Social Enterprise

The perfect work space


As I write this blog, I am doing so from the comfort of my home office. Comfy chair, nice furniture, the appropriate lighting, and an ergonomic setup make it an ideal place for me to work. It's designed intentionally to be a quiet place where I can do solo work like writing, reading, or analysis. Unfortunately most of us do not have the luxury of creating this kind of space at work.

Budget restrictions, OSHA rules regarding the placement of furniture and equipment, the desire to maximize the number of people in a work area, and other constraints keep us from creating the perfect work environment.

Over the course of my IT career, I have worked in high-rise buildings in the corner office, boiler rooms, airplane hangars, converted hospital rooms (they didn't leave the oxygen installed - bummer), and of course, the cube farm, a.k.a. the rat's maze.

Obviously, some of these were better spaces to work in than others. The worst for me was the year I spent in a moldy boiler room; companies will stick contractors anywhere, unfortunately. My biggest challenge as an IT manager, though, is dealing with cubes. Personally, I hate them. In fact, if I could, I would take a chain saw (or perhaps a light saber - cleaner you know) and slice down the walls of all the cubes in my department's area. Why do I harbor such anger towards my department's furniture? Simply: It is not conducive to teamwork. The arrangement of my staff's work space reminds me of a giant maze with a series of caves. Because they are programmers and analysts, someone thought that they needed isolation and privacy.

I on the other hand, like clean open spaces where people can collaborate, work as a team, share ideas and help one another when they are stuck on something. I understand the need for quiet time and privacy, and that can be arranged in this type of environment, but I believe programmers and analysts are more productive in an open environment than holed up in a corner. I believe this to be particularly true when the group is learning a new skill set or working on a new project.

Getting back to my original point, I believe there are optimal work space conditions that can enhance or hurt a group's productivity and these conditions can vary depending on the type of work assigned to a group, as well as the maturity of the individuals making up the group. In essence, I believe there is a psychology to furniture placement - and I am not talking about Feng Shui (the ancient Chinese tradition of placement and design that guides human beings in living harmoniously with their environments).

Instead I am talking about design psychology, a subset of industrial/organizational psychology that concerns itself with the study of how our environments can shape how we behave. I am sure that most people reading this blog have heard or read about studies regarding colors and the emotions they elicit. Some colors having calming effects, some the opposite.

Design psychology goes further into studying how furniture arrangement, color, decorations, and the like affect workers productivity and emotional well being.

Unfortunately, I have never worked anywhere where there was enough budget to do anything more than recycle old cube furniture or purchase cut rate furniture. You are probably familiar with the situation. Given that we have to take what is provided to us, can technology help us out in making our space more habitable? I believe the answer is yes. Specifically, here are a few of the technologies that can help play a part:

Instant Messaging: I must admit I have been slow to acknowledge that there are benefits to allowing secure IM within the organization. I have seen firsthand that IM can in fact take people in isolated cubes and create an inclusiveness that aids in teamwork. It can also reach out and make a remote office seem much closer. Thin client technologies / VPN: Whether it is Citrix, a Mobikey, or a VPN connection, allowing workers to occasionally work from home via a remote connection can be very beneficial. Not all workers are mature enough, or their home environments may not be conducive to work, but for those that are, one day a week working at home can help them emotionally, physically, and psychologically. Web collaboration tools: Allowing a group to electronically get together and "white board," even within their own office can prove beneficial - again depending on the individuals involved.

Lastly, a willingness to be bold and creative with what you have to work with is important. People can be very territorial and unwilling to have their spaces messed with. A willingness to take on that challenge can be very important in creating the environment that you want.

So while I can't use a chain saw, I am going to try to come up with a creative solution to making the environment more conducive to team work. In the mean time, I'd love to hear your thoughts on this subject. What kind of spaces have you been subjected to? What have you done in your environment to shape the work space? Are any of you lucky enough to have spaces engineered specifically for your use using some of the psychology described earlier? I am open to and need your ideas!

