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Companies Move Away From Cubicle Culture 509

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the can't-say-i-blame-em dept.
Makarand writes "According to this Mercury News article companies are freeing employees from their cubicles to save on corporate real estate costs. By eliminating the need for offices for thousands of employees they are reducing their building needs by thousands of square feet. Employees now work in shared areas or from home or elsewhere outside the traditional cubicle. Those who prove to be unproductive when they have to share space with others risk getting fired. This trend is expected to accelerate as wireless technologies are making workers more mobile and capable of working from anywhere. About 13000 of Sun Microsystems' 35000 employees working in Santa Clara (CA) currently lack offices."
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Companies Move Away From Cubicle Culture

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  • by afidel (530433) on Sunday November 23, 2003 @10:17AM (#7541868)
    just for being antisocial? I think that we now know why Bill Joy left! Some of the best geeks I know are antisocial miscreants who given a project and deadline will outperform 5 of their peers but who do NOT want to have to deal with others on a minute by minute basis, they can basically handle weekly update meetings and the like but they would HATE to be in them all the time.
    • by micaiah (593598) on Sunday November 23, 2003 @10:26AM (#7541913)

      No they fired people for being unproductive. From the article, "But some proved unproductive and were fired."

      unproductive != antisocial

      Did I miss something?

      I read the article, but didn't see what you were referring to.

      • by Quietti (257725) on Sunday November 23, 2003 @11:29AM (#7542257) Journal
        No they fired people for being unproductive. From the article, "But some proved unproductive and were fired."
        Read the article yourself. All they are saying is that some people became unproductive, when they were forced to transition from a private office to the open officeless environment.

        Never mind the fact that workplace ergonomists consulting with the PHBs are way more into following trends in their own field than in actually noticing what are the needs of employees who will be working in their designer environments. They fail to examine whether certain team members are more productive working in solitary and interacting with others only at the weekly meetings, while others actually are more productive in a common team space. Individualisation is the keyword, but workplace ergonomists fail to understand it.

        • I think the real group to blame in situations like this is management. Supervisors and middle management love to be able to keep tabs on their employees so they like to have them grouped together (physically or virtually) so that they can keep an over-head on what is being produced and in what (timely) manner. If management could develop a means of sorting out the social from the introverted then they would have a truly cohesive workforce. I personnaly beleive think-tank work practice is the best because of
          • If management could simply grasp the concept that their employees are individuals, they could mold the workplace to suit everyone so that issues like this wouldn't occur.

            Precisely.

            The keyword that management needs to grasp is productivity, specificly what is the best way of achiveiving that by offering each worker the optimal working space for their prefered work methodology:

            • If someone is more productive working at home, at his own pace, in his own comfortable environment, then give him that.
            • If so
        • by elmegil (12001) on Sunday November 23, 2003 @01:07PM (#7542706) Homepage Journal
          You know, they tried this crap ages ago at Chiat Day. It failed miserably there amongst wildly creative types. They're doing it at Sun, and while they claim it's a success, it mostly seems to succeed in the breach (i.e. people who aren't forced to move from office to office weekly). I will say it works well for people who have to migrate from one geographic office to another for some period of time, but for people who go to the same office for more than a week at a stretch it's a huge pain. People are territorial as well as social, and if you don't give them territories they will create them. Usually in unexpected and counterproductive ways.

          Add that to firing people who don't work well in the new system (hm, sounds like an excuse for a targetted RIF if you ask me), and it's an all around lousy way to do business.

          • by interociter (587446) on Sunday November 23, 2003 @05:16PM (#7543858) Homepage
            I remember reading about this [wired.com]. There are a ton of problems with the virtual office concept. First, graphic artists need hi-def monitors, so they need a defined space to work in. Second, with your team spread out around the building, everyone's going to need a cell phone. Admittedly, Nextels are dead sexy and amazingly useful, but they're also ungodly expensive. This is 2003, we simply can't afford to give every employee a cell phone. Third, despite all the hype about paperless offices, I still have a lot of paper to deal with. If nothing else, I have a lot of books in my office. Unless someone wants to scan them and post the pages as jpgs on some server (hello, lawsuit), I need to have them with me. Fourth, you need an amazing security policy and nobody can be lazy. If all your documents are on a server, that server has to be buttoned down. No more saving files on your local machine if you don't know who's going to have your laptop tomorrow. Admins: be prepared for a non-stop parade of people who can't log in/can't find their stuff/lost that one document that's really important.

            Next, there's the human factor. No definable workspace that's "mine" gives the impression that I'm temporary, simply a cog in a machine. Plus, remember high school? Everyone will gravitate to an area and stake out turf. They will consider that space "theirs" and resent any intrusion. Plus, the "cool kids" will undoubtedly stake out the good areas, leaving the less powerful to wander the office aimlessly looking for a place to work.

            Shared space sounds like a pure utopian ideal that would never work in the real world. The assumption is that everyone on your team gets along perfectly and never needs time apart. I'm part of a pretty good team, but if we all had to share one big cube, we'd be at each other's throats. What happens when you have to work on something with someone? Two people have a conversation with an unwilling audience of three. Either you whisper or you bother everybody else.

            Count me out.

      • by the eric conspiracy (20178) on Sunday November 23, 2003 @11:49AM (#7542357)
        But some proved unproductive and were fired

        I bet that the cost of firing and replacing these employees was larger than the savings associated with the open seating plan. By far.

    • Not to be pedantic... Oh, what the hell. I'd probably say asocial rather than antisocial, which implies that they're beating up or killing people or something. And who wants that in the workplace!
  • antisocial (Score:2, Funny)

    by ajnlth (702063)
    Those who prove to be unproductive when they have to share space with others risk getting fired.

    I guess it's a good time to be antisocial, sack veryone that likes talking to their co-workers when they sitt next to each other.

    The perfect worker is the one that stares into the computer screen, completely unaware of what goes on around him/her.

