean, seriously; there are a LOT of companies out there making TONS of money with no where near FB's or Google's reputation and desirability.

Wouldn't it be great if that effort was actually focused systematically? Exponential improvement.

Deming knew how to do it, and even outlined that the entire economy would rise because of improved management practices. I very much believe he is correct.

As a freelancer who works with a variety of teams, it is very hard getting a moment to 'get my own work done'. I also have a young daughter, and while she didn't say the following, I keep thinking about it to give me a slap in the face of perspective.

Child: Daddy, will you play wit me?

Dad: Sorry, I can't I have things to finish off from work.

Child: Why don't you do it when you're at work?

Spend time with her while you still have the chance. The 'my parents are stupid and my friends know better' years will be there before you know it.

I know, right? Early mornings (assuming one went to bed early enough and got enough sleep) are great and as I get older I'm more of a morning person anyway... my main challenge there is coordinating with my partner since our sleep schedules obviously are intertwined.

I did the same thing in 2013 when I worked at Google. I just shifted my working hours from 6:15am to 4pm and I had some quiet time, then the normal shared office environment.

I did the same thing at SAIC when I had a private office. Then my motivation was to have an hour or two for uninterrupted coding.

Except for 2013 I have worked remotely from home, which can be very good, but I do miss out on face time.

My question isn't necessarily specific to Google, but is it frowned upon if you bring noise-cancelling headphones?

I am a weirdly fluctuating person and some days I work best in total seclusion. Others I need to sit in the middle of a cafe and have the noise and people around me.

So my goal is to be as adaptive as possible without harming the day-to-day work life.

"but is it frowned upon if you bring noise-cancelling headphones"

Yes, at (former, thankfully) employer its the border between actionable offense (being written up) and merely being viciously trashed at review time. Management made the explicit decision to enforce collaboration (a 'la the whippings will continue until morale improves) and your actions are direct and intentional insubordination of that explicit formal requirement.

One person will get yelled at in front of everyone else (because its open office, duh) and nobody will dare to wear headphones again.

Its hard to find a more open and shut case description of intentional willful trivially documentable insubordination.

Noise cancelling doesn't work with speech that well. It's way better for steady background noise such as on a small plane if you're the pilot or on a large plane if you're a passenger.

I've tried one of those in the store once, they only work for constant background noise - fan hums, that kinda thing. For conversations they're ineffective, and regular in-ear things work better.

When we got moved into an open floorplan office, all engineers were issued Bose noise cancelling headphones. They're not perfect (you can still hear close conversations) but they're at least officially approved.

On the contrary, using noise-cancelling headphones is extremely common.

Having spent almost equal amount of time in open office and private office, my own anecdote is that productivity wasn't dramatically better with private offices. In open offices, I just used to put head phones on, listen to non-vocal music and be super focused for many hours. In fact that was much better than private office because others would see you wearing headphone and they don't want to bother you. In private office, anyone is welcome to distract me anytime and I have to entertain that because person walked all the way to my office no matter how focused I was on something.

Another thing is that teams with private offices suffer greatly in communication and more importantly in energy and passion. Teams in open office often go to lunch together, have more personal exchanges and have far more socialization. When people see their teams working hard around them, they have little excuse not to follow the suit. In private offices, I often see people catching up on news websites and FB and in fact I even knew a guy who freely admitted that he spent entire days on YouTube. These were smart people and it's not that they were slacking off but most people are actually fairly weak against distractions generated from their own computer. Those distractions in private offices far out number distractions by people in open office.

A 3 person team packed in to a private office is likely the best of both worlds. In private offices, you mostly rely on bumping in to someone in the lobby for serendipitous discussions. Unless your work is isolated and you don't need to talk to anyone, open office is usually better option generally speaking. However I agree that people working in open office have to establish proper norms such as don't talk loud, put phones on vibrate, for long talks go outside, don't disturb a person wearing headphone etc. In most places, I see these norms are generally established.

   > When people see their teams working hard around them, they 
   > have little excuse not to follow the suit. 
   > In private offices... ...most people are actually fairly 
   > weak against distractions generated from their own computer
I think this is true. When left totally to my own with medium-term or long-term deadlines it's hard to resist the pull of distractions on the web.

But that is also fairly easily mitigated with methodologies like Scrum where you are frequently touching base with other team members. During the daily standup meetings you publicly commit to what you're going to do in the next day, and inform the team of what you did during the previous day (along with any roadblocks you hit, if any).

I don't find myself tempted to YouTube the day away when I know I've told the team I'm going to to X, Y, and Z today and that I'm going to have to stand up in front of them again tomorrow and let them know my progress (or lack thereof!)

  > In private offices, you mostly rely on bumping in to someone 
  > in the lobby for serendipitous discussions. 
Collaboration is crucial! If private offices are so private that collaboration is discouraged, then that's a problem that needs to be solved somehow.

  > A 3 person team packed in to a private office is likely the best 
  > of both worlds.
I think I find this to be the worst of all worlds, hahaha. A conversation can be easier to ignore in a wide-open space (where it's part of the overall din) but there's no such aural camouflage in a 3-person office: it's just you, your work, and a noisy-ass conversation in close proximity.

It's difficult for people to recognize that open offices exist for a reason, but they absolutely do. They are a systemic solution to communication, collaboration, and motivation problems. All three need different systemic solutions in a private office context, but those solutions would be more forced and less natural.

The open floor plan is also a huge cultural boon for that reason. The types of systems that enable communication, collaboration, and mutual motivation in a closed office are the ones that feel "old" and unnatural and corporate. Despite productivity decreases in day to day heads down work, open office collaboration feels very natural and genuine, and that has greater effects.

Plus, it turns out, most of the work in a company larger than a few dozen people is in that communication and collaboration space; not sitting at a desk typing.

How is the simplest cheapest emptiest thing a systematic solution to anything. It's starting to design a workspace, drawing the interior/exterior border, then getting an interruption and coming back an hour later and thinking you are done.

It would be excellent parody of the the hula hoop circle "you know, for kids" gag from that old movie.

Often the simplest, cheapest, emptiest things make pretty good systems. They reduce waste, and have certain advantages.

Your joke is funny, but I promise you that's not the reason for open floor plans.

The key is that even an open plan is a system—it's just a less constrained system, with fewer rules. You still have to view it as a system and study the effects and interactions involved.

  [open offices] are a systemic solution to communication, collaboration, 
  and motivation problems. All three need different systemic solutions 
  in a private office context, but those solutions would be more forced 
  and less natural.
I don't understand how those three things require "systemic solutions" in an office environment. When I need to collaborate with a coworker I just travel ten feet to their office or click their name in HipChat.

Those are systemic solutions.

The question is if the tradeoff in the reduction/change of collaboration is worth the increased productivity from the better layout. That's not an obvious question to answer, in fact—that's what I'm saying. You need to prove which system is actually superior, with data.

A 3-person team in a small office works well for me. The other two people are working on the same project, and since they're also developers they are quiet -- if a phone rings they step outside with it. The room is quiet, so people that walk in tend to be quiet as well.

Having been scrum master myself at different times, you would be surprised how many times people outright lie "What did you do yesterday" part. They are not necessarily evil or lazy or stupid. It's becoming just super hard for people to be disciplined and stay away from distractions from so many things. Comparatively, distractions by people around in open offices is nothing.

But that is also fairly easily mitigated with methodologies like Scrum where you are frequently touching base with other team members.

Seriously, FUCK THAT SCRUM SHIT. A daily status meeting isn't that bad, but "you can only work on it if it's in the backlog" and "sprints" and backlog grooming meetings and this brand of aggressive micromanagement that has revived itself in the name of "Agile"... all of that nonsense needs to die in a taint fire.

We do a pretty relaxed version of it; it's fun. It doesn't feel like micromanagement to me.

If I need to do something that doesn't have a task in the backlog, I just add one and then click "start" in Sprintly. No big deal. It's basically a shared to-do list, and I'm a to-do list kind of guy.

