Cargo culture in action.
We have regressed. History repeats itself. In the 60’s the cubicle was invented because the open office simply didn’t work. They have been proven again, again and again to be overall detrimental to worker productivity, comfort and health.
The reason for it’s inception is ignorance of what actually makes an effective company for programmers and any company in general. A trend without any thought behind, a senseless cargo culture of architecture, a complete and catastrophic failure on an international, industrial scale that has cost the world much in wasted productivity and human working comfort.
And for programmers these issues it creates are particularly detrimental; their output and comfort lowered considerably by the consequences of open offices. Key factors are high time to regain productivity after interruptions, audiovisual sensitivity and stress. In short – having developers in open offices will cost a lot more. And they already cost a lot.
There are, of course, some people that thrive in these open spaces, but they are the minority. And the issue is that the majority subset of this minority – the managers – has control of the absolute majority – the workers. And they decided to make a work environment for the managers, not the workers.
Cheap to make. Costly to operate.
Open offices create an environment where nobody wants to communicate and nobody can work.
On paper, the idea behind open offices was to “increase transparency” and “improve communication.” It also looks great on photos. And it was cheap, of course. Just buy a large space, don’t bother to put in walls, just desks and light and you’re done. AND it would increase communication and productivity? AND prominent tech companies does it? The perfect bait.
Managers do not need or have schedules with hours of uninterrupted, concentrated work. They want the workspace to look interesting, good for photos. This lack of understanding and interest in what other people need to work, combined with the promises of the open office, created our current situation.
And so we started mixing departments. Programmers sits near to legal, sales, administration, marketing, any and every type of person. All these people have different requirements and limits for interaction, distraction and quiet. If you mix them you will have no positives and only consequences as all their working needs will suffer.
As an anecdote, my sales people really liked YouTube videos. With speakers. And they laughed loud – as loud as they talked in their phones. And they were just a few desks over. Management didn’t understand – they were having a bit of fun but doing their jobs. Programming in this environment was a nightmare. I quit after 3 months.
Ironically, as open offices were supposed to increase communication, open offices actually decreases face-to-face communication by 70% and consequently lead to increased usage of messages or mail. So if companies can still function at 70% decreases face-to-face communication, why not 100%? We might as well just promote working at home and remote offices for those that wants it. Now THAT is a cost saver, reducing real estate costs for the company.
As for programmers, their work being completely digital, remote working is a great fit. There are some programmers that enjoy coming to the office though and having an office has many merits for activities outside programming – but there are few reasons anymore to force programmers to come into the office, especially if it’s an open office.
Programmers needs focus – with no distractions and no interruptions to be productive. And for some programmers working at home or remote just isn’t an option. For any number of reasons, these people prefer to come into the office. So the office must be made to fit their needs.
And it takes between 10-15 minutes to regain focus after an interruption. They try everything. Headphones, vision blockers, facing the wall, but distractions are impossible to avoid in the open space. People talk in phones, walk past, go and talk with them, dogs and kids run around. So what you end up with are people that really try to focus on doing something but cannot.
And who wants to work at such a place? Who can work? You deserve to leave and go somewhere better. Brain drain is real. You can be damn sure people that find a better office, a place where you can actually work, will leave your crappy open office if provided a reason to. Programmers are expensive. You know what’s more expensive? People working for 6 month, just learning the domain and system, and then quit as they reach actual productivity.
Saving the situation
- People that are happy at work don’t quit (as much). As it turns out, people quitting are expensive – especially programmers that can take months to reach peak productivity.
- Management needs to get their act together and tell the truth – open offices are just for short term savings. If they don’t understand the long-term catastrophic losses due to lack of productivity they don’t deserve their jobs.
- Long-term savings for everyone involved are astronomic. Increase productivity * amount of people = MONEY. It’s not a difficult equation.
- Headphones are not the solution – they are a bandaid to the problem. If you give free headphones to workers to “fix” the open office problem you are doing it wrong. Fix the fundamental issues.
- Remote work for those that wants it. Huge gains in productivity and worker satisfaction.
- Make choices that improve the work environment and productivity for the majority of the workers – that’s where the big money is saved and working satisfaction is gained.
- Put up few walls in these open spaces. It doesn’t have to be expensive walls. 6 people max in a room, allowing them to acclimatize to each other and get an understanding of how they want to work together. How about, I don’t know… cubicles?
- Don’t mix departments with different expectations and requirements on their work environment. No-one likes this.
- 🌊🍣🍤 And the most important factor – walls stop microwaved seafood from destroying everyone’s day.
If this post helped you or think you can use it to convince an employer, please share it. Thanks for reading.