Anecdotally funnily enough, the opposite seems to happen for me when I am pair programming: each person keeps the other in focus, but obviously this only works when both people have the same objective. Not really related to "open office" issue, but thought it was relevant.
Or maybe I'm just a filthy procrastinator...
You need breaks during the day. Programming is creative work. Some people can just march on like a machine, but I know my own style is to have an incredibly high output stretch of 3-4 hours, punctuated before and after by lots of email writing, bug reading and goofing off on reddit / hn.
I wasn't expecting this result at all, I actually thought my hearing was perfect but hearing loss starts at the highest frequencies and continues to the lower frequencies exponentially. The route towards "Sorry, what did you say?" doesn't take as long as you might suspect.
I recommend noise-cancelling earphones, because they deal with the delta problem for the most part; but you can obviously still run into the problem of setting and forgetting the volume, which is fine for one thing but too loud for something else.
It's also possible you didn't ever have great hearing. (Do you have any "before" audiogram to compare against, from when you were a child?)
"If a person takes a subway to go from one place to the other for half an hour in the morning and a half an hour in the evening, and every day has to turn up the volume on his device because there is so much of noise of the train and everything around, and is listening to - let us say 100 db (decibels) for one hour every day, his hearing is going to get irreversibly damaged in a few years, in a couple of years time, for sure."
Instead of subway, replace that with loud open-plan office and instead of one hour per day, replace that with 8+ hours. I think we need to address hearing damage the same way we started addressing RSI in the office back in the 80s. There are a lot of people who have no idea how much they are damaging their ears.
Isn't that the best kind of thing to use in a scam? Much more believable :) Parent didn't say "it's a scam", (s)he said "get a second opinion", which sounds like good advise to me.
I don't see how anyone could interpret that in any other way.
I wouldn't jump to any hasty conclusions based on being tested once, with one audiologist's piece of equipment. How do you know it didn't have a calibration problem or other malfunction. Bad gain in some analog circuit or whatever, and the measurement is decibels off.
Also, I'd have my ear canals cleaned thoroughly, and stay away from loud noise for a couple of days before the test, and any foods or medications that can affect hearing. If you're on antibiotics for something, don't book a hearing test. You want your real hearing tested.
(I was on ciprofloxacin recently, and things didn't sound right until a day after the last pill. My Sennheiser phones sounded like $5 dollar store earbuds, and I couldn't get a decent tone out of my guitar amplifier rig, though I played with the 32 band equalizer and other controls endlessly.)
You might actually have the hearing of a 45-year-old at 32, but due to some interpretive latitude and instrumentation error, they can get away with reporting it as a 66-year-old.
The killer was the balance between bass and treble, the phones were plenty loud enough, they just had no bass response to speak of until the treble was loud enough to cause permanent hearing damage. Earbuds today might be a little better, but they're still fighting the physics.
I did damage to my hearing until I bought good headphones (Grado SR60. They were ~60 back in 1992, not much more than that now). They had more bass at 2 than the earbuds had at 9. There were a couple of tracks that demo'd the effect really well, where a drum or bass line just wasn't there in the little earphones.
Now, my hearing drops off above 12khz and below about 35. And it's much harder to hear things when there's other distracting noise going on. I can tell someone's talking, just not what they're saying. This is especially true when someone's yelling from another room over the not terribly loud music in my office. It's also really bad talking to someone on the phone, but I'm not sure how much of that is hearing loss and how much is crappy cell connections.
I do this now -- pretty worried about my hearing...
Put another way, judged purely on niose reduction is there much difference between the ER-4P and the rest of the Etymotic product line?
I have some Etymotic earplugs, which I use at nightclubs, gigs and concerts, but from the way they feel I don't think it would be good for my ears to use them daily.
The physical feeling you get is just pressure on your outer ear canal - it might be uncomfortable (though it shouldn't be, try a different size plug) but it won't lead to hearing loss.
The kind of hearing loss that article is talking about is only caused by exposure to loud noise, and you're only going to be better off wearing earplugs for that.
It goes from a loud clanking to the hum of the tube.
