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Joel Test Number Eight (Office)

Was talking with a cow orker on the way to lunch about offices/cubicles and realized that I have never interviewed with a company other than Microsoft where the typical programmer had their own office. The closest I've come is my stay at IBM, where unless you were at the top technical level, you shared a very small office with one other person (still better than cubicles).

Every other place I've worked or interviewed has been a cubicle farm. Dozens of examples; from startups to fairly large companies (also both software and hardware producers).

How many of the people reading this are working at places which pass the Joel Test? Word of mouth through my career has led me to conclude that a lot of older larger companies might pass Item 8 but fail most of the others. Maybe even most of the companies which pass Item 8 in general would fail the others.

(I'd love to have my own office, by the way - the cellphones around here drive me f'n crazy)

Mike
Monday, August 04, 2003

Isn't it funny how defensive companies get about aggregation savings:
-If we hold everyone's pay an extra fifteen days, we can make $x,000 a year on interest
-Cancelling the free soda program would save us $50,000 a year
-Buying 17" monitors instead of 21" saves us $10,000

But when it comes to environment:
-If each developer had their own office, an extra hour of productivity per day would equate to $250,000/year in extra development work

Suddenly "it doesn't work like that"

Philo

Philo
Monday, August 04, 2003

How exactly does one "ork a cow" ? :)

wondering
Monday, August 04, 2003

Philo, you're spot on there.

It's almost as though our employers are trying to make our time at work as miserable and uncomfortable as possible.

I say 'almost' because it can't actually be true, can it?

OC
Monday, August 04, 2003

I realized while reading this topic that I was thinking Joel's new office had cubes, not individual offices.  But a quick check confirmed they were indeed offices.  Good show!

Scot
Monday, August 04, 2003

It's mostly because emotional well-being of employees has no line item on the budget.  Neither does the detriment to productivity from distractions.  Office costs, free sodas, etc. all look like pointless luxuries to the person who is looking at the budget.

I have a sneaking suspicion that most of the supposed benefits of using cubicles aren't ever used.  Apparently, it's cheaper to get new cubicles when you move offices.  They aren't ever re-arranged because then you'd have to buy more parts and get the salesperson in.  And they aren't even appreciably cheaper than cubicles, if you want to get fancy and durable cubes.

Flamebait Sr.
Monday, August 04, 2003

Flamebait:
Your take on savings sounds interesting, but I cannot understand your second paragraph. Which savings? What is the connection to moving? Which salesperson?
Could you explain? Thanks.

Sandro Perugio
Monday, August 04, 2003

Well, ask somebody why they use cubicles instead of walls.

The reasons probably are:
1) Easier to re-arrange
2) Cheaper
3) Everybody else is doing it
4) Faster to set up

My point is that they aren't exactly easy to re-arrange.  My parents had a modular bookshelf system.  There was a set limit to the combinations because it was no longer manufacturered and there was only a certain number of parts.  Plus, they probably don't re-arrange them particularly often.  Generally, the cubicles are set up in some sort of orderly grid with a few spots for mail, printers, kitchen, etc. and left that way.

I'm not entirely sure how much cheaper they are in the end.  I suspect that they are not particularly cheaper unless you get dreadfully ugly and flimsy cubes.  I suspect that Joel or somebody who has actually had to set up an office can speak to this better than I, but I have a bad feeling that the cost advantage is not necessarily that big.  Non-structural walls with some sound-deadening insulation aren't that hard or expensive to set up, especially given the the latest metal framing systems that are like erector sets.

Most folks probably don't need the speed of setup.  I know that Data General made a big deal out of that years ago, that they could go from warehouse to office space in weeks, but that's not as much of an influence anymore.  Most people have a year or two to get space together.

Flamebait Sr.
Monday, August 04, 2003

The blanket "office is better than a cubicle" is too simplistic.  It depends on the activity as to which works best.  On small focused teams, running intense projects, I find cubicles work better. 

Teams under rapid development cycles are often working on inter-operable activities.  When the walls are down, and we have a white-board in the hall, ideas, concepts and most importantly decisions can be made in an almost instant fashion.  You are responsible for the interface to the database, I work on the UI and Joe is working out the extract process.  I learn we need a new field "X", as I am asking the DBA to add it, Joe overhears and determines they need it on the extract. 

Also in teams of mixed experience, everyone can "run ideas" by others.  As new people see even experienced people as questions and get input, they begin to do the same.  This benefits everyone.

The overall benefits are the hundreds of decisions that get made without requiring a meeting, agenda, notes, follow-up etc.  More than making up the possible 15 minutes of lost time due to interruption.

