Social Enterprise

What type of work environment do you prefer?

After working in a variety of environments, Justin James says he accomplishes more when he's working in a private space. What work environment allows you to be most productive? Take this quick poll.

I have worked in a wide variety of environments. I have been in a "cube farm" a few times, had a private office, worked at a desk in an open floor, shared a large office with another person, and worked from home. I think that there are advantages and disadvantages to each option, but in my experience, the more private the space is, the more work I accomplish.

I believe that in many situations, the productivity loss from less expensive office layouts is often more than the amount of money the company saves. What type of environment helps you get your job done the best? Take the poll.

J.Ja

Disclosure of Justin's industry affiliations: Justin James has a working arrangement with Microsoft to write an article for MSDN Magazine. He also has a contract with Spiceworks to write product buying guides.

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About

Justin James is the Lead Architect for Conigent.

51 comments
wmjas.shaw
wmjas.shaw

I'm most productive when there are no distractions, so that means "home". However, I start to go stir crazy after a few days and find it really helps to visit the office and interact with people for a while.

OldER Mycroft
OldER Mycroft

But, back when I was 'active' I honestly just worked wherever I was employed. I can't imagine ever having a preference and if I ever DID, I wasn't aware of it.

madhu_09
madhu_09

I personally perfer to have the private office space to work to have productivity.

Tink!
Tink!

Well, I am to a degree. I'm no longer in a private environment, being in an open office. But I'm around the corner from my other co-workers so it's semi-private. I just don't like having doors behind me where people can walk in or by you from behind. My favorite spot was at an old job. It wasn't an enclosed office, but rather a private corner in a loft-like section of the commons area. By myself, it was peaceful and quiet. (If I had my way here, there'd be no radio blaring all day long.) I like working in quiet. Helps me concentrate better (for the most part - although that's probably when I first discovered TR since I'd sometimes "wander off" from work)

ZoomZoom
ZoomZoom

In theory, working at home sounds ideal because or sooooo many benefits (no traffic, less noise & distractions, more comfortable environment, etc). But... in reality I have a very hard time getting and staying in work mode. Just being in the house makes me thiunk of all the household projects/chores that need to be done. When I do get in work mode, I get re-distracted when I take a break so simply refilling my glass of water turns into an hour long process of getting back to work mode. Between my own personal demons and the other demons I call children (or is it children I call demons?)... I seem to have as much of a hard time focusing at home as I do at work in the cubicle jungle. Anybody have tips on how to make working at home more productive? I'd like to do more of it but it hasn't been a big enough jump in productivity to justify it.

vinneyk
vinneyk

I recently broke out of the office setting to work from home and I can't believe how much more productive (and liberated) I am now! Before my co-workers would come into my office all day long to b.s. with me -- deadline or not! Even my manager would do this (did I mention I work for a Government entity?) Now, not only am I free from all those distractions, but I also have the ability to take in some XBOX 360 on my lunch :)

The Scummy One
The Scummy One

It all depends on what I am working on. I have worked in many environments as well, from locked key-access rooms to open cubicle. Sometimes what I am working on may require me to work from home to be able to get it done, other times I need to be accessible and available. As for preference, it just totally depends on what I am doing and my mood. If I am deep into something and cannot be disturbed, I totally prefer to be away from every distracting force imagineable. Other times, a cube farm or walkaround is a much better alternative.

jmgarvin
jmgarvin

The company I work out now makes cubes work because we are all very collaborative. However, the cubes have 3 high walls, to make it a little more private when need be. We also have conference rooms, meeting rooms, and small "telephone" rooms so that the cubes work out.