If you've ever had a rubber bushing wear out in a car's suspension linkage, you know what I'm talking about: thunk, clang, squeak!
But for voices, walking steps of folks, cars around you: not so much.
I have a pair of Denon AH-D340 and I can't hear a damn thing with them on, even with a noisy conversation happening right next to me. I use them at 1/3 volume on my macbook most of the time. They have a lovely flat unhyped response as well, despite being styled after beats by dre.
If your office is as loud as a subway, my heart goes out to you.
Those fancy in ear monitoring ones are probably even better, but I personally find them uncomfortable.
It's not audible in airplane or other loud environemnts, but I never understood how you can work with that in your ears. Apparently some people doesn't find it irritating. But make sure to try someone else's before you spend hundreds on dollars on one for the office.
So take good care of your ears, don't be complacent. (I'm a drummer)
A well-fitting isolating IEM can slice off 25dB of noise, more than enough to (mostly) eliminate background conversation noise at any location short of a hip restaurant. These IEMs tend to be so sensitive that they become earsplitting at a tiny fraction of the maximum output volume, way less than 60%.
Learn approximate dB levels of various sounds, compare various noise with a meter (even an uncalibrated app will give you a ballpark idea of what you're dealing with), and listen to music at an average 65dB or less (this will obviously vary with dynamic range of your music; occasional 80-85dB peaks won't kill your hearing).
One trip to a dance club or rock concert without earplugs (100-110dB on average in my experience, 120+ has been known to happen) will do more hearing damage in a few minutes than a lot of headphone listening while working. I'm pretty sure the busy street near my home routinely hits a 90dB average at rush hour, solidly in the danger zone compared to reasonable headphone use.
Edit: To learn more, read the following:
TL;DR: NIOSH would recommend limiting the 8 hour exposure to less than 85 dBA. At 100 dBA, NIOSH recommends less than 15 minutes of exposure per day. NIOSH also recommends a 3 dBA exchange rate so that every increase by 3 dBA doubles the amount of the noise and halves the recommended amount of exposure time.
15 minutes is 7 doublings away from 32 hours, i.e. constant exposure. So, 100-(7*3)= 79dBA is safe, and 82dBA is safe for long-term exposure, and 85dBA is a limit at which you should have hearing protection.
Compare that to IEM's like the Sennheiser cx 300 - 5% of max volume at my computer might be too loud.
And it would surprise me if headphone usage at reasonable volumes is worse than going to loud concerts, even if you use headphones for long periods of time. If I'm at a concert or a loud bar for an hour or two, my ears feel really fatigued afterwards, everything seems quieter. I've never turned up headphones loud enough to experience that.
TL;DR "The sensitivity of headphones is usually between about 80 and 125 dB/mW and usually measured at 1 kHz." and note that since dB is logarithmic, every 6dB is 2x the energy (human-perceived "doubling of volume" is typically ~10dB; see also: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fletcher%E2%80%93Munson_curves )
The open plan office sends the message: "To us, you're not a thinker [we have management for that!], you're just an expensive typist." The exception to that would be an startup that is forthright about needing the cost savings and doesn't try to sell this lack of respect as a "feature" (ease of collaboration!).
Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity. https://en.wikipedia.org/?title=Hanlon%27s_razor
And yet, not only has nothing changed, it seems to be getting worse. It couldn't be more clear to me that developers, at least on this issue, simply have no clout as a profession. There may be a few individuals who can make demands, but on the balance, these are decisions imposed on us, as a group, and we are apparently unable to do anything about it.
The really sad thing is, this isn't a situation where we're asking to fly first class, or for more vacation. We're talking about asking for something that will make us more productive and increase the value we largely hand over to our employers, simply because it's depressing to not be able to do a good job due to distractions.
So yeah, I'm depressed about it. There was a time when I read these essays and felt a bit more charged up, like people were starting to understand something important and that things would change. Well, now we have open offices.
I'll finish with another variant on my broken record: the industry talks constant about the critical shortage of software engineers, but it won't give them a quiet place to work. Actually, that last sentence is too optimistic - it won't allow them a quiet place to work. Those places exist, but companies often demand that their programmers spend 8 hours a day in places that are too noisy for focus.
