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Office space

Our software team will be looking for new offices in the next few months, and I wanted to get references to any material that the folks here know about office space setup. My idea is to give all the data I can find to my boss so that we don't end up with a clone of what we have now (a cube farm with no windows).

I already have a copy of Peopleware - what else should I be looking at?

Michael Kohne
Thursday, August 7, 2003

There is not a lot of research on this.  Peopleware seems to be the main reference.  You may also want to look at the articles that Peopleware references.  The primary one is the Santa Teresa lab report.  You can find the IBM Systems Journal in college or research lab engineering libraries.

Gerald M McCue, "IBM's Santa Teresa Laboratory - Architectural design for program development", IBM Syst Journal, Vol 17, No. 1, 1978, pp4-25

One problem with the McCue article is that the work was done back when punched cards and line printers were still common, so you kind of have to read around those references.  The rest of it is quite relevant.

The following is an article that was in the Washington Post a few years ago.  A company in the Washington, DC area did a study similar to the one done by McCue for IBM.  They came up with the same result.  There is no indication in the article that they ever heard of Santa Teresa.

Maryann Haggerty, "A Vast Exploration of Office Space", Washington Business section, p17, Washington Post, October 4, 1999

Quote from above article: "And at a time when cubicles have become a symbol of the new-era economy, the company decided that private offices made financial and cultural sense."

The problem with these articles is that they don't emphasize the importance of a quiet environment.  Private offices may be the optimal work environment, but if they aren't quiet it negates any advantage they have.

Thursday, August 7, 2003

There are some white papers located at:

Some of them address the issue better than others, but another resource none the less.

Thursday, August 7, 2003

Spend some time talking to people on your team about what would help them be more productive and/or enjoy the environment more.  Use that as a wishlist (prioritized of course).

Consider the development methodology/process you use and tailor the new environment based on that.  If everyone mostly works alone, you may have little need for shared whiteboard space and meeting rooms.  If you're running an XP shop, you may want a big open space and a handful of private offices.

Alistair Cockburn's "Agile Software Development" would be a good book to read.  It doesn't specifically focus on environment, but he talks about communication and cooperation and how to maximize the flow of information.  Good material for thinking about what kind of space you want.

This is IMO a good forum to ask for feedback on specific ideas and to help you refine your thoughts.


Thursday, August 7, 2003

"Office Space" - great movie!

Unanimous Cowboy
Thursday, August 7, 2003

Here are some URLs for some online references:

Thursday, August 7, 2003

Unless everyone can have their own office, don't dismiss cubes as that bad. Sure, everyone bitches about them, but a lot of people actually prefer them over an open floorplan.

I've worked in a office with an open floor plan and there were way more distractions and no sense of privacy.

Another place I worked, we moved buildings so the idea of an open floor plan was introduced so everyone could work more collaboratively. I guess you could call it a bullpen layout - functional teams together in a larger cube area. The truth is, people hated it. They missed the privacy of the cubes. It ionly takes a few yakkers to bring everyone's productively down.

Thursday, August 7, 2003

Definitely talk to your existing team about what *they'd* like.  I've found that this definitely varies from person to person.  I was shocked to learn, at my last company, that most people preferred a completely open office space, with no walls at all (except for a few dividing teams from each other).

The Pedant, Brent P. Newhall
Thursday, August 7, 2003

Make sure you consider what your teams strengths are.

We recently moved into a cube farm (1600mm cubewalls) and one of the surprising benfits was that communication and co-operation between our functional sections has improved dramatically.  In separate offices, we had pretty poor communication - there's something to be said for catching a tester's eye over the partition - it makes it harder to ignore them...

Mind you, the constant distraction level now is high -  our developers are probably less productive than they used to be.

Thursday, August 7, 2003

"1600mm cubewalls"

Knock that off!

[sigh]... 1600mm -> 1.6m ~ 5ft. ohhhh....

Philo <- stuck in the dimensional dark ages

Thursday, August 7, 2003

Reginald Braithwaite-Lee
Friday, August 8, 2003

An article that is very interesting, but may be difficult to obtain a copy of, is:  Janet L. Kreger, "An Industrial Designer in Academe: Albert Kahn and the Design of Angell Hall", LSAmagazine, Vol 21, No. 2, Spring 1998.

The article is about some of the work of Albert Kahn, an architect who designed many of the factory buildings for Ford and other manufacturers in Detroit in the early 20th century.  He also designed several of the academic buildings at the Univ. of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

DeMarco and Lister describe many modern office buildings as monuments to the ego of the executives who ordered their construction.  OTOH, Kahn is notable for designing buildings which met the needs of workers for "spacious and well-lit places in which to get their work done".

I am not sure that there is anything specifically useful in this article, but is interesting to read about an architect who created designs appropriate for the workers who would be using the space.  McCue is the only other one I have heard of.  It is also a bit discouraging that these ideas have been around for a hundred years, but are generally being ignored.

Friday, August 8, 2003

Chapter 30 of "Rapid Development" is a nice, sucinct description of productive office space. It's mostly just a rehash of parts of "Peopleware", but McConnell pulls it all together in ten or so tight pages; including some motivation for business types.

I find that a photo-copy of that chapter is a great thing to get the point across to people who are interested, but don't want to read very much.

Bill Tomlinson
Friday, August 8, 2003

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