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Large Tech Companies Moving Beyond the Cubicle 345

Posted by kdawson
from the what-would-dilbert-do dept.
statemachine writes in with a story from Silicon Valley about how Intel and Cisco, among other companies, are experimenting with cubeless, open, and unassigned seating. "Beginning this month, [Intel] will set up three experimental work sites. Open areas, comfortable armchairs, extra conference rooms and tables where people can plop down with laptops will replace the ubiquitous cubes that have been standard issue for decades. Each morning, Intel employees will log onto the corporate network using wireless connections. Their phone numbers will follow them. White boards that employees use to sketch out business plans and project strategies will be outfitted with electronics so drawings and plans can be transferred to laptops and e-mailed to colleagues. 'People feel much more comfortable coming up to me. It's more of a friendly atmosphere,' Cisco senior manager Ted Baumuller said. 'I hope I never have to go back to cubes.'"
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Large Tech Companies Moving Beyond the Cubicle

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  • by WetCat (558132) on Tuesday December 04, 2007 @09:14AM (#21570613)
    like books, personal items, photos, etc?
    • by Professor_UNIX (867045) on Tuesday December 04, 2007 @09:18AM (#21570649)
      Irrelevant in the new economy. We need employees to be fluid and quick to react to any situation. When it comes time to lay them off they should be able to leave at a moment's notice with little to no trace that they ever existed at the company other than their e-mail account and storage space on the company file server which are being wiped as we speak. Turn in your badge and laptop and calmly wait for security to escort you off the premises.
      • by BoomerSooner (308737) on Tuesday December 04, 2007 @09:48AM (#21570883) Homepage Journal
        They did this when I worked at Andersen. It made sense there because hopefully you were out at client sites more than in the office. With a job where I go to the same place every day people will start to stake out their areas, not unlike seating in college.

        For fun I used to move all around the room and sit in other peoples seats. They'd freak out at first but I'd actually talk about it, make friends (or enemies) and then move somewhere else. If the people weren't complete assholes (maybe 10% were pricks), the entire class would lighten up and become friends. I only had one class where that didn't happen. Ah, the think they're better looking and smarter than they are whores, how could I ever forget them ;)

        It will become a turf war if these people aren't actually out of the office more than they are in it. One more worry people have to take on (assuming they're anal retentive, which seems to be almost all the engineers, programmers, etc. that I know).
        • by Xichekolas (908635) on Tuesday December 04, 2007 @01:49PM (#21574111)

          As a dweller of cube land (and one of those people with no personal effects in my cube), I'd argue that the only reason people become defensive of 'their spot' (be it a cube or a chair in college) is because it is defined by a physical object or location. You remove the physical delimiter of 'my space' versus 'your space' ... and it's hard to fight over space. The same story has been done in a million TV shows. You have two characters that have to share a room, and they fight constantly. One of them has the brilliant idea to put a line down the middle, so each has one half. The moral of the show is that the line always makes it worse. Suddenly everyone is hypervigilant of the line. Remove the line, and no one notices if my stuff is three inches over it.

          In college we had our regular table in the library, but if it was taken when we showed up, we had no problem sitting at another identical table nearby. I think people sit in the same seat in class out of habit, not because they fancy it 'their seat.'

          I'm sure after a while people will fall into a routine in this open office environment, but I think the danger lies more in distraction than turf wars. You get a ton of people in an open room working together, and they are going to talk. I guess it depends on what kind of work they do, but I know as a lowly programmer, I can't think straight with people around me talking all day. At least for my job, I wish I had an office with a door AND a big common area. The office doesn't even have to be mine (or very big)... just something I can reserve for the day and shut the door to get some work done. The common area is absolutely necessary for team work. Ever try to work with people in cubes? I always feel like I'm invading their space and want to run away.

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            That all sounds great in theory, but having some amount of privacy and a place to go that isn't noisy and full of people and subject to so much easy distraction is advantageous.

            Further, as a HW guy, I often keep equipment, boards, etc. that I'm working on in my "personal space" (cube, lab bench with my name on it). I do this a) to isolate stuff I've modified so that someone else won't take it and get hit with my nonsense and b) to protect the stuff I'm working on when some MGR tries to get promoted by short
      • i had the "pleasure" of working for IBM advanced technology down in boca 5 years ago, and basically what you outlined happened to me.

        one afternoon, my logins stopped working, then the next day (friday) my keycard didnt work. when i complained that morning, i was told i had been terminated and everything was escorted away.

        poof...no notice no nothing just gone.
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by tbg58 (942837)
        Well said. Interesting statement by the faceless corporation to employees. It will be interesting to see how removing any sense of personal ownership in the office space works out for the companies that try this. Sure, cubes were pathetic, but at least you had a bit of space that was yours. Next they'll announce a calculus with space available for workers = 0.75 * number of workers. This will help cut down on those non-productive bathroom breaks and trips to the water cooler. Don't leave your space - so
        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by kalirion (728907)
          Don't you mean "Brillant"?
        • by coolGuyZak (844482) on Tuesday December 04, 2007 @11:48AM (#21572189)
          It all depends upon how competitive and proprietary the community is. The employees could:
          • carve the space up into distinct personal areas, akin to the way we divide real estate,
          • develop a squatters system, whereby you can take what's not being used,
          • institute a fluid bucket system. Your personal stuff is in a bucket, each employee carries their bucket around.
          • Say that there's no personal stuff allowed, everything is common.
          • Create a series of devices that can be customized based upon a PAN. For instance, a bluetooth picture frame that can display a random or specific picture from your smartphone or laptop.
          • a mixture of the above, there's a part that's personal, and a part that's common

