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What's so special about "my own office".

What's the big deal about having your own office?  I've never worked in an office/cubicle environment before so I know nothing about it, but it seems people are obsessed with this "my own office" thing.  What the heck is so darn special about having your "own" office.  No one to chit-chat with, no one to swap stories with.  Can't check out the cute girls.  I mean what possible advantages could it have.  Privacy advocates wave their flag saying it provides privacy?  Privacy for what?  What do you do in your own office that you need so much privacy?  Can't be good.  I personally would want someone to talk with every now and then.  I feel sorry for all you programmer/office types, I couldn't stand being cooped up all day.


Thursday, January 15, 2004

To me, the want to have an office isn't so much all the bonuses that come from having an office, it's getting rid of all the negatives that come with having a cubicle.

You say you've never been stuck in such a situation... I applaud you - are you hiring?  No, seriously... are you?

In case you're curious - Dilbert, "Office Space" - it's all true.

Greg Hurlman
Thursday, January 15, 2004

An optimal cubical environment iis fine. In most cubicles you'll have to put up with people listening to "their" music, having chats with colleauges, being on the phone, etc. That makes it harder to concentrate, which is something programmers need to do every now and then.

The privacy thing might concern tasks like scheduling an appointment with your doctor to have your gential warts looked at, calling the bank about your overdraft or calling your wife to tell her you want a divorce.

  -tim

a2800276
Thursday, January 15, 2004

Forgot: all the important people have their own office, so it's an indication of your social rank within the company.
  -tim

a2800276
Thursday, January 15, 2004

I can't speak for other "office" types, but programming well *requires* long stretches of uninterrupted concentration.  That can't be done in shared areas, and all the other remedies (headphones, etc.) yield inferior results to having a quiet place when you need it.

But even programmers deeply need the social life a shared space affords.  That's why offices have doors, and adjoining fun spaces.  Need to concentrate?  Close the door.  Done concentrating?  Mill about the office poking your head into open doors, hanging by the kitchen, tossing a softball outside, ogling your favoritely-gendered cuties.

Enlightened employers provide and encourage both, and they reap the benefits of superior results.

veal
Thursday, January 15, 2004

>> "so it's an indication of your social rank within the company"

There-in lies the real problem.  There should be no social ranking within the company.  Everyone should be treated as equals.  You may have a job title and you may do that job, but that certainly should not correlate with social rank.


Thursday, January 15, 2004

New to the workforce, are we?

Bob
Thursday, January 15, 2004

its a place to bring the cute girls  :D

apw
Thursday, January 15, 2004

If I had an office I would close the door and happily ignore this thread.  Unfortunately I'm in a cube I can't tune it out.

Steve H
Thursday, January 15, 2004

> What do you do in your own office that you need
> so much privacy?  Can't be good.

That terrifies me.  Not just about offices, but in general.  The attitude that "if he wants privacy, he must be doing something WRONG and EVIL!".  Some people just like privacy for the sake of it.  Get over it.

As for "why my own office", how about quiet?  I just like it to be quiet. 

A cube farm full of vapid co-workers who insist on chit-chatting all the time and ogling women that are way out of their league is not the place to get work done.

Joe Blandy
Thursday, January 15, 2004

No one to talk with is exactly why the 3-4 person office is optimal. You have friends you can talk with during down time, but it stays quiet enough to get things done.

Solo offices can be very isolating, but small offices give you the best of both worlds.

jason

JasonB
Thursday, January 15, 2004

>> Solo offices can be very isolating, but small offices give you the best of both worlds.

IF you get along with your office mates...

Bored Bystander
Thursday, January 15, 2004

Having your own office means you can read this forum without anyone standing behind you asking why you're not doing any work. 

a cynic writes...
Thursday, January 15, 2004

Mad props, cynic.

Full name
Thursday, January 15, 2004

I've known managers in the past that hated the idea of not being able to see everyone's screen and so they set things up so that even if there are offices the screens have to face the door/partition window.

But then again I've known some staff with really seamy things on their screen too.  Sometimes I think I know where all the car mechanics have gone and got jobs at.