I like the daily stand up meetings. Specifically the emphasis on the fact that it shouldn't be more than 15 minutes in length.

You have my sympathies though. I can certainly see how some companies would implement Scrum in a way that is really anal-retentive and gets in the way.

There is no manager in a scrum. There are only the developers and a product owner to communicate customer priorities.

Maybe that's how it works if you are doing it "right". But nobody ever seems to do Agile "right". If Agile is so hard to do right, and breaks down so badly when it's done wrong in a small way (like letting your manager in the scrum), then isn't that in itself a problem with Agile?

I don't see a problem in a manager participating. But what would the manager do if backlog is handled by the PO and work load by the dev team? I think any process would break down if a manager decides to fly solo and push extra work outside the framework, for example.

I did "Agile" for 1.5yrs and it was the least agile team I've been on so far. We never had a product owner (we were all expected to understand the user's needs enough to serve as "product owners"). We had devs and a manager, and a "scrum master"/team lead, who was one of the devs and reported directly to the manager. Our scrums were 30m+ long because the manager wanted to know every little detail, and there would be a lot of back-and-forth, most of which would be irrelevant to any given team member. Complexity poker involved guessing what number the manager wanted you to pick, and sprint reviews were two-day experiences in self-flagellation.

Not that all of this would have magically gone away if we weren't an "Agile" team but it did contribute to the problem. "Proper" Agile just doesn't fit well with the way most companies want to run their teams. So managers take Agile and make their own personal tweaks to it. Since their brand of Agile has 80% the same rules to what they read in the book, they expect to get 80-100% of the benefits of Agile. Any questioning of the actual results of this system is heresy, since Agile is a well-established management method used by many successful companies.

If that manager had picked up a management system that worked within the company's framework without making so many changes, or if there wasn't so much Agile-worship in the industry that an "Agile" setup was politically unquestionable, the situation would have been a lot easier to fix. As it is, it wasn't until our team completely collapsed that the company reassigned half of that manager's responsibilities to a new department, and the manager decided to retweak their personal brand of "Agile". Even that is probably too little too late; more and more projects are being moved from that dep't into others, to the point where I'm wondering what the devs there will actually have left to do.

So yeah. I'm very skeptical of anything calling itself "Agile", because it's such a nightmare when done wrong, and I'd bet dollars to donuts there are more places doing it wrong than right.

I actually believe that Scrum is a way to avoid micromanagement. There's no way of getting around the fact that the people who pay you want to see steady progress toward the thing they're paying you to do. One 15-minute meeting each morning to assuage that concern is a reasonable solution to me.

You're talking about standup, not Scrum. It's a common conflation to call a status meeting a "Scrum meeting".

Status reporting, if the overhead is around 3% (e.g. 15 minutes per day, or a one-hour weekly meeting) isn't so bad. I think it's actually good if it defuses the suspicions ("what does he do?") that, unchecked, can devolve into political behavior.

Scrum involves a lot more, like user stories and an explicit disallowance of working on things not in the backlog. By the book, you have to leave written records of what you did in insulting detail. It's horrible stuff. But I agree: 15 minutes per day for an all-team status meeting isn't that bad, and can be better than the alternative if that alternative is a culture of suspicion and resentment.

I seriously need a 'die in a taint fire'-button. So many uses!

What would you prefer?

What would you prefer?

A culture of trust where engineers are treated as professionals and adults, not as children who have to justify weeks and days of their own working time. Open allocation as far as is possible within the confines of the needs of the business.

What? Of course private office is better. In an open office, I always have to worry about if my fart is too loud for the person next to me to hear. It's like every time I have to pass gas, it interrupts my train of thought so I get to let out a silent one. Or even better, some times I have headphones on, and totally forgot that I'm in an open office.

In a private office, I wouldn't have to worry about this.

We live in an era of sharing...so let's share those farts. (this was probably my worse HN comment ever :X)

I prefer open offices because I have no problem taking ownership and accountability with what I do. This especially includes farts.

You made an excellent argument for private offices. There, we don't have to share farts.

Unless ya walk in on one. The reason farts are loud is because the noise is an early warning device.

>> Another thing is that teams with private offices suffer greatly in communication and more importantly in energy and passion.

I really wish people would stop repeating this. It's complete hogwash. It doesn't even stand up to the most basic of scrutiny. If it were true, how the hell did we ever get work done before the open office plan?

Suddenly transporting a failing team of globally located people into the same room together isn't going to magically make them into an effective team. People don't fail to communicate because they aren't sitting next to each other. People fail at communicating because they are terrible communicators. PROTIP: if they actually write "excellent communicator" on their resume, then they are not.

Similarly, suddenly scattering a succeeding team across the planet isn't going to make them fail. People who are good at communicating figure out how to communicate even under the worst conditions. Most of the developers on all of the big FOSS projects have never even heard each other's voices!

But no, let's treat people like cattle and make them hotbunk on workstations. If you have room to put up your own photos of your family at your desk, clearly you're wasting company resources and your desk could be smaller. You exist only at the pleasure of the company.

Office-chair jockeys of the world, UNITE!

The problem in open offices is that I DON'T see people around me working hard. Instead they are talking about dogs, what kind of candy they prefer and how their friend found someone from Tinder. It's super hard not to listen, even with headphones on. The only thing that almost works are these noise-cancelling headphones, but you still need to blast some pretty loud music. I'd rather sit in a room coding :(

In open offices, I just used to put head phones on, listen to non-vocal music and be super focused for many hours.

Being visible from behind puts stress on you. You may not be aware of it, but it will catch up with you before you're 35. Headphones don't help for that. It's not just the noise that makes open-plan offices so terrible. Booth-style open-plan offices would be a step up, but nearly as expensive as private offices and since this open-plan thing is really about cheapness (and back-door age discrimination, in some cases) that does not sell it.

Teams in open office often go to lunch together, have more personal exchanges and have far more socialization

This has more to do with the people than the office layout. There are open-plan offices with eat-at-desk culture and there are private-office layouts where people eat lunch together and play board games after work. Private offices don't mean that there aren't open spaces when people want them.

In private offices, I often see people catching up on news websites and FB and in fact I even knew a guy who freely admitted that he spent entire days on YouTube.

I spend more time goofing off in open-plan offices, because I have to hide the goofing off. Here's how it works for me. I have a certain amount of goofing off that I need to do per day, just because I'm a curious person (it's not actual "goofing off", it's just not immediately work-related). In a private-office layout, it might be 10 minutes every 2 hours spent checking the news, on HN or Reddit, reading a poetry book on the internets, whatever. In an open-plan layout, it takes 20 minutes to get that 10 minutes of goofing off in, because even though I don't actually need to hide it (I'm senior enough that I could pull the "so fucking what" card, and no one cares anyway because everyone goofs off a little bit) I still feel that social pressure.

I once was working for a UK govt department as a contractor and was between tasks with nothing to do. The management thought it was easier to keep me on than to hire again when the work increased, so I was there with nothing to do. My manager and everyone around me knew I had nothing to do, but I still found it quite stressful doing things like reading Slashdot while at work (it was a long time ago). In the end I started my own project using the work development tools so it looked like I was working as normal, but after a while that was also too much so I found another contract.

I do agree about extra stress in open plan workspaces. I'm the kind of person that can't block out people around me like I notice some other people do, so everyone that walks past my desk I feel the need to glance up at them. In coffee shops I prefer the seating with my back to the wall. Music can be used to block out some of that distraction, but not all of it.

This. I feel like we are being drowned in this open-office dick plans and without complaint, this is the way our future offices will be.

Who the fuck thinks that a stock exchange like environment is good for productivity? May be some people like it, most of us(engineers) don't. Why?, do you ask. I will tell you.

Lot of engineering(programming) work is built on trying to get a focus on the problem. How do I do that? Not by asking around, pulling shirts and generally being a nuisance. Now there are people like this, who would like nothing more than a open office plan, because the answer is only a shirt-pull away. We achieve focus on the problem by concentrating hard, building delicate structures in the mind, controlling certain variables, testing theories all in mind. When somebody pokes at me or laughs hard, this structure comes tumbling down. We can reconstruct it only with some effort and patience, but it is irritating. This irritation builds up over time, becomes chronic stress and makes you an unsavory person.