My exception is in cases where you have disparate groups of people working on unrelated activities. The isolation IS helpful.  However, for a team approach my experience is it does more harm than good.  So, if you have offices, I suggest that a team on a tight deadline figure a way to share a large one.  You will be surprised by the results.

Well, I am putting on the flame retardant undies now...

Mike Gamerland
Monday, August 04, 2003

"Joe overhears and determines they need it on the extract."

If Joe overhears you talking about database field "X" he probably also overhears you talking about all the other useless crap you talk about all day long (by "you" I mean a generic person, not YOU, mike, in specific).

The point is, you're focusing on that one instance of distraction that is useful and ignoring all the other instances of distraction that are keeping Joe (by "Joe" I mean a generic person that is not "you", not any Joe in specific) from flowing into a good working rhythm.

It is much better to have offices and just go interrupt Joe and let him know about field "X" when he needs to know about it, and not rely on the source of most of the negative issues with cubicles (sound pollution) to solve the communication problem by hoping the people that need to know things just happen to "overhear" them.

Cubicles are bad.  Large open space lofts are even worse.

Mister Fancypants
Monday, August 04, 2003

But wait, there's more...

"The overall benefits are the hundreds of decisions that get made without requiring a meeting, agenda, notes, follow-up etc. "

That's all well and good when you're in crunch mode and trying to force a product out the door, but another problem with your proposed situation for group working is all of the bits and bobs of knowledge that are shared in that manner will be lost once they drop out of the short term memory of the people involved.  What happens when Bob needs to know something about field "X", but you and Joe are now working on another project?  He has to go interrupt you and ask about field "X", and HOPE TO GOD you remember why it was added (in my experience it is very common that this will not be the case if it was added mid-design say 6 months ago).

All in all, what I'm saying is I disagree with virtually everything you wrote.

Mister Fancypants
Monday, August 04, 2003

There's a flaw in Philo's logic... You can't quantify that an extra hour a day will translate into money. I'm sure studies have been done on this... whether or not someone is more or less productive in certain environments... And I'm sure there are several contradictory studies about this, which management can use to justify the cheaper office space.

I'm sure the slave workers in the deep south were complaining about sleeping on the dirt floor, but the plantation owners didn't think a floor and some beds would make them any more productive.

This reminds me of the dotcom era "everyone has an Aeron" thing that was going on. Why did everyone have an Aeron? Yeah I know it was an incentive thing, but in retrospect it looks like excess, doesn't it. Lots of money spent on something that didn't add to the bottom line that helped cause the crash.

Oh, and cubicles are easy to tear down and rebuild... Whenever I saw it happen I was amazed. A whole room could be done in a few hours. I would walk out, and come back an hour later to an empty room.

www.marktaw.com
Monday, August 04, 2003

"Oh, and cubicles are easy to tear down and rebuild... Whenever I saw it happen I was amazed. A whole room could be done in a few hours. I would walk out, and come back an hour later to an empty room. "

Useful, for when the company is out of business and auctioning all of its assets off on ebay because they didn't allow the programmers to work in a productive environment.

Mister Fancypants
Monday, August 04, 2003

To answer part of the original question, the company I work at puts programmers in individual offices.

It's nice to have a place to run off too: but still, there's plenty of interruptions from folks passing by and coming to visit you. Closing the door is, of course, and option, but then your become "The Guy Who Closes His Door."

Nonetheless, working in a office is much preferable to hearing what kind of sink the person 3 cubical rows over is getting installed, or what the scores of last night's game are, etc.

Cote'
Monday, August 04, 2003

I worked in a small engineer firm where most developers/engineers worked in offices, at worst sharing 2 people in one. This worked quite well presuming that you could communicate effectivity issues with your office mate (i.e. "Please wear headphones"). Turnover was virtual nil, and late night/weekend hours (entirely voluntary, but because people were invested in their projects and wanted to see them succeed regardless). As the company grew, suddenly it got "big company envy", and shortly thereafter they moved to a slightly larger space, primarily because it had larger rooms that could be partitioned into cubes for that "big company" feel. After the transition there was an endless dog and pony show of bringing customers and partners through cube land to show off how much like a big company we were, despite being a tiny little engineering firm. While the cubes were more of a symptom of an unhealthy management position, the correlation is absolute that suddenly no one worked overtime of any kind (i.e. the place was quiet at 5:05), turnover absolutely skyrocketed, etc. Of course around the same time some "let's put whiteboards all over and adhoc communicate endlessly!" types were brought on board (though note that management types got offices. Kinda humorous really).