48 comments
johncarr
johncarr

I really get tired of this "open space" idea of people being able to collaborate more easily. As if thin cubicle walls, or even offices, meant people couldn't communicate. Nearly every technical advance I hear about today is supposed to draw people together from all over the globe! This is just a distraction from the fact that businesses are looking for ways to jam more people per square foot into a building. Reducing space from offices to cubes, and then to "open space" or should I drop the "o" and say "Pen Space". It reminds me of cattle jammed together in stockyards. Or an airline's approach to maximizing passengers per flight. As an IT pro and later a manager, I've worked all the environments in the article as well. The tendency to work collabratively is a positive mind. People with that mind set are not impacted by environment. Try and teach it to staff if possible. It isn't hampered by physical surroundings. What is hampered is the need, time to time, to get out of the "dull roar" of noise in open space or cubicle environments.

johncarr
johncarr

I really get tired of this "open space" idea of people being able to collaborate more easily. As if thin cubicle walls, or even offices, meant people couldn't communicate. Nearly every technical advance I hear about today is supposed to draw people together from all over the globe! This is just a distraction from the fact that businesses are looking for ways to jam more people per square foot into a building. Reducing space from offices to cubes, and then to "open space" or should I drop the "o" and say "Pen Space". It reminds me of cattle jammed together in stockyards. Or an airline's approach to maximizing passengers per flight. As an IT pro and later a manager, I've worked all the environments in the article as well. The tendency to work collabratively comes from a positive mind set. People with that mind set are not impacted by environment. Try and teach it to staff if possible. It isn't hampered by physical surroundings. What is hampered is the need, time to time, to get out of the "dull roar" of noise in open space or cubicle environments.

mdarsman42@aol.com
mdarsman42@aol.com

Being a worker bee, I prefer cubicles to an open space. "Open plan" workspaces are nothing but the classic "Bull Pen" revisited. I consider that type of workspace the most dehumanizing, unproductive hunting ground for micro-managing idiots. It sceams that "You are an insignificant cog in our machine". I have an idiot in the next cube over that constantly uses his speaker phone. If I had to sit next to him in a bull pen, I would have committed murder by now. Cubes are not a panacea, but they provide a modicum of privacy and a hint of sound isolation, as well as some protection from conversation bullies. When I work with my counterparts in Software, we move to a laboratory space where we can work with the hardware and collaborate when we need to, and then we return to our cubes to do the portion of our work that requires individual contemplation.

schaubey
schaubey

This is one of the most important aspect of any organization which does not get much attention. Really great article and all management people must consider this to have their team comfortable for great performance. If the runway is bumpy aircraft take-off cannot happen smoothly.

ginkep
ginkep

I think both sides (blogers and commentators) are right and not. That suits for one, can be misfit to other. IMHO: the environmet should be confortable for group of colleagues (I meen group - one organizational unit in one separate space), there should be one concept accepted.

speculatrix
speculatrix

this is a typical manager's opinion, sorry if it's insulting, but the worse the manager, the more they like to see their staff "working" as they believe they would otherwise be shirking or skiving - since they do not have the technical ability to asses the quality of work of their staff! simply compare the opinion of Joel Spolsky (http://www.joelonsoftware.com/articles/BionicOffice.html) who knows how to get the best out of his staff!

breadtrk
breadtrk

Our cube farm is the noisiest place in the building. We don't need no dern IM's, we just holler at each other all day. We used to have one big room with desks and it worked for us well. All the cubes have done is make our vocal cords stronger, after some initial straining, we built them up good and strong. Now I can argue about last weekends race with my bud in accounting loud enough that everyone else can join in and comment. Just one big old happy family, airing dirty laundry, not giving one damn hoot about office PC.

Nodisalsi
Nodisalsi

While visiting a friend I saw a IT development collaboration involving a Project manager, UNIX admin, and a PHP coder. They were each working from their homes on a server located in the office. This development session involved 5 computers switched on in three domestic and one office locations. I'm trying to imagine this process taking place in a single office space... 89 erm.. no. Can't do it. It all works because they are communicating verbally all the time while looking at specific parts of the system that's pertinent to them. They don't need to be face-to-face to look at each other (nor do I imagine they'd really like to be 8P). Plus, they need no regard for cleaninless or dress code and they can drink/eat/smoke/fart all they want to - which can be a real boon for IT experts.