For managers - Is it not enough for you that you box us in little time slots under the pretense of agile? You have to go all the way and give us a chicken coop to do our work?

I have worked in both a private office and an open floor plan. I do really enjoy working around other people in an open office, and it makes impromptu planning more accessible, which I believe aids productivity for self organizing teams.

The downside is, as you mentioned, that it can be really difficult to get focused work done. This is especially true if there are other teams sharing the same open space (project managers, designers, etc, etc). The thing that really made it better for me was to get a pair of noise canceling headphones and listen to the right music while I coded. That pretty effectively blocked out almost all of the external noise, or at least brought it down to a level where it wouldn't break into my head space and kill my concentration.

There is still the problem of people feeling more free to interrupt you for every little thing if you are in an open office layout. The only way I've found to mitigate that has been to just try to inform people (in a nice way) how I work and what it does to my productivity when someone breaks in on me during the middle of something. I also try to have a couple of blocks of regular non-coding time during which I keep my headphones off, usually right after team meetings. That way everyone knows that when there is a good time to come talk to me.

At the end of the day I do like the way collaboration works in an open office, but it does require some extra effort to stay productive when your job requires a lot of very directed concentration.

I know of people who wear headphones at work not playing any music, just as a signal to other people not to disturb them.

I've done this for years, even working on homework in my college cafeteria or other public space. It's actually an interesting social phenomenon: if I'm sitting at a table surrounded by textbooks, notes, and my laptop, people have absolutely no problem coming up and starting a conversation; if I'm sitting at an empty table with nothing but a plate of food in front of me, but with headphones in, not a soul will disturb me.

I've done this for years and it's kind of shocking how many people feel free to ignore the "hey, trying to work here" signal sent by headphones.

But I also have to admit that I've typically worked at companies where I was part of a smaller technology team in a larger company. As opposed to working at tech-oriented companies where the majority of my coworkers were fellow engineers who would (theoretically) be a little more understanding.

I actually got so used to the feeling of headphones on my head, that I wear them when I'm alone at home and not listening to anything.

I hear you. I work at Facebook, albeit in Seattle. Honestly, I'd prefer private offices too. I prefer complete silence for coding. (Okay, occasionally jazz, classical, or video game music.) I don't get that with our open plan office. BUT! 1) I can work from home as often as I want 2) we get free, very high quality headphones, and 3) there are quiet spaces I can use when necessary. Coming from Microsoft, I miss private offices more than I actually do. The way I look at it, I do my real coding at home, on an Amtrak sleeper car, or whatever, and come into the office to socialize about coding, a completely different activity.

That seems like a good blend of collaborative and solo time. I once had a job where I worked from home two days a week and it worked quite well.

Socializing about coding is actually my favorite part of my current job. At my previous position I was the only full-time engineer. One reason I took my current job was the chance to work with a team of talented people, most of whom are more experienced (with this technology stack) than me.

One reason I rent a two bedroom apartment is so that I can have an office at home.

A two bedroom in Nebraska runs you $500 per month. Timezone is off by 2 hours. Internet is 30 down 5 up for $60 per month.

There is a reason why companies like http://www.hudl.com/ are killing it here. You can fight for years, or have a ranch with basement when you're a 26-year-old developer.

And then you finish up your work day only to find yourself stuck in Nebraska, with nothing but cornfields for hundreds of miles in every direction... so that'd better be one hell of an awesome ranch house.

If you wanted to, sure! A lot of people dig the peace and quiet, lakes they have a boat for, etc. Most young tech people I know though gravitate toward the cities, though. http://www.npr.org/blogs/alltechconsidered/2015/03/12/392136...

Having some sort of dedicated home office space is soooooo key. Otherwise there's almost no boundary at all between work life and home life. It becomes hard to mentally get into "work mode" when the work day starts and it's hard to fully out of "work mode" when the work day is over.

Over the years I've found that the vast majority of work-from-homers share this opinion. Almost unanimously.

You are seriously underestimating hoe awesome it is to code in bed under blankets on a cold winter day with a cup of hot chocolate beside you.

That would kill my back! But heck yeah to everything else, and add some pets curled up at my feet.

I got so much extra work done this winter when it snowed and I worked from home.

I mounted an LCD above my bed so I can lay flat - no back pains. With a wireless mouse & keyboard on the lap I can touch type on.

...razor straight elbows aren't good either though, which eventually puts a crimp in that pose. Good for short runs of coding though!

I rent a one-bedroom on my own, but it has a huge lounge with a desk, power points and cable connection on one side. Works brilliantly for me, though my iMac I have living on the desk is getting so long in the tooth I barely use it anymore. Bit of a shame really, I like having a dedicated desktop. I think I need to get a Mac Pro...

I hope Facebook is paying for your at-home office, then.

As do I, but since I have a laptop I seem to do most of my work at the kitchen table.

Sounds like Facebook is actually having people use their homes as their offices (claim that tax deduction!) and having an open office for meetings. But they are afraid to admit that individual work happens at home.


I was translating on the first tour of your office to some japanese exchange students, and if I recall correctly, you guys had different rooms that implied different levels of 'don't interrupt' vs 'really don't interrupt me', right?

I'm in strong agreement with JohnBooty's comment. That said, we might bear in mind that not all open offices are created equal, and perhaps a better way of thinking about this is not just a binary "do I get my own office" but also in terms of square feet per employee.

6 people sharing 800 square feet is pretty nice, and you can actually have semi-private phone conversations in a space like that just due to the distance between you and your coworkers (especially if the space is broken up by half-walls, plants, etc).

100 people sharing 5,000 square feet, on the other hand, might work great for a trading floor but absolutely sucks if you're trying to write code or a thoughtful email to a customer.

In any case, the thing that bothered me most about open offices wasn't the noise so much as the lingering feeling that other people were looking over my shoulder. I was often reluctant to voice this concern because (at least in my mind) the implication was that I had something to hide, but I know that others I worked with felt the same way.

Over the years I've found that many people share that feeling. Even in a private or semiprivate office, I don't like people standing behind me. Like you, I always felt kind of silly admitting it.

Conflating "team room" with "open office" is how we got into this "open office" mess in the first place. Quatity has a quality all its own.

I've worked in an exclusively open format office and it can be hard at times. Ideally you can find 2-3 spots to work: your desk near your team, a reliably (tho perhaps non-reservable) quiet spot for focusing, and an (perhaps unreliable) quiet spot for super privacy (e.g. a conference room ). The most damaging part of the open format (for me) is that extroverted ops folk would fight fires all day and make tons of noise. It can be helpful to be part of that if you're also fighting fires, but not if you're coding intensely. The open format can also be really helpful for quick communication during a launch.

Nevertheless, I found the open format significantly impaired the depth with which I could think through things. That's where the quiet spots helped out a lot. Unfortunately my company had ridiculous overcrowding issues (the fire marshal literally came after us) so quiet spots could be very hard to find (and you might even hurt yourself politically for taking them). It sounds like this office doesn't have a shortage of space, though.

Most of my more introverted colleagues were able to adapt (max within about a month).

  > I've worked in an exclusively open format office and it 
  > can be hard at times. Ideally you can find 2-3 spots to 
  > work: your desk near your team, a reliably (tho perhaps 
  > non-reservable) quiet spot for focusing, and an (perhaps 
  > unreliable) quiet spot for super privacy (e.g. a 
  > conference room )
Yeah this seems typical. And it seems so close to ideal, actually. That shared, collaborative space is very important. There just needs to be enough quiet space for every engineer to grab a "booth" or a "nook" whenever they need to focus and bear down.

The average mid-level engineer in the U.S. makes something like $80K/year; it's obviously proportionally higher in tech hubs like the valley.

