Fog Creek Software
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Cube or office...What do you have?

The company I work for is moving into a new building as we're running out of space in our current one. Although they haven't released the details of what kind of workarea we can expect, I'm guessing that they will either cube us or have shared offices  (2-4 people per).

Just wondering if anybody else out there works for a company of say 200 people with 50 or so of them developers, and if so what kind of workareas do you have?

cubes suck
Thursday, January 30, 2003

Well, given your tag, you're probably not going to get the answer you want from me.

I work in an office with both cubicles and offices and if we had our way we'd probably do away with the offices. We do team based seating where all members of a team are seated together. This includes developers, QA, product managers, and tech writers. We find this really enhances communication between the team members.

Offices, especially ones where for a single person only, can have a negative effect on team communication.

Some people can't work with any kind of distraction and this can pose a problem in a cubicle environment. But then, I'd say if a person has problems with distractions then working in a team is going to be difficult for them anyway.

Just my $0.02,

Bruce Rennie
Thursday, January 30, 2003

I tend to lean more towards what Bruce said.

It's a hard line to walk and it really depends on the team.  The biggest problem with private offices is that developers tend to get holed up in them and communication suffers.

With everyone working together, communication is more open. The downside of that is the it can be more distracting, too. Sometimes a developer just needs to go hole away for a day and work on some difficult code.

I really do think it depends on the team, the quality of management and the kind of project being worked on. I don't believe anyone can make a blanket statement of "Cubes bad. Offices good" or the opposite. It just depends.

Mark Hoffman
Thursday, January 30, 2003

I work in an office that is 100% cubes, and it is a terrible detriment to developer productivity.  But don't take my word for it -- read Peopleware by Demarco/Lister, and you can read their research and arguments about the negative impact of noise and interruptions in software development.

Thursday, January 30, 2003

Yes, I've read that and agree with what DeMarco and Lister said.

If you stuff all your developers into a large cube farm then all you have done is combine a noisy atmosphere with the demoralizing effect of cubes and done nothing to increase communcation.

A better approach is put project members together in a large room, but still give them a cube or something outside so that they can make phone calls, etc, or be left alone for a while.

There is more to software productivity than just removing distractions. Much more. Communication is equally as important. A developer may be in total harmony with his thoughts and writing perfect code, but if he is writing the *wrong* code because he is an island, then we haven't done anything to help productivity, have we?

Mark Hoffman
Thursday, January 30, 2003

Most of the time I've worked in a cubicle. I had a one person office once, shared a two person office twice (once with a team member, once without), and twice shared a conference room (5 - 7 person project team).

Having the whole project team together provided amazing teamwork, but was prone to too many distractions. It would have been much better if there was a seperate breakout room nearby. It also seemed once you had too many people sharing the room, people lost any obligation to be considerate.

I hated the single person office, very easy to concentrate, but the isolation made me feel like an outsider since I was new to the team. The two person office worked out well both times, a good compromise. It would be my first choice.

Eric Moore
Thursday, January 30, 2003

We've got cubes and offices.  I'm in a cube.

I have office envy not because of the status or added size but because of the door.  I like to be able to listen to music on regular speakers instead of with headphones (which politeness demands)

The trick is to have whatever space you have large enough for 2-3 people per office/cube comfortably, so that you can have group debuging sessions.

It's about as fast, and signifigantly less distracting, to use instant messaging between team members in lieu of shouting over cube walls.

Thursday, January 30, 2003

Work in a cube farm.  Everywhere I have been that has been the case.

And, since large cubes are scattered throughout the floor and not concentrated in one spot, and since they tend to go to project managers, the people that make their living talking on the phone sit next to the people that concentrate for a living. 

Very bad.

Office designers take note.

Thursday, January 30, 2003

Office - definitely.

I've been in all situations for various lengths of time, but all in all, I think an office is still your best bet. Without distractions, you can simply get more work done. You can use your phone how you like, you can listen to music, you can keep a messy desk. It's your little sanctum of productivity.

As for not fostering "teamwork" or some such, I think that as long as you leave your door open and be inviting and helpful when people come by, you can still get good cohesion with team mates. I get many pop-ins a day - and being able to have a full discussion (without having to worry about disrupting others), while using my own white boards does wonders. Sure, you can have some kind of "break out room" in a cube farm, but now we both have to get up, go there and come back. Plus, the whole time you're away from your computer (which might be needed to bring up source code, etc).

Shameless plug, check out

Office Space
Thursday, January 30, 2003

I would avoid either offices or cubicles - go for an open plan room with the whole team in it.

Be wary of having very long desks with developers strung out along them, it hampers communication (as you can't speak directly to most of your teammates without speaking over or physically barging in on someone else), and feels very soulless.

