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How To Get Rid of the Cubicle? 368

wikinerd writes "How can we get rid of the widely hated cubicle and its ugly cousin, the stressing open-plan office? Some business owners and managers cannot understand the advantages of teleworking, different office layouts, or the morale benefits of private offices with Aeron chairs. There are still people in high positions who seem to think that stuffing a bunch of engineers into a noisy landscaped office is the best way to organize a company. It is not, and we all know it, but can we prove it? How can we communicate to them the fact that living in a groundhog warren is bad not only for the engineers, but also for the organization?"
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How To Get Rid of the Cubicle?

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  • fp (Score:4, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday November 24, 2006 @03:49AM (#16971552)
    Upper management loves stats; give them stats.
    • Re:fp (Score:4, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward on Friday November 24, 2006 @03:52AM (#16971578)
      i would have got first post, but my boss was walking behind me when I first saw the artical, and I had to hide the /. window..

      I want my own office!
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by IrquiM ( 471313 )
      Stats are:

      9 of 10 people with office browse the internet for more than 1 hour per day
      The rest doesnt know how to open the browser
    • There's a pretty obvious implicit assumption in the article that private offices (I don't know what Aeron chairs have to do with anything) are better than open plan offices. There's plenty of research that suggests otherwise, at least in some lines of work.

      In response to others posting in this subthread, yes, I work in an open plan office with around 25 other people on this floor, and yes, we have a couple of guys who work in other one-man offices and effectively telecommute. The extra impromptu conversat

    • Re:fp (Score:4, Informative)

      by Baldrake ( 776287 ) on Friday November 24, 2006 @10:04AM (#16973790)
      Upper management loves stats; give them stats.

      And here's where to get them [].

      This book, Excellence by Design, came out of the MIT School of Architecture and Planning's Space Planning and Organization Research Group (SPORG), and links the use of space in offices to productivity, within the domain of the kind of work being carried out.

  • I Quit (Score:5, Insightful)

    by TechyImmigrant ( 175943 ) * on Friday November 24, 2006 @03:51AM (#16971568) Homepage Journal
    I didn't like my cube ridden environment. I quit and joined an employer who did these things better.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Genocaust ( 1031046 )
      Quit. Join the military. Sure, you'll get to see the sunny sands of such wonderful places as the UAE, Iraq, Kuwait, Afghanistan and others, but at least you usually have your own office / desk.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      That's the only way to get through to these people. I also refuse to work in a cubicled environment, and I'm a contractor...

    • Re:I Quit (Score:4, Interesting)

      by cliffski ( 65094 ) on Friday November 24, 2006 @05:00AM (#16971978) Homepage
      Best answer. You shouldnt spend half your working life explaining to your higher-paid employer how he is doing his job wrong. I went one further and quit entirely and now work for myself. My employer has a perfect grasp of what I need to boost my productivity.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Fred_A ( 10934 )
      I found an easy way was to simply add a ceiling to the cubicles. Instant offices !
      As an added benefit, you can add another layer of cubicles on top of the old ones (employees must provide their own ladder).
  • Can't be done. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by $pearhead ( 1021201 ) on Friday November 24, 2006 @03:54AM (#16971588)
    Unfortunately, you can't.

    As one of my colleagues use to say: "You can't explain to someone who doesn't understand." (freely translated from Swedish).
    • On the other hand, one can think about bringing the emssage differently so the receiver will understand...

      I found that almost all messages will be understood by any decent manager. But then again, maybe that why I alwais get the interresting jobs and assignments (and promotions of course).
    • Telecommuting (Score:3, Interesting)

      Beats everything! Just like offshoring, except no damn foreigners!

      Lots of selling points: No office space costs. Employees pay for own coffee. Envionmentally friendly. It is the new wave.

      • Re:Telecommuting (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Martix ( 722774 ) on Friday November 24, 2006 @07:24AM (#16972790)
        I was working for a place were i could do 80% of the work at home.

        But the people I was working for did not like the idea.

        The only time i did work at home is during a bad snow storm were it was not safe to drive the 150 Km to work.