It's just heartbreakingly, frustratingly comical to think of a highly-paid engineer losing hours and hours of work every week as they wander around looking for an actual spot in the office to, you know, work.

I like your 3-spot system, but JohnBooty is actually describing a 3-spot system too. He's just saying he wants to spend the majority of his time in the "quiet focus" spot rather than the "team collaboration" spot.

That's really the issue here: what should your default zone be?

I like your suggestion that the default location for your desk should be in the collaborative spot. Cornell studied this a few years back and made an interesting observation: We engineers tend to prioritize our personal productivity over team productivity. Left to our own devices, we prioritize offices for exactly the reasons JohnBooty states. Personal productivity is how we're most directly measured and rewarded. But if we do that, team collaboration plummets. It's a lot harder to pull ourselves out of our focus zones into collaboration mode than it is the other way.

So, I don't know if FB's new office has quiet spots (they should), but defaulting to collaborative seating acts as a good counterbalance to our innate biases.

Most of the quieter teams (e.g. the algorithms and data people) ended up with extra empty desks between them. This space enhanced privacy, encouraged quietness, and left room for interns when the summer came.

I actually would not necessarily recommend "defaulting" to the collaborative desk space. When I moved to a quiet space for a quarter, I was measurably more productive-- among other things I wrote almost twice as many ksloc.

If you want your engineers to excel, I think it's critical to have both strong collaborative and quiet places. During the first quarter or ramp-up, the collaborative space usually makes a good default. New grads will probably do well in shared space for the first 6-12 months. Beyond that, there needs to be quasi-offices (especially for ICs who have naturally introverted temperments). Personally I think it's helpful to put everybody through both arrangements because it encourages people to adapt and diversify in their communication modes and contributor roles.

My guess is that open seating at Facebook fits their core culture, and that open seating isn't necessarily a great fit for every team. If everybody puts on their noise-cancelling headphones and listens to a loop of crickets chirping (seriously this is what my colleagues did) then you need more space and/or need to rethink your layout.

I should have and could have been clearer: I'm actually okay with defaulting to collaborative space. Collaborating with other coders is valuable (and incidentally: fun!) for the reasons you said.

There are so many workplaces that don't even have the option of reliably obtaining distraction-free workspace, though, and that's insanely harmful.

  > So, I don't know if FB's new office has 
  > quiet spots (they should)
A lot of offices seem to have lounge-style quiet spots: nooks with comfortable chairs or some such. These are great for some things, not great for others. I've worked at a few companies where grabbing a quiet place to work meant parking yourself in an empty conference room and bracing yourself for the inevitable interruption of some other group of people walking in and using the conference room for its intended purpose.

  > It's a lot harder to pull ourselves out of our 
  > focus zones into collaboration mode than it is 
  > the other way.
Yes, absolutely yes. Engineers often go off the rails when left entirely to their own devices. Often, they're not even maximizing their personal productivity - they may "go dark", spend time building the wrong thing, or needlessly spin their wheels and waste time solving something that another engineer could have helped them with very quickly.

However, I also think those things are also fairly trivially solved by adopting a software development method that fosters collaboration. Scrum is popular for a reason and feels like it's almost always a good start. On top of that team leaders can also block out time for code reviews, show-and-tells, pair programming, etc.

>> "...what should your default zone be?"

My default zone should be a team office with a transparent door that shuts (preferably a big, heavy door, so people are subconsciously incentived to only bother opening it if they really need something).

The three-zone scheme sounds nice, but if you give me team offices and conference rooms of various sizes, I'm pretty sure we'll be unstoppable.

NB. I had this exact team-office+heavy clear door setup in my old office and it was awesome. When we moved to the new expensive space, it was just one loud big room, ugh.

"Move fast and break things", there's no time for deep thoughts and too much uncertainty for carefully planned architectures.

Pshh, so yesterday. It's "Move fast with stable infra" now. Even Zuckerberg had to grow up eventually.

So you hold meetings in your personal workspace, and you do your individual work in meeting rooms. Clever.

As a counterpoint, I recently moved from an open-plan office to a private office at Microsoft, and I definitely prefer the open plan. I feel more energized in an open plan, and I now make it a point to walk around the halls and drop in on people who are open to it (green status light on the door).

This is fascinating to hear. I'm curious: did the open-plan office have private spaces available for when you needed them?

  >  I now make it a point to walk around the halls and 
  > drop in on people who are open to it (green status 
  > light on the door).
That's funny and interesting that they have actual lights on their doors. When I ran my own consulting thing and worked from home a lot (often at odd hours) my partner and I joked about having a radio-style "ON AIR" light above the door so she'd know when I was working; sounds like Microsoft is actually doing something like that!

In offices with "normal" doors sans lights I usually just use the time-honored system: completely shut door means "please don't interrupt unless you're telling me the building is on fire," a completely open door means it's party time, and if my door is open just a crack that means I'm working but you can come in and talk if you need me.

Not everyone has them, they're called the "Blynclight." They just sit outside your door and light up with the same color as your status in Microsoft Lync (red = busy, yellow = away, green = available). If you're in a Lync meeting, or on the phone, or have set "do not disturb," your light will be red.

The problem with that is that getting interrupted with an instant message isn't usually as bad as getting interrupted in person: I always turn all the IM notifications down to a minimum and so the only change will be a new color on the icon which I tend to notice in a couple minutes.

Sounds like a win-win to me. You can drop in on people who welcome interruptions and others can get their work done.

And people can change the status according to their current needs without any hassle. Perfect.

See, now, I had heard that Microsoft was moving to open "team" sections? Was that just for the Visual Studio guys and such? I'm a huge fan of team zones where everyone in the same area works on the same immediate issues, and can also get some privacy and quite time etc.

Agreed. The most important thing about an office or workspace, for me, is that there are minimal interruptions. Quiet is best, maybe punctuated by music through my headphones or a bout of pair programming with a colleague.

I always think the best would be a bit of both. Having the option to go in a private room and do your work or work out in an open area with people where you can easily throw around ideas and what not.

But i've never had a problem in an open space. You don't wear headphones or a way to indicate to others to not disturb you? And surely you can see where some of the other things you talk about are good for you right? 'catered lunches, well ventilation/heat' etc. If you don't have to worry about those things that's less for you to worry about and you can focus on working! :)

I totally agree: most engineers need to engage in both modes of work (solo and collaborative) in the course of their work week.

The collaborative time is crucial: I've worked in places where there was no culture of collaboration; sometimes programmers working solo would "go dark," spend days going in the wrong direction, or spend inordinate amounts of time spinning their wheels because they were stuck on technical issues that other engineers could have helped them with very easily.

So: yay collaboration! I'm only opposed to work environments that don't even allow engineers to have uninterrupted solo time when they need it.

  > But i've never had a problem in an open space. 
  > You don't wear headphones or a way to indicate 
  > to others to not disturb you?
Of course. I have an expensive pair of active noise-canceling headphones that I love. It helps. :)

But there are two issues. One is that people often don't respect this - either by intentionally interrupting you, or accidentally interrupting you by having conversations next to your desk that manage to be distracting despite the best efforts of the engineers that made the headphones. We could say that these people are simply being inconsiderate and we'd be right - but I've been doing this for nearly twenty years and sadly this is kind of a universal thing.

The second issue is that open offices often involve a whole lot of visual distraction even if the noise is completely abated. A steady stream of coworkers having animated conversations mere feet away is pretty distracting even with no sound.

  > catered lunches, well ventilation/heat' etc. 
  > If you don't have to worry about those things 
  > that's less for you to worry about and you can 
  > focus on working!
Oh, those things are certainly nice! I am a fan of employee-supplied heating and cooling, especially... haha. But I see Silicon Valley companies who pay tens thousands of dollars per employee per year for catered food but don't give their engineers workplaces that encourage focus and concentration and I think: "Those priorities could really be improved..."

>>sometimes programmers working solo would "go dark," spend days going in the wrong direction, or spend inordinate amounts of time spinning their wheels because they were stuck on technical issues that other engineers could have helped them with very easily.