masterlock
masterlock

I have a database of Desktop; Laptop Computers to run different things so I;ll go in there with coffee just maning a work day. Sometimes if I run into a problem I;ll seek assist. For the most part it works out great.I;ll look around and say wow! where did the time go? time to Knock off.I;m not saying it;s for everybody but I tend to get engaged in the work. masterlock44

salmons
salmons

The quality of voice recognition software has gotten dramatically better over the years, thanks in part and buttressed by significant increases in the power of personal computing hardware. Unfortunately, the great advance in speech recognition is hampered by the parallel trend toward open/flex workspace. Our behavior patterns for having face-to-face conversations in open space workplaces somewhat mitigate the intrusion of two-way conversation. Where talkers' own restraint isn't enough, our brains are pretty good at filtering "cocktail conversation" -- background conversations in which we're not engaged. And a, "Hey, take it to the break-room, please." can resolve the occasional troublesome intrusion by others. However, workers are reluctant to engage in one-way "dictation" speech in an open office situation. In addition, spoken commands to correct or annotate speech input are not filtered from the background the same as normal conversations -- "orders" speech is less filtered than "chat," probably related to survival-oriented multitasking from days gone by. Now, imagine an open workplace with dozens of speech recognition dictations going on at the same time in close proximity. Our brains quite literally go nuts with sensory overload. Today's speech recognition has the potential to dramatically improve the written word-oriented worker's productivity. Open space work environments, especially the most "collegial" bullpen style no-cubicle environments, will keep this from happening. Ironically and hopefully, we'll start to see a trend toward more private space -- whether with walls or noise cancelling tech -- that let speech recognition contribute to our productivity while reducing the impact on our hand and wrist health.

Osiyo53
Osiyo53

I voted for an office shared with coworkers. But in reality, which work environment I prefer depends on the precise task at hand, what's available, and the type of people around me. I CAN, and have, worked in most any environment you can name. Including squatted or crouched in snow or rain, using makeshift methods to shield my laptop from the moisture. Or, just last week, worked all day in a boiler room where the temperature was running 122'F, with screaming equipment all around me such that if you needed to talk to the person next to you, you needed to lean over and shout in his ear, with my laptop perched atop a barrel. It's the nature of what I do for a living. Since I install, program, and test DDC devices (Direct Digital Controls ... essentially dedicated purpose computers in a Black Box) which control various machinery and electrical systems. Thus, it is sometimes necessary to do testing and debugging of programs, or of live inputs and outputs, or to do network troubleshooting right from where ever a particular controller is located. Add that I was in the U.S. Navy for 23 years, most of which was spent in deployed front line combat units (by my choice as I didn't join the Navy so I could have a nice quiet, stable 9 to 5 office job somewhere); where there is rarely such a thing as privacy or peace and quiet, nor much room in which to work, nor much by way of creature comforts. I got used to working in less than optimal conditions. But under normal conditions, if I have my druthers, I prefer a shared office or cubicle space. With the availability of having someplace to go that is private and I won't be bothered. Sharing a space with coworkers allows for interaction between you, easy discourse about particular problems and issues, exchange of hints and tips and lessons learned, etc. And once the group of you have worked together for a while, each normally picks up on the quirks and preferences of the others. i.e. You learn the signs of the guy next to you that indicates that at the moment he is deeply engrossed in some heavy thinking and would not wish to be bothered. So you wait til you see the signs that he is taking a mental break before you disturb him. OTOH, for some tasks, such as getting involved in some heavy coding of a problematical function, that's going to take you some time, many test runs and debugging efforts, etc ... I'll grab everything and retire back home to my home office. My family knows that when I seclude myself there and am ignoring all around me, to leave me alone. At such times I'll often ignore everything, even cell phone calls until I reach a point in what I'm doing that I can take my attention away from it for a bit. However, factually, I would not particularly wish to use my home office ALL of the time. Interaction with coworkers at least some of the time is a good thing IMHO. Wide open areas ... well, sometimes yah gotta work with what yah have. But I find that environment to be more distracting than all the others. The noise I can mentally filter out if I'm concentrating on my work. The noise combined with the visuals at the same time is a bit harder to deal with.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

Although my "office" is whatever flat space I can find in whichever store I'm at, I do have a permanent laptop-size flat space at the house. To be honest, as long as it's not the same-old-same-old every day, I can work just about anywhere.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

unless you consider the computer room a private office; I don't.

boxfiddler
boxfiddler

and don't deal well with interruption. I prefer a private working environment.

JackOfAllTech
JackOfAllTech

When I start concentrating on code, I tune the world out completely. There have been times (in a previous employment) when the cleaning people have shaken my shoulder after dark because I didn't even hear the phone ringing right next to me. My wife is very glad I'm not exclusively a programmer anymore.