    • Re:antisocial (Score:5, Insightful)

      by mickwd (196449) on Sunday November 23, 2003 @10:41AM (#7541988)
      Who said anything about anti-social ?

      Some of us like to be able to concentrate in order to get work done, and find it difficult to switch off from everyone around us. It's just too easy to get distracted by all the conversations around you, joining in when you feel like it.

      Seems to me that anti-social people might have fewer problems being distracted.

      It's just the latest management fashion. Instead of senior managers using intelligence and common sense to work out for themselves what is a good, productive environment, they just follow the latest fashion that everyone else is talking about.

      Give them another five years, and the fashion will be back to individual work areas, with some separation from others, so people can be "more productive".
      • Re:antisocial (Score:5, Informative)

        by ScrewMaster (602015) on Sunday November 23, 2003 @11:33AM (#7542273)
        Seems to me that anti-social people might have fewer problems being distracted.

        Actually, I think it is the other way around. The anti-social types (like me) tend to be more easily distracted, more easily bothered by unscheduled interruptions. Most of the messages I've read in this thread seem to indicate that these "anti-social" people have some kind of mental dysfunction. Quite the opposite. Most of the "anti-social" developers I know are very hard workers who simply want to be left alone to work efficiently, and resent being pulled away from that work without good reason. They get labelled "anti-social" by people who really should be sitting at their desks doing their jobs rather than wandering from cubicle to cubicle being "social". Furthermore, if one of those "anti-social" programmers snaps at one of these "social" types because they broke his concentration and cost him a few hours of development time, it's no more than they deserve.

        At the company where I currently work, there is a large central area where most of the electrical and mechanical engineers sit. The fellow that managed the software staff had enough clout with the owner (and enough common sense and experience) that when the building went up about seven years ago, the software people got their own room full of cubicles. The rest of the entire plant is subjected to loud music played through the ceiling speakers (honestly, if I have to sit through "Jive Talkin'" or some other incessant pounding rhythm one more time I'm going to go nuts.) Our old software manager understood the need for programmers to concentrate, consequently the speakers were turned off in our room. A year or so ago he quit, and suddenly the speakers went live again because the owner doesn't think his programmers are anything special and that we should all be treated equally, although I've noticed there is no music playing in his office.

        As a consequence of this, none of us are as productive as we were previously, and I personally have never been as productive in a corporate environment as I was as an independent developer. I'm sorry to disagree with some of the other, less-well-informed posters, but programming is a job which requires intense concentration and attention to detail. We tend to get irritated when our concentration is broken by well-meaning IDIOTS that want to discuss the latest episode of Star Trek: Enterprise or some other trivial reason. If that makes us "anti-social" so be it, but management that places its software development staff in the way of too many mental roadblocks is simply engineering employee disaffection and a significant loss of productivity. There are many aspects to the software development process that are only dimly grasped, if they are recognized at all, by most forms of management and this is one of them.
  • Well that sucks (Score:3, Insightful)

    by AKnightCowboy (608632) on Sunday November 23, 2003 @10:18AM (#7541880)
    Treating employees increasingly like cattle doesn't serve to help workplace productivity at all. The culture went from people having their nice productive office, to sharing an office with 2-4 other people (in the same 15'x15' room), to cubicles, and now to not even having a workspace? How can that be productive when you don't even know where you're going to be working for the day?
    • by sandbagger (654585) on Sunday November 23, 2003 @10:22AM (#7541898)
      Hi:

      If it's such a good idea, I expect that management will be joining us.
      • No, they still need a little private area to plot and scheme how to make life more miserable for you next week.
      • Re:Well that sucks (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward
        The main problem is companies with a "them and us" management/worker mindset. Management are workers too. In companies I have worked for with open floor plans, "management" did in fact wander round on the floor like everyone else.

        I HATED cubicles, because I had no-one to talk to.

    • Re:Well that sucks (Score:5, Insightful)

      by water-and-sewer (612923) on Sunday November 23, 2003 @10:26AM (#7541918) Homepage
      Folks, the article is a little misleading. It isn't that these workers don't have offices, period, but rather that they don't have permanent, assigned offices. Sun is pushing smartcard technology that lets you take your session to whatever cube you find available. It's a step down in terms of workplace quality, but it's not the end of the world. (fact: if you are made to feel you are temporary/replaceable, your working attitude will adapt to correspond).

      The telecommuting issue is a bit different, and I am looking for a situation exactly like that. I would kill to work at home instead of sitting in traffic all day. If you have the dedication to be productive from your home (and if you don't, you'll be sh*tcanned), then save yourself the hassle of sitting in traffic. Bonus: work without pants! Seriously folks, driving back and forth to the office everyday is going to be a thing of the past, and thank God for it.
      • Re:Well that sucks (Score:5, Insightful)

        by WuphonsReach (684551) on Sunday November 23, 2003 @11:41AM (#7542323)
        Eh, telecommuting has it's days... (I've been telecommuting full-time for almost 4 years now, the main office is a 5 hour drive away).

        On the upside, I rarely get interrupted by walk-ups, most communication is via chat/e-mail (which is good because I have poor aural memory). I can listen to the music that I want, or work without and I don't have to listen to the person 3 cubes down talking about their marital problems.

        The bigger benefit is that I don't have to commute 90 min/day. My 2-year old car only has 9500 miles on it. I get paid a salary that would be under-average if I worked/lived at the main office but is above-average for the area where I live.

        Flexible schedule: It's near-trivial to schedule doctor appointments, etc.

        Now, the downsides...

        Even us anti-social hermits need some amount of face-to-face interaction. Back when I was traveling up to the main office on a monthly basis, I'd say I was a little happier. (The recession has cut trip frequency to twice per year.) I don't pick up on the undercurrents as easily (I have to specifically ask about situation X).