And I do get suspicious of people running windows with outrageously tiny fonts and an obvious irc connection.  I wouldn't mind if the fonts were of a size where I could read them and see the obscenities properly.

And no, you can't come and look at mine...

Simon Lucy
Thursday, January 15, 2004

At my last job my boss wouldn't allow anyone access to the internet on their development PC.  You had to use a central Internet connected PC in the lobby area in order to look something up on google...  I don't work there anymore.

Ted E. Bear
Thursday, January 15, 2004

Cynic:

All you've got to say is you're doing research.

See, it says the word "software" in the page title.

Joe
http://www.joegrossberg.com

Joe Grossberg
Thursday, January 15, 2004

Huh? All this comes from that book... The one that says you need at least 15 minutes to get into Flow.

You said it yourself, when you're in a cubicle you chat with your friends and check out girls. When do you get work done?

www.MarkTAW.com
Thursday, January 15, 2004

Over the years I've personally worked in open-plan environments, cubes, shared offices, and single-person offices -- and also had to manage fairly large teams (only some of them developers), determine floor plans during office build-outs, and the like. Here are some thoughts from those experiences.

Objectively, the biggest problem devs face in cubicles isn't privacy, it's noise. This is especially true if you work in an environment where people whose job depends on them making noise (e.g. salespeople, tech support) work next to ones that need quiet in order to concentrate and be productive (e.g. developers). This is a recipe for disaster.

By contrast, if you are in a cubicle or open-plan environment where people are working on tightly coupled projects and are respectful of others' needs for quiet most of the time, it can actually work pretty well. Normally there's not a lot of distraction, and when there are distractions, it's the kind of thing where overhearing someone else talking can be good because it might alert you to something you need to know about, or something you could contribute to.

Subjectively, there are a couple of additional problems people who work in cubes or open environments face. Lack of privacy is one. People do sometimes need to take care of sensitive personal business at the office -- call to make a doctor's appointment, or whatever. I've worked in office-less places where the solution to that was little "phone booth" type areas that people could go into and close the door on for privacy as good as they'd get in a private office. A related privacy issue is that sometimes people do play games or surf -- maybe it's visiting sites like this one, maybe it's just what they do to unwind for a few minutes instead of taking a coffee or smoking break. In any case, I think the key there is that managers need to be clear they're not going to explode with rage if they see something non-work-related on your screen, as long as you're getting your work done. Still, it can feel bad if someone in a position of authority sees you doing something non-work-related on work time. Just a quirk of human nature I think.

Oh, another angle on the privacy issue is that managers really need someplace where they can have a private discussion with employees, HR folks, that kind of thing. A private office is a near necessity unless you have a bunch of small conference rooms that can be occupied on a moment's notice.

Another problem with cubicles is that they're often just too damn small. It's not uncommon for developers to have big monitors and multiple machines, plus stacks of documentation and books and reference materials and whatnot. You want space for a whiteboard. And so on. But the average cubicle just doesn't have nearly enough room to spread out.

Then there's the ego aspect. This seems to vary a lot from person to person, but some people have a really hard time with being in cubicles rather than offices because they think it's a measure of their status. As a manager I used to wish we didn't have to decide who sat in cubes and who sat in offices because there was always some degree of frustration and resentment. When someone with an office decided to leave the company or move into a different department or something like that, folks would start jockeying to figure out how they could wangle their way into the soon-to-be-vacant office. Private offices for everyone would solve all that.

Despite all the objective and subjective benefits of private offices, there's one thing about them that does concern me. Some people use offices as a crutch to withdraw from contact with the rest of the team. While they may be individually productive, they're not necessarily communicative, and they're not contributing to gelling of the team. I suppose one solution would be to avoid hiring people who are that withdrawn.