What works for us is where there are two developers sat at opposite ends of a large desk facing each other, and this arrangement is replicated around the room.

It's easy to get people's attention and to pick up on the conversation around oneself, but not too disturbing.

Speaking for myself, if I ever feel I want to avoid the 'goldfish bowl effect' in an open plan office, I just duck behind the monitor while I'm working.

This kind of arrangement is particularly convenient for technical communication. There is a healthy tendency to eavesdrop on technical conversations, which often leads to some important points being revealed by other team members that were unknown to the people starting the conversation... and let's face it, it's good for keeping up with the gossip too.

Oh and finally - don't force people to face the walls and don't put up partitions that restrict the view of the outside world.

I think this works best for small teams, there are seven of us sharing a room with another team of four.


Thursday, January 30, 2003

It depends on what you want to accomplish, really.  If you read Peopleware and then read Cockburn's _Agile Software Development_ you get two different theories and I think both of them are right.

In a small group, for working closely together, a shared space is nice.  Right now we have five developers with open cube type spaces -- all the desks face inward, but there's a half-wall there that prevents us from staring at each other all day.  The discussions tend to start on one end of the room and wander about -- if you want to participate, you can, and I've generally been successful in tuning it out or pretending to be terribly focused otherwise.  There are only the five of us after all, it doesn't get that loud.

At another small company I worked on a project alone for a long time, in an office I shared with another developer.  That worked nicely too, until I ended up in the windowless office with the funny-smelling guy.  You know.  Shared offices have their ups and downs.

On moving out of that shared office, I specifically wanted one with a window, so I ended up in a three-person office.  But, I was on a ten-person project and soon started doing a lot of coordinating.  I pretty much abandoned that office for a perch on the corner of a desk in the testing lab (terribly configured hallway shaped/used room with desks running down each wall, no barriers at all) where I could at least find out what was really going on.

At yet another company I had a standard face-the-wall un-private cubicle.  Larger place.  Terrible idea for them really.  Unlike my current job, I never learned anything over the wall, and I felt terribly self-concious since anyone walking down one major hallway would be staring at me while doing it.  They would have been better off with either offices *or* a corporate style more encouraging toward collaborative code ownership and casual exchange of information.

Thursday, January 30, 2003

I've worked in cubicles, open shared desks, and currently in a private office. Office by far is the best. Being able to close the door to really focus and "enter the zone" is something you can't do with everyone together or even in a cube. Especially if you dont want to have to wear headphones all the time to block out unwanted noise and conversations. Also, when the door is closed people are a lot less likely to disrupt you, it seems a lot easier for someone to pop their head into your cube to ask a  poorly thought-out question. As for being too isolated, I haven't found that to be the case. I normally leave the door open, and keep a second chair in the office to make it more inviting for people to visit (when I want them to :) ). If you want team spirit, go to lunch together.

Thursday, January 30, 2003

I've worked on both offices, cubes and "team space".  By far the best arrangement was team space.

One great thing about "team space" is that no one ever pops their head in the door with a stupid question - that's because its a team environment - and everyone is clued in.

Peer pressure is a great thing.  Everyone know when you're reading JOS, checking your Schwab account, etc.  and when you're really working.  Designs are ususally better because the communication is better.

Nat Ersoz
Thursday, January 30, 2003

I'm in a shared office -- four of us (all programmers on the same project), no door, no walls between us. (It used to be two normal-sized offices, and they knocked the wall down.)

It's both good and bad, in the sense that:
* it's bad, because I'm constantly distracted by things ranging from people coming in to talk with my coworkers, to them crunching on carrots
* it's good, because without getting up from my desk, I can ask questions, and it's not much trouble for them to come see what's on my screen. Believe me, a lot is lost in text-only communication (email, IM, bugzilla).

So I'm undecided on whether or not I'd benefit by having *my own* office, with a door, Peopleware style.

I know I prefer the current situtaion to a cube farm.


Joe Grossberg
Thursday, January 30, 2003

"If you want team spirit, go to lunch together. "

I think you might have missed the point. It's not team spirit or comraderie. It's being able to effectively communicate with your team members. Not about last weekend's game, but about the requirements of the project, the known bugs, etc.

Cockburn states it much better than I can, but the idea is that there is a lot of information that flows around a room when project members are in the same room together. This information isn't always things that you can neatly package into a team meeting. It's dynamic.

I've witnessed this myself when I was part of a project and we shared a common room. The communication that we developed made a believer out of me. Like the previous poster said, Cockburn and DeMarco/Lister are both right.

Go Linux Go!
Thursday, January 30, 2003

I have been doing software development for a couple of decades and have worked in a cubicle, shared offices, and private offices.  A private office stands out as far superior to the other environments.