        The self-discipline is tough... have to keep a solid routine (rise at 7am, bed at 11pm) or you'll find it difficult to meet your goals. The job needs to be something with measurable (and multitudes of) mileposts. Very easy to spend a few hours in unproductive web surfing or /.'ing.

        Self-reliance helps, because unlike the office environment, it's more difficult to get an answer to a minor question (rather then just asking your cubemate).

        Another issue is that there's no "decompression time" built into your schedule. A commute of 10-15 minutes is a good thing if you work a high-stress job because that's just long enough to set the stress aside before you get home. (Your family will thank you for that.)

        The last problem is that I'm never "off-duty". When you work in a formal office environment, people are very hesitant to call if you're not in the office. (There's a social barrier.) When you're telecommuting and they always interact with you over the phone, they can't tell that you're trying to be off-duty. Learning to say "no" helps a lot though.
      • by TPFH (92944)
        Bonus: work without pants!

        "Frank, every time we have a phone meeting you just have to announce that you are not wearing any pants. Well, we are tired of it. It is not funny. You're Fired!!!"

        As much as I'd enjoy working without pants, there might be some disadvantages to it.
    • Re:Well that sucks (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Rubbersoul (199583) on Sunday November 23, 2003 @10:27AM (#7541922)
      The idea (with Sun at least) is that you don't need to know where you are going to work for the day. You come in find a desk in the nice comfy lounge or what ever and log in. The log in gets you to your "desktop", sets up your phone, etc.

      To me the big downside is that others may not always know how to find you. I know sometimes I would rather walk over someone's desk/cubicle and have a conversation then do it through email or chat. With people logging in at different machines day to day it could become a hassle to find people.

      Plus having your own workspace is always nice. I like being able to put what I want up on my cub wall, in a shared environment this could not happen. Not a huge deal, but people do like having a place to call there own, even if it is just 3 small walls.
      • Re:Well that sucks (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Chanc_Gorkon (94133) <gorkon.gmail@com> on Sunday November 23, 2003 @10:46AM (#7542012)
        Amen! I thought I would just burst when I got my cube. I shared a desk in the Computer Room (used to be in Operations) for 8 and a half years and while I did set things up a bit (I had 1 Drawer), I could not really hang a pic of my son on my desk or anything else. When I got my cube it was festooned with pics of my son on day one. I also took a picture that was hanging in our old computer room and put it in my cube as kind of a reminder of where I came from. That cube is MINE. It may be a cube...it may only have 2-3 walls, but it's mine. The only thing I want more is to work from home.
      • Re:Well that sucks (Score:4, Insightful)

        by alien_blueprint (681111) <alien_blueprint@@@hiredgoons...org> on Sunday November 23, 2003 @10:54AM (#7542057) Homepage Journal
        To me the big downside is that others may not always know how to find you

        I can think of another. Who is going to move my technical books each day? Due to limited shelf space in my current cubicle, I only have a limited supply as it is. One shelf full, and an overflow stack on my desk. And even now, I often regret not having a certain book on hand when needed.

        Going off-topic a bit, the solution is, of course, online books. I am tired of lugging 3 or 4 hefty books home every weekend! I've actually considering purchasing another copy of some of my most referenced books just to reduce this problem. Public transport just wasn't designed for carting books about, as I have discovered :(

        It says something about the people proposing this scheme ... I'm not sure what exactly, but I've observed that the smartest and most productive people (even in management) that I know have whole bookshelves (sometimes 2!) full of really useful reading material.

      • I predict (Score:4, Funny)

        by pommiekiwifruit (570416) on Sunday November 23, 2003 @10:58AM (#7542080)
        Sales of surgical latex gloves will soar, as you want to avoid getting sick by touching other peoples keyboards.

        You are aware that keyboards, mice and especially telephone handsets have a far higher bacterial count than e.g. toilets?

  • Environment (Score:5, Interesting)

    by dolo666 (195584) * on Sunday November 23, 2003 @10:19AM (#7541882) Journal
    This seems like a good trend for the environment too, because reduced traffic jams, means reduced emmissions, and reduced pollution. Plus you become more productive working from home. You don't have to shower, or dress up (spend lots of paycheck on classy wardrobe), or spend the time it takes in traffic every day to get to work.

    Obviously some jobs will require you to be there, but for development, it's not necessary. There are arguements for having devs in work, because people fear they might be slacking off, but the proof is in the pudding!
    • Re:Environment (Score:5, Interesting)

      by SoupaFly (558227) on Sunday November 23, 2003 @10:59AM (#7542085)
      Of course, PHB sees you working from home and wonders why not just outsource the job to India or China. It's just telecommuting on a larger scale. If there is a serious need to meet, then someone hops on an airplane or sets up a VTC.

      I've worked with a couple of people that have done the telecommuting thing. It seems like a really cool deal. I'm opposed to outsourcing, but there might be downsides too.
  • Good Thing (tm) (Score:3, Insightful)

    by rastakid (648791) on Sunday November 23, 2003 @10:20AM (#7541887) Homepage Journal
    Yes, I think this is a Good Thing (tm). I experienced that working in a shared room, improves creativity. It happens quite a lot to me that I'm stuck at a problem, and after discussing it with a colleage we find a solution together. Now, I think that if you're working in a cubicle, you'll have less contact with your colleages due to the wall borders, and therefor will lack some sort of shared creativity.
    Of course, there's the risk of workers losing productivity, but I think we have to face it: we're there to work, not for fun talks.
    • Re:Good Thing (tm) (Score:3, Interesting)

      by TheRealFixer (552803)
      We have a very simple solution for that: Low cubicle wall on three sides: The isle, and the person in front and behind you. Still have your little protected area, but you are able to communicate very easily. I HATE working in a room with 4 other people. You tend to get nothing done.
      • Re:Good Thing (tm) (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Dun Malg (230075)
        I HATE working in a room with 4 other people. You tend to get nothing done.