Anonymizer.
Monday, August 04, 2003

Companies with good office space are rare, but they do exist, or at least used to.  For about 15 years I worked for a small company where everyone, except the receptionist, had their own office with a door and, when possible, a window.  And at least in the early days it was reasonably quiet. This work environment was one of many victims of the dot-com boom.

At this particular company, providing individual offices was just one component in a culture of quality.  It did not meet all items on the Joel test, but was developing their own procedures and standards for development and would have been comparable for most items on the list. Even when I first joined them they were already at the point of having job applicants send in code and writing samples (writing as in documentation.  They wanted people who could write coherently).  And they had better computer facilities than any other place I had worked (a  VT-220 on every desk, so you didn't have to walk to the terminal room everytime you wanted to test your program).  Yes, that was a long time ago and they did upgrade as the technology evolved.

Unfortunately, when the boom came along the owners decided that it was time to cash out.  They sold the company and it got absorbed into some big corporation that didn't care much about quality.

mackinac
Monday, August 04, 2003

Based on my years of experience in a variety of work environments, including cubicles, shared offices, and a private office, I'd like to offer the following observations:

A private office with door is much better than any other arrangement. A shared 2 person office is not almost as good as a private office.

I really like to work in a bright sunny workspace. Having a window can make big difference in how pleasant a work space can be.  But it is not enough to make up for not having a private office.

A private office is not what is needed for a good work environment.  It has to be a _quiet_ private office.  Some noises can be reduced by closing the door, but it should not be necessary to work with the door closed all the time.

Some sources of noise:
- The HVAC system.  They all make a little noise but are usually tolerable.  Some howl like a hurricane or vibrate the building so much the desks can shake.  You have to visit the work site and listen to know what you might be getting in to. Closing the door won't help with HVAC noise.
- Computers.
- Paging system, some with MUSAK.
- Radio and stereo systems played through speakers.
- Speaker phones (hands free operation)
- Cell phone ringers.
- Soda machines. Other vending machines.
- Outside traffic.  This can be bad in a high rise, unless the HVAC is so noisy it drowns out the traffic noise.

You do need to interact with other team members.  A closed office door cuts off interaction, so nominal levels of  noise should be low enough that you can leave the door open most of the time.

It is good to have a little extra space, a chair and a white board in each office so team members can stop by for discussions.  There should be a larger meeting area nearby, size depending on the needs of the team.

I discussed office space costs with the president of one of the small companies I worked for.  The incremental cost of going from cubicles or shared office space to private offices was less then 2% of typical developer salary.

I have worked with small teams in shared office space, but never saw any useful interaction from the arrangement.

That is quite a list there, but nothing difficult to achieve if management considers a quality work environment important.  The only problem is that they don't, with rare exceptions.

mackinac
Monday, August 04, 2003

"There's a flaw in Philo's logic... You can't quantify that an extra hour a day will translate into money. I'm sure studies have been done on this... whether or not someone is more or less productive in certain environments... And I'm sure there are several contradictory studies about this, which management can use to justify the cheaper office space."

Find me a study that shows that numerous disruptions are good for productivity. Just one.

And if cubicles are god's gift to productivity, how come the decision makers aren't in one? The one person who really needs to have their pulse on the project and know what's going on - where are they? They're in an office that they fought for long and hard.

As for the "cross fertilization of ideas" benefit - any dev center should have one or more larger "offices" with whiteboard and terminal for bull sessions. The team goes there to hash out stuff, out of earshot of everyone else. If the team needs that much cross-pollinization, you put them all in one for the duration of the project.

I think cubicles are a prime example of "good enough is the enemy of best" - I'm guessing that 20-30 years ago, cubes were a step up from open-air desks, like "mini offices" when building an office was actually a major capital expense. Since then, cubes have become more expensive while office construction has gotten cheaper, to the point where they're probably on par; yet the cubicle mantra still holds sway over the people who don't have to work in them but can assign others to.

Bottom line again - until executives start infighting over who "gets" to work in a cube vs. who "has" to work in an office, any supposed benefits of cube living are pure unadulterated bullshit.

Philo

Philo
Monday, August 04, 2003

Two observations. . .

1) www.cubedoor.com
By no means a solution, but could help keep out the people that stop by "So <insert pause> you finish that mega project yet?" followed by your response, "No, now get the hell out of my cube!"

2) A co-worker of mine suggested that having managers and upper level drones in offices and lower drones in cubicles gives the drones an incentive to work hard, get promoted so they can get an office.