          And I'm sure there's tons of others. If I, as an employer, were to institute this system, I'd ensure that the employees had the flexibility to organize the space as they wanted. If I, as an employee, were to be part of this system, I'd design a tightly knit squad of nerf-enabled roombas to guard my personal space, and lead assaults on other employees during lunch hour.

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            institute a fluid bucket system. Your personal stuff is in a bucket, each employee carries their bucket around.
            I have a hard enough time deluding myself into thinking I'm a professional sitting in a cubicle. Now you want me to do it while carrying all my personal belongings in a bucket???
        • by badasscat (563442) <basscadet75&yahoo,com> on Tuesday December 04, 2007 @12:33PM (#21572889)
          It will be interesting to see how removing any sense of personal ownership in the office space works out for the companies that try this.

          It's not really a new idea. Here's a still [theaspectratio.net] from Orson Welles' "The Trial" (yes, from the Kafka novel), and that was made in the 1960's. The only difference now is that there's *nothing* kept on the desk - in the old days, there was at least a typewriter. Over time, other objects appeared; in and out boxes, pencil holders, etc. And that's when the concept of "assigned desks" and the cubicle took over, out of a necessity for both better working conditions and more productive workers.

          This is a regression backwards; there's nothing new about it, and it's not what workers want, that's for sure. Management loves it in theory because they can keep an eye on many employees at once. They know who is there, they know who is working and not just staring at the ceiling or throwing darts at their cube walls.

          But employees hate it, and I know this from experience. My previous job didn't quite go so far as having empty desks where employees could sit anywhere, but we did have a completely open office without walls. What you invariably end up with is as many people crammed into a room as the employer can fit, because there are no boundaries telling anybody "this is enough space for one person". At my office, this was easy to do because the whole office was just a series of long metal tables pushed together, so when we hired somebody new, everybody just scrunched down a little more. And because nobody has any claim to any personal space, or any "ownership" of it, they end up throwing garbage everywhere and not ever cleaning it up. So it's cramped, crowded, smelly, and there's no privacy. It's like what you'd imagine working in an office in the Soviet Union was probably like. Or some sort of sweatshop.

          Cisco probably hasn't gotten to that point yet, but I guarantee their employees already hate it. And eventually, it'll become intolerable and everybody will be clamoring for the days of cubes again.

          This is just another example of somebody thinking they've stumbled onto a great idea, not thinking through the unintended consequences, and not realizing that countless other people have tried the same thing many times before, without success.
          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by rabiddeity (941737)
            That photo looks a LOT like offices in Japan. The staffrooms for the schools I work at all consist of a bunch of metal desks pushed together. Personal stuff doesn't tend to leak over because everyone has their "own desk", but the other problems you mentioned do exist. It's noisy, and I have trouble getting anything done because someone is always looking over my shoulder, walking behind me, or having a discussion at the next desk.

            Pro:
            -The boss can watch everyone!
            Counterpoint:
            -Employees always feel like th
      • by Black-Man (198831)
        Only problem being you wiped out the storage where said employee stashed his source code. Oh well... rewrite it in India.
      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by El_Muerte_TDS (592157)

        We need employees to be fluid and quick to react to any situation.

        Yeah, tried that once by throwing a cup of hot coffee to a co-worker and yelling: "Think fast!".
        It appeared that he couldn't react quickly enough to a changing situation involving fluids.
    • Since all HR directors dream of firing people for non-professional thoughs, I guess keeping the offices as impersonnal as possible is actually an untold desired effect of such methods.
      • by cayenne8 (626475)
        Ok...maybe no personal items...I don't keep much of that around, but, where the hell am I gonna keep all my snack foods? My stash of sodas? My collection of menus from local restaurants?!?! My collection of hot sauces and other condiments for when I bring my lunch?

        Nope...I need my own space....oh yeah, I need filing cabinets to keep my work papers organized too.

        :-)

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by jedidiah (1196)
          Forget the personal items.