        THe job was building control panels and pc boards as well as PLC programing.

        With that job I just needed to be in the office/work space for install and final testing so it could be shiped out and pick up the next pile of parts ect.

        I could build the units faster at home with less distractions The dreaded phone ect.

        Saveings for the company one less workspace/office needed

        In the end the company when belly up because of cost over runs office space ect.

        I for one don't miss the 2 hour average drive to work and back home.

        Now I work nearby travel 10 minutes to work and do some part time repair work at home for a sound and lighting company.

        Making more money because im not burning up 160 dollars in gas a week and the car will last longer.
        As well as enjoying more home time with my family.

        I also do a part time bussness at home now restoring old records and 78 ect as well.( got more time because of less travel)

        If more people would and could telecommut it would do a lot for the planet.
        and the quailty of life.

        But some have the old school mentalaty if not in the office not working but if you got someting to show at the end of the week. EI control panels to install or paperwork done and brought in so you can pick up the next batch/work list.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by tezbobobo ( 879983 )
      No, you can explain it - you need to be blunter. Like when the narrator in Fight Club is talking about gas powereu guns and such. I find actions speak louder than words and marching from cubicle to cubicle with a semi austomatic shooting people and yelling why you hate cubicles to be effective.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      I think I'd add a bit and say, "You can't explain to someone who doesn't care to understand."
    • Peopleware (Score:4, Interesting)

      by famebait ( 450028 ) on Friday November 24, 2006 @09:15AM (#16973336)
      Buy the boss a copy of the book "Peopleware" for christmas. It goes into great detail in documenting how stressful environments do not make economic sense, in a way that is believable for business people too.

      That said, private offices are not necessarily the best solution. People who work together on the same thing can get great benefits from sitting together. The tragedy of the cube farms and open plan offoces is that they are almost never used for what the whole point was: to rearrange frequently according to needs.

      My ideal office has "project rooms" that can house a handful of people working together, and shielded them fom disturbance from other groups. Enhances communication, less disturbance overall, and the noise there is is less of a problem, because noise from someone working on the same thing as you is much less distrubing than noise from unrelated activities.

      But a good and often more realistic runner-up is to just lobby for the opportunity to use the capabilities that cube systems and open office plans offer: arrange your project group togeter. Use a lagoon layout (sit back-to back) so you get a "safe" and cohesive "inside" area, a good perimiter to shield against the rest of the world, and easy access to scoot over to your coworker when you want to show or discuss something. Avoid the more obvious island arrangement (face-to-face), where monitors act as walls betweeen project partners, and you ahve to take a walk to see someone else's screen, the outside world stresses you out behind your back, anf the feng shui is just generally destructive.
  • by NineNine ( 235196 ) on Friday November 24, 2006 @03:55AM (#16971594)
    How can we communicate to them the fact that living in a groundhog warren is bad not only for the engineers, but also for the organization?"

    I would speak to "them" with your voice (mouth, tongue, voal cords, et. al), either in person, or via telephone. Barring that, I would use a written format, such as "email" or "letter", in a lanugage that "them" would readily comprehend.

    Are there some other, hidden, secret forms of communication that I'm missing, here?
    • Re:Simple solution (Score:5, Interesting)

      by killjoe ( 766577 ) on Friday November 24, 2006 @04:31AM (#16971798)
      Depends on your company doesn't it? I used to work for a giant company. The decisions about our working conditions were made across the country literally thousands of miles away. Yes you could email those people but they literally had no idea who you were and didn't give a flying fuck. To them your entire location was just one number on the spreadsheet. If updrading the bathroom so that it doesn't smell like stale ass made that number go up then they wouldn't do it.

      In large companies it's another world. At my company when the programmers requested offices with doors (two to an office) the company refused. When the assistant to the accountant demanded an office she got one. The only office available was too big for her position so they spent a ton of money making the office smaller. What's odd is that making the office smaller for her actually cost more then building walls in the programmers space to give the programmers walls (we know this because we got quotes from the same construction company).