If this sort of things aren't getting caught in your daily stand up meetings then your tech leads/managers to whom your paying big money salaries are working as nothing more than glorified email routers.

In which case merely flattening all walls in your office and creating a fish market is hardly going to solve any issues.

Ya, for sure! You can't quite block all the sounds and all the hustle and bustle is annoying and catches your attention and you have to investigate what's going on.

I wish more places that had open offices also had places you could lock yourself in where you know you would not be disturbed. Doesn't seem to be the focus for some reason, but I picture a bunch of smallish rooms you could go in and work or maybe nap around the perimeter.

I think this depends on the culture of the place you work in.

I've worked in 4 small offices for companies ranging from 6-60 people, I need a quiet focused atmosphere to work in, and two of the offices provided that, despite being shared spaces.

In one of them, (6-8 people) we always had quietly playing ambient music. Not to everyone's tastes and some people used headphones, but it meant no one tried to talk over desks, and if people needed to speak it set the tone as one a bit like a library.

The office I'm in now (20 people) is much the same. We don't have any music, but through a strong example set by the founders and a culture of being able to ask people to be quiet politely and without repercussions, regardless of who it is, we have a very quiet working space and conduct most conversations over IM or in separate meeting rooms.

Based on my experience in the other offices, I can see why many people would be against open offices, but I believe they can be done well. Whether Facebook's are or not I do not know.

Have heard the exact same sentiment from numerous Bookfaces in the months leading up to this move.

I wonder: are any of them excited about the move? Is anybody actually like, "Hell yeah... open offices!"

Everyone at FB is already in open offices. It's just on the scale of a floor of a normal building, instead of a gigantic building.

My SO bought noise-cancelling in-ear headphones. She turns them on without music sometimes, just for the (relative) silence. Easier than changing jobs and she seems happy with it?

She enjoys the team vibe but also needs to block out people around her fairly often. The 'phones allow a lot more freedom to sit anywhere and still be able to work.

"Why don't you take a nice walk to clear your mind. Might I suggest our 9-acre roof which is a park?"

"I had a bunch of code to plow through, but unfortunately the conference rooms were full and it was raining so I couldn't code in the park"

It doesn't rain in California.

The thought of going for a walk and only seeing my coworkers sounds horrible and not very clearing.

You might try better co-workers? Seems odd you'll spend as much time as you will with your partner (and kids) as with co-workers and not develop a meaningful or similar relationships. Sounds horrible.

9 acres can distribute quite a few scattershot engineers.

There are thousands of employees there, right? Surely you wouldn't recognize any significant portion of them on a given random walk in the park.

What I see happen at these places too is that while in a hushed voice, people tend to gossip _a lot_ throughout the day. And the gossip has to be interspersed with citation, because a plain old chewing the fat without any authority is a waste of time, of course. And walk their dogs by...

But I guess it doesn't matter much when money is aplenty.

The other subtle thing is that you are being stripped of any privacy --we all get lumped together. Stripped naked of your individual humanity and sent into a human pen to do your work in a commune. It's great for some people, but one has to realize what is being taken away in the name of the unassailable communication and collaboration (and who in their right minds would want to go against that grain).

This is sophistry. I could say an office is a cage, and a pen is better than a cage.

But a cage protecting me from the other, rather than containing me.

Last year I designed an office for a small business with 20 employees. Having worked in several offices (with different layouts) made me very "bearish" on open-offices so I advised the business owner against it. While explaining all my arguments to him, he told me:

I completely agree with you but without an open layout how do I control my employees?


With an open layout I can put more people in less space.

This is what business people think. All the rest is poetry.

I would love to see this reposted non-anonymously, to cite to people.

Also, what does it mean to "design" an open office? There is no architecture.

Architecture is about organizing space. Then if needed we build some walls to achieve this goal. The architect still needs to define corridors, toilets, meeting areas, etc, etc. The only difference is that he doesn't need to project many walls.

Everybody's different, no solution will work for everyone. Personally, I work MUCH better in open spaces with some background noise, that's what puts me in the zone. If I had to work in a personal office/cubicle/whatever, I wouldn't be productive.

I think most individual engineers are more productive coders in a private room. And here, many of us retire often to a comfy chair or a quiet corner when we need uninterrupted focus.

But my team is far more productive across non-coding tasks by being adjacent to each other. And anybody who felt very strongly about not sitting with the team would, in my opinion, not fit in as well here.

My point is: the feeling would perhaps be mutual. And it's OK: every person is not made to work at every company.

I could never do my work in a vacuum: the time I spent collaborating with the rest of the team (and with other teams) is huge. I'm actually pretty extroverted.

One key factor in switching jobs last year was the chance to work with a team of talented coders, instead of simply being the sole software engineer at my old company.

What I (and others, I think) react strongly to is the concept of workplaces where there are no private workspaces (or not enough private workspaces) for those times when solo work is what's required.

Take care to distinguish "team room" from "open office".

> I would literally switch jobs (and perhaps careers, if every company was like this) if forced to work in an open office like this. I cannot work that way; I can't focus.

I agree completely. I don't have an open office space but I still have to keep my door open which leads to me overhearing people on the phone and the general work chatter anyway, so I end up with headphones. :P

It used to be considered common for people to have their own office or personal space (cubicle), but that's gone out the window.

Having to share an office with others is fine too imo - every team can determine their own levels of distraction and noise and whatnot. More than one team in one room is asking for trouble though.

You would, for the right salary.

I would, yeah.

To put a dollar value on it? Maybe 25%-50% more than I'd need to work at a similar company with working environment that encourages calm and focus. And I'd be perpetually ready to jump ship to another company with such an environment. I also wouldn't be nearly as productive as I could be otherwise.

Those three things all have dollar values attached - in the tens of thousands of dollars, each.

Or you might find out that you don't mind the open floor plans that much after all and that it's largely compensated for by the people you work with, the project you work on and noise cancelling headphones. And who knows... crazy thought: you might end up enjoying the constant buzz and energy going around you during the day, knowing that you can choose to participate in it or just isolating yourself completely from it whenever you choose.

Best of both worlds.

Keep your mind open, give yourself the opportunity to try it one day, you might be surprised. Besides, it's pretty much a requirement if you ever look for a job in the Silicon Valley.

I currently work in an office space in Japan that is shared with another company and, I have to say, I cannot stand all of the chatter. It has gotten to the point that I often wear earplugs just so that I can get something done.

Are there any pics of this giant open space? I'm inclined to agree with you, but I'd like to at least see it before passing judgement.

Clearly we just need cochlear implants so that we can turn off hearing went we need quiet. XD

Isn't the notion that private offices are better than open floor plans disproven by reality? Tech companies predominantly use open floor plans and these same companies are some of the most successful in the world. What companies would proponents of private offices point to as counterexamples?

Stack Exchange has private offices for their developers, and it seems to work well enough for them. They wrote an interesting blog post about the how and why: http://blog.stackoverflow.com/2015/01/why-we-still-believe-i...

There are a number of reasons to use open-plan offices, not all disreputable, as I explained here: https://michaelochurch.wordpress.com/2015/03/02/open-plan-of...

That said, a common reason for it is back-door age discrimination. Plenty of companies use open-plan offices without such an intent (they "look" busy, which pays off in marketing, and they're cheap) but the open-plan fetishism is all about "culture fit", meaning exclusion of the old, the female, the lower-than-upper-middle-class, and all disabilities except early stage alcoholism.

Tech companies are, in general, very badly managed. It doesn't prevent them from being successful because technology is so powerful that it compensates for inept management. I see this as a good thing in the long term (imagine what this industry could do if it wasn't run by idiots) but, culturally, it's bad because the worst attributes of "startup culture" are infecting the whole economy.

> There are a number of reasons to use open-plan offices, not all disreputable, as I explained here: https://michaelochurch.wordpress.com/2015/03/02/open-plan-of.... That said, a common reason for it is back-door age discrimination.

Wait, what? How do open office plans put women, older folks, and lower-income folks at a disadvantage?