My personal preference is something that approaches private offices but with a bit more sociability. That could be either private offices with some semi-formal collaboration like regular pair programming, or offices shared by 2 or 3 people who can get along, with some areas where people can escape when they need private time or need to do something that might be disruptive to their officemates. Although it might seem like having multiple people in an office would overly disrupt your flow, my experience has usually been that people learn to read each others' state and body language and get pretty good about recognizing when their officemates are deep in thought and when they're also ripe for some spontaneous social interaction. But this would probably break down quickly if you had vastly different types of people in the same office -- one person that gets phone calls all the time and likes to gossip could ruin it all, as could one severely hygiene-challenged individual.

Incidentally, some of my friends at Microsoft gripe that many of the buildings are so packed that virtually nobody has individual offices any more. Hmm.

John C.
Thursday, January 15, 2004

If yiu want to talk to people use the coffee shop.

Sharing an office is Ok if you all are equally busy; if you're busy and the other two are having a slack time you really notice. And if they need to have a meeting then you're in on it willy-nilly.

Stephen Jones
Thursday, January 15, 2004

Joe  - I don't need to - I have an office.

A cynic writes
Thursday, January 15, 2004

An interesting solution was one I saw at Ideo in a book titled The Art of Innovation by Tom Kelly.

Everyone has their own office... but the office is free floating and has no ceiling. Sort of halfway between cubicle and office, six foot walls, doors, no ceiling, and mobile.

"Our spaces, for instance, have been laid out so that a central asymmetrical table functions like a part for three or four team members... Everybody who lives by that 'park' can see at a glance whether their neighbors are at home, but they can also slide transparent lexan barn doors closed if they need to buckle down and work privately on something. It's a wonderful mix of community and privacy that seems to offer much of the seclusion of traditional offices without the seperation."
...
"Everything from office partitions to files and desks are easily moveable. We've designed and built little carts to neatly cluster the web of power and telecommunicaitons wires. When a team member moves, it's as simple as disconnecting and pusshing the cart to their new location. We've got a shrinwrapping technique so that you don't even have to take things off the shelves before you roll them away. Space is the team and the work. If a member wants to jump aboard another project, he or she needs to be able to quickly take off and land in another building or office."

I googled for a picture but didn't turn one up, but I did find this, which looks a lot more expensive than their simple boxes:

http://www.ideo.com/dilbert/index.htm

Click the cubes to get to other pages.

www.MarkTAW.com
Thursday, January 15, 2004

A shared office is not much better than cubes.  A office with a missing ceiling is no help at all.

The goal is deep, uninterrupted concentration.  Even two to an office makes that extremely unlikely unless the other is comatose.  How difficult is this concept to understand?

veal
Thursday, January 15, 2004

Well I guess in light of veal's comment, I should say that this is a design firm and not a software company. Yes, sound is a problem so open ceilings won't help much in that department, especially with warehouse type ceilings like they have, which won't really absorb sound.

Rather than looking at this as a problem, look at it as a challenge. Hunker down with your team when something like this comes up and come up with a solution. If it becomes a point of contention among the members who gets the office and who doesn't, that probably points to a greater problem within your team that you need to address anyway.

Oh yeah, I remembered the name of that book, Peopleware.

www.MarkTAW.com
Thursday, January 15, 2004

Also about closely-spaced cubes, people are more likely to walk by (the nature of closeness) and seem to feel more obligated to say something when anybody makes even inadvertant eye contact. So you get a lot more unnecessary status dumps and progress reports besides the idle chit-chat... or it's deliberate, knowing everybody in the office is going to hear, so they toot their own horn at how much progress or work they're doing.

Cubehead Bob
Thursday, January 15, 2004

For me, it's the noise prevention.

Not other people's noise.  My noise.  I want to listen to music without headphones while I code.  I want to whistle whilst I work.  I want to be able to mutter to myself without people wondering if I've gone nuts.

I don't care if I don't have any more room or privacy than a cubicle.

Flamebait Sr.
Thursday, January 15, 2004

[Privacy advocates wave their flag saying it provides privacy?  Privacy for what?  What do you do in your own office that you need so much privacy?  Can't be good.]


Well that's just it sweety. It's my own goddam business what I do. I guess you don't have rooms in your house do you? No doors on your bathroom? Walls on your house? Fence around your yard?