Some of the posters on this thread must be working on entirely different types of projects than what I have experience with.  I can not imagine how shared space can be better.  Right now I share an office with another developer on the same project.  I know what radio program he likes to listen to all day, that he plays golf and that his wife or kid calls him at the office, but any useful communications have been rare and not enough to  make up for the continual distractions.

Still, the point about communications is valid.  I don't think working from home via telecommuting would work.  You do need quick and easy access to other team members, but controlled, not continuous access.

Private offices are only one component of a productive work environment.  You do have to pay attention to all the components and not depend on one thing saving you from other problems.

What type of project would be better in a shared office anyway?  Games programming maybe?

Thursday, January 30, 2003

Well, I'm working in a breakroom right now <g>  Kind of odd, but consultants go where there is room and an RJ-45...nevermind the Sun server rack sitting next to me that sounds like a giant refrigerator...

Thursday, January 30, 2003

>>>  As for not fostering "teamwork" or some such, I think that as long as you leave your door open and be inviting and helpful when people come by, you can still get good cohesion with team mates. I get many pop-ins a day - and being able to have a full discussion (without having to worry about disrupting others), while using my own white boards does wonders. <<<

>>> I normally leave the door open, and keep a second chair in the office to make it more inviting for people to visit (when I want them to :) ).  <<<

I agree with these posters.  A private office should be just a bit bigger than needed for one person.  There should be a spare chair or two and, of course, a white board.  Then you'll get the communications you need while limiting the distractions.

Thursday, January 30, 2003

Doesn't matter. So long as you're working next to the people you need to talk to most, it's not important if getting a hold of them is turn-and-tap-on-the-shoulder, stick your head through the hole in the cube, or get up and walk to the next office. That's all fine.

Likewise, being in the cube in the middle of the tech support people, in an office two halls away from the rest of the team, etc. always sucks.

So, it's not the kind of enclosures you live in, it's whether you get bunched up with the right people.

Michael Gates
Thursday, January 30, 2003

"I know what radio program he likes to listen to all day, that he plays golf and that his wife or kid calls him at the office, but any useful communications have been rare and not enough to  make up for the continual distractions."

Sounds like a horrible work environment. It also sounds opposite to what some of the people are suggesting for open-space workareas.

An open-space work area should be just that, a *work* area. If someone wants to listen to music then they need to wear headphones. If they want to chat with their wife and kids, they need to use a phone in a breakaway area.

So, it sounds like you have a bad environment, but your environment doesn't sound like what is being suggested here anyway.

Just my $.02

Some Such Coder
Thursday, January 30, 2003

Right now my office is a utility closet (really).  The person I need to talk to most is my boss Mike, but it wouldn't matter if I was sitting on his lap because he's on the phone with clients all day.

Fortunately, we just signed the lease on the office next store and we're going to remove the wall between the two offices.  Plus we're in the market for a new full-time developer (any VB guys in So. NJ/Philly area need a job out there?).

In the new office the developers will have one big office but I'm still not sure how I want to arrange the office... From my experimentation with XP, I've found that Pair Programming really does work well, because you learn so much from each other and get so much more done.  Having said that, I'm still not sure how to arrange the office, so there's no point to this post :)


Thursday, January 30, 2003

Go Linux Go said "Cockburn states it much better than I can, but the idea is that there is a lot of information that flows around a room when project members are in the same room together."

So, Go Linux Go, what are your thoughts on open source, in that case? It's my understanding that most projects are completed by collaborators who work almost entirely in a virtual environment.

Just a thought
Thursday, January 30, 2003

I'm on the side of the fence with the office people. It matches my experience, my observations, and  the research that has been done that development work is done better and more productively when the developer has access to a clean, well lit, quiet space.

"I'd say if a person has problems with distractions then working in a team is going to be difficult for them anyway"

There is a principle in psychology where people living in unpleasant and unfortunate situations (folks in the Soviet block, in the current North Korea, abused spouses and children) will create justifications for their situation and come to hate those who are leading normal lives and 'just don't understand'.

Ed the Millwright
Thursday, January 30, 2003

One more comment:  I think a private office is more productive, but I do have a more personal reason for preferring it.  I enjoy coming in to work.  When I was in a cubicle it got so that I dreaded going to work in the morning.

My employer wouldn't care much about this unless they are concerned about turnover.  And they should be.  Projects do tend to suffer when there is staff turnover, although I don't think management really is too concerned about it.

Enough reading JOS for now.  My office mate just left early for the day.  No more listening to knuckle cracking, cracker crunching, desk slapping and tapping nor mindless yammering from the radio until tomorrow.  Now I'll have about 3-4 hours where I can actually get some work done.