Justin James
Justin James

What kind of office works best for you? Why? Let us know! J.Ja

Osiyo53
Osiyo53

You need to set up a definite work area. And then you need to work at developing the mindset that when in that area, and it is during business hours ... you are AT WORK. Just as if you had reported to your office. It isn't easy. And many fail at it. But you have to develop the same mindset and work ethic sort of thinking when in your home office as you'd have in your regular office. And you need to ensure that family and friends understand this. This sometimes requires that you be rude or strongly direct with them. Such as when you're working and someone interrupts you with something trivial that you look them in the eyes and remind them, "I'm WORKING !!!" Took a while, but I finally got this point across to my wife and kids. Now, if they see me at my desk shuffling papers, or typing away, or whatever; they either say nothing and go away, or will comment something like, "Hey, Dad, when you have a moment?" and will go away and wait for me to find em later and ask what they needed. You have to discipline yourself rigidly and remember that you are, in fact, at work and on the company's time clock. And behave accordingly. No different than if you were at your regular office. That said, when I do work from home. I find that there are advantages. Once I got the idea through my family's head that I am in fact "at work", I find that I have fewer distractions than being at my regular office. At the regular office it seems that people are more inclined, if they see you, to pop in for a few words of chat. Or they remember something trivial but work related that they'd been meaning to tell you or ask you, or whatever. I've had times at work when I just wanted to get up and go refill my coffee cup and get back to what I was doing ASAP. But getting that cup of coffee took 15 minutes, or 30. Since I got stopped several times by someone seeing me walk by who jumped up with an, "Hey, I've been meaning to ask you ....", or some such thing. Often such a thing wouldn't bother me, but if I'm currently engaged in something like a particularly troublesome bit of program troubleshooting; by the time I've finished with all the interruptions and side tracking, I've completely lost my former train of thought and where, exactly I was in the process. SO in cases of that sort of work, I often take it home. I get more done, of that sort of work, at home. I also like the home office envirnnment, for the more mentally taxing types of work, because I can get comfortable. The coffee is readily available, done to my liking. I prefer Cowboy Coffee. That is, toss in 1/3 by volume coffee grounds, 2/3's water. When the coffee seems to be done, toss in a horseshoe. If it sinks, coffee isn't strong enough. Add more grounds and cook some more. I can through on music of my choice. Kick off the shoes. Often slip out of work clothes and into well worn jeans and tee shirt. My home work area is organized, with books cases, filing cabinets, etc. And my home computer is loaded with all my favorite apps and utilities (we're restricted as to what we can load on company owned PC's/laptops) and all the various data files I might want. Etc. AND, when I reach brain-lock, which is not uncommon when dealing with more complicated programming issues. I sometimes take a break and kick back on a couch and take a short nap. This often clears the cob webs and resets the old brain. Short nap being 15 or 20 minutes. FWIW, mentally I keep track of interruptions in the actual work I'm doing, and add suitable time to the end of the day to make up for this. I have the mind set that I'm being paid for 8 hours, so I'm gonna DO 8 hours of work. In reality, I regularly work more than 8 hours in a day, especially when I'm working from home since I can get into the groove and get more progress made on a project sometimes. But don't always bill for the extra time worked. Depends, on several factors. In any event, more than a few times I've reached the stage of brain lock up. But then shoved away from the desk and closed eyes for 15 or 20 minutes and just relaxed. Whether I actually sleep or not isn't important. And have found that once I resumed what I was doing I was much refreshed and much clearer of mind. In the real office at work, they tend to frown upon seeing an employee with his eyes shut. Even for a short time, even if his doing that makes him more productive. As a note from me. This is a trick I learned in the military. The important part is to NOT make the short nap or rest period longer than 10 to 20 minutes. You do not want to fall into a deep sleep. All you want to do is to close eyes, relax, and let brain wander as it will, unfocused. This seems to refresh the brain. Sleeping too long or falling into a deep sleep seems to make it such that it is harder for you to become fully alert and focused in a hurry, and the body has lowered its functions down to the point that it is harder to get energized again quickly. The other advantage to working at home, is that if one needs to, you CAN take an hour or 2 or 3 and attend to some other personal task. As long as you absolutely discipline yourself to make up that time afterwards. The main thing is that when working from home you have to develop that "I'm AT WORK" mindset, and behave accordingly. Expect the same things of yourself as you would if in the regular office environment.