DougUnit12
DougUnit12

It's lovely to see Management so terribly in love with "bullpen" solutions and "teamwork-encouraging" workspaces ... lovely like watching west coast drivers on icy streets. As for Design Psychology, this is yet another gobbledy-gook phrase thrown about by the self-declared illunimati to hint that they have a somewhat inspired Secret Inner Knowledge, a bit of information that explains why their position makes Management Sense even when it clearly lacks Common Sense. If there is any doubt that one of the real goals here is simply to further commodatize the workforce, think again. If less is more, then you as an indivual worker having less square footage in the office, less privacy, and less actual furniture, then YES, this is MORE appealing to cost-sensitive, people-illiterate managers. (no, not ALL managers ...) In truth, since most IT jobs are being off-shored anyway, the best thing the current North American IT workforce can do to be ready for the Next Wave in IT office environment furnishings is to beef up their burger flipping skills. Those who may survive the continued ongoing shrinkage should simply pretend they are going back to college, forever, and try the following: - learn to speak English with a foreign accent (fake it if you need to) - buy an old high school desk and learn to perform your duties from within the confined space of the 3x3 footprint this edu-cubicle provides - have a Blue Tooth headset surgically implanted in your head - learn to live on Top Raman, saltine crackers, and week-old bread You owe it to yourself to object LOUDLY to continued disintegration of workplace livability.

SObaldrick
SObaldrick

It looks to me, (have not totalled up all responses yet) that the consensus is: "Different environments for different people at different times, depending on what I am doing." The ideal environment being a combination of privacy, open areas, offices and beer gardens (ok, the last one is my own personal favourite work environment). I have had 11 different jobs in IT, with work environments that varied from the broom cupboard being shared with 3 contract workers to the aircraft hanger containing several hundred engineers with desks in lines facing a row of offices where your managers sat looking out over their employees and many in between, most of which involved mazes of cubicles. The worst had to be the broom cupboard (Microsoft), but as a contractor you are just another piece of equipment. I spent most of my time working out of the cafeteria, which actually worked out well - being a sort of cross between a cubicle and open area environment. The aircraft hanger the next worse. Like a gigantic school classroom, you had zero privacy and anyone having a discussion at their desk would disrupt several people adjacent to them. People would spend time wondering around the grounds or adjacent buildings looking at all the interesting aircraft. The best work environments were probably early in my career, being mixture of private desks and open work areas. The reason for this (and the reason why it has for the most part disappeared) is because of the changes in computer technology. When I started work, we had no PCs on our desk (maybe a terminal to a mainframe, but no development computers), we had to go to the computer room to code and debug. In here it is very open and you can have loud discussions and tell jokes without offending (many) co-workers. If you wanted privacy, (to study the results of your run for example), you would take the printout back to your desk and debug from there, in private. Now of course, everyone does everything from the PC on their desk, so we have lost that open working area in most environments. To summarise - I get bored sitting at my desk for 8 hours a day. I tend to want a change of scenery (about once an hour). If I had an area where I could sit in public (like a library) and access all my work from there, I'd use it. Instead I go for a walk, or find someone to chat about the weather to, in the kitchen. Les.

jpb
jpb

deleted

nyabdns
nyabdns

and the verdict is that cubes suck. I work in a cube farm and I can verify that conclusion. You can't get any work done and I can't even have a phone conference because of the noise and when they are working they complain about my phone conferences bothering them. Notice that the idiots that want cubes don't have them for themselves. They are just another way to say "we don't trust you and we are too cheap to give you a real office". What we need are offices with a central gathering place with all the acoutraments for collaboration that everyone has to walk through entering and leaving the office area. This would give everyone their privacy and a chance to get together and brainstorm when needed.

bluemoonsailor
bluemoonsailor

Gaaa!! How could you ever get anything done with constant, incessant and inevitable interruptions? Without any "personal" space, you'd have your team at each other's throats in no time. What about the guy who eats potato chips for lunch? Or the one who needs to shout into the phone because the other person is far away? Or the incessant talker (who decides that you are their next victim, er, conversation)? And all this while you're trying to tackle a really knotty problem and need to concentrate? I'd absolutely *hate* to work in that kind of environment! Steve G.