Thursday, January 30, 2003

"If you want team spirit, go to lunch together. "

I think you might have missed the point. It's not team spirit or comraderie. It's being able to effectively communicate with your team members. Not about last weekend's game, but about the requirements of the project, the known bugs, etc.

I didn't miss the point. The question was "cube or office, what do u have?" I stated I have a private office. I feel my team can effectively communicate, using IM, email, meetings, water cooler chats, yelling a question out into the hall, etc. and still have the LUXURY of closing the door and being able to focus when I need to on a design or a tricky piece of code. Perhaps its a matter of personal choice, but I have always produced my best work in a quiet setting with minimal distractions. Our offices are clustered close together in a hallway, so I CAN hear conversations others are having and participate in that open workspace information osmosis others highlighted. Its just nice to be able to have some privacy as well.

Thursday, January 30, 2003

I confess - I prefer an office but can't be trusted in one.  I've worked in bullpen cubicle arrangements, single cubes, and closed offices.

I'm most productive in a bullpen when doing drone work, but I am more productive in an office when doing work that requires thought.  The problem is, in an office I'm also more likely to work at a half-ass rate or spend time surfing the net. I hate to admit it, but sometimes I need "monitoring" to kick me in the butt and get me moving on lethargic days.

When I've worked in cubes, I would often grab my stuff and seek out an empty conference room.  They're nice and quiet, allowing me to think.  The tables are big, so I can spread my papers across the table and stand, arms akimbo, to survey the landscape like a general over the battlefield.  I can scribe free-form notes, diagrams, etc. on the white board.  Then, I can sit down with paper and pencil to write out my "solution".  I would then go back to the desk and hammer it out on the PC.

So, my optimal workspace would be a open cubicle/desk arrangement with plenty of empty conference rooms.

Mea Culpa
Thursday, January 30, 2003

I done cublicle, utility closet (yes, me too - it was very hot), private office and shared office.

My preference would be for a shared office where everyone is facing each other - this makes communication easy and that's a good thing.

At one employer I started in a office with 8 people where everyone faced the wall - it was so quiet it was distracting (all you could hear was keyboard clatter and you didn't want to break the silence). After about a month I moved to a project with 2 others and we sat in a large private office facing each other. It was great! Heaps of communication, and sure, sometimes there where day-long conversations about trivial stuff (commenting style - "//" or "/* */"?), but the benefits in terms of productivity, communication and knowledge far outweighed these distractions. Importantly this social contact makes things a lot more enjoyable - it makes the day memorable (vs. where I am now: yesterday was the 3rd warmest day recorded in Sydney, I only know this because I saw it on the late news - I was in an airconditioned office from 9 till 8:30, which kinda sucks - it feels like I "missed" the day, some social interaction would have made up for the I think).

Right now I'm working in a large cublicle (1 other person, but could fit a total of 4). We face away and the walls are grey. The grey is SO depressing. Down the hall they have desk-high (as opposed to "person"-high) partitions and they're yellow. The yellow is so much nicer - although it may just be the more open plan layout - whenever I'm there I spend a couple of seconds thinking "wow - this is so open - I don't feel hedged in". Any arguments about high partitions reducing distraction is baloney as I have salespeople, "cute" ring tones and meetings going on on the other side of the wall.

Walter Rumsby
Thursday, January 30, 2003

Now I have a cube.

Before that I had an alcove.

And before that, I was in a big room with about eight people.

I preferred the big room with about eight people.

Thursday, January 30, 2003

I've been in single offices, cube farms and open floor plans. My favorite was the open floor plan. Most people had headphones to block out other noise while the  marketing folks were in a separate room so they could yap it up. Great for getting to know a lot of your fellow coworkers, no isolation, etc...

I work at home now, and really miss the open floor plan setting.

Thursday, January 30, 2003

Single person office.  Sometimes, and this is a cool trick, I find a spare cube across the building to "hide" and terminal server back to my office computer.  Just like being there.  With Windows XP, you get it for free as "remote desktop connection".  I do this when I don't want to be interrupted.  When you close the door around here, it's assumed you're making a personal phone call...

Bill Carlson
Thursday, January 30, 2003

As an employer of 14 developers, I think that any developer who thinks they really need an office should dip into their own pockwet to pay for it.

If I had 14 offices my real estate bill would be more than my profits.

Get Real
Thursday, January 30, 2003

I think the people raving about the "communication benefits" of open plan probably don't develop very good software. They need the communication because so much of their work is not well planned, and they lack the design ability to integrate their software well.

Good people with the ability to concentrate develop much better software than groups always breaking their concentration to listen to someone else.

Must be a manager
Thursday, January 30, 2003

This office issue seems somewhat contentious, probably because we only have our own experience to go by, with little hard evidence.