        I've noticed that, with shared workspace, one Chatty Cathy or Loudmouth Larry can easily prevent the other 4 people from getting anything done. Then, instead of just losing the productivity of whoever's cube the TalkBot's gravitated towards, you lose everyone's. What do you do then? Fire all 5 because of the one boat anchor employee? Getting rid of folks who do good work, but have trouble telling annoying socializers to leave them

    • Re:Good Thing (tm) (Score:5, Informative)

      by mayotte (686049) on Sunday November 23, 2003 @10:40AM (#7541982) Journal
      There was so much chit chat where I work when we moved into these common offices, that I was forced to move to the back corner of a storage room, just so I could concentrate. Several others with the same goal followed me. The article stated that "Executives with several of these firms noted that getting workers to share space fosters a team-oriented atmosphere that increases productivity." My experience was exactly the oposite. These mobile offices killed the sense of community, and now you often site around people you barely know, and can not ask favors of, and do not have the time to do favors for in return. Another little nice benifit is that they give you a tiny amount of locking storage space which you have to walk half way across the building to get to. So when we moved out of our offices, all of the less-critical stuff was thrown out or moved to common-libraries where they quickly wandered away. And as predicted much of that stuff turned out to be very-critical. Also, most of us have had our tools, which are now hard to secure, wander off as well. I sure hope it saved my company a ton on real-estate costs, because it cost us dearly in other ways.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday November 23, 2003 @10:21AM (#7541888)
    Companies have decided that a physical body is too expensive and have moved emplyees to brains floating in a VAT.
  • I see. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonynnous Coward (557984) on Sunday November 23, 2003 @10:21AM (#7541891)
    "Freedom" from cubicles means freedom to work under constant observation of the overseers.
  • by jago25_98 (566531) <[jago25_98] [at] [hotmail.com]> on Sunday November 23, 2003 @10:21AM (#7541892) Homepage Journal
    I originally thought working from a home was a good idea, until I actually tried it. I has disadvantages.

    There's something about actually phsically going somewhere in order to work that makes you feel ready for work. The only problem is if you have to travel too far to get there of course.

    Because of this some home workers have a dedicated study to work in.

    While this is better than a cubical the employee is paying for it. Another way to reduce pay in effect?
    • by frostman (302143) on Sunday November 23, 2003 @10:43AM (#7541999) Homepage Journal
      I work at home, and have off and on for a long time.

      I hate it!

      I do have a dedicated "office" room, but the space isn't the issue... it's that there are no people around. Or if there are, they are here to socialize.

      I think it's a Good Thing on some very deep level to be around other people while working, at least some of the time. Programming for twelve hours straight without seeing another human being tweaketh the mind in harmful ways.

      Since I work for myself, there's not much I can do about it right now. However, as soon as Profit allows, I will rent an office somewhere and arrange for others to share it, even if they aren't working for me.

      Oh yeah, and I need a cute secretary...

    • Working from home definitely has disadvantages. Your people skills actually get rusty after a while, and you have to make a conscious effort to keep them fresh.

      However, if you have a separate study in your home, it's doable. I think it took me about 6 months of working from home to get used to it and return to my former levels of productivity. Now I love it.

      Also, yes you pay for it. However, you can get a federal and state tax deduction for a home office (although you must be meticulous about ensuring tha
    • by xdroop (4039) on Sunday November 23, 2003 @11:14AM (#7542165) Homepage Journal
      While this is better than a cubical the employee is paying for it. Another way to reduce pay in effect?

      Daily parking: $10 ($200/month)
      Daily fuel costs: 10L == $5 ($100/month)
      Reduced driving wear and tear: 90% (so let's say about $100 a month)
      Car now lasts 50% longer: let's say $200/month

      I don't know about you, but if I could put 15% of my after-tax take-home back in my pocket every month, I'm all for this 'pay cut'.

      Just because the company spends something on you as an expense doesn't mean it is a direct benefit.

  • Use part of it for your business and claim it as a tax deduction
  • by Charcharodon (611187) on Sunday November 23, 2003 @10:26AM (#7541914)
    I work for the military and that's how we've been doing it all along. Computers are scattered throughout many of the buildings. It works fine, though some locations can be more popular than others, such as the machines in the break rooms. There are offices but they are shared by multiple people/shifts. When ever you need to do a little "one on one" (chew their ass) with someone you just find an empty one. For quiet undisturbed work, take a short walk out to one of the out buildings and you'll have the whole place to yourself.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday November 23, 2003 @10:26AM (#7541915)
    Soon these companies will realize that by kicking programmers, the most unproductive and self-important group of employees ever, out of their offices and cubicles, they'll be able to fit in more business majors -- the pinnacle of productivity and efficiency!

    Maybe this will spark a whole new level of management! Lower lower middle middle management!!
  • XP and open spaces. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by bons (119581) on Sunday November 23, 2003 @10:26AM (#7541917) Homepage Journal
    People doing pair programming, eXtreme Programming, and other agile methodologies have been doing their best to leave cube world behind anyway. It may sound odd, but they are voluntarily leaving their cubes behind and have no desire to return to that enviroment.

    FairlyGoodPractices [fairlygoodpractices.com] has photos of our layout. Business people use the semi-cubes in the center (there is only the one wall running along the center of the cubes and it's made of glass).

    A lot of smaller XP groups simply take over meeting rooms for the duration of their projects. The onsite customer usually has their own desks but the coders share workstations and because of pair programming move from workstation to workstation frequently.
  • by Tikaro (726048) on Sunday November 23, 2003 @10:27AM (#7541920) Homepage
    ...are doomed to repeat them. Viz. this famous disaster [wired.com] at TBWA Chiat/Day.
    • I can't say I'm surprised at its failure.

      Humans may be by and large social creatures, but we are also territorial. We need space to call our own, for all the reasons cited in the Chiat/Day failure--space to store paper files, meet with clients, place to think in quiet.