palantirminerals
palantirminerals

I worked at a small IT consulting company in Valhalla, NY and we were part of a pilot with Steel Case for their team and collaborative furniture systems. We had frames on which you could hang screens, white boards etc and all space was otherwise open. You could come to the office and plug into any cube, move people easily to collaborate on short or temporary projects and meet in comfortable collaboration spaces with sofas and plenty of tables. It was the best space I have worked in, encouraged collaboration and destroyed the rat maze. Sadly, the company is no longer in existence (90% of our clients were in the financial district in NYC and 9/11 descimated the company), but the team and the environs worked really well

rwilcox
rwilcox

While I understand where this point of view is coming from, my experience, as a programmer/analyst, is that the cube environment is extremely counter productive... the reason? .. is precisely for the reasons given for openness and sharing that are constrained by the cube walls. When the cube community is configured with multiple projects, the multiple project communications, either by phone (some times open speaker phone conferences) or in cube meetings, and just general phone discussions, creates a very disruptive level of noise-soup that is very costly to other projects and thus, the bottom line of projects and the company. I hate cubes and believe isolation is the most efficient environment in the short and long run. bw

femijumo
femijumo

When you are away and unable to monitor some employees physically they take that as an excuse for redundancy, I will prefer you idea if there is close monitoring like cctv or any other means

Ozzylogic
Ozzylogic

My 2 fils would be about the cons of having an open workspace. In my current job, which I joined 2 months, 11 days and counting (ago), I work with my boss, the Project Manager in the same room...and everytime I make a phone call, I know he's listening as he keeps making these funny expressions of frustration, agony, depending on the conversation...which is very, painfully annoying. For a month, I started making my phone calls to our suppliers, other branches worldwide, and team members from the communications room as I can't stand people listening to every word of my conversation. He's a total control freak, and I can't even discuss any issue with any other team member within the same office. I somehow sound like a disgruntled employee, which isn't the case! It's just my honest opinion of working with people in an open environment.

peet
peet

I'm a software developer. We have an open plan office and I find it really irritating to get any work done. The problem is noise. It is distracting. Programming requires a lot of concentration which is really difficult to do if there is distraction. To cope with this I (and I believe many others) tend to block out whatever goes on around you. The problem with this is that you loose the skill to listen. If a meeting goes on for too long, your normal behaviour takes over and you lock out the noice. This is not what you want. There should be war rooms to do the collabaration, and quiet spaces to do the work.

MrEddie
MrEddie

I hate most cube designs and would avoid them for small companies but the reality is that in large companies there is a side benefit to an open design - it discourages employees from spending company time on personal things. Ideally I would have some quiet, walled offices with computers on a network but with no Internet access for writing and presentation design and open cubes with computers that have Internet access for research and everything else.

wrlang
wrlang

I understand the dislike for cubes and how workspaces are problematic. The truth is that everyone is different and has different needs at different times. There are people who have offices that don't want them and as a result are always walking around getting their 90% people time each day. I look at their empty offices with longing eyes as I am subjected to the latest personal problems of everyone around me. People walking into my office and standing behind me to talk with someone over the wall. People standing up and yelling across the room over my head rather than walking the 10 feet to talk to someone in a normal voice. Telephone conversations are filled with requests for the caller to repeat what they said because a group is engaged in a long distance conversation about the latest cheats on a video game. Office Karaoke just to get a rise out of people. Someone else sneezes and the person on the other end of the phone blesses me ??? thanks but I didn't sneeze. It's a constant din of chatter that leaves me totally exhausted by the end of the day. I don't even turn on my car radio anymore just to get some quiet time somewhere. The rush hour freeway is more relaxing than my desk because there is so much less auditory assault and battery. Don't get me wrong, having fun is part of working and commotion is part of that fun, but someone's fun is someone else's stressor. The perfect workspace is one that the person selects for themselves based on the work they will be doing that day. Perhaps businesses should stop trying to find THE perfect one size fits all workspace and make the perfect work place using the hotel ideology. Empty offices, cubes, and cafeteria style tables where any person can pick their place for that day on a first come first served basis. People who need to discuss stuff all day can, without assaulting others around them. If only it could be true...