          I need a place to hang up my data dictionary posters.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by digitig (1056110)
        Fine, but I need a pile of text books and standards to do my job, and most are only available on paper. Changing desk means moving more than I can carry. I've worked for organisations in the past that rather overestimated the paperless office, and it was a nightmare. Fortunately (and not entirely by chance) I work for a more enlightened company now.
    • by tommasz (36259) on Tuesday December 04, 2007 @09:21AM (#21570675)
      Exactly. I've seen the "no assigned seating" idea applied to tech support people and they were all miserable. The rules included no personal effects allowed so many of them carried a floppy with pictures of their family that they would load into whatever computer they were assigned and display on the desktop or in a screensaver. I think there's something fundamental about having a space of your own, no matter how small or humble, and I wonder how long this will last before people start claiming a particular place.
      • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday December 04, 2007 @09:35AM (#21570771)
        It isn't too hard to claim a personal spot in a situation like this. Just eat a lot "while working" and make sure the crumbs are all over the chair. Fart a lot into the seat cushion and make sure people hear it from time to time. Trust me, that spot is all yours...
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by psychicsword (1036852) *
        It is like in an elementary school lunch where even though people have no assigned seats they still sit in the same general area with the same people. I am guessing the same thing will happen here.
      • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday December 04, 2007 @11:36AM (#21572045)
        I work in a "War Room" now and its the worst idea ever conceived. Programming requires being able to quietly concentrate on your work, but the war room atmosphere is noisy and makes for a lousy enviromnent for the developer. Its all part of this FrAgile process... the next job I take will not be in such an environment.
      • I'm a programmer stashed away in an exposed set of 8 cubicals, in what amounts to a closet of a closet, at the farthest end of our building, where I'm bathed in a gazillion watts of fluorescent lighting.

        I have to walk a hundred paces just to see the outside. If there was no seating assignment, I'd at least have a chance to get my fair share of natural light -- especially in the winter months when the only daylight I see is on the drive to work.

        When it comes to personal effects, programmers (at leas the one
    • by dsginter (104154)
      like books, personal items, photos, etc?

      Unassigned seating is currently implemented at the company where I am employed and this sort of request is accommodated easily because you generally don't see people moving around a lot - people settle in.

      So the system need only accommodate the storage and logistics of personal effects. We use a box for this - store it in the file room when the employee is not in the office and put it out for them when they decide that they need a cubicle for a few weeks.

      I keep my cu
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by KayPoe (883614)
      Sun has been doing something like this almost a decade ago. Only it is not open space, but offices. You have a rolling file drawer for your personal items, etc. When you come in, you are assigned an office. You get your rolling drawer, head to your office and your phone number follows you. There is a monitor that lets people know who is in which office that day.
      They are also a big proponent of telecommuting.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by toad3k (882007)
      I'm not surprised to see intel go this direction. Their cubicle farm looked like an employee parking lot. You can see it all on this conan o'brien clip. http://www.clipstr.com/videos/ConanVisitsIntel/ [clipstr.com]

      What a soul crushing environment.
  • by gelfling (6534) on Tuesday December 04, 2007 @09:15AM (#21570625) Homepage Journal
    I was moved from a single office, with a door, to a double up office, to a cube farm in a call center with cube walls one foot higher than the desk. This was intolerable and clearly designed to get people to 'volunteer' to work from home. We still have a so called visitor center but unless you have ITN installed on your VoIP on your PC you don't have a portable phone number.
  • by cerberusss (660701) on Tuesday December 04, 2007 @09:18AM (#21570645) Homepage Journal

    Open areas (...) will replace the ubiquitous cubes
    Yes, great! And we will need less office space! Isn't it great!?

    Don't kid yourselves, this is just about some PHB wanting to save on office space, cramming yet another dozen workers in the same space.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by peragrin (659227)
      Open plans aren't new either They were big in the 1970's. Heck My high school did a refit to an open plan and with in 10 years most of that was gone.

      Open plans don't give those that need a quiet place to work a quiet place to work as everyone's phone calls can easily be overheard.

    • by mh1997 (1065630) on Tuesday December 04, 2007 @09:32AM (#21570743)

      this is just about some PHB wanting to save on office space, cramming yet another dozen workers in the same space.
      I'd be willing to bet that it isn't about office space at all. If you are in an open area, it is harder to surf the internet, make personal calls, play games on your computer, or post to slashdot.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      Actually, it works both ways. They did this for a time in some spots at General Motors' Warren Technical Center some years ago -- for all I know they still might be doing it. They called the concept 'employee hotelling'. Essentially, they got rid of cubes in one area, and made big open desk/table space. They installed a wireless router and VoIP and gave everyone laptops and VoIP. They then let everyone in the group telecommute if they wanted. They already had flex time in place for all of their white
    • by Red Flayer (890720) on Tuesday December 04, 2007 @09:38AM (#21570797) Journal
      Not just about better utilization of space. Also about better productivity. FTA:

      Productivity also is up, said Larry Matarazzi, Cisco's senior director of workplace resources. Ted Baumuller, a senior manager in Cisco's information technology department, agrees. He said the time it takes to make decisions has been cut by 25 to 30 percent because it's easier to round up the team, and collegial relationships have improved by working in a more open environment.
      It's a double win for mgmt. As stated in the article, they can redesign to have more conference rooms, they can add more staff to the same location -- and they also get productivity enhancement.

      Still, I'm not sure why you view this so negatively, or have such bad feelings towards management. I've worked in open floor plans when my role was conducive to it (requiring lots of interaction, etc). Now my role is much more autonomous, and I really need uninterrupted time to get my time-sensitive work done (hence relishing office privacy and coming to work at 6 AM). My experience with unassigned floor plans was that I got more accomplished, and thus felt better about my work -- AND I enjoyed better relationships with my coworkers. The downside was inhibited ability to hunker down and cram out work -- this was solved by setting aside a portion of the office as a DND area. Except for real emergencies, DND was observed by everyone.
      • by Black-Man (198831)
        A DND area? Is that like a time-out area used in pre-schools? ROFL!!
      • by Mikkeles (698461) on Tuesday December 04, 2007 @10:30AM (#21571253)
        'Productivity also is up, said Larry Matarazzi, ...'