For the record I completely disagree with that statement.  What is this, the 1950's?  People don't stay with a company for 45 years anymore working their way to the top.  Companies should realize this, and give everyone an office, so during the time that they are there, they will be happier and more productive.  This translates into more bang for the buck, and since they're happier, lowers turnover.

Of course, anything that has been discussed here, hasn't already been documented in a million places, including _Peopleware_.

Elephant
Monday, August 04, 2003

At SourceGear, every developer has a private office.  Years ago, my first software mentor was a PeopleWare fanatic, and the lesson stuck with me.  His philosophy was to "get lots of cheap space and use it wastefully". 

I don't think we'll ever change our policy on private offices, but it's no panacea. 

Yes, programmers need a quiet place to focus, but sometimes they need to talk to each other.  Private offices facilitate the former and impede the latter.  We have to work a little harder to get the interaction which comes naturally when shared spaces are used.

Eric W. Sink
Monday, August 04, 2003

Preparing the teflon briefs yet again....

The observation I would make from the comments made is: "We need offices because our coworkers are rude." 

If that is the main reason, then I doubt office space helps.  It merely delays the inevitable confrontation of:
- Bathe
- Use headphones at a level that allow you to hear and other not to.
- talk like god is listening.  He doesn't need you to speak up, his hearing is fine.

That being said.  Another option put forth has also worked and that is the star chamber approach.  Offices around a central hub for impromptu meetings, etc.

Finally Mister Fancypants (Ok - I just like the way that sounds), impromptu meetings do not mean that good practices, such as documentation, go out the window. Just the opposite.  You need to introduce easy methods of documentation that allow such activities to occur and be documented just as easily as they happen.  [ Although I am in no way related to the project, this is my shameless plug for twiki --  http://www.twiki.org ]

Mike Gamerland
Monday, August 04, 2003

"Yes, programmers need a quiet place to focus, but sometimes they need to talk to each other."

I applaud your dedication to employing paraplegics. When *I* need to talk to a coworker about an issue I get up and walk over to see him.

Philo

Philo
Monday, August 04, 2003

In all the organizations I worked for, only managers got to have private offices. The rest of us had either individual cubicles or 4 of us shared a big office room or 4 of us shared a huge cubicle. Mostly all the cubicles had 4' walls, of which the upper 2' was in glass so you see the others without having to stand up!.

Ringing telephones, colleagues who drop in often for some clarification, colleagues (and managers) who peek over your shoulders to see what is/are there on your screen, etc., are really annoying. Except for Microsoft, I am yet to see any organization where employees (programmers) get to have their own rooms.

John
Tuesday, August 05, 2003

I work in a very open environment. No office, 6-8 people normally (depending on who's on site), no walls, no cubicles. 99% of the time it works out just fine.

The thing is, most work does not require thought. Not much is being 'designed'. Now, we're a contract shop who does a lot of work on existing products, so I don't do much architecting.

However, that last 1% of the time, when you really have something sticky that you need to think through, it can be difficult to step through anything in your head with much of anything going on, or so I find.

I like the open environment, but it'd be nice to have a quiet room with a workstation or 3 I could pound on when necessary. But that doesn't really help much.

Mike Swieton
Tuesday, August 05, 2003

I work in a building that houses about 3000 people, it is 14 stories high.

It would probably need to be 50 stories high to accomodate offices for everybody, all of whom sit at PC's every day and need no 'distractions', I mean get over it, who's attention is more important the accountant balancing a $50M account or the all-important (at least on this site) 'developer'.

Some people are precious, arn't they?

Realist
Tuesday, August 05, 2003

> Why did everyone have an Aeron? Yeah I know it was an incentive thing, but in retrospect it looks like excess, doesn't it. Lots of money spent on something that didn't add to the bottom line that helped cause the crash.

I keep hearing about this Aeron-chair theory  and I find it fascinating. The crash was caused by providing productive work spaces for the engineers. That's what did it folks!  It was not caused by buying $35 million superbowl ads, nor was it caused by poorly thought out or unsustainable business models, nor by $100 million salaries for the board. The entire trouble was that the team of 32 developers at pets.com or whatever were paid too much, given too many comfortable $700 chairs (btw, you might not know it but sitting in a cheap chair 18 hrs a day leads to a lot of distracting back pain that reduces productivity).

Dennis Atkins
Tuesday, August 05, 2003

I worked in a cubicle at my first job.  However, the company realized the importance of a good work environment, so it was a reasonably spacious and quiet cubicle, and the walls were too high even to see over the top of.  The floor plan was such that with the exception of a handful of cubicles, most everyone had a window view.  I didn't mind it at all, and would gladly work in that environment again.