A2daJ
A2daJ

shoot. we have glass cubicles where i work. the parts that aren't glass are very short so we can still see each other. I feel comfortable in my "area" just because i can see who i'm talking to.

Tell It Like I See It
Tell It Like I See It

I second the idea presented by someone else that individual preferences have to come into play for things like this. Here is some food for thought on this. For extroverts, the open concept is a great thing. They are energized by being in crowds and around other people. They feed off the "distractions" that someone else pointed out. Introverts, however, will find the open concept highly draining. They are energized by quiet time, not people. Depending on the number of people you cluster together and the degree of introversion your people have, you could even end up losing good people who happen to be introverted for no other reason than they become so drained by the environment you create. The best approach is to match up a group of people who have similar ideas on their environment into their own little groups. For the extroverts, make their area open. For the introverts, let the high cubes stay. Better yet for the introverts -- put them in little closet offices with floor-to-ceiling walls and an actual door. Okay, maybe you can't do the latter, but the introverts would love you for it. Yes, the introverts will have to get together sometimes and discuss things -- that's what conference rooms and common space are for. As for placing the groups in your office, you might consider placing the extroverts nearer "common spaces" such as coffe pots, vending machines, watercoolers, bathroom entrances, etc. while placing the introverts farther away from them. This will aid in giving each group what it most craves. The extroverts see all the people moving around "their" area. The introverts won't see as much of the traffic, getting them closer to the quiet environment they like. Beyond the individuals involved, you have to consider the job being done. Programming is often (but not always) a solo activity and best done someplace with minimal distractions. However, artistic endeavors may be best accomplished by having the artists in an open environment where they can feed off each others' ideas and possibly get into a competition to see who can do some design the fastest or best. In my opinion (and, no, I'm not a psychologist) you get the best performance by matching groups of people with similar traits together to do a job that they are highly suitable for and put them in an environment that is conducive to their mental makeup and also conducive to their task. For some groups, this may mean an open configuration, but others it may mean a "closed" configuration. Yes, you could wind up with two groups doing almost identical functions where one group is in an open environment and the other a "closed" environment. That's just the nature of this beast. There's no easy answer here. Think about your group and involve them. They're the ones who'll be living with the consequences (good or bad) of this decision.

RoyB
RoyB

IM isn't as good as NetMeeting. The whiteboarding, smaller meeting groups (teaming/swarming on problems) and the voice capability is great. While face-to-face is nice, too many clients are too far away yet with NM, I can recognize their voices. It is awesome to work with a cross country team and finally fix a customer problem.

dbarry98
dbarry98

For projects adopting the Agile methodology, "pods" of 6-12 desks have been created for business and IT co-located teams. Each with cork boards, white boards, a projector and screen. It's been met with a positive response from business and IT members.

michele.b.wilson
michele.b.wilson

I must apologize, but I did not see your credentials or even a note of work experience related to industrial psychology. This artical appears to be related to personal preferences rather than a substantiated study regarding IT environments and the associated productivity levels. So if we are speaking personally, everyone that is located in our offices with 'low' cubicles, hates them. They are noisey, people cannot think or concentrate on a project, they offer no privacy, and you feel like you are a 'bee hooked into a hive'. No one volunteers to be moved to this floor and everyone wants to transfer as soon as possible. The best comments that I have heard is "you get used to it!"

asydoriak
asydoriak

The "open environment" movement should be stopped now before it spreads like the plague. Like the author, I have worked in everything from individual offices to cubes to a picnic table in a warehouse. In that experience, I have found the distractions of open environments nearly impossible to overcome. Sure, in an ideal workplace the only time coworkers will be up and moving is to collaborate, but in the real world you have "speaker phone guy" and the "let's talk about American Idol all morning" group. Add this to catching people walking around out of the corner of your eye and the open environment becomes so distracting as to be nearly unworkable. I know people say it encourages teamwork, but I just do not see it. If I need to collaborate with a team member, share ideas, etc. I get up and go talk to people... I guess I'm weird that way. If your team is not working together there are bigger problems than how the office is arranged.