        I wonder how much of this is due to the Hawthorne Effect [wikipedia.org]?

      • Still, I'm not sure why you view this so negatively, or have such bad feelings towards management.
        Because I'm sick and tired of managers trying to sell another cost reduction as a good thing. Communication is good within a team, but I'm having trouble concentrating when people outside the team make loud phone calls or morning conversations. And a DND area is not always provided. If there are separate rooms, then it's often claimed by people as an area for meetings.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by jbengt (874751)
        "He said the time it takes to make decisions has been cut by 25 to 30 percent because it's easier to round up the team, . . . "

        How the hell is it easier to round up the team when no one has a known location?
  • As a european from (Score:5, Informative)

    by MemoryDragon (544441) on Tuesday December 04, 2007 @09:20AM (#21570657)
    central europa I personally think the cubicle system is nothing more than a sick joke.
    The company I work for recently had to move offices because it was not conformant to working laws anymore, every person hat about 5 times the space a single cubicle has :-(

    Over here normal offices with 2-3 people are the norm, cubicles would not even remotely adhere to the law, and when I see them I usually think on those chicken farms where chicken are in the boxes only to be in there to lay eggs.

    • by Deag (250823)
      As a European from western Europe, we have plenty of cubicle farms and open offices. Some day you will too - Welcome to capitalism!

      I personally don't really see much problem with cubicles and open offices. It is all well and good having laws making everything great for employees, but countries that do that are often also the ones that think 10% is a low unemployment rate.
    • by seven of five (578993) on Tuesday December 04, 2007 @10:22AM (#21571169) Homepage
      I guess that's proof that there's life on Europa.
  • I mean it just sounds like manager code for less personal space and stuffing everyone into large open spaces that minimizes privacy and ups the whole chat noise factor the nth degree.

    Am I just being cynical?
  • by AceJohnny (253840) <.moc.liamg. .ta. .eyatnegralj.> on Tuesday December 04, 2007 @09:21AM (#21570669) Journal
    So the senior manager is happy with the arrangement? Great. Guess what: that kind of guy deals with people all day long. It makes sense to make it easier for him to interact with people.
    But not for me. I'm a hardcore techie. I spend days not interacting with people, fighting with the code, and I need my concentration. Every time I get interrupted, I need about 20 minutes to get back to work properly.
    Yep, I'm in a cubicle. I hear everything that happens around me, and maybe I'm just not good enough to blank it out. I regularly have to reserve meeting rooms just to have a little peace and quiet to be able to think.

    Yeah, I'm mad because my request for noise-isolating headphones was turned down. Does it show?
    • by sqrt(2) (786011) on Tuesday December 04, 2007 @09:32AM (#21570753) Journal
      I don't mean to sound insulting or presumptuous, and I don't claim to know nearly enough about you or your work to make this claim with much accuracy, but perhaps you have adult ADD? I know someone who has it, and described nearly exactly what you said. They can't block out sound/visual input well and basically any sensory input not related to the task at hand, and once they get side tracked they have a hard time being able to regain focus.

      Or it could just be simple boredom/frustration/fatigue with doing a task for long stretches of time.

      What's stopping you from bringing your own noise canceling headphones?
      • by blincoln (592401) on Tuesday December 04, 2007 @09:46AM (#21570869) Homepage Journal
        What's stopping you from bringing your own noise canceling headphones?

        I have adult ADD, and work in a cube. It's a lose-lose scenario. I used to listen to music on headphones all of the time to keep from being distracted, and was told that it was giving everyone the impression that I didn't want to talk to them.
        Of course, it's still better than some ridiculous open seating plan where I couldn't customize anything. I have three monitors at my desk that I scavenged when everyone else was getting rid of their CRTs. Being able to have so much simultaneously-visible working space is great for my concentration. I use it kind of like the display in Minority Report - moving various windows around depending on what makes sense for any given moment. I had to use a single screened laptop for 2-3 weeks when my PC died and it cut my productivity in half.
      • Context Switching (Score:3, Interesting)

        by zifn4b (1040588)

        No - I think the main point here is for very technical jobs, the employees are required to load up a large amount of information into their mind to solve large, complex problems. Anytime a person comes into their space to ask them about something unrelated this causes a context switch in the employee. They have to unload some or all of the information for the task they are currently working on to contemplate the topic that person who interrupted them wants to talk about. Once the interruptor has left, th

    • by deniable (76198)
      When we moved, they set things up as open plan with 5 foot partitions. The people (mainly management) who loved this idea and said it was great all got offices. The HR person who was too lazy to lock her files had to have an office for security but didn't get a door.
    • But not for me. I'm a hardcore techie. I spend days not interacting with people, fighting with the code, and I need my concentration

      ... says the guy who checks /. often enough to jump on a new story and post a comment right away. :)

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Chris Mattern (191822)
      Noise-isolating headphones work mostly against background white noise. They aren't so good at blocking out, say, the guy talking on the phone one cubicle over. Earplugs, on the other hand, are very effective and quite cheap.