      If I want to confer with my co-workers, I can generally find them, because they have an office. When I'm done conferring and want to think and/or work uninterrupted, I go back to my office. It's a sign to those you work with--I am here to
      • by Daniel Dvorkin (106857) * on Sunday November 23, 2003 @11:31AM (#7542262) Homepage Journal
        Yes.

        I think that in the context of tech jobs, the key here is "think in quiet". Any decent programmer spends a lot more time thinking than actually coding. And yeah, a lot of that thinking involves looking things up in manuals (and no, damn it, online references are not a substitute for dead trees!), doodling diagrams on convenient pieces of paper, etc.

        Programming is not assembly-line work. The more PHB's try to turn it into an assembly line, the more they get crappy, bloated, buggy code.
  • by vigilology (664683) on Sunday November 23, 2003 @10:34AM (#7541951)
    Employees now work in shared areas or from home or elsewhere outside the traditional country.
  • until i realised that all i need is a headphone and some music to ignore others...
  • by agslashdot (574098) <sundararaman,krishnan&gmail,com> on Sunday November 23, 2003 @10:39AM (#7541974)
    Same approach at the Sun Java Center in NYC. They have this web-app - you log in & register for a slot (workstation+desk+chair, in a shared office) for a given day between say 9am to 1pm, and the slot is yours if available.

    Ofcourse, you can't store your books there, or put up your feet or have a messy desk with papers & stuff, cause you have to be out by 1pm. You can't even use the workstation for development, since you have to check out by 1. So you basically work on your laptop, but use this slot to ftp your work to the server, & that's it.

    You feel quite disconnected from your team, since you never meet your colleagues unless there's a scheduled group-meeting. Everything gets done by email & phones.

    Sounds ideal but in reality, its far from that. You are spending far too much time communicating, booking these slots & doing admin work when you should really be coding.

    It didn't work out for me...but some of my former colleagues have gotten used to it. I like having a dedicated cubicle to myself, some bookshelf space, dedicated workstation, colleagues bumping into each other so we can bounce off ideas, exchange gossip at the watercooler etc I guess I'm too old-fashioned, but work to me means camaraderie, not living out of a laptop.
  • Peace and Quiet (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday November 23, 2003 @10:40AM (#7541979)
    I hate working in the open. We have an open-plan office because internal walls (and indeed, dividers) are expensive. Nobody has a cubicle. The CEO has his own office.

    The noise and interruptions are hurrendous. I am working from home two days a week now because it's impossible to get things done at work.

    The general noise level from the other areas is unacceptable. I know we are also guilty of making a racket, I'm not saying we're perfect.

    But when I'm in the guts of the server side, and we have a very complicated core server component, I don't want to be interrupted every five minutes by laughter, walk-ups, casual questions from co-workers. Team player bullshit or not, I'm there to engineer a fast, reliable, robust component. When I'm interrupted a lot, my defect rate (number of tickets at 'Defect' level entered against me per release symbol) goes up. Really up. A lot of people wear headphones to block out noise, but there's evidence to suggest that if the brain's cultural centers are engaged, engineers don't make creative leaps. I think this is true.

    Plus, as you may know, creative work is usually performed in the psychological state of 'flow', which is intensely focussed concentration. It takes 20 minutes of hard concentration to get into 'flow' and then you can be snapped back out of it instantly by a question or a ringing phone.

    I would LOVE to have an office. I would even share it with two other engineers, provided I could pick them.

    Hell, I would love to have a cubicle, actually.

    The ergonomics of offices and the human aspects are well discussed in Peopleware [amazon.co.uk], but if you don't think you can make change in your organisation, don't read it because you'll be left depressed at how offices are *supposed* to be run.
    • Re:Peace and Quiet (Score:5, Interesting)

      by kachuik (319753) on Sunday November 23, 2003 @04:06PM (#7543559)
      In the Uber-Messed-up cubicle farm, sometimes action is required:

      The basic rule is lead by example & then skrew em.

      Figure out how to reduce the ringer volume on your phone. Turn it down.
      Listen for & locate the clowns who have theirs on max.
      Come in on the off hours & turn theirs down. (Asking them to do it is polite but usually useless)
      When you go away on vaction or whatever, turn your ringer off.
      When somone else goes away, do unto them. A post-it with "Ringer Off." stuck on their phone is polite.

      Figure out how to up the volume in the phone earset & turn yours up. (Reduces the tendancey to SHOUT into the phone.)
      Off hours, do unto the shouters.
      If there is someone in the farm that uses a speaker phone to check their voice mail, have a "friend" leave them a detailed pornographic voicemain from a payphone over the wekend. (VERY effective.)
      For the clown who would rather use you as a talking data retrieval servent rather than flip open a manual, start by answering their question with the instructions on how to look it up themselves. If the clown does not "get it" the answer becomes "I don't know." and then go back to work. If that fails, start returning the "favor". (Whats the format of...?) If that fails, it is now time for for a heart felt face to face (loudly: "Look it up yourself you %&#*!")((If saying it to your own manager, be ready for trouble. Personal experience.))

      Hail-Fellow-Well-Met syndrome:

      If the morning ariaval of a co-worker is met with a rousing corus of "Hi" and "Good Morning", along with inquiries into last nights activities including but not limmetted to: sleep patterns, food consumption, road conditions and recreational activities, then be the last one in. Or spend the usual arrival period doing some non-local activity. (Collecting/stealing office supplies, user group visits, anything that gets you out of there. )

      In a standard poorly designed cube farm, all hall chats will be beside someones cube. There is no way aroud this one. (Good time to clean you desk, and other assorted administrivia.) Or just join in the conversation and say things that are so stupid, everyone leaves.

      The foul stench of someones lunch wafting through the air and peeling the paint requires a loud statement of fact. "Wow, that really stinks. I think I am going to be sick. I have to go home." Then leave.