Warrior_King
Warrior_King

I think you contradict the story - at home in your plush office but writing about cramming people together in a room without walls creates teamwork. I just dont see it. I prefer to have the privacy of my cube/office to get my writing and reading done. I prefer to have conference rooms to get the teaming done. Behind closed doors in a facility that lets me take my computer anywhere and do anything with who I have to do work with as a team. I would love to have a door to completely shut out people at moments I do not wish to be disturbed. I use IM but at the same time I dont want to be viewed at untouchable if I just happen to put up my do not disturb sign. Once you start using IM its like constant interruption at deepest thought. Being a tester my personality type is out going and loud. I shout when I find bugs in the lab but at the same time I respect a persons private time at work. I just thought the article talked from both cheeks. Working at home and working in a big conference room full of people. The electronic means are great when at different buildings or locations, between floors for IMs, VPNs to get work done I agree are fantastic and should be used. But when I have to go into work, I surely dont want to be looking at 20 people all day long on the phone talking loud etc etc. Great article with reference to todays tools!

Wayne M.
Wayne M.

I think the original approach, taking a chain saw to cubicle walls was correct, but I have concerns about the electronic substitutes listed at the end of the article. As a manager, get your people moved to a common area and reconfigure the cubicle walls to create a bull pen work area. You may have to rely on the the "It is better to ask for forgiveness than permission" principle, but you can make it happen. Facilities and HR will rarely help you make these type of changes, but they are also not going to expend effort to undo them once in place. Establish a war room or at least a "war wall" where all significant information is posted on whiteboards or on bulletin boards. Verbally announce things at frequent staff meetings rather than sending all hands e-mails - people are much more likely to pay attention and ask questions. Encourage face to face meetings and discourage e-mail exhanges. E-mail and IM can work effectively, but they can also quickly degrade into flame wars. Face to face discussions are the best way to handle disagreements even if you, as a manager, have to occassionally sit in and play referee (sorry, I meant to say "facilitate"). Do everything in your power to encourage an open working environment and only use technical solutions where a low tech alternative is not feasible.

techrepublic
techrepublic

Spolsky is one of the few out there who knows how to run a Software Development shop and gets good results without resorting to micro-management. (See my earlier posts above.) Micro-managing is the last refuge of the incompetent.

SObaldrick
SObaldrick

Most of my colleagues (including myself) eat from our desks. If there wasn't a wall between me and the person eating adjacent to me, we'd end up throwing our lunch at each other. Les.

brian.ross
brian.ross

I can't stand open plan offices. I hate not being able to make a phone call in private, pick my nose or scratch my bum, without everybody else in the place staring at me. I also cannot stand cube-farms. While they give the appearance of privacy, in reality they don't. My first job way back in the mid-1980s was as a programmer in a University. I had my own office, with a door and I could close it, without question and work or not work, as I desired. I could get up and wander, if I felt the need. I accomplished more in that job in any of the others that I've had in the 20 years since, because I was given the privacy to do so. Personally, I'd give a leg to have a private office again. Anybody want a spare leg?

SObaldrick
SObaldrick

I hate most cube designs and would avoid them for small companies but the reality is that in large companies there is a side benefit to an open design - it discourages employees from spending company time on personal things. .. oops! What a giveaway. Les.

MelissaK
MelissaK

I used to work in an open concept large cube that had 4 work areas and 3 people occupied (including myself) and the two other team members were just on the other side of a cube "wall" in their own cube/quad. I truely didn't mind it much at all. Never noticed the "openess" of the space and modified the space as needed. I put up posters over windows so I wasn't distracted by passers by and put a radio on my desk to play soft/quiet music so as to drown out other's around me. I switched jobs to a different company, have an open concept area configured just slightly different and I absolutely hate it. Why? The people...So, I don't neccisarily think it's the space or the open concept I dislike...but sharing it with certain people can make it unbearable! The lack of common respect for their workspace mates is unbeleiveable in soo many ways. I could go on..but I don't. I just grit (literally) my teeth and bear it.