      Chris Mattern
  • Bad idea (Score:4, Funny)

    by Blue6 (975702) on Tuesday December 04, 2007 @09:24AM (#21570699)
    makes it harder to read /. at work.

    Now get back to work wage donkeys!
  • I'm lucky (Score:3, Interesting)

    by aadvancedGIR (959466) on Tuesday December 04, 2007 @09:24AM (#21570701)
    My work requires my test equipment (45kg) and its power module (20kg), a signal generator (20kg), a specter analyser (30kg), an oscilloscope (5kg), a lab power suply (5kg) and dozens of meters of various cabling, so:
    -They don't plan to move me around anytime soon.
    -No one wants to share such a noisy environment.
  • books and junk (Score:4, Insightful)

    by PetriBORG (518266) on Tuesday December 04, 2007 @09:25AM (#21570703) Homepage
    And where are they supposed to put their dozens of Unix/Windows and programming language books or other engineering books? Paperwork? Is this also supposed to be the magical land of the paperless office? I'm all for more open spaces - my team of programmers and I all go down to the lab every day and work next to each other instead of in our cubes, but we still have cubes to hold all that random paper junk. Pete
  • by RandoX (828285) on Tuesday December 04, 2007 @09:25AM (#21570711)
    No desks? Laptops on for 8 hours? You do the math.
    • by GIL_Dude (850471) on Tuesday December 04, 2007 @09:43AM (#21570843) Homepage
      While that part may be true, the worst part is that notebooks on laps or on conference tables are not ergonomically correct and really cannot be made to be correct without a bunch of equipment lying around (for example external keyboard and mouse, silly looking device to hold the machine with the screen in the right position, etc.). The way we are setup at my company (80,000 machines) - notebook users are issued port replicators with real monitors, actual ergo keyboards, real ergo mice, etc. Everyone also gets some training on how to best setup in a hotel room for the limited ergonomics you can get there.

      While this "big open environment with nice chairs and conference tables" sounds nice and all - it will HURT people. Wrist, arm, neck, and shoulder problems will follow this around like crazy.

      Oh, and like others in the thread have said: The company requires me to keep certain paperwork and some few receipts. Where do I put those?
    • by Andrewkov (140579)
      No desks? Laptops on for 8 hours? You do the math.

      No, this is only phase one, where they eliminate the cubicles. They don't eliminate the desks until phase two.

  • by CmdrGravy (645153) on Tuesday December 04, 2007 @09:28AM (#21570725) Homepage
    Great, I'm sure this isn't the first time a large company has had such a 'radical' idea. The problem is that whilst it does sound like a nice working environment it's likely only ever going to be actually adopted in a small number of prestige or flagship areas.

    Everyone else will continue working in the exactly the same was as they normally do because companies cannot afford and cannot be bothered to spend the money to do this for 90% of their employees.

    "I've just seen this new strategy re the comfy seating and un-assigned working locations"
    "Excellent, that's marrrvellous"
    "Yes, most of our chairs already meet the recommended comfort standard so we'll keep those. The only thing is they're not really suitable for using laptops with so we'll keep the desks too since they're handy places to put the phones and coffee etc on. Now most of our guys work in teams and are kind of settled where they are but obviously we don't actually directly assign specifc seats so I guess that takes of everything ?"
    "Marrvellous, our new strategy is a grrreeat success !"
    "Yes, I knew you'd agree."
  • by PHPfanboy (841183) on Tuesday December 04, 2007 @09:30AM (#21570737)
    There are plenty of writings about this - Wired did a piece years ago about BBWA Chiat Day in the US, there's the famous management course Oticon case study and recently I just read a nice book by Ricardo Semler. Normally the open plan offices translate into qualitative benefits in the company (people are happier, more collaborative, less secretive etc...).

    It's odd to read the comments here along the lines of "Send me back to the server room, I can't stand the lights....", but I guess there's no pleasing some people.
    • by AaronLawrence (600990) * on Tuesday December 04, 2007 @09:47AM (#21570873)
      Normally the open plan offices translate into qualitative benefits in the company (people are happier, more collaborative, less secretive etc...).

      Oh really? And that applies to software development as well does it? And it means more productivity as well, right - of course many people are happy to sit in a big open office and chat all day, but do they get more work done?

      Joel [joelonsoftware.com] believes [joelonsoftware.com] it's all rubbish and private offices are much more productive. Personally, I have seen exactly the same thing. When I started at my current job we all were in one room. It was very sociable and we all agreed on what to do ... for every. Single. Task. Amazingly our boss noticed this and deliberately gave us separate offices, and this seems a lot better. You can still go and chat to people, but you don't involve everyone just to talk to one guy, and when people need to concentrate they can.

      Frankly, those studies are either not applicable or just missing the point.
      • by CommandNotFound (571326) on Tuesday December 04, 2007 @09:58AM (#21570971)
        Also, didn't the early productivity studies regarding lighting show that productivity went because of the study itself? Wikipedia is down, so I can't link it, but if I recall, they changed the lighting, and productivity went up 15%. They changed the lighting back, and productivity still went up 15%. They determined that people worked harder because of the study.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by sckeener (137243)
      The company I am with has workspaces (aka cubes)that everyone is unhappy with....so much so that we will be moving back to offices. Glass offices that are the exact size of our cubes...er..I mean workspaces.