"Office types" huh. Nice sleight of hand on the insult. I give you an E for effort.

trollbooth
Thursday, January 15, 2004

"There should be no social ranking within the company.  Everyone should be treated as equals.  You may have a job title and you may do that job, but that certainly should not correlate with social rank. "

Sounds like one of them open-source, college students who hasn't been in the real working world.  What you wish and what is are two different things...

Smitty
Thursday, January 15, 2004

The original poster said he never worked in a cube before; I'm wondering if he's ever written code before.

Spend one year working in a cube with people all around you talking on the phone, listening to their voicemail on speakerphone, etc. while you are trying to write code.

Then you won't have to come here and ask such a patently stupid question.

I Hate Whiners
Thursday, January 15, 2004

While there are definite benefits to having a private office (and few detriments - you can still choose to socialize at the water cooler or to have all of the meetings you want or to phone up all of your peers into a big conference call, etc, but on the flip side few cube workers have the ability to choose hours of uninterrupted quiet work), one of the big reasons that an office is so sought after is because it's a means that you matter: Sadly, in many firms the people who matter get offices, and the chud "resources" get cubes.

Actually a hilarious paradox of cubes just stuck me -- of the firms that I've worked at, it was often the introverts who toiled away in public cubes, while the extroverts (sales and "management" types who are generally more adept at selling themselves and their needs) had private offices. Really makes you go hrmm...

Dennis Forbes
Thursday, January 15, 2004

Maybe it was intended that way. Shut up the damned management for a minute, and get those geeks to socialize every once in a while. Who knows, they may even start to care about hygeine too.

www.MarkTAW.com
Thursday, January 15, 2004

"There should be no social ranking within the company.  Everyone should be treated as equals.  You may have a job title and you may do that job, but that certainly should not correlate with social rank. "

Riiight.  And let's demote everyone to Private (or the equivalent) in the Armed Forces, too.

With rank comes privilege.

MR
Thursday, January 15, 2004

"With rank comes privilege."


also a sense of authority...without which, no decision would ever be made

apw
Thursday, January 15, 2004


If I recall correctly, Andy Grove, back when he was the CEO of Intel, used to work out of a standard cubicle the same size as all the other employees.

(Google "Andy Grove" cubicle)

Bill Tomlinson
Thursday, January 15, 2004


Oh, and the best explaination of what makes a good office (for programmers) that I've read is Chapter 30 (Productive Environment) of "Rapid Development".

Bill Tomlinson
Thursday, January 15, 2004

The receptionist at the front of the office has been chatting with a guy for the last half-hour.  Before that some woman visited with whom she talked for a good hour at least.

The secretary across the room listens to the most annoying music I've ever heard.  And bitches and moans all day.

People walk in and out of here all day.

The phone rings all day.

I lost my train of thought.  What was your question?

Kyralessa
Thursday, January 15, 2004

[Privacy advocates wave their flag saying it provides privacy?  Privacy for what?  What do you do in your own office that you need so much privacy?  Can't be good.]

Dear Mr. Attorney General,

How about working for a company that makes software for the medical industry?  In the U.S. we have a little thing called HIPPA.

Your post smacks of someone who stays up and reads transcripts of the McCarthy hearings longing for the "good old days."

working for a company that makes software for the medical industry
Thursday, January 15, 2004

D'oh... typed too fast... should be HIPAA

working for a company that makes software for the medical industry
Thursday, January 15, 2004

>>>  If I recall correctly, Andy Grove, back when he was the CEO of Intel, used to work out of a standard cubicle the same size as all the other employees. <<<

At one time he had a scrollable panoramic picture of his cubicle on the web.  It may have been the same size as other Intel cubicles, but, if so, Intel cubicles would have to be at least twice the area of the typical open plan office cubicle.  One wall was all window with a rather nice view, which not many cubicle dweller have.

mackinac
Thursday, January 15, 2004

In these various discussions of office space there is a lot of agreement that a quiet private office is the best environment for software development.  Yet some posters seem reluctant to advocate such an environment and might argue that a 2-3 person shared office is adequate or even better.  I have never found these arguments convincing (except for one poster a few months ago who worked in game developement), it usually has to do with communication among team members.