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by polar red ( 215081 )
        strike. We IT-people let shit on our heads to much.
      • Re:Simple solution (Score:4, Interesting)

        by kilodelta ( 843627 ) on Friday November 24, 2006 @09:14AM (#16973326) Homepage
        I don't recall where I read it but some time back someone had posted a long explanation that 150 was a magic number. That was the point at which everyone knew everyone else in an organization (even a company!) and anything over that meant that you had a serious disconnect going on.

        There's a manufacturer in Delaware that practices this. Each factory caps at 150 people and then they open a new facility, until that too gets to 150 people and so on.

        What they found was that productivity and communication improved in such circumstances. And it doesn't mean you can't have large companies, what it means is that you've broken management down into units where the so called leader now knows the employee. Makes a big difference.

        When I worked for a major university, it was hard to get to know the people because there were so many staff. But then when I worked for a state agency with only 238 people it became easier. Even then, my strategy was to get to know the support people in the various groups, they'd then clue you in to other details.
  • I like open plan (Score:5, Informative)

    by tom17 ( 659054 ) on Friday November 24, 2006 @03:55AM (#16971596) Homepage
    Is it just me?

    I have worked in IT environments in both Open plan with cubicles, Small offices of about 4 and open plan with desks.

    I preferred both of the open plan options (i.e. with or without cubicles) than the small office. It may get noisy at times but it can be more sociable too.

    Maybe I am just a freak...
    • Re:I like open plan (Score:5, Informative)

      by man_of_mr_e ( 217855 ) on Friday November 24, 2006 @04:28AM (#16971780)
      Actually, Microsoft has done a lot of work in this area. They have a model they claim works very well for creative teams, consisting of a "common" open work area with reconfigurable moving walls you can write on, surrounded by shared offices, plus "escape pods" where people can go be alone with their project. You can see a channel 9 video on this here: 21 []

      It's very interesting.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Znork ( 31774 )
      "but it can be more sociable too."

      Very true. That would be one of the great upsides if my employer actually paid me to be sociable, and if 'chatting with coworkers' had it's own fully financed timesheet code.

      I dont dislike open plan offices, and I'd like them even more if they came with beer. But frankly, they're just not very conductive to actual work.
    • Re:I like open plan (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Tim Browse ( 9263 ) on Friday November 24, 2006 @07:39AM (#16972882)

      The best environment I've ever worked in was an office that was an old country house [], and most offices had 2 people in them. A few had 3 people. It's probably still the most productive environment.

      However, one of the reasons was that there was a communal kitchen (well, when I say kitchen, it was a sink/drink making facilities at the end of the corridor), and people used to go there for tea/coffee breaks at 11am and 3pm. And when I say those times, I mean we would do it religiously. There was no official time or anything, it just seemed to be a subconscious consensus (it sometimes reminded me of synchronisation of menstruation via pheromones, but only superficially :-)).

      The important thing was, those coffee breaks would often last 30-40 minutes. To a manager, that seems like an awful lot of wasted time - 15 coders standing around chatting for an hour a day. But the important point was that was where/how we socialised, and how a lot of problems were solved. It probably saved a lot of time, because you had 15 smart people standing around hearing (mostly) about what everyone was working on that day, and the problems that had come up. Everyone knew what was going on in all the other sections of the project they were working on, and how things were going.

      Interestingly, when a kitchen was opened upstairs (we were on two floors) the staff then split into two kitchen groups. The managers were upstairs (along with some of the coders), and the downstairs guys often complained that they were out of the loop, and didn't get to hear about everything they should have. So it's a tricky balance, but like I say, I've never been so productive. Other aspects of the company were less than ideal, but the physical working environment was pretty good.