Right now, I have only a desk -- not a cubicle, a desk -- with a long hallway running behind me, from left to right.  I like to joke that am one of the few people in the company with his own private hallway workspace, but yes, the foot traffic gets to me after a while.  I managed to get a privacy screen after about a month of bitching, and I am relatively impervious to noise.  Still, I'd prefer to be in an office ...

At Microsoft, contractors don't really qualify as "human" ...

Alyosha`
Tuesday, August 05, 2003

I work in an office with one other person. I find this preferable to working in a private office, and infinitely preferable to the diabolical world of large open converted barn space.

Mr Jack
Tuesday, August 05, 2003

In my current office I can look over the garden and to the hills in the distance, well I could if it wasn't so sunny and the blind wasn't down.

I've never actually worked for very long in anything like a cubicle.  I've visited plenty of people that had to work in them and its always felt a little like being in the bathroom with someone, an intense invasion of privacy and only one place to sit down.

I have worked in vast offices of worker bees and I largely disliked that, I'd usually end up building a wall of bookcases around me. 

I've shared small offices and that's always a trial until you reach some level of equilibrium with everyone else.

On the whole, wherever its been, working has been a trial and at the beginning the local evironment is always something to be tolerated and worked with.  This is true even if you all have your own little office space, then people get lonely from time to time and wander around looking for diversions.

As I work entirely alone now, apart from some electronic pal that's sometimes fun to be with, I get my gumption leaks from, hmmmm right here...

Simon Lucy
Tuesday, August 05, 2003

In private talks with business owners some have admitted that one of the basic insticts of the owner is to be able to watch over the employees. I do not mean this in the sense of keeping track of productivity. No, I realy mean watch over them in a physical sense.
Many first start out with open plan. Now you can see this room full of people working away. Separation panels and later cubicles only move in after the inevitable first disturbance problems.
"Experienced owners might go for cubicles straight away. It is only those owners that can emphatize with the programmers, mostly because they are/have been programmers themselves and have not turned their backs on it, can give in to offices with doors.

Just me (Sir to you)
Tuesday, August 05, 2003

The fact is, a whole lot of business are run for with the bosses' ego as the first priority. Which explains everything we've mentioned here.

OC
Tuesday, August 05, 2003

We're in the process of moving office.

We're moving from about 1700 sq. feet into about 4300 sq ft.  We're currently 13 people here, and we have planned the new office out to take up to 26 people.

Where we are at the moment we're mostly open-plan (no cubilcalisation) with a couple of private offices. When we decided to move we had a long chat with everyone over whether the new office should be open-plannish, or closed-officish. 

The overwhelming vote was "I don't care" - but seemed to be leaning more on the "office" side. A few folk had expressed the desire for closed offices. 

The biggest problem with the current space seems to be ambient noise. The more people there are, the move ambient noise there is, (phone calls, people talking and so on.) 

Ultimately we settled on individual offices. Some are quite small (the smallest is about 70 sq feet) - others (particulalry for team leaders etc) are bigger (the biggest are 200 sq feet).  We also set aside about 725 sq. ft as a "common recreation area", plus there's a board-room for bigger meetings.

Time will tell whether it actually improves productivity - but at the end of the day we're more concerned with just creating a comfortable work environment that people want to go to.  Happy employees mean productivty regardless of where the walls are.

Bruce

Bruce Johnson
Tuesday, August 05, 2003

> The overwhelming vote was "I don't care"

I quote the movie American President, "People don't drink the sand because they're thirsty. They drink the sand because they don't know the difference."

The problem with most people I know, is they've never worked in a closed office environment with complete privacy.  They don't know how good it is.  They've never read a book like Peopleware to even inform them that such places exist.  The best they know is tales from the Microsoft Intern Pool bringing back messages of single occupancy office bliss.

This is why more people don't have a problem with the cubicle and open air environments; they don't know the difference.

Elephant
Tuesday, August 05, 2003

A "cow orker"? Is that something bovine out of Tolkien?


Tuesday, August 05, 2003

Oh, and does he wear a 3-piece suite to work?


Tuesday, August 05, 2003

Having just completed a move where we insisted on providing a private office (with a window and door) for our staff, I find this topic very interesting.

We share space with an IT support company (and moved with them, actually).  The old office was mainly a cube farm, and the new office still has some cubs.  We also just finished building walls (for our company).  As such, the FancyPants assertion that cubes arent "exactly easy to re-arrange" strikes me as being a comment made by someone who hasn't recently had experience allowing them to compare the two tasks...