Open-plan offices require you to trust strangers in a way that most people aren't comfortable with. Being visible to someone while working (i.e. doing an activity where your income depends as much on how you are perceived while doing it as on what you actually do) is a form of mandated trust of others.

It doesn't come naturally to people whose life experiences involve violations of trust, embarrassing illnesses, or physical danger. (With age, the percentage of people who have such experiences increases, and approaches 100%.) You have to still have that sense of immortality to be OK in an open-plan office.

Also, having children makes people less trusting of strangers, for obvious biological reasons. Having a helpless being that you must protect at all costs makes people less OK with the blind trust in strangers you're supposed to have if you want to fit in to the "I'm at one with everyone, man!" California culture.

Older people are also not able to take as much abuse of their fight-or-flight systems, and pregnancy has a similar effect on women.

Even if those correlations hold true and have the effect you're describing (I'm far from convinced that's the case, but it's moot), it strains credulity by a mile to claim that this is some byzantine plot for "backdoor age/sex/income-discrimination". That would mean that those making decisions about open offices are 1) thinking through the complex and frankly tenuous connections that you're describing, 2) finding them credible, and 3) deciding that the collateral damage to other employees' productivity and happiness is somehow worth the weak effect this would have on furthering discrimination. There are an infinite number of ways to backdoor-discriminate on those bases that are not very noticeable, far more effective,

Agreed, except for the catered food.

People always talk about the terrible NOISE in open office plans.

For me, I hate the feeling of BEING WATCHED. It's just unnerving. There's people all around me with low cube walls...

* I want to stare ahead as I focus - someone's looking at me.

* I have my big headphones on and am rocking to the music - someone's looking at me.

* I wanna put my head down on desk and think - someone's looking at me.

* I check gmail - someone's looking at me

* redit break - someone's looking at me

* I scrape off dry snot caused by the super-dry office air - someone's looking at me.

* I'm working - someone's looking at me

I just can't be in my own head when I'm so surrounded by people... always there... always right. behind. me.

I second this. For me it's not even about being watched. It's that unnerving feeling of presence of other people that often makes me unable to focus in open-space setting at work. I had that since forever - even as a kid I aways closed the door to my room. I'm usually the last person to leave the office and when I see a cow-orker of mine staying late I start to feel irritated (saying in my head "hey, this was supposed to be my time for focused work!").

Funny thing is - I'm not an antisocial person. I love people. Just not when I'm trying to focus on something. Then the very presence of others makes me nervous.

And yes, when I'm focused, I like to talk to myself out loud, lie down on a couch to think, rock to music and draw a lot (when designing something). All those things look silly and I'm uncomfortable doing any of it when not alone.

Being around people usually engages various parts of the brain that are involved in being aware of the local situation. Even if you're not interacting to someone, some amount of monitoring happens to maintain the brain's model of the local environment that we actually experience. This would include stuff like tracing the locations of people/stuff in the room, checks of stuff like body language or subtle social indicators, and probably a long list of other tiny checks that we never really notice consciously.

The problem is that some of the areas of the brain that do that processing are also used when handling other complex tasks such as programming. This overloading of processing areas will vary from person to person, of course.

This problem is the main reason I could never work in an open office, and have serious productivity problems even ion an office shared with only one other person. It's not that they are interrupting constantly or otherwise distracting in the commonly-used sense. If there are people around, I have to be aware of them, which wastes mental CPU time and introduces cache-flushing context switches at annoying times.

Now that you mention it, I wonder if this open-office culture - conditioning employees to accept little privacy in the workplace - was the reason the reprehensible "surveillance as a business model" became popular at so many tech companies.

Bingo! The whole thing is a plot for shoving people together, saving money and letting employees watch each other, and of course to please the management they love seeing a floor full of people click click click typing on their keyboards.

It just get wrapped in a bunch of politically correct fluff about "something something collaboration" ... "something something support and community" to make it difficult for people to oppose it.

God forbid you raise an objection and suddenly you are worse than Hitler and hate people and need therapy.

I have similar problems with anxiety and have come to partial terms with them this way: when I'm at work, I'm performing. If part of that performance is dancing around in my chair or putting my head down on the desk or reading irrelevant websites from time to time, so be it. This is my own self-expression. And anyone who gives a shit about it who isn't my boss can get fucked.

For me, I hate the feeling of BEING WATCHED. It's just unnerving.

Agree. It's practically abusive. Even if you're a great worker, pillar of the community, whatever, the fact remains that a surveillance state is an anxiety state.

The problem is that this industry is now fueled by the eagerness of clueless 22-year-olds who've never had a serious health problem or personal matter that interferes with work, who still think they're immortal, and buy into that "if you have nothing to hide" fallacy. Fuck that shit.

a single room that fits thousands of people.

What a nightmare.

These "glass palace" offices may work for bankers or marketing teams. For programmers you could just as well plant their desks into the middle of a mall.

The offensive part is the people who say that open offices are MORE EFFICIENT than a traditional office. I have a hard time believing that one.

Given how high programmer salaries are, the productivity loss due to open offices is almost definitely more than the office space savings.

It seems like an introvert/extrovert thing. The introverts would prefer a quiet working space (and they're usually the best workers), but extroverts want the easy communication (and they're usually the bosses).

Even small team rooms of 4-10 people get annoying when the other person has a smelly meal, has a cold, prefers a different temperature, or listens to music on his headphones so loudly I can hear it.

One of my favorite jokes is when a job ad says "We provide headphones so you can concentrate!" as a serious job perk. How about a quiet space?

"The introverts would prefer a quiet working space (and they're usually the best workers)"

Uh what? I'm an extreme introvert but don't see any reason to believe introverts are usually the best workers. I am not even that convinced that introverts would prefer a quiet working space any more than extroverts do. After all, just because someone is extroverted doesn't mean they have an easier time concentrating in a noisy environment.

Extrovert here, former introvert (yeah, it's not fixed). I appreciate the defense against what is at the very least a statement of extreme arrogance by the GP.

I love a quiet workspace, and I also enjoy an open office plan. There's a need for the advantages of both environments—the ease of collaboration and the focused heads-down time—which is why this is such a difficult discussion to have.

>Extrovert here, former introvert (yeah, it's not fixed).

Off topic, but how did you "convert"? Was it a conscious effort or did it just seem to happen? I ask mostly because I had a period of a few years where I felt like I leaned closer to extroversion, but now I'm pretty firmly an introvert, and I'd like to be able to push it back to the other side, but can't quite figure out how exactly to do that.

As far as office plans go, as an introvert I really don't mind working in loud, distracting environments. I've gotten blocking out the outside world down to a science, and I'm pretty hard to distract unless someone is specifically talking to me, but I've found that an office with a door doesn't really stop that anyways. My ideal office is probably some variation of what I have at my current job, half-cubicles (4 pushed together) with 1-5 other people nearby. It's isolated enough, but still lets us collaborate and see other people enough to keep the madness at bay.

Probably someone just throwing the words introvert and extrovert around.

Unlike all those other people who are using it with the real science backing!

Yep! Gotta watch those darn words I learned to juggle for comedic effect. Definitely haven't taken the MBTI assessment multiple times in my life or anything. Or read Jung's books on personality that underpinned them. Nope, just heard those words used once in this article I read and people keep saying I done used them good so I keep doing it.

MBTI and Jung(!) aren't crowning achievements in science.

Then why the heck are we talking about introversion and extroversion with a straight face?

Seriously, they're antiquated descriptors. I was only pointing out how ridiculous it is to assume someone's lack of knowledge of terms.

They only persist because they provide a considerable amount of validation to behaviors of self-described introverts who desire permission for their personality. Most humans don't fall into either category absolutely.

I did several things, I think. And it does fluctuate.