      I still can't believe I only drank 2 cups of tea a day while working there...that can't be right.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by kabz ( 770151 )
        I'm just a cube drone in a big 200 people cube farm now, but about 18 years ago I worked there too, after I graduated in 1988, and at that point we were mainly one to an office as I remember. I had a big office upstairs with the purple chaise longue where I could take a nap in the afternoon. Chris and our state of the art Dell 286 worked on hardware and board layout along the corridor, and Martin(?) was in an adjacent office. Dave and Mark had offices in the other direction towards the tennis courts. James
    • The researcher who invented/championed function point analysis for IBM (Albrecht) also wrote a study that proved that, on the whole, programmers were more effective if they shared no more than 4 people to a work area and the personal workspace was about 200 square feet. Unfortunately I can't put my hands on the analysis right now, but someone could look it up. Again, this was on the whole, meaning averages. In a case like this, I'd be interested to know what the exceptions were, particularly the exceptions
  • by jdblair ( 3634 ) on Friday November 24, 2006 @03:55AM (#16971600)
    I've worked in closed offices and in cubicles, and they each have their plusses and minuses. The best thing about cubicles is that you overhear some of the conversations that other members of your team are having. This can be really helpful for a small team working on a complex project, as I sometimes overhear something I should know about, or something I can give useful input into. In other words, working in cubicles can be really good for team dynamics.

    On the other hand, the worst part about working in cubicles is the same thing-- your neighbor's loud conversation can be annoying and disturb your concentration. The lack of privacy can be annoying.

    On balance, if I like the team I'm working with, I prefer working in the cube farm.
    • by mwanaheri ( 933794 ) on Friday November 24, 2006 @04:36AM (#16971832)
      On balance, if I like the team I'm working with, I prefer working in the cube farm.
      According to my personal experience, the most efficient team-size is up to five. If you group your teams in offices, there is no need for cubes. Big pro of non-cube: you see where the noise comes from. I find that less disturbing/hate producing. Having your teams in offices, a good placement of coffemaker and xerox machine makes inter-team communication easier. Corridor-drums are very efficient.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      On the other hand, the worst part about working in cubicles is the same thing-- your neighbor's loud conversation can be annoying and disturb your concentration. The lack of privacy can be annoying.

      That alone defeats any possible benefit of having cubes. Right now, my cube is surrounded by the most annoying people I've ever met.

      One lady can't shut the fuck up, and freaks out about EVERYTHING. Her coffee's getting cold? It's the end of the fucking world! Better tell the person on the phone, or the

      • Then there's the guy who has some kind of sinus problem. Enough said.

        This is the worst. We used to have a guy who'd retreat to the bathroom (nearby, but you could hear him clearly, to give you an idea how loud he was) - at least every twenty minutes to have coughing and hacking fits that would make you think Menthol T. Moose from The Simpsons merely had a tickle at the back of his throat.

        A little "culturally insensitive", sure, but the running joke was that we were waiting for the day when he came in and

  • by bunions ( 970377 ) on Friday November 24, 2006 @03:55AM (#16971602)
    prefereably in a mainstream publication showing that, in fact, private offices and Aeron chairs are in fact cost-efective. If you can show this to management, you oughta be good to go. Showing them an article by Joel and saying "but ... but ... my concentration!" probably isn't gonna do it.

    I'm still dubious. I mean, yeah, sure, I'd much rather have a nice quiet office, an aeron and the fastest desktop available connected to dual 21" monitors. Who wouldn't? But does anyone actually have some sort of operational study showing that it does, in fact, increase productivity [i]that[/i] much? Joel makes a good case, but most of it is simply appeals to our programmer instincts, and has little to do with fact.
  • In the UK... (Score:5, Informative)

    by linuxci ( 3530 ) * on Friday November 24, 2006 @03:59AM (#16971618)
    In the UK open plan offices are very common but cubes are virtually unheard of. I've heard very few complaints about open plan offices in the UK, as long as there's a decent amount of space between people then it's fine and can create a good atmosphere, too crowded and then it can be a pain.

    However, people who are used to their own private office will find the extra noise disturbing and there's a problem where you can't just close a door when you don't want disturbed.