In the last four years, the cube walls at the old office changed at least every six months, particularly in the call center area.  Usually this corresponded to a gradual shift in staff.  At first, everyone wanted the high cube walls for more privacy.  Then, they found that these were a pain because they had to get up to talk to the person on the other side of the wall and so the walls came down.  But later some people wanted their privacy back, so half walls went up.  Keep in mind that the nature of their job (call center) has a million interruptions, so they are quite capable of multi-tasking and handling the interruptions. This is not to say that they don't do any work that requires concentration - they do, but they found that the advantages of being able to communicate without moving outweighed the drawbacks of the extra distractions. 

Putting cubes together is really easy.  All you need is the ability to imagine changes and a screwdriver.  It takes minutes (or hours). As such, it can be done with minimum disruption to those working (after hours, for instance, or during lunch)

Now, putting up walls in the new office took days, not minutes.  Yes, the erector set stuff is much easier to work with, but drywall is still heavy and a pain to work with, and you still need three coats of drywall mud (and they have to dry for 24 hours in between).  And then you have to sand and paint. The materials may not be that different in cost, but the labor is very different.  Unless you have the know-how to do it yourself, the cost of new walls is significantly higher than cube walls.  And that's going under the theory that doing it yourself has no "cost"...  It also takes more than a single screwdriver. 

Changing the cube configuration is something that you talk about in a meeting and decide to do that afternoon.  It's easy and costs squat once you have the walls.  Changing your physical office layout is not something you do on a whim.  It's a lot more work, more expensive and causes a ton of disruption between the actual noise of the work, the dust, the smell, and the fact that the area has to be vacated while you do it.

Now, getting back to whether a private office is a must-have or not, I think it depends a bit on the individual and the job.  As I mentioned above, the company that we share space with found that their call center folk was more productive with the walls down because of the improved level of communication.  Philo commented that when he needs to talk to a co-worker he uses his legs.  The thing is, most people are lazy (Joel even mentions this in the article about distractions, I believe).  If it requires thirty seconds to go and find the person, they are less likely to do it.  So, even if the communication might be valuable, it's not always going to happen ("oh, I'll do it later")  Besides, then you lose a minute of travelling time, which can add up, so all those little communications over the day are not as beneficial, if they occur at all.

At Phibian, we mainly have "thinking" type jobs.  In order to do our work, it is important to be able to concentrate and get into the "zone".  So having a private office for our employees was very important to me. However, I personally don't have a private office.  I share space with my co-owner (and spouse, actually).  We've been working together a long time, and we find that we are able to manage the balance between communication and disruptions.  If we had separate offices, not only would I get lonely <g>, but we'd never have any idea of what was going on (or else the discovery of what was going on would become a full time job).  I wouldn't put an employee in that situation, however, because learning to balance between improved communication and distractions is challenging.  Besides, a private office boosts morale.  So the point is, private or not - it depends.

Phibian
Tuesday, August 05, 2003

You can put up partition walls that don't have to be made out of plaster, but its true a floor to ceiling wall is always going to take longer than a cube partition.

Simon Lucy
Tuesday, August 05, 2003

> If it requires thirty seconds to go and find the person,
> they are less likely to do it.  So, even if the
> communication might be valuable, it's not always going
> to happen ("oh, I'll do it later")

If the communication is essential, do you really think it won't happen?

If I need to know about some spec in the program, because that's my job, and it's my responsibility to do it, lazy or not, I'm going to find out.  When communication is essential, it occurs, by the mere fact that it is essential.  Having to make an effort to communicate simply removes the non-essential communication.

As Joel has mentioned, It keeps me from yelling over the wall, "What was the name of that class you used" and interrupting my co-worker, instead of spending 20 seconds to find it in the API.  Not to mention the fact, that my interruption of my co-worker is much more than just interrupting one person.  I'm amassed in a relatively isolated bank of 8 cubes.  My yelling over the wall interrupts 7 people as a result of my laziness.  In this case communication was not essential, and provided a serious distraction to many of my co-workers.

Elephant
Tuesday, August 05, 2003

(OT - but Orking is the act of taking a photograph of an animal with it's nose too close to the lense)

Konrad
Tuesday, August 05, 2003

"Also in teams of mixed experience, everyone can "run ideas" by others.  As new people see even experienced people as questions and get input, they begin to do the same.  This benefits everyone."

Just now there is a conversation next cubicle about a reality show here in Chile. They're talking about some Sebastian guy who broke out with a gal because she farted in bed or something like that.

That's what I called mixed experience.

I believe the "mixed experience" benefits are better when used in scheduled meetings or other instance, for example, pair programming.

Leonardo Herrera
Tuesday, August 05, 2003

"If it requires thirty seconds to go and find the person, they are less likely to do it."