So I can only offer this from my experience:

Private offices:  projects were done on time or close to it, software was high quality or at least the customer was happy with it, the company was profitable but the owners eventually sold it and made a bunch of money.

Shared offices: projects were quite variable,  some lasting over twice their original schedule, quality adequate to barely adequate.  Lots of money lost.

Of course, it wasn't just the private offices that made the difference.  That is just one sign of a company dedicated to a quality work environment and hiring good developers.

Thursday, January 30, 2003

I've been working in a private office for the past year and it has definately changed my work pattern.

I waste more time on the Internet, stuffing about and generally taking advantage of the freedom of not having someone looking over my shoulder.  I'm sure the typical drone manager would have a fit if the studied my average work day.  If it applied to my circumstances, I'd probably be the first to be fired on the metric of "looking the laziest".

Yet, when I look back at the work I have done over this time it has most assuredly been the most productive period of my life.

Too many people think productivity can be measured by the amount of time spent hammering at a keyboard.  Cubicle environments and excessive managerial oversight prevent us from having those moments of "spacing out" or relaxed contemplation that are absolutely essential for the quality of our work and our lives.

not applicable
Thursday, January 30, 2003

Most of the programmers at the office where I work have cubicles, unless they're also a manager. One programmer was given a private office because he's obnoxious and noisy. I have a private office when I work at home (the kitchen, since I don't cook much).
It's pretty quiet at work, because the programmers are grouped together. I love to eavesdrop so I'm glad when there's an occasional conversation. The benefit of cubicles is that people don't know when you're listening. Of course that is also a disadvantage when I'm the one trying to have a private conversation. But I shouldn't be having personal conversations at work anyway.
When I work at home I leave the news on all day, in the other room. I don't really listen to it most of the time, but I don't like complete silence. I can't stand too much noise either, though.
I would rather have a cubicle than share an office because then I couldn't get away from the other person if they wanted to talk all day.
I once had private office for a few months, at a previous job in a big city, because it was temporarily vacant and there was no other place for me. It was small but had a beautiful view. I loved it because I felt temporarily important.
But I think cubicles are good enough and since I work at a non-profit now I'm sure they will never be able to afford an office for everyone. And most of the office windows just look out on the parking lot anyway.

Thursday, January 30, 2003

>>> As an employer of 14 developers, I think that any developer who thinks they really need an office should dip into their own pockwet to pay for it. <<<

It's hard to measure but productivity studies show improvements of anywhere from about 10% to 100% increase in productivity for developers working in private offices.  The incremental cost of private offices over cubicles is about 2% of typical developer salary.  If I can get the value of the improved productivity I'd be happy to pay for everyone's private office.  You don't come across 400% or better return on investment everyday.

Thursday, January 30, 2003

I work in a grey cubical. I don’t mind gray- and I’ve put up a lot of art and stuff so it’s not really grey on the inside. I can hear nearly every word of the conversations the attractive woman that sits in the cubical opposite me has on the phone. Being able to hear her conversations so very clearly makes me leery of having any conversation that I wouldn’t mind twenty people hearing or knowing about. The guy that sits cattycorner to me drives me nuts when he answers his phone by throwing the hand-held receiver on his desk to activate his headset (you’d think a technical guy could figure out a better way). The foot traffic behind me drives me nuts.

I don’t want an office, though, I want a garden! I want to work in a gazebo in a garden or in an art museum or in the mountains or beside a stream or on a picnic table in a nice park far away from the sound of traffic.

I have worked in a park and in a university library. I guess those would be my picks if I couldn’t get the garden, mountains or gazebo.

Friday, January 31, 2003

I live in an open-plan office.

I have no walls. I can hear: a huge server running which seems to need a fan only slightly less powerful than a jet engine, the printer across the walkway from me running, the photocopy griding and slamming paper about, people having speakerphone conversations, people stopping in the walkway next to my desk and having conversations, the other team members playing music I don't like, the other team members having phone conversations, the other team members talking about bits of the projects I don't work on and don't need to hear anything about. I can hear the nerf darts from the .NET team across the hallway bouncing off things, their radio controlled dalek screaming "EXTERMINATE", people playing football round their desks, several dozen assorted conversations. Sound samples from machines as mail arrives, desk toys that shout things like "NO!! IT'S CRAP!!!!!"

Mobile bloody telephones. Overlapping, ceaseless, casio-tone renditions of pop-songs, 8 hours a day.

On a good day I get work done in the half hour I get in before most people arrive. On normal days I get nothing noticeable done because I cannot have rational thought processes in this environment. The sound levels are actually stressful.

This is a typical British software development environment.

Cubes? Partitions? Oh my good god, what I'd give for sound-deadening hessian-clad partitions.