My experience does not support this argument at all. In quiet private office space there is still interaction.  People usually leave their doors open, the offices have a bit of extra space and a white board so there can be small informal meetings.  And there is kitchen space or other common areas for people to get together and chat.  In shared office space the only thing that increases is distractions.  It is difficult to be quantitative.  Of course, there is interaction in the shared office space but I have never known it to be better in quantity or quality than what occurs in a private office environment.

mackinac
Thursday, January 15, 2004

I'm a cubicle worker.

*Inside* a private office.  I'm generally all alone in my office, within which there is a cubicle - the only space to put my stuff.

I have no idea how that impacts on my productivity, but I suspect it leaves me too confused to turn out superstar work :)

Mediocre ASP Monkey
Thursday, January 15, 2004

Offices are bad for programmers. Any programmer who is not fully productive in a noisy crowded environment is simply unprofessional incompetant and should be fired immediately.

Bella
Thursday, January 15, 2004

i can't get any work done outside of a cubicle. i bought a cubicle set up from a dot com auction a couple years ago. i set this up inside a spare bedroom in my house, and put a cheap boom box outside of the cubicle, which plays a cassette tape of a phone ringing every 70 seconds.


Friday, January 16, 2004

"I want to listen to music without headphones while I code.  I want to whistle whilst I work.  I want to be able to mutter to myself without people wondering if I've gone nuts."

OMG. Flamebait IS Bob Noxious!

"Coders should be welded to a cubechair and have acid dripped on their shaven eyebrows all day long. Everyone not begging to have the dull corner of an old beige metal filing cabinet dropped onto their bare testicles at least every 42 minutes  should be fired on the spot."

Bella, with ideas like that, no wonder you felt the need to get out of the game.

Just me (Sir to you)
Friday, January 16, 2004

It's not just offices these programmers want Bella; it's computers as well. Didn't they know Turing produced his best work on the back of a matchbox while waiting in the rain for the 59 bus?

Stephen Jones
Friday, January 16, 2004

"I want to listen to music without headphones while I code.  I want to whistle whilst I work.  I want to be able to mutter to myself without people wondering if I've gone nuts."

THESE folx should all be put together in one large office, because in fact they ARE gone nuts.

ThePope
Friday, January 16, 2004

These folks ARE all put together in one large office.

Unfortunately, it's my office.

They did complain that the sound of my typing was bothering them, and could I please cut it out.

Fernanda Stickpot
Friday, January 16, 2004

[Offices are bad for programmers. Any programmer who is not fully productive in a noisy crowded environment is simply unprofessional incompetant and should be fired immediately]

I agree fully with Bella as usual. Anyone who can't perform brain surgery inside the steam catapult room below the decks of a large Enterprise scale aircraft carrier should be fired. No. Better yet SHOT. We don't need these stinking whiners. Next thing you know they'll want to be treated as humans instead of just canned tuna. monkeys. worthless worthless coding monkeys all of you!

trollbooth
Friday, January 16, 2004

"inside the steam catapult room below the decks of a large Enterprise scale aircraft carrier should be fired."

Hrm. My stateroom was beneath the port catapult for two years. I will tell you that it's actually harder to sleep beneath the helicopter deck of a cruiser.

Philo

Philo
Friday, January 16, 2004

Didn’t you lot know that almost every employer logs your internet usage? And some log your telephone usage, as well. You don’t have any meaningful privacy in a private office. What you have is peace and quiet to concentrate.

It’s funny that nobody mentioned home workers. In California, having cut our health benefits and bonuses, they’re eliminating all office space. “Status” in these companies means having a workstation in the mothership. I’d love working from home (even over the smashing office I used to have) if it weren’t for the difficulty of getting uncooperative people to cooperate. There’s no way you can “beard them in their den” and keep them there until they cough up whatever you want. I really thought it would be different, but the politics of teleworking as a member of a team are worse, not better.   

Out in Siberia
Sunday, January 18, 2004

Move to Sweden. Here everybody has their private office

Bingo
Thursday, January 22, 2004

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