And thank the gods for that. I can't tell you how many times I've had someone ask me a question, when it would've taken then exactly 10 seconds they refused to invest to find the answer for themselves. Instead, they disrupt me (and others around me, since it's cubes) with their question, and cause a loss of 10-15 minutes. All because they were too lazy to fire up MSDN.

Coding means the phone is on DnD, the IM is shut down, the e-mail is stopped, and the door is closed. A lot has been made in this thread about barriers being bad. Sorry, but barriers are good in some cases, too.

Brad Wilson (dotnetguy.techieswithcats.com)
Tuesday, August 05, 2003

"I mean get over it, who's attention is more important the accountant balancing a $50M account or the all-important (at least on this site) 'developer'."

If the 'developer' is working on:
a) the company's flagship product
b) a realtime system (ATC, missile guidance, mars orbiters)
c) HIPAA software

then I'd have to say the latter. Balancing a $50M account is really fairly straightforward, and it will be scrutinized by a LOT of people. The wrong bug can easily get into production.

(btw, the reason (c) is so important - leak privacy info from a healthcare system and the CEO goes to jail)

Philo

Philo
Tuesday, August 05, 2003

Do you remember when Les Nessman in WKRP, had, like, those lines painted on the floor to show where his office walls should be?  And he would always make those motions to open and close his office door that, like, wasn't really there?

That was cool.

Jim Rankin
Tuesday, August 05, 2003

>>>  The problem with most people I know, is they've never worked in a closed office environment with complete privacy.  They don't know how good it is. <<<

I expect that is a large part of the problem.  My experience might be sort of the opposite of most people.  My first full time job was at a university research lab.  I was given a quiet private office as were all the fulltime employees.  When I thought about career advancement I'd think in terms of more responsibility and working with more complex technology.  It didn't occur to me that there were very few employers that considered quality of workspace important.

My next career step was to a NASA lab where we had three programmers sharing an office and I got my first lesson in how disruptive shared office space could be.  Various other job environments taught me that the important feature to emphasize is "quiet".  A private office is necessary for a good work space, but I have visited private offices where it was hard to think or converse over the whistling and howling of the HVAC.

One experience I have never had is anything like that described by Mike Gamerland where a small group works in shared space and becomes very productive because of the ability to interact.  I have worked in a group of about 15 developers sharing a large office space divided into quadricles.  But useful interaction never happened.  The main thing I remember about that project is walking in to the building in the morning and dreading the thought of having to spend another day there.

mackinac
Tuesday, August 05, 2003

"Then, they found that these were a pain because they had to get up to talk to the person on the other side of the wall "

Wah.
[the following minor rant should be read in the style of MTV2's Talking Baby
[ http://www.mtv.com/music/video/index.jhtml?_lpvid=22710 (warning: Real Player content) ] :

If it's that important, they can get off their fat ass and go ask. If I, King of All Laziness, have no problems walking to someone's cube, then anyone can do it. If walking over is so very, very tiring, then they can always write an email (which often helps compose one's thoughts anyway).

As for putting cubes together - agreed that plain ol' fuzzy cube walls can be done with a screwdriver and a wrench. But how do you explain one company I was at where they got Smed cubes that I'm *positive* cost more than real walls and couldn't be rearranged without a Smed consultant doing it? Now *that* is losing sight of the forest for the trees. (or something)

Philo

Philo
Tuesday, August 05, 2003

I completely agree with Brad's sentiment "I can't tell you how many times I've had someone ask me a question, when it would've taken then exactly 10 seconds they refused to invest to find the answer for themselves."

In fact, even though I share an office (see above), one really great thing about the new office is that we now have a door.

However, there is another form of "essential" communication that simply *doesn't* happen when people are lazy (in my experience, anyway).  This isn't the "I don't know what to do so I have to ask" kind of communication, it's the "the spec is unclear" communications (most people will "interpret" rather than take the extra couple minutes, and think they will check it later).  It's the kind of communication that, if it happens, dramatically improves the end result (maybe more efficient, or better), but doesn't have to happen to get *something* working.  (Think hallway usability testing). 

This is how you get a situation where a team member takes three times as long to complete a task, because they didn't ask for help from someone more experienced.  This doesn't apply when the answer is readily available via Google, it's more when the problem is something like one team member has specialized domain knowledge. hard-won through experience.  Sure, everyone ought to work to acquire that knowledge if it's useful, but in the meantime, if the choices are flounder or interrupt me, I'd rather be interrupted.