30 years ago programmers were highly respected. We were mysterious to others and we were able to influence things like office layouts and the like.
At some point over that time period, things shifted. Programmers became seen as "geeks" who didn't really understand business and "business guys" took over. These people don't understand technology and they have disdain for it. I'm talking, in fact, about not just enterprise (Were for a long time the "IT Manager" who was not really technical ruled)... but startups where "business guys" end up being the CEOs.
They think that giving us big monitors and nice computers is valuable, and they do it, but they have no consideration for our workspace and will save even a tiny amount to have an "open plan". They have no concept that we might know what we're talking about because "office space is the realm of business.".
I saw this directly last year-- an office with 2 business people and 14 engineers. One of the "biz guys" was the "manager". They went looking for offices and didn't invite any of the engineers, of course, and came back talking about how great the office they chose was. How it was open plan and all that, and we'd really love it. This is after telling them before they even talked to the real estate person that open plan was the one thing we absolutely didn't want. They looked at several places that had been built out with lots of individual offices but they didn't like it because it was "too dark". OF course once they made up their mind about what THEY wanted, all of our comments were seen just as whining and it was "too late". (even though it wasn't as even to this date they haven't signed a lease due to other factors.)
In the 1950s a great many women went into the work force and there were huge numbers of them employed as secretaries. This was the era of the "Steno pool" and their job title was "typist". They were meant to sit and type at the typewritiers. Because they sit punching a keyboard all day (And because they were women) they didn't have much prestige. Business types don't see it as real work.
This is how programmers are seen today-- we're just typists "arranging the little ones and zeros" (direct quote from that boss last year)
There is no respect for us.
It's the fundamental difference between the "enlisted" and the "officers", the "managers" and the "grunts". We're grunts, and we're meant to be interchangeable cogs-- that's why they'd rather employ a dozen mediocre java developers than one brilliant erlangist. We're not capable of decision making and we have no understanding beyond our weird obsession with those stupid computers. -- that's how they see us. They'll lie and say otherwise, but deep down and a fundamental level, that's how non-technical people see us.
And I think we don't really deserve it until we stop joining places like this.
Whenever I see a startup with an open office plan I don't apply. But I think I'm making a mistake. I should apply, go thru the process until I see the office, and then tell them right then and there "sorry, your website said you value employees but by putting engineers in an open office it's obvious you don't".
Of course that won't accomplish anything.
The only people as low on the totem pole as engineers is HR, and HR feels the need to lord over others, so of course they couldn't care less about the needs of engineers (or any employees really.)
So, I call on YC and other venture investors. Start asking founders what kind of office they want and then don't invest in the ones who advocate for an open plan for developers.
I bet that alone boosts returns.
Further, I personally will no longer work for companies where the CEO is non-technical unless I'm the CTO, and even then I have concerns. (Eg: as CTO I need to have absolute authority over things like office arrangements for engineers.)
High tech companies where the CEO is not technically proficient are far less likely to be effective.
We need to demolish the idea that engineers can't lead and don't understand business.
As someone whose learned business, it's a lot easier to learn than adding another programming language to your repertoire.
Absolutely! To me what's most disturbing about "Just use headphones" is it's highly prevalent information-age companies but shows a deep _lack_ of understanding for the need for _focus_ and long periods of uninterrupted concentration essential for creative work.
Some people will tease you about wearing them, but honestly by the end of most of my stays at Companies I've converted at least 3-4 people to using them.
Like the article states, listening to music reduces your cognitive abilities, I prefer absolute quiet. I find it almost beautiful like a great song to hear nothing but the clarity of my own thoughts.
The standards of measurement are likely different. Measuring "volume" (sound pressure level) is a very tricky business.
However, it raises the question: "Should employees have to solve these problems?". Depending on the office size, a more private setting could be provided for the employees affected.
In many offices, you can't just re-orient your desk or choose to move.
It certainly would be conspicuous.
I have an office now and temp is my main problem since I am right next to the server room.
The major noises were not the main problem; the problem was the stress of people beelining for either of the three with the felicity of an elephant stampede.