The company has decided we're getting too much done here and wants to move us in with the call centre people. Imagine an aircraft hanger full of people who are on the phone. Imagine trying to think in that.

Why is software so badly written? Its because companies go out of their way to make it as hard as possible for software engineers to have clear thought processes - the one thing a software engineer is supposed to be paid to have.

Katie Lucas
Friday, January 31, 2003

I agree wholeheartedly with Katie. I used to work in an open plan office and now work in an office which I share with one other (when he can be bothered to come in). My productivity here is many time that it was in The Other Place. I think my ideal would be an office shared by all of the people on a team, where there are say 4 or 5 per team. But given a choice of either of the two extremes it has to be an office.

Friday, January 31, 2003

Well, I'd love to try an office, should the opportunity ever arise. Never going to happen around here though, there just isn't the space to build any.

I've never been happy with any work environment I've been in. I keep working an hour or two late after most people go home because my productivity rockets then. By constrast, I hardly get anything done first thing in the morning (which explains why I'm writing this at 9:30am).

What really annoys me about this place is that all the developers are shoved together in a heap, working on vastly different projects. This means I get a lot of chat about things that don't concern me (and trying to join in and get "the floor" to speak is difficult) and, worse, random salespeople coming in and shouting over my shoulder to somebody else.

I can't think of a good solution though - if we moved everyone to be on a per-project basis I'd be nearer the people I communicate with day to day but be continually distracted everytime the support guy had to guide a computer illiterate through an installation on the phone.

Better than being unemployed...
Friday, January 31, 2003

I am one of 3 developers on an open floor. Most of the floor is taken up with a call centre. The section of the floor near to us is the aftersales department.

In short - all day we are surrounded by people whose ENTIRE JOB is to talk on the phone. And they literally do, ALL THE TIME.

So, what Katie said, with bells on.

Bose noise-excluding headphones help enormously and are worth every penny. However, they are far from able to screen out every noise. There are 25 people within sight of me, and there are no fewer than FIFTEEN other sections on this floor, all of them within earshot of me. No technology in the universe can defeat these forces of evil.

Not to mention the fax machine a few yards thataway which has a high, shrill ring that cannot be turned off; the cheery shouting sessions across desk space; the director who has an office with a door, but leaves the door open and spends all his time having meetings and conference calls with the speakerphone turned up to volumes that are literally louder than I ever thought possible. Accompanied, of course, by an ebullient PA that yips like a chihuahua when amused, which is most of the time.

One evening I was staying late in an effort to get some actual work done, when I was startled by an almighty rustling behind me. I realized with chagrin that that had been the first time all day that I had managed to complete a thought with two levels of complexity, and the thought had vanished in a puff of distraction. I turned around; a marketroid was rummaging amongst the doughnuts. "Oh sorry, Fernanda, did you want one?" I could only smile a thin watery smile and reapply myself to my futile task.

Oh, for an office. A lovely office, with a door. Near a breakout room where I could plug in a laptop if I wanted to be around people.

Fernanda Stickpot
Friday, January 31, 2003

Oh, I know, this thread is about "cubicles vs offices", but what about the third alternative, namely teleworking at home? Experiences anybody?

- Roland
Friday, January 31, 2003

I must be lucky, I think that I could write code in the middle of a nuclear blast.

When I am really struggling with thinking, I find that the noise is often just an excuse for the fact that I'm not getting it. The real issue is probably just that, for whatever reason, I just don't get it now, but given the right seratonin levels, and synapse conectivity, maybe after my first cup of coffee, I will.

Noise is my first line of excuse. I have many others, in order they are:

Thinking about sex
Somebody else has made a design flaw
There's a bug in the language
The people who thought of it are all idiots
Stupid crap's not worth learning anyway
Feeling Lazy
Other more important tasks (web surfing)
Talking to fellow workers

Friday, January 31, 2003

>>> Oh, I know, this thread is about "cubicles vs offices", but what about the third alternative, namely teleworking at home? Experiences anybody?  <<<

I haven't tried it myself except for occasional snow days.  One of my previous employers tried it for a few people who decided to move far enough away that coming to the office would be a big trip.

It did not work out.  Those people still had to make an occasional trip to the main office and it was difficult to maintain an adequate level of communications with the rest of the group.  After several months those people quit and got local jobs.

The findings in the IBM Santa Teresa report agree with my experiences.  There is a roughly equal split between work that needs to be done alone without distraction and work done while meeting with other members of the team.  The best arrangement for this is a private office for each team member arranged near each other with an adequate amount of conference, meeting or lab space.

Going to either extreme of shared office space, thus making individual work difficult, or telecommuting, thus making team communications difficult, will result in an inferior work environment.