Justin James
Justin James

I sympathize completely. It took me 5 or so months to truly adjust to it. At my previous position, I was effectively a "working manager" and I spent the bulk of my day working with others. Moving to a work from home position put me in a weird depression for a long time, and I just had to grin and bear it. Now, I get more done with 1 hour at home than I used to with 4 hours at the office. But it took time for me to work out the kinks. To this day, my wife often forgets the fact that just because I am home, doesn't mean I can be interrupted for things like killing bugs or changing light bulbs. At the same time, I need to keep in mind that her little distractions are nothing compared to what I used to experience! J.Ja

ryan.bost
ryan.bost

The best suggestion has already been listed by others...the list. That is the best way to stay on track and ensure you will get things done. However, many people list the distractions at home. I suggest "tuning out" the distractions with a music player and headphones. Not everyone can listen to music and work, but luckily I can. By listening to music which is consistent, I don't get distracted by the inconsistent sounds around my house.

PMPsicle
PMPsicle

First, you need to know your own situation. If my family is around and know that I'm working, I don't usually have much problem. On the other hand, if one of my son's friends comes over the noise level quickly goes into "wha ... are you trying to say something ... I can't hear you ..." mode. Needless to say I can't get anything done. In those conditions I disappear to one of my alternative locations (the main office or the pool) where I can get some peace and quiet. The second technique is to plan my day. I keep my to do list up to date with a needed-by and a planned-start date. Then every month, I identify what projects/tasks I'm going to work on for each week. Each week I do the same thing this time for each day in the week. Then every day I plan what I will do and when. You can pick either night before or first thing -- the trick is to be consistent, pick one & always do it that way. I also allow time for unexpected interruptions. At one time, I was taught to keep a calendar with both the plan and actual but I'm working on more strategic projects now so I've gotten lazy. The third sounds silly but it's to be obsessive about organization. One of the best ways to waste time is to have to go looking for that piece of paper that was on your desk yesterday. (Someday I'll get my act together with this one!). Glen Ford, PMP http://www.trainingNOW.ca

jk2001
jk2001

I write my tasks and just do them. If I am not working off my list, I know I'm not working.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

Too many distraction, and I can't get into an 'at work' mindset.

Jaqui
Jaqui

Private offices on one wall, cubes along another, private meeting rooms on the third, the rest open floor plan. that way the work environment that works best for the person is available, and the space is flexible enough to allow for different work patterns. Sometimes I find the open plan helps, others the private office and others the semi-private cubes.

RealAusTech
RealAusTech

is the best environment that I've ever worked in. We had our own office space, adjacent to the server room. Our work took us all over the campus (University). When things were quiet, we would read, discuss networking issues, plan major upgrades with the Networking Infrastructure Planning Group, and did whatever we felt like that was work related (we were the techs who went out and repaired/replaced damaged cabling and solved other connectivity problems). I've worked in open environments, but they really are the pits once everyone arrives. Between coworkers wanting to "chat" through to the phone ringing because some client isn't happy, productivity between 9 and 12, and from 2 to 4 was abysmal. I often found that the best time to get to work was 6am. I would accomplish more between then and 8, than in the remainder of the morning.

mattohare
mattohare

With sharing an office, one or two others is enough to provide the right amount of productive energy. Someone else complained about traffic, but I always take public transport. I find that helps my work too. After reading or chatting with mates on the bus to work, I find I can start the day with some really high energy. In starting my business, I've been doing a lot of work in near-empty pubs and restaurants. Also, I've been in some public libraries and coffee shops. I find such environments can let me feed off positive people energy around me, and get a lot of good stuff done. (This last part especially with some intense data scrubbing.)