Add to this office congestion the pleasure of a female stampede of high heels or male Italian shoes.
Which is not to say that a coffee machine can't shake the foundation of the building like a malcontent washing machine.
It's driven me up the fucking wall, and it is by far my biggest annoyance with an open office.
Keep this in mind, the next time you or someone else goes on about dress code - or taking things easy. Hell, give your employees the option of company-provided sneakers. Then you can still dictate style guidelines.
Either that or give people a goddamn vibration-dampened fastlane.
A friend of mine worked at a place where he was next to metal door to the outside that slammed shut loudly all day. He wore those big industrial earmuffs to try to block it out. This is the Phd physicist/developer who did all the hard math for them...
To my developer brethren (and sisters!), work doesn't have to be like that. There are companies that treat their developers well. You really need to interview the company during the job interview, talk to people that work there before you go, do your research.
Thought experiment: suppose you have super-loud bass coming from a single point-source at 30hz. You can feel this in your chest. Now, you put a second point-source 180 degrees out of phase in the same place. What would the pressure on your chest feel like? How is this different from how ANC works?
The distracting effects of music largely disappear if you listen to repetitive instrumental music - house or ambient music is ideal for this.
If you're concerned about noise-related hearing loss, Canford produce a range of high-quality headphones with integrated limiters. The limiting system was designed by the BBC, to enforce safe noise exposure for employees who use headphones all day.
While I agree that open plan offices are generally a bad idea, I think that OP is rather uninformed about the use of headphones.
* awareness -- you can see who's there, what they're doing, and have kindof a feel of the tempo of the office
* "collaborative" -- managerial work is mostly meetings, it's easy to see conversation/crosstalk as productivity
* less furniture / divided space is probably cost efficient
Add that to the This Is How We Do Things Now(TM) cultural momentum (you don't want to be using cubes like those stale corporations of the 90s, do you?). Then throw in the idea that management doesn't necessarily want employees to be maximally productive; it's better if they're productive enough but pliable and fungible.
Open plan might well be with us for a while.
That's the one that does me in. Not because headphones cause ongoing damage, but because my ears have been damaged by several rounds of tympanic perforations and ear infections since I was a wee one.
From these I retain (amongst a number of other issues though thankfully almost no loss of hearing) a serious inability to wear any kind of headphones for more than 10~15mn: past that and it starts to feel like I'm getting needles jabbed through the eardrum and scraping around (this is not so exaggerated, the first time it happened I literally threw my cans away from me thinking some sort of biting insect had gone in and I hadn't felt it until it took a bite of my eardrum)
Maybe this is just another permutation of the out of touch boss problem. Nothing makes it harder to understand the downfalls of an open office than not working in one yourself.
What makes perfect sense for their kind of works does not make as much sense for my kind of work.
I found myself having conversations with family members where I never mentioned words that would give away what I was talking about.
What drive me even crazier is co workers that took an almost insane interest in what I was eating for lunch.
Yeah, it's a fucking big mac... have you never seen one before?
I was mostly surrounded by customer phone support people so I doubt I was distracting them.
I also have nervous kidneys. Hmm.
We just moved into a new space with a six-person desk (rather nice) in a big bullpen, with two executive offices off the side. One exec gets the corner office, but his door is always open and he's always poking his head out to talk to us. He (like us) has mostly glass walls, and feels like he's in a fishbowl. He used to share his office with an intern, though, and I can hang out in there when I want.
The other two execs (CEO, CFO) hole up in the other office, and close the door, and don't really talk, and basically are just aloof. They also covered up all their glass with random posters and things, presumably because they didn't want people looking at them through the glass. Hey, suits! Developers don't like being in an aquarium either! >:-|
Companies had an alternative: Cubicles.
They were modular, relatively inexpensive, and gave the experience of an office but without needing building work or cooperation with the landlord. But people "hated" those and companies that utilised them were seen as dinosaurs (see the movie Office Space). Then a few companies did open plan, and every said they were young, forward thinking, and trendy so of course a bunch of companies are going to follow suit...