Friday, January 31, 2003

I worked in a good office.  Four of us in a nice old room, plenty of light and space, nice view of the water.  The desks were arranged like a star, with each of us getting right angle piece, so we faced each other and had plenty of space on each side for piling papers etc.  The most important thing was that we got along.  It might not have been such a nice memory if any of the others were loud, smelly, nosy, stupid or whatever (you'll have to ask them what they thought of me).

Now I work from home, several hundred miles away, using broadband.  I still chat (IM) with the team, and frequent phone meetings with my boss, and because I know the team quite well I don't feel too isolated.

But I miss being able to talk across the tables instead of having to type so much.

Friday, January 31, 2003

I've worked in a small office, huge office (actually our testing lab), and cubicle. 

To me, it doesn't matter what I'm in; I've always been able to get my work done.  The one common thread that probably helped that was the relative quiet of (or in one case, complete lack of) non-department cube neighbors.  I'm sure being next to sales, who are on the phone the entire day would present a challenge.

My problem is focus and while noise contributes to that, so does an Internet connection with non-work web access just a click away.  For me, listening to music on headphones can get me focused immediately and the "zone" comes pretty quickly after that.

In the offices I don't think I ever used the door and for a team based environment, I feel that's good.  Sure it can be distracting and interruptive, but our department (and company) is fairly well "trained" not to come to your cube unless they have a real problem or issue that you're really the only person who can help them (e.g,another developer asking about something you're writing or high-level support asking for assistance with a problem).  It's been a long time since I've been "stupid" interrupted.

Chris Blaise
Friday, January 31, 2003

Some of you folks have it easy!

Huge open-plan office, everyone else has partitions except the team I'm in (despite a year of whinging about not having any).  I've built my own partition outta books, CDs and MSDN cases (very handy!) to block out my boss's boss who sits directly opposite.  He's on the phone for about 70% of the time.  When he's not on the phone, he has meetings in his bay.  Just invites people along and they start yakking.  It's so hard to get a meeting room booked, this is pretty standard behaviour here.

The support team sits 2 feet behind me.  More phones going, constant conversations, etc.  They love the layout as they can just turn around and ask any poorly thought out question they like and get an immediate answer.  Of course, that interrupts me and I lose my train of thought but hey - they'll be productive....

As I gaze 30 feet to my left, I get to see out of the window.  Would be nice, but that's where the management types sit.  Again, they're on the phone all day long.  Or having meetings.

The noise levels are amazing.  I tried to read up on C# from a nice new book a couple of weeks ago and just had to give up.  Couldn't concentrate to save my life.

I'm listening to music on my headphones as I type this, yet I can still make out three different phone conversations.  Could I sue someone for ear damage because of the insane levels I'm gonna have to turn my music up to block out these conversations?

And I'm supposed to concentrate and program in this?  Not a chance.

John Fletcher
Friday, January 31, 2003

How come earphones are always people's answer to the noise problem?

I mean quite apart from the fact I can't wear earphones or headphones (I have mild dyspraxia, I get disoriented and dizzy when my ears are covered up. Or for that matter if I close my eyes, but I don't do that in front of the terminal... yes, really. Yes, it is annoying. Apart from anything else, CD players come with headphones. I get forced to pay for something I can't use...)

Quite apart from that, I don't want noise. I don't want to listen to music while I'm working. I want enough quiet to think in. Not absolute silence because that sends me to sleep, just some CALM. Something that doesn't sound like Rolls Royce's engine test hanger would be nice...

Katie Lucas
Friday, January 31, 2003

I have been in open floor plan, team space, private office and shared offices.
Worst: Team space. We had this realy horrible character in the group, that had an assortment of Tourette like noisy ticks. It drove the whole team mad, and everyone was so relieved when he was finally put in a private office out of hearing range.
Next: the open floor plans: noise, distractions and continuous interruptions.
Then, surprise surprise: The private office: great, but not tops
Best: The shared office. This is great when you work with people that are almost never on the phone, do not listen to music, and are generally pleasant colleagues. Could be hell though if you would be stuck with the guy from the team space above.

Just me (Sir to you)
Friday, January 31, 2003

Katie & Fernanda,

I feel your pain. Why should you be required to jump through hoops just to get what should be the default: a quite place to concentrate and work.
All the loudmouth yapping egocentric techno loving fartbrains should be forced to wear one of these

Just me (Sir to you)
Friday, January 31, 2003

Katie, even though I mentioned Bose headphones, I actually agree with you on the headphone issue.

Even Bose headphones can't cancel out the mayhem that surrounds me. And I have an AVLS control on my CD player, which forces the volume below the level that would damage my hearing. Needless to say, that's pretty quiet.