jk2001
jk2001

I'd hate being able to see a bunch of people while I work. It's just my personality, but, I don't like being watched, or watching, when I'm working. I really like to focus, and people can be distracting.

prime12357
prime12357

...my staff?s work space... ...Personally, I hate them. In fact, if I could, I would take a chain saw ...I believe there are optimal work space conditions... ...I believe there is a psychology to furniture placement... ...People can be very territorial and unwilling... I, I, I, there is no I in teamwork. Teams are made of individuals. Different individuals have different needs. Teamwork requires cooperation. Try proposing ideas to your team members and asking for their input. My idea of the best IT workspace would be offices or cubicles with doors that could be closed facing a central area. Where wall placement could be flexible; where workers could share office space with whom they want or have a separate space and close the door when they need quiet for concentration. Doesn't anyone make cubicle walls that can extend to the ceiling and can have real doors? Me personally, I need to have my back to a wall and face out towards the door or common area, looking over or around my screens. Anything else is too unproductive and uncomfortable. Force me to spend one third of my life in an uncomfortable position, I'll be polishing my resume. I've worked where my team was free to move our desks as we pleased. We moved our own cubicle walls and even built shelving using 2x4's and Plywood. Of course it was in boiler room conditions. And I've worked where my team was forced to sit where those in charge dictated. What a huge difference in productivity freedom can make. I will acknowledge that when my team was free to setup the office as we saw fit, the manager in charge did have to make an occasional adjustment, like separating children when they are spending too much time playing in class. But this was understood by everyone and even those involved adjusted and found a way to work comfortably, in another location. Try taking inventory of what you do have and see if it could be moved by your team. Price used equipment. You may be able to reach your goal without costing your employer an arm and a leg. I hope to be available in mid February of 2008 if anyone needs an IT manager and can pay 70K or above depending on location and job requirements. http://www.cubedoor.com/ http://www.cubesolutions.com/Usedpages/usedCubicles.htm

Wayne M.
Wayne M.

I will second the recommendation for the agile approach. This provides the best balance between openness and the need for privacy. One of the keys to making this work is to move people and walls to collocate teams but buffer the teams from outside distractions. With a restricted team size and many short tasks, "quiet time" becomes self-organizing. Having a work backlog visible to the entire team does wonders in limiting time wasting behavior that disturbs others. In terms of interrupting trains of thought, I have a long standing rule that if anyone becomes stuck he has the right and responsibility to interrupt everyone else to get assistance. I do not accept the idea that one person should sit idle because everyone else's task is too important to interrupt. This is the software development equivalent to the Stop the Production Line button in a modern factory. It is rare that you have to use it, but once someone hits the button, everyone's attention is focussed on getting things moving again. Again, the thing that makes this work is isolating teams not individuals.

asydoriak
asydoriak

If I may offer an opinion from the other side of the fence: I have declined interviews when the HR contact told me they work in an Agile environment as you described above. I knew there was no way I could "fit in". It very well may have been my loss, but it's something to keep in mind when setting up that type of environment.

eebyaj
eebyaj

It would seem that our co-workers share the same opinion. We have a mixture of cubicle farm and closed offices which are augmented by some rather nice meeting rooms. We use these meeting rooms for most of our collaborative work. Incorporated into the design of these rooms is floor-to-ceiling glass and sweeping views of the surrounding landscape. I find that even though the cubicle setup can be uninspiring for a lot of people, it can be offset by having common areas that are more humane in design. Having people gather at a place that nurtures creativity and communication gives them an opportunity to gather ideas. They can take these back to their working spaces to tinker with them in their own space and at their own speed. Unfortunately, the bean-counters like the idea of having inexpensive walls and furniture that can easily be reconfigured or relocated. Cubicles will stay but a smart facility manager will have meeting room sanctuaries so as to enable different modes of collaborative teamwork methodologies. They can be inexpensive to design and furnish and thus satisfy the accountants. Leave the cubicles in place but give your people a comfy den in which they can happily brainstorm together.