      I'd rather have the cube walls than glass walls and a door. At least I can talk quietly and the white noise can muffle the rest.

      Glass walls though....Might as well bring back the village mentality and have public flogging for people that don't conform to the group think. I don't see any illusion (afte
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday December 04, 2007 @09:32AM (#21570745)
    That sounds like the office plan from Snow Crash, where you weren't assigned a desk, and you demonstrated your loyalty by where you sat; determined by when you arrived in the morning.

    Contrast that with Joel's Software, where each person gets his/her own office with a window, read what he says about it and how it improves productivity. http://www.joelonsoftware.com/articles/BionicOffice.html [joelonsoftware.com]

  • by ElDuque (267493) <[ude.hgihel] [ta] [5wda]> on Tuesday December 04, 2007 @09:32AM (#21570749)
    My company (architecture/engineering) uses an open office plan and I like it.

    It takes a little getting-used-to; you need a little bit thicker skin when it comes to distractions, but it is not nearly as bad as I first thought it would be - and the benefits in day-to-day workplace communication are significant.

    If you can see someone is at their desk by standing up and looking across the office, you are much more likely to walk over and talk than to send an email or call someone who is 20 feet away. It may sound inefficient to a slashdotter, but face-to-face communication is really useful.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by east coast (590680)
      If you can see someone is at their desk by standing up and looking across the office, you are much more likely to walk over and talk than to send an email or call someone who is 20 feet away. It may sound inefficient to a slashdotter, but face-to-face communication is really useful.

      Yes and no. While face to face may be able to bring a faster exchange of ideas it's also nice to have that black and white conversation trail to work from. Not unlike Slashdot, just talking about an issue without a reference po
  • Take it from someone who's worked in several open plan offices over the last 8 years - they're almost always too damn noisy. Of course it depends on who else is in the office, how it's laid out, where you sit in relation to the noisier ones, etc, but the number of times I've either worked from home or gone in at the weekend or on a public holiday and been two or three times more productive is quite frankly depressing.

    There have been times when I have *longed* to work in a cube farm. I'm sure they have their
  • This is not new (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Nursie (632944) on Tuesday December 04, 2007 @09:36AM (#21570777)
    Cubicles are almost exclusively a US thing as far as I can tell. The UK norm is to have senior management in offices and everyone else open plan. It's much better for collaboration, it's much better for morale.

    it's much better for not having asshat coworkers playing radios in their cubicles, for not having people hide away and do bugger all for days, for a myriad of things.

    Cubicles are isolated and depressing. Embrace the european style.

    As for no set desks - well that's a little tricky for engineers who have multiple workstations, and I'm not sure it's the best idea, but scrapping cubicles is definitely good.

    BTW, i work for a huge multinational you _have_ heard of, not some little startup, this is not new.
    • Re:This is not new (Score:4, Insightful)

      by everphilski (877346) on Tuesday December 04, 2007 @10:44AM (#21571423) Journal
      Cubicles are isolated and depressing. Embrace the european style.

      No thanks. I have 10'x10' space that is all my own, desks on three sides of it, a 4 shelf bookshelf, room for a mini fridge and I can put whatever I want on the walls short of nude pictures. My cube is practically a study. No way i'd give it up except for a larger cubicle or office (which is a cubicle with a door)
  • Perfect (Score:5, Insightful)

    by moosesocks (264553) on Tuesday December 04, 2007 @09:38AM (#21570795) Homepage
    Whenever I go to work, I typically sit thinking to myself for several minutes.... "How could this be made more like cheap air travel?

    I am glad to see that Intel has now answered that call.
  • by jeffx (62480) on Tuesday December 04, 2007 @09:41AM (#21570817) Homepage
    Cisco's office in Atlanta had something very similar to this in 1999. I remember thinking it was a pretty cool way of using technology but not something I would want to work in. At the time I liked having little geek toys decorating my cube. It would have taking a long time to set up my toys again and again.

    Who am I kidding, I still have little geek toys decorating my workspace.
  • This sounds great maybe a side table to hold my books, drinks and a few other knick-knacks.
    I can just put on my mpeg3 player, put the chair back into recliner mode throw up the leg rest and veg the day out reading /.. Is the 42-inch TV include and what channels come on it and where do I store the beer?
    Sure type can somewhat suck and laptops can get a little hot but such are the hardships of working in a modern environment.
  • by kevin_conaway (585204) on Tuesday December 04, 2007 @09:43AM (#21570835) Homepage

    Open-plan offices aside, I think that unassigned seating is a bad idea. People are creatures of habit and they will generally sit where they sat yesterday, they will take the same route to and from work etc.

    I've had two jobs in my life, one with open-plan offices and another with a private office. I vastly prefer the private office merely for the peace and quiet and a space to call my own. All my co-workers are a few offices down the hall from me which makes it possible to have easy face to face communication which is so touted by the open-plan evangelists.