For instance, we are currently working on a scheduling application that happens to enforce various union rules.  Some team members are more familiar with the collective agreement than others.  If someone has a question about the implementation of the rules as simplified in the spec, and they are not familiar with the agreement, they have three choices: wade through the collective agreement, make something up, or go talk to the person who wrote the spec.

If Choice C requires the most effort (and for some reason, physical effort seems to count as more effort than mental effort), then it's less likely to happen.  But it will usually be the most effective, even if it interrupts the original person.  I'd rather lose the fifteen minutes than have the first person spend at least that or longer reading the collective agreement (which they might interpret incorrectly anyway).  And I'd much rather have either A or C than having the person implement something on which they made an arbitrary decision, since every time that has happened, it has come back to bite us.

Like so many things in life, there's a balance (and many shades of grey).  And it's really impossible to declare "interruptions" == bad.

Phibian
Tuesday, August 05, 2003

I would say frequent interruptions == bad.

Elephant
Tuesday, August 05, 2003

What I don't like about my cubicle:

- I can't tell who comes up behind me and looks over my shoulder.  I can't read JOS in peace without someone wondering why I'm not "working."
- I can't talk to my wife on the phone and feel comfortable closing with the standard (for us at least) "I love you" because other people will hear it.  I have to either sound brisk and business-like or make a trek down the hall to the conference room if I want to talk to her in privacy.
- I can't eat my lunch at my desk without worrying whether or not my crisp apple is too loud or whether the pickle on my sandwich smells too strongly.
- I can't fart without worrying about the next guy hearing it.  I have to try and sneak 'em out silently or else make a trek down the hall just to let one.
- When my dad called me on the phone to tell me my grandpa had died I couldn't have a meaningful conversation with him without 10 people hearing it.
- When I have a cold I worry about couging too much and disturbing my neighbors.
- When my neighbor has a cold he coughs too much and disturbs me.
- I can't blow my nose without worrying about how gross it sounds to others.
- I can hear the salesguy two rows down talking to his customer and hear his stupid cell-phone ring.  You can only hear a Fur Elise cell-phone ring so many times without getting homicidal.
- I can't talk to subordinates, superiors, or colleages about anything remotely confidential unless I make a trek down the hall to the conference room.
- When there isn't any noise like conversation or cell phones to disturb me I can still hear 10 sets of keyboards being tapped on.  Very annoying.

Call me insecure or or lazy or overly-sensitive or unmannered or whatever you wish but the above reasons why I don't like my cubicle.

Codeman
Tuesday, August 05, 2003

A lot of the most important conversations happen on an ad-hoc basis. If you go down the private office route I think it's important to introduce ways that these 'accidental' coversations can still take place i.e. installing escalators rather than lifts.

Yanwoo
Tuesday, August 05, 2003

I meant a meaningful conversation with my dad, not my dead grandpa.  Stupid antecedents and pronouns :-)

Codeman
Tuesday, August 05, 2003

"When my dad called me on the phone to tell me my grandpa had died I couldn't have a meaningful conversation with him without 10 people hearing it."

this is a huge quality of life issue. They're rare, but my god how vicious they can be.

I got the call at work when my father had a stroke - I was actually sitting *next* to another developer, since we shared a desk. I had to sit there and cry quietly while trying to get all the details.

[On a better note, that was three years ago, and he's fine, living with us now and turns 81 in three weeks]

Philo

Philo
Tuesday, August 05, 2003

"A lot of the most important conversations happen on an ad-hoc basis. If you go down the private office route I think it's important to introduce ways that these 'accidental' coversations can still take place i.e. installing escalators rather than lifts."

It's much, much harder to "run into" people with an escalator - nobody waits around, they're all moving. The important conversations are waiting for an elevator and in the elevator.

You could also have a kitchen with free drinks. ;-)

Philo

Philo
Tuesday, August 05, 2003

"I can't fart without worrying about the next guy hearing it.  I have to try and sneak 'em out silently or else make a trek down the hall just to let one."

Now THIS, I think, trumps all the arguments for having cubicles.

:)

Jim Rankin
Tuesday, August 05, 2003

In the last contract I spent with real live bodies I made a point of joining them on their smoking breaks, though I haven't smoked for 17 years, because it was more sociable and talking about other things than the direct problems can be just as useful, plus we also solved other important problems.

Like what to do for lunch.

Simon Lucy
Tuesday, August 05, 2003

also, regarding the "ease of moving cubes around", the cubes at my workplace have cat 5 and power cabling running through them, so any attempt to move them would require a re-wire somewhere

do any other cube lands have the same thing?

Dan G
Wednesday, August 06, 2003

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