Ultimately micro-offices would be wonderful, but they have practical and cost problems. Plus let us not forget fire codes. That alone can dictate how an office will be laid out (so fire exits are visible, etc).
Didn't find great pics but here's a GIS
We hated cubes because they weren't offices, and Dilbert-style culture was common in companies with them, so they get rid of the cubes and gave us tables, and kept the same cultural problems.
This was perhaps the most crazy thing to do. We didn't hate the cubes, we wanted more privacy than the cubes provided.
> I stress to my patients and the parents of my patients that if you can’t hear anything going on around you when listening to headphones, the decibel level is too high.
This is just stupid. It ignores type of headphone entirely. IEMs like the ER-4P (https://www.etymotic.com/consumer/earphones/er4.html) have insane noise isolation (up to 42 dB). When using them, I can't hear someone talking to me, standing right next to me, with no music! They physical block the ear canal and create a seal blocking outside noise.
> As a rule of thumb, you should only use [personal audio] devices at levels up to 60% of maximum volume for a total of 60 minutes a day. The louder the volume, the shorter your duration should be. At maximum volume, you should listen for only about five minutes a day.
Again, idiotic. "60%" is entirely meaningless. It might as well be "Don't listen above FALASFDABURAGA". Headphones vary in sensitivity vastly, on some sets of IEMs -- 60% would be ear bleeding, deafeningly, painfully loud. On a high impedance, low sensitivity set of big headphones, 60% is a whisper. As a "rule of thumb" all it does is reinforce that the person who gave that quote is an idiot.
> If you listen to music with earbuds or headphones at levels that block out normal discourse, you are in effect dealing lethal blows to the hair cells in your ears.
... again, quotes from people who have no understanding that there are different types of headphones. MAYBE you could claim with fully open headphones this to be the case... but what is the level of "discourse"... sigh. Again, literally nonsense because it is impossible to make sense of...
> ... Music Is Distracting (entire section) ...
There exists multiple categories of music WITHOUT WORDS! Shocking I know. Most developers I know listen to these types of music because, lyrics are distracting. That isn't a cut against headphones.
> ... Feeling of Vulnerability ...
Getting to some sad points. Again, I hate open office plans, but come on -- really -- the feeling of vulnerability being caused by headphones? It is caused by an open office layout.
It sounds pretty smart to me. What else is the doctor supposed to do? Until the silly Beats craze took off, one could have made a statement like that and it would have been accurate for >99% of headphones users. Assuming that the user is listening to the pack-in IEMs (or IEMs with a very similar profile) plugged into a phone or iPod would have been a safe assumption. Sure, an office full of tech geeks won't match, but for the general population of headphone wearers?
And if your phones are more or less sensitive, comparing against pack-in IEMs into an iPod or phone is probably the best way that consumers have of comparing levels.
There probably was such a statement in the original source, but it was probably (rightfully) dropped by the reporters because it would have just confused people
"There exists multiple categories of music WITHOUT WORDS!"
I find such music is also very distracting. I find good symphonic music much more interesting than boring Pop music. Interesting -> distracting.
" the feeling of vulnerability being caused by headphones? It is caused by an open office layout."
IMO, the feeling of vulnerability is caused by the combination of headphones and open layout. Normally you can tell people are behind you because you hear them. If you can't hear them, then you get freaked out and feel vulnerable.
So find some boring (or at least repetetive/uninteresting) instrumental music.
"Just wear headphones" is a common response when people explain the issues they have with open offices. This post explains the downsides to wearing headphones in an open office, including the fact that blocking your hearing can make you more vulnerable.
My hearing is a lot better now but when I listened to them all the time, the ringing got to be pretty bad. Since working from home and not listening to them so much, it's gotten better - I'm not sure it's repairable though, so this may not be 100% accurate.
They are also a bit uncomfortable to use for long periods of time.
"Just use headphones" is a bit of a "screw you" when said to employees, because their employers were too cheap to buy or too controlling to want adequate office furniture.
My best cubes were 10 years ago and everything is getting worse (louder and smaller and privacy trending to zero) to the point where working from home is much more tolerable.