- College in an extremely social club environment (marching band) - Moved across the country to a new place, forced me to meet new people, change social skill set - Moved from small companies to fast growing larger company, with mostly introverted people around me, I tended to fill out the gaps - Role more focused on personal interactions - New romantic relationship that allows for individualism, fulfillment, so I seek social interaction outside it (previous relationships were less balanced) - Exercise, diet make me feel more positive and social in general

In short, my life has significantly changed since I considered myself an introvert. Most of it I attribute to just growing up and developing as a person. I could also see myself shifting back, depending on my situation. No biggie, both are good, and certainly I still have many introverted qualities.

If I'm not mistaken, you define introvert/extrovert by personal preference. e.g. when you need to recharge your batteries, would you rather be hanging out with 20 people, or alone on a walk?

What you described was your path to developing social skills, which is great.

I am an extremely social person. Many different groups of friends, very social at work, love going out and am always up for just about anything. I know I am an introvert because I need alone time in order to recharge.

Your definition is just as tenuous.

I define introversion by the MBTI definition: "I like getting my energy from dealing with the ideas, pictures, memories, and reactions that are inside my head, in my inner world. I often prefer doing things alone or with one or two people I feel comfortable with. I take time to reflect so that I have a clear idea of what I'll be doing when I decide to act. Ideas are almost solid things for me. Sometimes I like the idea of something better than the real thing."

Similarly, I define extroversion by the MBTI definition: "I like getting my energy from active involvement in events and having a lot of different activities. I'm excited when I'm around people and I like to energize other people. I like moving into action and making things happen. I generally feel at home in the world. I often understand a problem better when I can talk out loud about it and hear what others have to say."

I define my personality shift from introversion to extroversion as a shift from primarily the first definition to the second. The shift is not in full: Meyers and Briggs not only recognized the spectrum between the two and the conditionality of both personalities, they accounted for it in their assessment.

I still have periods of overstimulation by crowds that require alone time to "recharge." I also have periods of overstimulation of introverted self-care, in which I require crowds and groups to "recharge."

Overall, I find the black-and-white dichotomy to be insufficient to describe the experience. The gray area is better, but I still think the presence of the opposing words does a disservice to the people attempting to define themselves and others in terms of them.

Extroverts need distraction-free space too. Conversations surrounding you are perhaps even more distracting when you WANT to join in. :)

> The introverts ... usually the best workers,... extroverts... usually the bosses

That's an incredibly simplistic way to view an effective workforce.

I'd be willing to bet a large amount of money that fsk views himself as an introvert.

Not everything is an introvert/extrovert thing. Not even people.

Signed, a former mostly-introvert, now mostly-extrovert, who remains an able and efficient member of my team, thank-you-very-much.

Now, down to business, my office actually does have a 'quiet space' of substantial square footage, filled with bean bags, comfy chairs, and lots of nooks and crannies. It's highly effective to go work there when needed.

The rest of the office remains an open floor plan. I find it useful to split my time between both places, one bearing all the advantages of human interaction (it's not so bad), the other providing concentration when required.

This situation is remarkably balanced.

As one of the comments on the Facebook page points out, DeMarco's Peopleware (1987) book has actual research documenting the problems with open office plans.

I love how $100 billion companies with a hair (~11%) shy pf a billion - a billion users, active, d-a-i-l-y and run by 9,199 employees (for a company value of $1 million per empoyee down to every last employee including someone taking out the trash, and likewise meaning each and every last employee has whole army divisions, a hundred thousand users, they account for --) - suddenly doesn't know as much - to an OFFENSIVE extent - about productivity as someone who has time to post 5 paragraphs about it. There is someonething offensive here indeed.

* 3-4 month old figures: http://newsroom.fb.com/company-info/

Congratulations, you just attributed luck to skill and established that when you had luck you somehow have any idea what you are doing. Nokia was very big once. Was.

You haven't established the link between wealth and an understanding of productivity so much as asserted that wealth is a proxy for knowledge/intelligence.

Facebook wasn't invented in an open office.

> the productivity loss due to open offices is almost definitely more than the office space savings.

Individual productivity isn't the aim. I've seen research that suggests the most predictive factor in the success of a team is how much they communicate. Yes, you might lose out on lines of code productivity, but you might also find that you're writing much more of the right lines of code and your colleagues are too.

100x 0 lines = 0 right lines

Just have some respect for yourself - do not accept job offer if you don't get an office (unless it is a very early stage startup)

The problem is that cuts out 99%+ of all employers.

When was the last time you interviewed someplace that gave all programmers their own office?

Plenty of places give programmers their own office. The trick is finding one that gives each programmer a separate office.

I'd be fine with this, actually. As long as there was someplace quiet and private to go when needed. I wouldn't mind if these spaces were just booths you could grab when needed. As long as there were enough to go around.

How do I use a high-powered desktop with triple heads if I have to grab a booth on demand?

I need focus and fast compile times, not a damn booth.

At my workplace pretty much everything is on the network. All the important stuff and a lot of the personal, non-important stuff sits on a file server somewhere. It wouldn't be a huge jump for us to put everything on the network and make the machines dumb terminals. If you did that, you could just put high-powered desktops in each of the booths.

I'm a fan of huge/multiple monitors too. There could easily be monitors in the "booths," that part's easy. As for desktop-level compute horsepower, hmmmm....

That office could be in the programmer's own home.

Any 100% wfh job interview

1 programmer per office is pretty sparse. We have 3-4 here where I work, and it seems to be a nice equilibrium between privacy and ease of collaboration.

Only if you're looking for a job as a CEO

At Oracle I got my own office as an intern

Yeah, but then you were at Oracle.

> The offensive part is the people who say that open offices are MORE EFFICIENT than a traditional office.

To be fair, I don't think everyone that uses the term "open office" is thinking "auditorium with 1000+ people." Attempting to extrapolate anything conclusions taken from open office environments of 4-10 people out to 1000+ people seems insane.

I work in an open office space that usually has around 6 people but never more than 10 and I like it a lot.

1000 sounds like a nightmare.

4-10 is team room, please don't confuse the conversation by calling it an open office. Don't be overly literal in mincing, let words have useful meaning.

Even if this is the case, I don't think anyone has ever stated that an auditorium of 1000+ people is an "open office" either.

This is like every tired introvert/extrovert stereotype all combined into one post.

No one person is fully introverted/extroverted. Everyone appreciates alone/quiet time to an extent and appreciates other people's company to an extent. It's way more of a spectrum than it is a black and white status.

I love meeting new people and going to social events, but I also have no problem spending time alone working on projects. What am I? A worker or a boss?

It is more efficient because you can tell when people are at their desk or not, which adds accountability, maybe?

Another kind of efficiency is the pure real-estate economics angle. Open office plans typically allocate fewer sq ft per employee, are cheaper to maintain, and are more easily reconfigurable as divisions/headcount changes.

This is probably less of a factor for Facebook, who built a bespoke office building and have a ton of cash, but it's definitely driving things elsewhere in the real-estate market. If you read what's being written in the architecture / office-consulting business, there is much touting of the cost/flexibility advantages of open-plan offices compared to "legacy" floorplans. Even boring old companies like ExxonMobil are moving towards open-plan offices in new construction mostly for this reason. And office buildings built speculatively by investors in the past 20 years almost never have actual structural offices like older buildings do, because that's seen as producing a rental inventory that's less flexible. Companies leasing space just get a big open floor space, and then have a choice between setting it up in open-plan or cube-farm style.

Sure, now you know when people are at their desks, which is irrelevant. You want to know when people work and that doesn't follow from "is at the desk".

>Given how high programmer salaries are

This myth persists huh.

Ever seen what normal people make? It's a pittance in comparison.

That depends on who is your measure for normal in comparison to programmers: Lawyers? Doctors? Waiters? Cleaners? After that is decided we can check whether you or the GP post is more correct.

Perhaps just look for the median employed person's income as a rough yardstick?

And what area you live in, too.

According to us news best jobs, in San Francisco, the median salary for a dental hygienist is $112,970. For a software developer, it is $114,400, and for a registered nurse, it is $126,670. Numbers are pulled from BLS data (check their methods page).


Doctors and Lawyers, of course, earn far more.