It drives me crazy that people suggest headphones as the One True Answer to a working environment that has my skin vibrating from the stress. I think headphone-fascists see no reason why we should not want to damage our hearing; after all, eardrums are a dime-a-dozen.

Ordinary headphones are a menace. They screen out no sound whatsoever; all they do is add noise on top of the noise that's out there. And a lot of people find music to be a distraction in itself.

And for people like you, who *can't* clutch at this last straw, the suggestion is less than no help at all.

Is it just us geeks, or are all people in all working environments continually told that they don't need what they say they need?

Fernanda Stickpot
Friday, January 31, 2003

" Is it just us geeks, or are all people in all working environments continually told that they don't need what they say they need?"

Well, think about the life of a school teacher or nurse. Programmers have it pretty good compared to 90% of other working stiffs.

I like quiet now and then, but I'm most productive on programming tasks when I'm with my laptop in my local loud, bustling coffee house. A certain type of background noise seems to eat up the spare cycles in my brain that are otherwise trying to force me to surf the web, chat, go grab a soda, play a game, etc.

Friday, January 31, 2003


Just me (Sir to you)
Friday, January 31, 2003

Good software design requires creativity.

Creativity is essentially a solitary enterprise. Most landmark discoveries in science and all major musical compositions are the work of one person (

So called "team work" in open space environment looks like violation of  "Joel Test No. 8".

Friday, January 31, 2003

"We had this realy horrible character in the group, that had an assortment of Tourette like noisy ticks. It drove the whole team mad, and everyone was so relieved when he was finally put in a private office out of hearing range."

Mock me if you must but you have to admit that my ploy to get my own office worked.

Really Horrible Character in the Group
Friday, January 31, 2003

>>>  Well, think about the life of a school teacher or nurse. Programmers have it pretty good compared to 90% of other working stiffs. <<<

I think about this sometimes.  Not only am I a computer nerd, but also an EMT with the volunteer fire dept.  So sometimes I try to compare what we have or what the doctors and nurses at the hospital have.  It is not clear to me who is better off.

For EMT/ambulance work we have the equipment we need to do our work.  Sometimes a unit is out of service for repair, but no one says we can't afford an ambulance so you'll just have to use an old station wagon to transport your patients.  We could use some quiet space for reading between calls, but that is not part of the job.  Lots of things could be improved, but I can't think of anything missing that would be of equivalent importance to quiet work space for the SW developer.

Whenever we had construction work going on in the office I was glad I wasn't doing that because they had to listen to the radio blasting away.  Now I am in a shared office with the radio going all the time anyway so I am no better off.

ResQ Andy
Friday, January 31, 2003

As a teacher I'd say we have it a lot better than most of the programmers in this thread do.

The main reason is that when we are not in class but in staffrooms or shared offices we don't need creative concentration. Routine admin and marking can be done through noise, and if we don't want to join in the chitchat and do need to think carefully we can just go home at four o'clock.

Stephen Jones
Friday, January 31, 2003

The best argument for an office is that you can choose whether to be for yourself or to work together with others. Any of the other solutions only have one state; always in "shared" mode.

The reason that this sorry situation is perhaps most common, I think are twice-fold: First, managers are being penny-wise, pound foolish by saving on office rent, and then second, that the need for some communication on a project is extrapolated into having communication all the time must be even better.

And not all communication is good. For each easy answer you got, you've just ruined somebody else's concentration. And it's just not always essential to discuss the grammar in the comments or the likes.

I have yet to see anything other than anecdotal evidence along the lines of "it works for me" to support the claim that an open office or a cube is better than an office with a door. None, njet, zip, nothing.

Roland Kaufmann
Friday, January 31, 2003

You go, Roland!

Cubes are enforced commnuity (hey that's kinda like communism) and it sucks!

Cube Hater
Friday, January 31, 2003

Offices save money.  Many developers will take less pay to work in a nice environment.  I'm willing to take 2k less per year to have an office.  That easily covers the rent differential.  Also, don't forget the "I'm going to stick around; I've got a good gig" mentality that creature comforts can engender.

There's a lot of grey between "dreary cube farm in the old industrial district" and "dotcom excess".  Salaries and benefits are expensive.  Treating people like they're worthy of respect is cheap in comparison.

Think about it.  Let's say a $70K developer gets 5% more work done by having peace and quiet.  That's $3500 per year, folks.  An office and then some.  5% is probably underestimating.

I'll bet you don't get as many cases of spontainious "well, fuck this place" resignations, when said developer can retreat to "home turf" for a while to cool off.

Offices are like changing the oil in your car, or eating healthy.  Sure you can save money by cutting them out, but it's not a net gain.

Bill Carlson
Friday, January 31, 2003

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