techrepublic@
techrepublic@

Working with clients and colleagues is important in certain stages but when I have to write 10K lines of code privacy and absolute silence are my preferred environment. I can easily do more and better work at home from 23h to 2h than in 8 hours on a "collaborative" work environment and being interrupted every 15 minutes for another, most of the times, useless debate, consultation, conversation, joke, breaking news, general idiocy...

wrlang
wrlang

I can save a ton of time and money working from home. A private office is almost as nice. The absolute worst is an open floor plan with no walls, like putting your desk on a downtown sidewalk. My dream is permanently working from a large verandah suite on a cruise ship or a secluded lake home. I've been working full time since 1976 and I'm sick of hearing the constant whining about things a person has no control over or things a person is too frightened to do anything about. Ask me for a solution, take action on your own, or just shutup!!!!!

vhrocker
vhrocker

...and quiet. I like my share of my own type of noise, music or such, but only when it's been too long of a silence. I can work most anywhere, but yea, a quiet, private room is best and my top choice.

ScotlynHatt
ScotlynHatt

Assuming this is directed at developers, I typically like to be exposed to my peer engineers when I am working on big collaborative projects. Conversely, small bits of functionality or prototyping really requires a solitary space. I do tend to be the most creative at home but that is probably because I can sip bourbon.

Shellbot
Shellbot

I guess its just what I'm used to. I'm usually able to tune it all out if I need to, and when I don't i enjoy the banter that goes on.. That goes witout saying, the people have got to be a good crowd..our place is a gas, the innuendo and smart alek comments make the day a bit better!

TechBender
TechBender

I'm a tutor, and I really need the support of my other tutors, especially given how few there are of us. We are a private education company, and even though we have a small number of students (about 40 each, with a total around 200 currently), being able to just swivel around and ask a question is invaluable. And having an office to ourselves means we can firewall ourselves from the students when we are rostered to do our admin work.

Saurondor
Saurondor

Traffic just kills me. I prefer to stay home and work from there if possible. Way more productive.

Bad Boys Drive Audi
Bad Boys Drive Audi

I believe working from a list is a great idea but it's not something I use exclusively from home. When modeling the GTD (get things done) theory, you're always working from your prioritized list, so it doesn't matter if I'm at home, in the office, in an open hotel area, etc. The biggest step is writing down that initial list. Once you have the projects/tasks written down, you can easily refer to the list whenever you hit a moment of "what should I be doing?" When priorities change, I re-order my list. When new tasks come my way, they get added to the bottom of the list (reprioritize if necessary). When I complete something and think "now what?", I refer to the list. When I get into the office in the morning and wonder what am I supposed to be doing, I refer to the list. See the theme?

chris
chris

There are times where you want the team working together. consulting with one another as you go "hey, look at this" "what do you think" Other times though, it is too easy for someone to come and ask questions which breaks you out of "the groove", then it takes time to get back into it. Need to be able to have both.

Bad Boys Drive Audi
Bad Boys Drive Audi

I've had the same dream, or an alternative would be from the back deck of a beach home so I can sit out and listen to the sounds of the shore as I code away. I'd have to come into the office every once in awhile though because I'd just go mad without having personal interactions. That's the only reason why I don't currently use the home office exclusively.

Stan.Williams
Stan.Williams

OK, I'm splitting hairs. I agree there are times when you need to change your environment to best accommodate the work before you. I am a lead developer and my day is still highly fragmented chasing down hardware issues (mobile devices, hardwired apps, etc.), development meetings, design and, oh yeah, actually writing code. After all the hoohaa when I'm ready to get to some heads-down coding I want a large block of uninterrupted time. Chasing hardware I often require the help of others. Employers are becoming much more flexible to these scenarios and will often allow creative solutions as long as they see some payback. Just for the record, I prefer Scotch. Cheers.

kmdennis
kmdennis

For ordianry Tech Support, Network Administrtion and Technical consulting, open space or cubicles are the key to success. Not only do you have at your hand some, hopefully experienced coworkers but getting their attention is way cooler than IM or email. You can quickly get answers to questions and sometimes share your experiences beneficially. Also, several studies have shown that taking a quick break every hour, yes every hour seems to produce more productive workers and helps to reduce eye strain. Plus those breaks taken for constructive discussions on how to get more done with less, and brainstorm and innovate, is invaluable to the company. If they knew how much good comes out of those little breaks, hourly breaks would be mandatory. It also helps relive boredom. I really dont care for those onsites jobs going todifferent clients places. I prefer a structured environment. You almost always end up working overtime for which you dont get paid. On the other hand, if I am painting a sign, I love being by myself in say an open garage, at nightime with lets say an enhanced glass of orange juice.