Companies should realize that investing in employees pays huge dividents, and an extra few thousand in furniture might improve their output many many times over.
And finally, on the vulnerability, solid work has been done around working with your back open to an office. The article hardly claims this is caused by headphones, it merely notes that with headphones you can't hear either.
I dont think the frequent use of 'idiot' is really helping your case here. Honestly my advice is to stop, relax, breathe, and think for a moment, perhaps the ENTs you lambaste as idiots, who have spent literally decades thinking about this problem, including the deeper problem of how to teach people, aren't actual idiots. And that they have to market their advice in a useful, actionable manner that is slightly inaccurate. As soon as you stop assuming the rest of the world is stupid, you all of a sudden open yourself up. Good luck with that.
Here are some examples of instrumental music:
I really do not think you can make a generalization that lyrics are the source of distractive qualities in a musical piece.
None of those sorts of music work for me... should I still wear headphones to fix the open office?
Perfect, I'm just going to plug my headphones into a 50-watt amp. Then I can have them as loud as I want without even getting anywhere close to 60%, so my ears will be totally safe!
Theoretically the Americans with Disabilities Act would allow me to ask for accommodation for this. Practically speaking, my coaches tell me never to ask for it, as employers don't get it and think you're making excuses.
But the fact is, I do have a disability and it's the cognitive equivalent of asking a person in a wheelchair to use steps to get to work.
And as an introvert, I find offices exhausting, the constant demand to be "On" is not only distracting but productivity limiting--especially pointless meetings where I have to work very hard to manage my limited attention span.
Yet another example of how silicon valley culture works for a tiny sliver of the population.
working from home is the best solution. I never go to a coffee shop--even that is too distracting. I schedule meetings with clients in chunks of time that are better for me (afternoons vs my very precious productive mornings) and I batch them so I'm not constantly context switching.
PS I'm not a developer--so you devs aren't the only ones suffering! Good writing and marketing needs thinking time too!
"[Noise Cancelling Headphones] So while it may work to cancel the noise
of your office air conditioner, it’s powerless against the voices of your co-workers
(the real noise you’d want to cancel in an office environment)."
Not completely cancelling mind you, but All-But-Cancelling.
You are playing music then too which further removes the voices, and you can play at a much lower volume for similar block-out-effects.
This does lead to some hilarious Boss-at-Shoulder moments when they have come to get your attention.
I have over-ear noise-cancelling headphones and they don't do a lot for conversational tones. They're great for planes, and they're great for mowing. They don't do much for people talking nearby (beyond the passive blocking they do) unless I turn the volume way up.
I'm pretty sure doctors in general are not opposed to the use of earplugs. Doctors don't want you putting things like Q-Tips into your ears, because it's really easy to irritate the ear canal or worse accidentally puncture your ear drum. Ear plugs don't carry much risk (no chance of hitting the ear drum unless you're shoving them in with a stick, and should be gentle enough on the ear canal), and they are a very good idea if you're going to be exposed to loud noises. Good ear plugs can block as much noise as good earmuffs.
Doctors themselves (or their technicians) will put earplugs into your ears if they need to block noise, e.g., for an MRI or a hearing test.
I would warn not to use them all the time. Let those ears breath. I only use them when I need to focus very hard or when it's very noisy.
Judging by how it seems to be the most used in industrial applications.
I use earplugs with over the ears headphones.
You could instead use over the ears noise protection with little in-ear headphones inside.
The only reason I don't do that is that my headphones are worth $1000+ and I wouldn't want to trade them for earbuds. Otherwise, your idea could very well be superior to mine!
What I've seen done by e-sports events such as WCS is to use earphones in combination with mufflers to cut out the live spectator noise - yes the ones they use on a rifle range.
I can vouch that such a solution works as my room mate in residence would watch series up until ungodly hours of the morning: wearing no-name rifle range ear mufflers eliminated enough (broad-spectrum) noise to allow me to sleep with no issues whatsoever; I would assume it would cut out enough noise for concentration (given that they go as far as reducing the sounds of gun fire) - even without adding music to the equation.
: http://catalogue.3m.eu/en_ZA/PPESafetyProducts/Ear_Plugs_and... - this specific model is frequently seen in WCS.