jtrxrogers
jtrxrogers

Have worked in both. While the person who brought the cubicle concept to market for Herman Miller, Bob Propst, claimed regrets for the dehumanizing aspects his actions, the aural and visual noise of open areas is extremely distracting. The cube walls here barely block out the phone conversations of the people working through insurance claims for spouses, college loan problems for their children, credit card issues, ad nauseum, ad infinitim. At least within the confines of my cubie I can don my headphones (with the benefit of a convex mirror to let me know when someone has come up behind me) and focus on my projects/tasks. When our team needs to meet, which is seldom since each of us has very distinct areas of responsibilities; off we go the conf room. An open area may serve a group of co-workers who are highly interdependent working against continues deliverable deadlines. So until I can transition to my home office, head on over to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_O_5ef49N5I&mode=related&search=

gellis
gellis

I have managed teams in the back rooms of a data centers, an office with a door, 6 foot cubes and low wall, open air cube setups. Each has advantages and disadvantages. I have come to the conclusion that there must be balance among all solutions. Finding the utopia between cube design, web collaboration tools, instant messaging or good old fashion face to face meetings is difficult because of the human variable. Each person has a preference in how they work and interact with others. I would suggest getting input from the team on what they feel works well and where improvements can be made.

jruby
jruby

In my first 'professional' job (after I left the government), we all had offices with doors that opened into a central common area. Quiet, heads down time when needed, and a central brainstorming arena to handle the bigger, team-aligned issues. We were a staff of 5 supporting 3000 users with all types of requests including sysadmin, programming, security, etc. Now I doubt we were an exceptional group of people, but we succeeded in that environment to the point that software vendors for the products we supported were asking us for advice and support. Unfortunately, I made the decision to relocate for family reasons and have never again been in such a productive environment. Where I am now in a cubicle farm, I have the joy of sitting in on 8 or 10 conference calls per day without ever picking up the phone, for the sixth time I'm reliving one lady's ongoing drama about her vacation from hell, and I'm being constantly reminded that this is a strong allergy season in this area. The only good thing about cubicles is that I am fully cognizant of what is going on in all the latest reality shows without having to waste a serious part of my evening watching them. Frankly, I think cubicles are a serious insult to an experienced professional - have you ever noticed how the people in charge of assigning space somehow or another justify an office for themselves? Anybody who says serious technical work can be accomplished in a cube farm has never tried to work in one!

phake
phake

What is this "Glass" and "Landscaping" you speak of? I know of none in the office or shared areas at my workplace.

lbrown
lbrown

development in a cube is extremely difficult. cubes are great for support personnel handling calls, problems, etc. however, being in a cube is counter productive for software development, creativity AND deadlines. ellBee

mike.weidner
mike.weidner

We moved into a new bldg where 15 people had an open environment. All but 1 hated it. We need some sense of privacy and noise reduction. Team work does not manifest itself but watching someone sneeze or cough on the rest of the team. Teamwork is how you approach your work, how the organization is structured and rewards the employees. I believe the concept of no cubes is the result of academia work not real life experience. Having said that, some may not be comfortable in a cube. If that's the case take a wall panel out so you can see into the next cube. The one gentleman at work that likes the open environment does that. The rest of us have our cube.

asydoriak
asydoriak

"have you ever noticed how the people in charge of assigning space somehow or another justify an office for themselves? Anybody who says serious technical work can be accomplished in a cube farm has never tried to work in one!" As I have been reading the replies I have noticed that the ones who are in favor of cubes or open workspaces all have "manager' in their title somewhere!

eebyaj
eebyaj

I think I forgot to mention "Luck". I work for a fairly decent employer now. In the past I have had some pretty awful dungeons as work spaces. I guess desktop wallpaper has become a substitute for a real view.

BlueKnight
BlueKnight

Bull pens are extremely distracting. Cubicles are only slightly better. In our environment, all team members have adjacent cubes so collaboration is not a problem. The distraction of noise is still a problem, but it's nothing like the noise and other distractions in a bull pen environment. Cubes at least give you a little sense of privacy, but the best situation for maximum productivity is a private office. Man I miss that... unfortunately that position was eliminated, so here I am in a cube farm.

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