Javaman59
Javaman59

Yes, I find that the little quips just help the concentration. Also, when there are people around there is more pressure to be seen to be working. That slight pressure is enough to get me back on task when I start to goof off, and then I find that I'm actually enjoying my work again.

Bad Boys Drive Audi
Bad Boys Drive Audi

Tuning people out is easy for me - at the very least, I can put earbuds in and jam to music. The problem I have with an open floorplan or cube is that people approach me constantly to chat. If it's related to the job at hand, I'm generally fine with it. But even in those times, you'll get junior developers who more or less want to run everything by you rather than spending some time in reflection. That does me no good because it's constant interruptions and it does them no good because they don't learn from experience. Most of the time, however, it's just interruptions because people just want to chat about nothing, and they don't take the hint when I say "Hey, I'm really busy here and need to concentrate". They go away initially, but wind up coming back in 15 minutes. Argh!

karl.beil
karl.beil

I find there are way to many things at home I would preferto do than work. Play with my dogs or ferrets, guitar hero.... In the end, I simply feel distratcted at home and get more done when in the office.

MikeGall
MikeGall

You don't like those pesky clients getting in the way of a productive day?

Bad Boys Drive Audi
Bad Boys Drive Audi

I hear you on the ever growing list. I tried putting all requests on my list at first too. That didn't work out so well. :-( What I eventually did was use software that could categorize my request types and then filtered out all "parking lot" items. If there were no way I was ever going to get to something within a reasonable timeframe, it went to parking lot and didn't show up on my visible list. As for the home office, your challenge is to remove the chatter and interruptions. If your wife comes in and chats, it's defeating the purpose of having a private space. My wife knows not to even enter because if she comes in, I'll wind up glancing at her constantly. She's too distracting - but that's another matter! ;-P So removing those distractions may help you out too. It'll involve you having a discussion with your better half, and quite possibly, you having to find another space.

ZoomZoom
ZoomZoom

That brings up a whole other topic, although very related. I agree the list is a must and yes, I do need to get better at using it and not letting the "putting out fires" situations take over completely (which does happen too often). I recently went so far as to buy software to manage my projects & tasks but soon discovered that I spend a whole lot more time adding to the list than checking things off. I still have hours worth of "fires" to deal with daily, and I stopped putting projects into it when I hit somewhere near 100 because it made me very depressed to look at such an enormous amount of work and know that unless nobody ever requested anything else of me again... I'd never come close to catching up on things. To stick to the topic at hand though... I'd like to find a way to make the home environment more productive. I've considered running electricity to the home office door handle to shock anyone coming to interupt me but thought better of it. I've also tried to make the room look more office-like and remove as much personal stuff as possible reduce the number of things that make me think of things other than work... but my wife still feels the need to come in and get on her computer whenever I'm in there (and never stops talking).

mattohare
mattohare

I had a table seat in a National Express Train from Glasgow. Free [but sketchy] wifi and a power point meant that I could get some good work done. There were a few others in the carriage with me, and we'd talk a bit. But I still focused well. Heck, a trolley even came by with some coffee!

mattohare
mattohare

I didn't like the new ways most of the games worked. I was fine with more focus on work, until I dusted off my old Civ3 CD.

Justin James
Justin James

Let's just say that I got really good at beating Vista's chess program before I really got the knack of working from home... J.Ja

mattohare
mattohare

I have dedicated work space at home. It's been no problem at all to focus very tightly on the work at hand for several hours at a time. I do miss the connection with others though. So, my best mix is two to three days at home, the balance in the office.

AlphaCentauri
AlphaCentauri

Sometimes I wish I could just disappear for 10 days to work on something, but real life gets in the way. :)

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

The same goes for extended family. I'd say that the same goes for immediate family, too, but they might get offended.

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