I use my Sony Walkman with noise reduction and no music to calm down my environment.
You don't have to actually drown out the ambient noise; you just have to put enough sound that you control into it such that your brain is lulled into ignoring the totality of sound around you.
"People conflate the positive psychological effects of creating a cocoon of their favorite sounds in an environment of noise they can’t control with positive effects on their productivity."
The effects ARE positive, RELATIVE to the plain noisy environment they're stuck in. When I have an actually quiet workspace, I have no music playing at all, or at best something very, very low and without lyrics.
That depends on who is using the headphones. I can't not pay attention to any sound I hear. My brain is very good at filtering discrete signals out of backgrounds.
Dream Chimney's mixes on soundcloud also.
In general, something classical, ambient, or minimal techno fits the bill.
I find ambient noise (at a low, safe volume) to be helpful for concentration.
I could be wrong, but the vast majority of MfP doesn't have lyrics. It's all atmospheric, vague, kinda droning music.
In the meantime, I find that using ear-plugging headphones alone with some ear-muffs (for like construction work) over the top of the head, without actual music, is reasonably effective at stopping sound.
Most open floorplans I've seen don't have sufficient private space, so moving conversations into offices ends up being impractical for the people working there.
Most open floor plans I've seen are also woefully lacking in noise-absorbing materials. A giant room with drywall and hard floor is a recipe for loud noise. Best case, you have acoustic tiles for ceiling and short-pile carpet, and everything else bounces the noise around. Libraries tend to have layouts that are conducive to noise absorption, with all the shelves of books and the small seating spaces scattered throughout.
Then what's the point of open offices outside of penny-pinching?
That said, there are advantages and disadvantages to a high-interaction cube farm, and I'm not convinced the advantages outweigh the disadvantages. In particular, the productivity hit for people less comfortable in such a setting seems higher than the productivity gain for people more comfortable in such a setting. As much as many offices try to put everyone in the same type of environment, I think it would make sense to design floorplans that incorporate both offices and cubes, with different types of employees in different types of work environments.
At least where I work, we do get an implicit understanding of when it's quiet time, and when it's discussion time. Unfortunately the understanding isn't always in sync, but we're most of the way there.
With the caveats that is is one situation and we are in Dallas, my company could afford to give everyone a private office in the building we currently occupy for less than the cost of my salary alone. IMO, if you have enough money to pay developers market salaries you have enough to give them their own office if you wanted to. In fact, I would take a pay cut to get one.
Obviously some markets like SF proper and Manhattan are stupid expensive and this likely isn't true there. I'd wager that most of the world i closer to Dallas than SF, though.
The Isolator device looks amazing, better than headphones.
So, as someone who was taught from a young age that only one medium at one time was allowed, open plan offices are a pain in the tits for me.
I used to sit next to a bloke who play wonderful music, but it never stopped. Trying to debug anything complex was impossible.
Ultimately the only real way I could get round it was to use these: http://www.koss.com/en/products/headphones/full_size_headpho... This blocked out most of the noise.
To get over the last bit of detail I used a white noise generator: http://mynoise.net/NoiseMachines/rainNoiseGenerator.php (worth the support fee)
Now, this is still noise, but its constant and easily ignored.
Music is sometimes orienting. A decent steady BPM can keep you going through even boring slogs without getting distracted sometimes.
That all being said, having to listen to music, having to decide on what to listen to, and not being able to achieve quiet when you don't want music, that's a problem.
It's wrong to say you HAVE to listen to music. It's great to listen to when you want to, but having to listen to it all day because you can't stand the noise can be rather oppressive.
1. Earbuds that block sound, or over-the-ear headphones that block sound
2. Nothing with lyrics. Voices are distracting. I'm really just here for the
noise that's not other humans having a conversation.
3. Use a streaming service that tailors the music to my preferences.
Pandora was my favorite, but I'm currently on Spotify. I don't have to
curate my own lists and I still get music that's all similar and not
distracting. It usually ends up being trance-like. Anything "jammin" or
"fun" is indeed distracting.