  • by Half-pint HAL (718102) on Tuesday December 04, 2007 @09:56AM (#21570955)

    In the photo (in TFA) there's bad posture and trailing cables. How this got past health and safety I'll never know.

    HAL.

  • by line-bundle (235965) on Tuesday December 04, 2007 @09:57AM (#21570963) Homepage Journal
    will be forced to repeat it.

    Behold exhibit A, TBWA Chiat/Day.

    http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/7.02/chiat.html [wired.com]
  • Give it four or five years and there will be a lot of lawsuits because of Repetitive Strain Injury. Laptops are bad for ergonomics and RSI, as are "comfy" chairs etc.

    These companies are just setting themselves up for a whole heap of trouble. I'm glad I don't work there.

    RSI Info [demon.co.uk]

  • This is how I work (Score:3, Interesting)

    by samael (12612) * <Andrew@Ducker.org.uk> on Tuesday December 04, 2007 @10:11AM (#21571055) Homepage
    Large open-plan area with about 80 people in it. It's great in many ways, as I can easily see who's in, who's busy, when people become free, and it encourages communication. Not so good for just getting your head down and coding, but that's what headphones are for, and people quickly realise that "headphones on" means not to talk to people with less important things.

    In addition, just being able to hear the conversations around you can frequently be useful, as you overhear problems that you might be able to help out with, and there's a much higher level of teamwork.
  • Sounds like what Delphi Automotive was already doing way back when I left them in 2001, if you remove the wireless connection of course. Seating was based on a cross-departments project base. Let's say you're working on Project A this week, you'll sit in the A open space. Next week you're on project B, move over to the B open space. Paperwork from Project A stays in the A zone, paperwork from the Project B stays in the B zone. It created a bit of a mess for tech support, as it could be hard to locate the us

  • Nice! Take away the cubes and just give us a chair in an open room while they get their nice big cushy offices with DOORS and WINDOWS! If they want to get rid of "the office" then just give everyone a laptop and pay part of their internet service costs and provide us a phone line and let us work from home. It would save them tons of money, and us too.

    If they would say pay half of internet charges (so we could VPN in) say $25-30/month then pay for an additional phone line (for work use only of course) - abou
  • As to why private offices are such a good idea.

    http://www.joelonsoftware.com/articles/BionicOffice.html [joelonsoftware.com]

  • A new idea? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by 140Mandak262Jamuna (970587) on Tuesday December 04, 2007 @10:37AM (#21571335) Journal
    Some 30 years ago, I had to resolve an issue with my "Student Concession Season Ticket" with the Southern Railways in Chennai (Madras those days), India and walked into the Great Hall where such matters of momentous importance are dealt with. An incredible sight. It was a hall some 100 feet wide and 400 feet deep. Rows upon rows of desks, touching end to end across the hall! Between every row of desks there was some two feet gaps to put chairs in, where the clerks were processing files. There was a central aisle. The ceiling was some 20 or 30 feet high, with rickety ceiling fans hanging on thin rods slowly spinning and pushing the rising hot air down on to the gnomes. And at the head of the Hall, facing all the clerks was the officer in charge of that department. I could close my eyes and imagine him hitting a gavel on the desk and call out cadence, "Battle Speed! dum, dum, dum, dadadum" like in Ben Hur slave galley scene.

    Cubeless office? Some bureaucrat working for the British Raj invented them 100 years ago.

  • by dindi (78034) on Tuesday December 04, 2007 @10:42AM (#21571393) Homepage
    1. no personal items
    Did I have photos in my cubicle ? No. but some people do. They have plants, action hero figures... etc etc. I personally only had specially crafted documents (crap no one else understands), but I know how deep people get hurt every time they moved them.

    2. YES personal items.
    No, I do not mean photos. I mean coffee stains, skin particles, food grease, saliva, boogers, pubic hair. No I am not a health/cleaning freak at all, but these are the personal items you ALWAYS find at someone else's desk/area.

    3. My chi
    I am sorry, but sitting at a different place disturbs my concentration, provides new distractions, and it takes time to learn to learn how to lock out that annoying new neighbor who chats to the wife screaming on the phone.

    4. Special devices
    Unless you are that uniform person who works with the standard given crap you are in trouble. Do I need a 22" to program code?
    Well, not necessarily (even though at home I have one, so more text fits on it), but at work the standard 17" will do.
    Then what? Oh well, I hate mice, and being a rather tall individual I cannot stand regular keyboards - too tight. Besides knowing how crappy the the keyboards and mice were the last Fortune 10 gave to the employees, even if I was ok with mice and regular keyboards I would differ to use any given one.
    Pickiness? Well, when you spend 10+ hours at a computer (did I say 16+ ? ), and I am sure a lot of guys here do, you want the best input devices. I personally only work with a Logi trackman and any (non-cheap-o) split keyboard : MS, Fellowes are OK, without these I suffer after a few hours of working.

    But then again I am a sociopath and quit a good job because I hated cubicle life so much, and I love to work bare-feet, underwear with my dogs sleeping next to me....