      When it gets to the point that nothing is getting done by anyone, anywhere, state the facts in writting. To the boss. Eventually their boss will figure out somthing is wrong & a paper trail comes in handy.
      These things come and go. When they come, it's a good time to take advantage of "Developmental assignments". On the last one, I took a position on the 24 hour support dest. Yep it was that bad.

      Meeting Mania & how to be a wee bit less unproductive:

      When someone attempts to schedule a meeting within 30 minutes of the regular quitting time, have a long standing personal issue that requires you to leave early that day & on that day leave early, no matter what.

      The only valid answer to the question of "When is a good time this morning to have a get together?" is: "Now." Then start the meeting.

      When handed printed material at a meeting, as soon as you leave, throw it out and e-mail a request to have a replacement e-mailed back. If you get something, you are now free to read it. If valuable, save it on disk, else delete. Next step, if required, is to actaully do what the meeting was about and/or reply in e-mail. Now the meeting Bozzo has a copy they will be able to find in 2 weeks.
      When you call a meeting that has an agenda, send out the agenda when you call the meeting. (Give the attendies the chance to come prepared, but don't expect a miracle. You will be the only one prepared.)
      After showing up at the correct place, when the clock strikes meeting time, start the meeting, even if you did not call it. There is nothing more productive than a room full of people wait
  • virtual office (Score:3, Informative)

    by simonaustin (723056) on Sunday November 23, 2003 @10:41AM (#7541987)
    I work for a company that has no offices at all. It's fairly small, but everyone works from home. We have people working in Sweden, New York, Toronto, and Vienna. We cooresepond and share ideas via secure chat, email and telephone conversations. It is working really well.

    I have a dedicated office, but I live in a small city close to Toronto where the real estate costs are much lower, so I end up renting a 3 bedroom townhouse for the price of a 2 bedroom apartment in Toronto. It works out great for me.

  • by Daniel Dvorkin (106857) * on Sunday November 23, 2003 @10:41AM (#7541990) Homepage Journal
    ... the way using nothing but Microsoft software "promotes choice."

    I'm incredibly lucky to work at a company where I -- not as a manager, but as a regular ol' code monkey -- have my own office. Cubicles suck. Open space environments suck even worse. I know; I've done both in the past, and never will again if I can help it. The "old paradigm" of the office became the standard for corporate work because, guess what, it works. Just about every change since then has served to increase worker stress and decrease productivity.
  • ...is that once they realize that people can work from home in the same city, they'll start realizing that people can work from home in some underpaid third world hell hell and they'll save even more money.
  • by Alien54 (180860) on Sunday November 23, 2003 @10:48AM (#7542023) Journal
    Employees now work in shared areas or from home or elsewhere outside the traditional cubicle.

    Anything that does not have to be done onsite in the office can be outsourced to India and China and elsewhere.

    so eventually it all could go over there, leaving a twisted dried up hulk of an economy behind in the USA. When you take 500,000 high paying jobs and ship them overseas, you may have saved the companies big bucks. but you have also reduced the market for your high price goods by that much.

    Do this enough times, and you get a situation like you saw in manufacturing in Detroit. When was the last time you heard stories of the incredible economic opportunities in Detroit (even if things have improved somewhat after 30 - 40 years).

    Manufacturing says they are doing this to increase efficiency and reduce costs. Efficient systems are not always robust, because you tend to eliminate redundancies. Redundancies give you your backup capabilities. Efficient systems tend to be more vulnerable.

    And so it is with businesses.

    But in the meantime, instead of building and maintaining their prize market, they drain it like parasites...

  • If you have to deal with HIPPA regulations, you may just find your cubicle replaced with a locked office one day soon..

    Or walls will suddenly appear around your group, isolating you off from the rest of your co-workers...
  • by MyNameIsFred (543994) * on Sunday November 23, 2003 @10:51AM (#7542043)
    There will be many comments about people being treated like cattle. This is a real danger. But for many people, this is what they want/need. At my company, we had people that were constantly out of the office -- salesman, techs, etc. Rather than spend money on an office for each one. The company set up a few "hotel" offices that they used when they were in the office. Significant savings for the company, for people who rarely were in offices. Or for the many people on slashdot who want to telecommute, do you really think the company should pay for office space for you also? An office that you see once every couple of weeks for status meetings.

    On the other hand, having hotel offices for the person who comes in everyday, works 9-ot-5, ... is dumb. And I doubt many companies would do that.

  • Too bad that most of those working from 'home' will be working in shops in India where they can live on 75% less.
  • I'm one of those roaming Sun employees now and it actually seems to work quite well. In addition to the JavaCards that lets employees log into a SunRay and work from any Sun building, most of us have laptops that can be plugged into the network - Most Sun locations offer wireless too - when we need to sync code or check corporate email and such, while still allowing us to work on them without having to physically be in a Sun building. I've tried working from home as well as in a public library with free Net access for laptops, both with much success.

    My team still meets weekly for lunch discussions but the rest of the time we use IM and email - with the occasional cellphone call - to communicate quite effectively. Today's generation of young University kids grew up on IM so they will have little difficulty adapting to using it over face-to-face contact with co-workers.
  • ...at least in my experience they do.

    At some point, a poll was circulated around my company, asking people what the ideal office size was. It was basically only programmers that answered 3 or 4. Everyone else wanted to share with as few people as possible. Artists, designers, whoever.

    I work with 3 other people in my office now, and I really like it. I'm REALLY lazy most of the time, so not having to get up to ask someone a question, and just yelling it out to my office suits me just fine. As well, my two immediate team leads are right near me, so if I have a question about a design decision that I'm making, I can clear it with them if it's sketchy. Why would you want to be in an office by yourself? I've had the office to myself before, and it's usually just kinda lonely.
  • by $criptah (467422) on Sunday November 23, 2003 @11:07AM (#7542120) Homepage
    I have had an office, an "open space" desk and a cubicle. I love the office and the cubicle, but I truly hated my desk that was stuck in the middle of the floor. See, programming requires a lot of thinking, especially at the early stage of the development. Whenever I was writing something on a piece of paper or tried to concentrate on thinking, at least one person would stop by and ask something. Then there were certain managers who loved to get a progress report update everytime they went past my desk to get some coffee. Then there was a tech support dude (Level 1) talking on the phone for hours and hours a day.