This nightmare is so common that I'm worried people will never move away from it. The whole 'Agile everything' mentality has totally stuffed normal productivity where I work, and the entire programming and innovation floor is open plan with no set desks, meaning I have to pack up everything at the end of the day and put it all back at the start of the next. Give me a quiet office where I can leave my notes and stuff and let me work...

This room looks huge but the facebook one must be several times the size..


That looks horrifying. What are the benefits of such a layout?

I am a quant in a bank and I work in similar massive open spaces. Being in such noisy places has actually helped me find my focus zone! No matter how noisy it gets, I seem to be able to find a calm place within my head

It's really cheap to build and run.

Facebook's new office is much bigger than that. However the space is broken up by meeting rooms, walls, stairwells, etc. From what I've seen the noise and distractions are probably better than many other open plan office I've worked in.

That one has some great natural lighting though.

I dislike open offices but when it's this big it actually can work because all the noise just becomes white. In a small open office, you pretty much have to be silent but in a big one, you can speak freely. We (PayPal) had a big open office like this in Omaha and it actually kind of works better than some might think.

My boss asked me for input when scouting for a new office a while back. I asked for private offices, because for programmers working in an open space is like writing a math exam at a busy lunch restaurant. She said she understood. And then she signed us all up for an open space office anyway.

My thought when I read that line was "sounds like hell". Also, I bet Zuck has an office to call his own.

Actually, last time I visited Facebook HQ, Zuck's desk was in the open space just like everybody else. I was quite surprised.

I don't know about Mark Zuckerberg, In general these show and tell offices are generally a sham. Even if they have a desk in the open work space I'm pretty darn sure its there just as a small time gossip catch up area with other colleagues.

Their actual office work, meetings, decision making and nearly everything else will be happening from a 'meeting room'. So in essence they will have a private office in which they will spend most of their time in.

A great quote from Joel Spolsky:

> There’s a strong culture in Silicon Valley that requires you to jam a lot of programmers into a big open space, despite a preponderance of evidence that private offices are far more productive, something which I’ve covered repeatedly on this site. I’m not really getting through to people, I don’t think, because programmers kind of like being social, even if it means they are unproductive, so it’s an uphill battle.

I’ve even heard programmers say things like, “Yeah, we all work in cubicles, but everyone works in a cubicle—up to and including the CEO!”

“The CEO? Does the CEO really work in a cubicle?”

“Well, he has a cubicle, but actually now that you mention it there’s this one conference room that he goes to for all his important meetings…”

Mmmm hmmm. A fairly common Silicon Valley phenomenon is the CEO who makes a big show of working from a cubicle just like the hoi polloi, although somehow there’s this one conference room that he tends to make his own (“Only when there’s something private to be discussed,” he’ll claim, but half the time when you walk by that conference room there’s your CEO, all by himself, talking on the phone to his golf buddy, with his Cole Haans up on the conference table).

(From http://www.joelonsoftware.com/articles/FieldGuidetoDeveloper...)

I've worked in open plan offices my entire career. I actually don't even like having the same desk every day. If I really want some isolation I work from home. No big deal. I'd rather take the extra money or other office perks over the boring cubicle you all seem to want.

There are more options than just "Entirely Open Concept" or "Individual Cubicles"! There can be a mix of the two, or other things. My ideal scenario would be majority open areas, but with plenty of more secluded rooms/areas where people can work in a quiet, distraction-free atmosphere if they choose. You don't need to have a dedicated desk, and can roam freely between the two.

So you work on a laptop? Not only do studies show that open offices decrease productivity, they ALSO show that less screen real-estate decreases productivity.

> I actually don't even like having the same desk every day.

I think the differences many of these arguments partially boil down to the differences in the nature of various lines of business. I have had four positions at two companies and have never had a situation where changing desks every day was feasible. Work from home has never been an option for me. Since I like the type of work I do, I want to do it in a real office (something I have yet to do).

The problem is that in an office such as mine, we don't get a constant work space and don't have the option of working from home. Not well thought out from a management point of view.

works for sweatshops too.


I would love to work in a converted sweatshop, I think these are considered prime offices spaces in the NYC garment district.

Here's an article with a bunch of sizzling Instagram shots from people who got to take the first look: http://www.popularmechanics.com/culture/web/news/a14830/face...

I'm really impressed by how non-gimmicky this Gehry building looks on the outside, and it seems like they really did a good job designing whatever space isn't consumed by the open plan.

The article asks me to prepare for a "serious case of office-envy." My lack thereof: http://m.imgur.com/wMzLSjo.

Oh wow. A door. That must be nice.

Hard surfaces everywhere. The acoustical consultant in me takes one look at those pictures and wants to start crying.

YES. I was thinking the same thing. The last building I was in was converted from an old industrial space. There were noise cancelling devices in the ceiling. You couldn't hear the person sitting across the table from you.

Noise canceling? Got a link? I am aware of white noise machines but not noise-canceling. Presently building out a new office and would love to see details.

I'm not an acoustical engineer but my understanding is that noise canceling devices are usually passive - think of the oddly shaped foam panels you see in recording studios: https://www.google.com/search?q=anechoic+chamber&source=lnms...

Or, in an extreme example, the ones you see in anechoic chambers: https://www.google.com/search?q=anechoic+chamber&source=lnms...

The foam devices serve to both absorb sound energy, and to scatter the remaining sound energy at a variety of angles, where much of it will collide with other reflected sound waves and cancel out.

I needed some acoustic foam for a small project at home and found this place. They seemed pretty affordable (and had lots of colors) compared to other places, though I'm far from an expert and I was only buying ~$40 of foam so I didn't exactly spent too much time comparison shopping: http://www.foambymail.com/acoustical-foam-products.html

I'm pretty certain he means noise dampening, and you knew that.

I truly didn't; the use of the word "device" and the word "canceling" hints at something active. I've not heard of foam before referred to as a "device".

One thing I like (and is so obvious) is to use the roof. It's insane how much wasted space exists on building/office rooftops.

I would run there every single day if I worked there.

Where's a photo of this massive open floor?

It looks kind of like this, except with computers and people sitting at them http://boysandfrogs.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/costco2.j...

I'd die of glutteny with 1.50 hotdogs and coke.

Don't insult Costco like that.

No pictures of day to day work space, alas.

Ah, that is Zuckberg and Schrep embracing the open floor plan by commandeering a conference room for a small two person meeting.

'Open floor plan' doesn't mean there's no leeway if you want to have a private discussion, or a meeting with more than 2-3 people for more than 5 minutes.

So they invented a conference room or office that can't accommodate those with mobility issues?

"Someone clear a path for the wheelchair!"

Really? We're that politically correct now that we can't have a joke meeting-room-ballpit to celebrate the opening of a new building without offending someone?

The Americans with Disabilities Act exists for a reason. It's not about being "politically correct", it's about accessibility. And yes, it's the law.

Have you ever seen a company where the actual work space is shown?

That's the key, there isn't any!


It's nothing fancy.

The first two pictures look like a prison

> non-gimmicky this Gehry building looks on the outside

I feel similarly about a lot of Gehry's more well known work.

I'm interested to see how the building performs. If only I worked in Facebook management...

I'm not going to get into the debate of open floor plans vs individual offices since most people already have their opinions and I see pros & cons to both. That debate aside, I think that roof top green space is absolutely awesome. I would love to see more of those being built into new buildings.

That is great! I'd love to see all parking lots covered by solar panels and all roof tops covered with green space and solar panels.

(But I could never live in France. Two weeks was 13 days too long.)

Such a massive waste of space (not Facebook, others). Rooftops could easily house grass, solar and parking and yet is pretty much always completely wasted.

The fact that there is even a debate means not everyone likes it, therefore, it shouldn't be forced on everyone.

Is it forced on everyone? It's not just one huge room with no partitions inside right?

So we should get rid of building codes, too?

Workplace setup is almost strictly a matter of preference.

It's not about a workplace setup, it's about responsible energy production.

Like hobbit holes

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