    Anyway, this kind of workplace sharing is completely incompatible with me. I program and sysadmin, and while "sysadmining" tolerates socializing and noise at times of maintenance/support, programming needs dead silence and no changing environment for me. So does systems engineering, or even installing an unknown feature into an environment (e.g. reading docs, and try until it works kinda stuff).

    Put it into any coating, it comes back to saving money to these corporations. It has nothing to do with you being well changing workstations.

    Just my 2c.

    damn I would do anything, even write a book on /. to avoid finishing that project I am late with :(
       
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward
      I mean coffee stains, skin particles, food grease, saliva, boogers, pubic hair.

      I'm intrigued about your work environment
  • Scorpio (Score:4, Funny)

    by halcyon1234 (834388) <halcyon1234@hotmail.com> on Tuesday December 04, 2007 @10:54AM (#21571541) Journal
    Relax, Homer. At Globex, we don't believe in walls.
  • by Mirz (806948) on Tuesday December 04, 2007 @11:28AM (#21571953)
    Just been on the other side of this decision: planning our own office layout for our new office. We're currently in the big open plan space (no cubes) setup and the noise is deafening at times. You can just see people's heads swivel as soon as an interesting argument/discussion breaks out on the other side of the room. Of course, as many have said they then need ages to get back in the zone.

    Cubes seemed too horrible to us and private offices seemed a bit lonely and isolated.

    What we went for in the end was a set of 3-6 person rooms, some of which can be combined if required. The idea was to merge the benefits of each approach - you get a dedicated "project room" where ad-hoc conversations, whiteboad design discussions, etc. are encouraged. The team gets to personalise their space, as does each of the workers (for at least as long as the project lasts).

    On the other hand if a team is in deadline mode, they can shut the door and agree between each other to be quiet. Similarly if a team wants to play music they don't disturb others, etc.

    We'll see how it works out... Anyone else tried this sort of approach?
  • by Avatar8 (748465) on Tuesday December 04, 2007 @11:35AM (#21572035)
    I see this working for groups where collaboration is important, but where privacy or quiet is needed these areas are a major disruption. Everyone here is reacting differently, but not everyone is saying what it is they do for a job.


    Jobs that are conducive to this environment:
    - marketing
    - pre-sales engineers
    - artists (graphical, musical, etc.)
    - people managers
    - sales people (maybe). Depends if they are usually out in the field or taking calls from customers.

    Jobs that should be conducive to this environment but the workers wouldn't enjoy it:
    - human resources: easily accessible, able to really keep a pulse on morale but a constant need for privacy.
    - desktop support: easily accessible, immediately aware of issues but unable to get proactive work done.

    Jobs that absolutely cannot work in this environment:
    - developer: needs absence of interruptions and quiet for concentration.
    - security: no one should be able to peek at security information whether physical or logical.
    - sysadmin: same as security plus during a failure the accessability and interruptions would be detrimental.
    - accounting/payroll: security concerns as well as customer privacy issues.

    I could see a hybrid environment working well - a handful of cubes and offices and 75% of the space as described above. Once you get past the job descriptions, then you must consider whether or not it's conducive for the company's industry. At Cisco and Intel where you have a high percentage of "idea" people and sales people, it works. I'm quite certain the engineers, IT and some back office functions will not and cannot be part of this experiment.

  • by saigon_from_europe (741782) on Tuesday December 04, 2007 @11:48AM (#21572195)
    This is from "Wired", pics about new "Futurama". The company seems to be the same one, but there are two pictures, from two offices:

    From the one of the most developed country in the world (USA):
    http://www.wired.com/entertainment/hollywood/multimedia/2007/11/ff_futurama_slideshow?slide=3&slideView=2 [wired.com]
    And from one of the "developing countries", i.e. Korea:
    http://www.wired.com/entertainment/hollywood/multimedia/2007/11/ff_futurama_slideshow?slide=11&slideView=3 [wired.com]
    Where would you like to work?
  • by wikinerd (809585) on Tuesday December 04, 2007 @11:41PM (#21581213) Journal

    No self-motivated person who works mainly with computers needs to be at a badly-lit noisy office every day, no matter whether it's a cubicle farm or open space. Computers have a network cable (or wireless antenna) for a good reason.

    Given that most companies don't understand this, the only practical way to freedom today seems to be to resign and become a freelancer or start a business.

    Been there, done that: While hordes of commuters burn up the whole planet with their CO2 emissions to go to work every morning, I happily go to nearby islands or hills with a laptop and 3G Internet and hack code or VPN/SSH to servers while listening to Mozart in the clean air. In fact only when the weather is bad or when I work on special projects I stay in my home office. The joy of actually making money while in the middle of the sea or at sunny beaches should make every competent programmer chained to an office to look themselves at the mirror in the morning and say "What contribution can I make to the economy? What are my greatest skills?" and then start hacking the next Web 2.0 hit, or get into consulting, or both.

  • by swordgeek (112599) on Wednesday December 05, 2007 @03:08AM (#21582381) Journal
    That's it.

    You can call it an 'open concept' office, you can call it 'hot-desking,' but at the end of the day it's a way of providing less space and less infrastructure per person. The companies toying with it are 'trying it out' not to see if it helps productivity, but to see if they can get away with it without causing their workers to revolt.

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