As for "being watched," I'm not particularly ashamed of my work habits. I do indeed post to HN (in case you didn't notice), read news, read comics (oh, forgot to catch up on those this morning...), keep up with my online peers, ... and I work. Watch me all day if you like. I'd prefer that you also get work done, though.
Sometimes, the right kind of distraction is good. Even if having no distractions gives me the opportunity to have acute concentration on the subject, in practice, having the right kinds of distractions really do help me reach peak productivity.
If I don't have music or background noise of some kind, my mind wanders and I never really reach that "acute concentration" point anyways. But I work best with the right kind of music -- or even a TV show that's just interesting enough to be background noise (without capturing all of my attention).
That said, the wrong kinds of distractions truly are too distracting. The study mentioned that music with lyrics is more distracting; I know that my favorite songs (generally 70s classic rock) really do grab my attention away from work sometimes. Music where the words are unintelligible and fade into the sounds or music without words actually works a lot better. Also, obviously a really captivating TV show will definitely hurt productivity.
It gets hot, but it seems to be one of the best solutions I have found.
The problems are: People won't notice you are using it, and start talking to you from your back. That's a sure way to get weird looking faces from your colleagues.
"Office with a door" would be worth $20-30k/yr in salary and $50-100k/yr in productivity to me as an employee/user, but on the supply side, it would be challenging to provide.
1) Put your office in a lower income area (maybe not completely desirable, but not everyone has to be in the heart of NYC or SF)
2) Let some or all employees work from home. Especially the loud ones! I don't mean specific people, of course, but some jobs are just loud: customer support, sales, operators, etc.. usually the loud jobs are awesome at-home jobs, as well! Customer support is almost always remote support anyway.
3) Restructure. Many of these companies that can't put everyone in an office have huge or multiple offices for their executive staff. I knew a company where one of the co-owner's offices was as big as the tech room which had 12 desks! The conference room was twice as big as this, and barely used!
I am completely unsurprised that there are studies showing lyrics interfere with concentration--I've been avoiding them while working for years. I've even chosen usernames in some music-systems reflecting the fact.
If I don't wear them, I tend to get distracted and irritated by various sounds. Now, you can still hear things, but they are dampened which is soothing for me at least.
Just try the humanbenchmark.com reaction time test with and without music. When you're listening to music your reaction times will always be higher.
That's when I realized that I listening to music could be counter productive. Maybe some ambient rain noise or something would be ideal.
Not very useful article if they assume I'm gonna be listening to pop music. If the writer didn't even care to talk about other types of music this is basically a very poor written post.
I can not have normal discourse with my headphones on, even if they're off. And these are just a pair of normal over-ear headphones (DT-770's).
I tend to find it funny that management that proposes the Open Office idea tend to be the ones who are in offices.
My point was that as long as you're buying headphones anyway, buy some good noise-cancelling ones, and you'll mitigate a lot of the risks in the article. It does suck that it's on employees to do this, but here we are.
Kudos to you for allowing folks to WFH! That's a great thing for improving your employees lives.
And have you actually done any studies to prove that the cross pollination actually harkens, or does anything?
Used these for years to help me sleep (I have insomnia and the slightest background noise wakes me up).
They also work brilliantly at cutting out background noise when I'm trying to focus (even use them at home if I have the windows open), silence is golden!.
They look pretty intense but it's certainly one way to solve the problem.
But I bet small startups could afford to let employees work from home a couple days a week.
Actually, any startup that chooses new open-office workspaces over secondhand cubicles solely for reasons of cost might also want to consider moving to a location with cheaper office space leases. Even $5/sq.ft. is too high for a startup, regardless of the workspace furniture.
I've never seen great code come out of an open-office. It can be good but the inability to focus in these environments usually show up in the resulting code.
It's funny startups would feel that way yet also believe they must be located in/around San Francisco. If cost was really that big of a concern maybe they should choose to setup shop in a more affordable city (they'd also save money on salaries).
But even in San Francisco the additional costs wouldn't be that much. There was a blog post last year that did the math and companies save about 10% with an open office - the hit to productivity caused by an open office environment is most likely costing them more.