    Most of these people were doing their jobs and I had nothing against them; however, with time the unwanted interraction became a royal pain in the rear. I could cope with the tech support representative because he was was aware of his impact on the "free space" people. Unfortunately that was not true for a couple of women from the sales department...

    On my opinion, the best way to improve efficiency is to have a relatively big office with several people whose job is related. I remember sharing an office with a dude from India. We got along pretty well and concentrated on our tasks while helping each other.
  • by TheRealStyro (233246) on Sunday November 23, 2003 @11:08AM (#7542130) Homepage
    I think this move could be very good companies and communications, but for people with ADD/ADHD this is all very bad. An open environment leads to extremes in distractions. People moving about, people talking, speakers blaring (headphones only rule needed), top-level and upper management weenies watching production - all this would drive a person with ADD/ADHD to insanity (and/or unemployment).

    As a person that deals with the rollercoaster ride of ADD/ADHD, I would like to see a 'compromise' solution. Keep the top-level management (Pres, VPs, CEO, etc) in offices (just shrink the offices), move the upper-level into cubes, eliminate middle-management, and push groups into group-centric open environments. Groups could move cube partition walls as needed. Leave some 'isolation tank' cubicles (high walls with extra sound dampening) available for people with ADD/ADHD.

    As for the wireless 'shared' space - great idea, but where do you put your paper? Forms, documentation, books, etc. all the usual paper that you may need for work needs to be stored somewhere. I suppose you could dream of a paperless office, but I doubt most offices could pull that off effectively. Maybe I'm just 'old school', but my CYA work requires print-outs (since I cannot email these items to a home address). Still, great to see corporations working with wireless.
  • Snow Crash (Score:5, Interesting)

    by garyok (218493) on Sunday November 23, 2003 @11:43AM (#7542332)
    What this reminds me of is how the Feds are made to work in Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash: the first ones in in the morning take the desks nearest the door and management can tell at a glance who's the most dedicated to the job.

    I think this is the plan. Instead of management having to understand what their business does, they just assume the drones are substitutable or know what they're doing as much as anyone else and then hire or fire them based on how much they're willing to surrender of themselve to acheive the corporate "vision". Whatever that is today.

    It's a fairly inevitable outcome of seeing employees as commodities or resources. How else can you discriminate between them? It's not as if management are going to bother learning their names for God's sake!
  • Office Spaced... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Pooquey (549981) on Sunday November 23, 2003 @12:07PM (#7542451) Homepage Journal
    My company relies largely on IM for communication,whether from home or in the office. Most of the programmers don't even have and "office" phone in their workspace. I like it this way, although I find it strange that in the settings I have been placed in with this company in the three years I've been there (cube - very short lived, office with three people, office with two people) we tend to be averse to communicating verbally even with our office mates (the people who share the same room with us).

    I've lost count of the times I've asked someone to relay a message because the person I was trying to contact was not at his/her desk only to be told email him or IM him when he gets back. YOU'RE SITTING RIGHT THERE FOR CHRIST SAKE!! Is it really that hard to turn around and say so and so was looking for you?

    I think the social effects of IM as a primary communication tool is something we ignore all too much. Programmers, as a geek species in particular, tend to be somewhat solitary people. The added convenience of not having to talk to someone face to face only makes these habits worse IMHO. Sure, it's great for productivity. I get a massive amount of work done just from the benefit of not having to talk to anyone. I can answer and instant message by touch typing without even thinking about it (especially in linux as opposed to finding the window in the start bar in windows which distracts me greatly), but there is more to everyone's heirarchy of needs than just being productive.

    Cutting off the sociable ability of being able to physically converse with someone face to face is something we should not let deteriorate without consideration. I can go for hours (at least 4 at most 6) without even using my vocal chords. I, for one, think this is a very dangerous trend.
  • by stull13 (693912) on Sunday November 23, 2003 @12:45PM (#7542599)

    I work for one of the global HR outsourcing firms that tracks corporate trends. In most cases we have about a five year waiting period before we actually implement these tends within our own organization, but in some cases (for instance, if there is money to be saved) we are actually one of the first to implement.

    A few months ago, one of the PHBs came up with the idea that we can save corporate real estate by moving away from the cubicle model, as mentioned in the article. However, our solution did not encourage mobility and teamroom type environments. Instead, they are now putting two to three people in each cubicle (in the space formerly occupied by one). Rather then do away with cubicles altogether, they are "Maximizing" the space in each cubicle.

    This hasn't affected everyone within our organization yet. They have started it with our lowest skilled workers, but the "Success" stories I have heard can only lead me to believe that it wont be long before the rest of us join them. Considering the number of corporations that take HR advice from us, it probably wont be long before the majority of you join them as well.

    The moral: It is better to be treated like a cow than like a sardine.

  • by chiph (523845) on Sunday November 23, 2003 @12:47PM (#7542615)
    Now we issue you a badge'' with the option to work anywhere, Vass said. ``It's instant productivity.''

    Sure, if you're a paper-pusher.

    If you're a software developer or hardware engineer, it takes a certain amount of isolation in order to be productive. Even though I have an office (shared) at work, both of us in there find that we get our best work done after all the interruptions have gone home at 5pm.

    Chip H.
  • The Zone (Score:3, Interesting)

    by NetAngler (209960) on Sunday November 23, 2003 @01:24PM (#7542785) Homepage
    Call it flow, the Zone or whatever. Engineers, programmers, and other people that need to concentrate on complex problems need uninterrupted time and quiet space. We are the onles who truly need Offices. Not the PHB types and managers who typically deal with the Big picture and have tasks that requires 5-10 minutes bursts of concentration rather than hours. But, alas, the offices is seen as a status symbol. The day when they get their heads of of thier asses and realize this fact is the day your companies productivity doubles.
    Also I am an Electrical Engineer. We need space for our stuff. Power supplies, books, Oscilliscopes, wave generators, multiple computers,etc... Our bone-headed company is one of these companies talking about cutting our space to 1/3 and "removing the walls" I mean communal lab space and communal equipment (only expensive equipment) is OK, but If I had to go hunting for a heat gun for 15 minutes it would drive me crazy.
  • by roman_mir (125474) on Sunday November 23, 2003 @01:31PM (#7542810) Homepage Journal
    simply because during the formal hours I am constantly distructed by a barrage of questions from novice programmers, QA people. Some project managers who have nothing better to do are constantly comming up with stupid jokes and expect everyone to listen to them. Supposed 'architects' come to my freaking cubicle and ask me to solve various problems for them etc. This eats my time like nothing else, so I stay after-hours so I can concentrate on my problems at-hand and finally do some serious coding.

    When I code I do not need anyone distructing my attention because it is not easy to get back into the 'zone', where you are running the program you are currently working on in your head. I am serious, I need my head to run the program that is not created yet in it, so I can copy it from my memory into the computer's memory. If only there was a faster interface than 60 words per minute.

  • by plsuh (129598) <plsuh&goodeast,com> on Sunday November 23, 2003 @01:51PM (#7542916) Homepage
    I think that most folks will agree that Apple is a first-rank company when it comes to both creativity and developing code. At Infinite Loop in Cupertino (the center of R&D), all of the engineers are in offices no cubicles, and their productivity is *very* high. I think they're onto something there.

    --Paul
  • by randall_burns (108052) <randall_burns.hotmail@com> on Sunday November 23, 2003 @01:57PM (#7542956)
    When I worked at Sun, the developers pretty much all had private offices or shared with one other person. Those were the days when Sun was growing and making money. Now, real estate in Silicon Valley wasn't quite as insanely priced then as now.


    Since then, Silicon Valley real estate has become a lot more expensive. To stay in Silicon Valley, Sun has replaced their US work force with H-1b workers overwelmingly from India and China and proceeded to loose over 90% of their shareholders value.


    I personally,think it would have been a wise business decision to set up a campus someplace like rural Utah or Oregon. If present trends continue, it appears likely Sun will eventually move operations to India or China.


    Basically, there is a workforce that has proven itself able to build a company like sun-but they aren't real productive in high-rent situations. There is another workforce that is much more unproven. We haven't seen really major IT innovations out of India or China yet. We may, but that is still somewhat speculative.


    It looks to me like Sun, HP, Compaq, Lucent are all killing the geese that have laid the golden eggs form them.

  • by writermike (57327) on Sunday November 23, 2003 @02:07PM (#7543016)
    Many folks point out that it's going to be difficult to locate someone in these floating offices. That's true. However, all they need to do is develop those cool locator systems like they have on STTNG.

    "Computer, where is Creative Director Algers?"
    "Creative Director Algers is in the Can."

  • One big group (Score:3, Interesting)

    by X-Nc (34250) <nilrin.gmail@com> on Sunday November 23, 2003 @02:17PM (#7543070) Homepage Journal
    The most productive office environment I have ever worked in was one where all of us were in one big room with no deviders or walls or cubes. We had 14 people in the room with those big old government desks. It was so much easier to get things done 'cause when we needed info or help from anyone you'd just turn your chair and talk to them. Plus, since there were no percieved walls the conversations were much quieter since we didn't have to yell over the partitions and no one played their music loud. This works best with groups of developers or engineers but can also work for any team.
  • by anothy (83176) on Sunday November 23, 2003 @04:02PM (#7543542) Homepage
    I worked at Bell Labs in Murray Hill when the building was gradually being converted, one hallway at a time, from old-style offices to cubicles. It was a huge project. And almost nobody who had to work in the results was happy with it. Specifics varied from hallway to hallway, but generally you had a bunch of 3/4 height walls for most people, two to a cubicle, and the management types got "offices", or cubicles with full-height walls.

    when it came time for my group (6-8 people) to move in, we cut a deal with our business unit's leader: expand our lab space, give us two pseudo-real offices, and you don't have to give us any cubes. the result was wonderful: we got a largish lab, where we all set up our workstations (with convention essentially resulting in each person having "their" workstation), we had a place to go for one-on-one meetings, personal phone calls, or naps (we brought a couch into one of the offices), we had great information exchange, and it was just plain fun. we took all our technical books and put them in one of our new shared offices, essentially creating a library, again increasing the benefits of pooled knowledge. it was the best work environment i've ever been in.

    the model we were going on was actually found in-house, existing for years: 1127. this is the Bell Labs Research group that made C, Unix, and most else that's still good about computing. everyone had an office they were hardly ever in. mostly, that core group hung out in the Unix Room (so called because, well, it's where Unix (and later Plan 9) was created). today, i work in two different locations for my employer. in one, everyone's got their own office (real offices, even!). in the other, it's open plan, with three offices and a conference room. i much prefer the later. i find myself more productive, more aware of what's going on in the rest of the company, and (being in IT) more able to respond to issues other people are talking about. in the former office, i'm routinely blind-sided by issues people have been complaining about - to themselves or their office mate - for weeks. the open environment hugely helps exchange of ideas and improves productivity, even after factoring in the seemingly "lost" time people spend just chatting - which, of course, makes the place a lot more fun to work, and improves morale.

    good ideas require interaction. nobody - and i mean nobody - is smart enough to see all possible ends on their own. ask ken and dennis if they could've done what they did without easy collaboration from their peers.

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