    Where I work the next two levels of management are also in the open plan office. Not sure about the people above them, they're on a different floor and I've never needed to visit them.
    • by fantomas ( 94850 ) on Friday November 24, 2006 @07:42AM (#16972898)
      Ok, I'll raise to your bait. I'm in the UK and I hate open plan offices. There you go! one more complaint to add to your "few" :-)

      I'm a PhD student in a department of the Open University (yes there are on-campus postgrad students at the Open University). I work in an open plan office. I'll say up front we get a generous amount of space, a big desk, our own shelf space, comfy chairs. There are 24 spaces divided into 6 areas. These are in the middle of a whole floor single room area. But not everybody 'lives' here: this is how the building was designed, but then the senior management insisted that they needed offices, so offices for the more important people were built the length of the floor on both sides against the windows. So we have offices down the sides (one and two person) and open plan up the middle.

      I can't concentrate in the open plan area: there is too much noise. It's ok if I just want to do routine work, but if I have to think hard then there are just too many noise distractions. I think there's some basic sociology happening here: I don't believe 20 or so people can all be on the same work rhythm. 4 people in an office maybe: you can negotiate when is 'heads down hard concentrating' time and when is 'ok lets let off some steam and chat about tv/sport/whatever' time. I just don't think this can happen with 24 people. Particularly in an office like ours where people keep different time schedules. I don't think people are being selfish, they just forget other people are maybe in a different head state at different times. Some people can work with headphones on listening to music, but me, I just end up concentrating on the music....

      Add to this the offices down the side: I've noticed an interesting effect: people will go into the rooms to do serious business and have their meetings, but as they leave the office, standing in the doorway, they have broken out of serious business mode and that's the place they carry out the chit-chat /social grooming ("how are the kids? did you see the football last night? let me tell you a funny joke..."). And... standing in the doorway means - 1.5 metres from somebody in the open plan area's desk!!! So we get the disruptive social chat.

      Also at one end of the floor is the entrance, at the other end is the meeting room. So we get passing meeting room traffic. Another distraction. Grrr. Life in a goldfish bowl when you are trying to do the hardest work of your life. What do I do? I pay for a broadband connection and work from home....

      Sorry about the length of the post, you can see this has been therapy letting off some steam, grin!!!

    • I worked for a long time in the US, in a cubicle, and I hated cubicles (I hate shoulder-height 'half cubicles' even more, though). I can't say why, I just hate them, and I think everyone agrees with me.

      In the UK, as you say, cubicles are very rare and open-plan is the rule. Where I work now, there's about 8-16 people, working on roughly the same sort of thing at the same level, in one room. It works fine. But at most places I've worked, entire floors or half-floors are open plan -- maybe 200-500 people
  • by NerveGas ( 168686 ) on Friday November 24, 2006 @04:06AM (#16971644)

          Our company moved into a relatively nice office building, paying quite a bit of rent, just because the president of the company thought that it gave us more credibility - even though we rarely have ANYONE from the industry come to our offices.

          One day, I took the VP aside and gave him some numbers - I showed him that if we were able to telecommute, we could run a t1 to every employee's home, and still come out a few thousand cheaper each month than rent. Because the VP once new someone who slacked off when telecommuting, he completely rejected the idea. Ah, well.

          Even though we're officially a non-telecommuting office, that doesn't mean that it doesn't happen. When I really don't feel like going in to the office, I call and tell them that I can either work from home that day, or just take the day off. I usually get to work from home.

  • Office (Score:3, Interesting)

    by slidersv ( 972720 ) on Friday November 24, 2006 @04:14AM (#16971692) Journal
    If top management believes it's the best choice, no staff would convince them otherwise. The only way i see it is form some kind of petition BEFORE your company is moving to new offices or before reconstruction.
    I'm not sure how the petition would work when everything is already in place.

    Few complaints here and there isn't going to deter top management's belief.

    Fortunately my company has open-space for some and offices for others, so all I had to do is get promoted. Some companies do not offer offices for nobody but the top-management. Then if it bothers you that much, you could either rise through ranks to board member, or join another company.
  • by NerveGas ( 168686 ) on Friday November 24, 2006 @04:14AM (#16971698)

        Years ago, our company had an office that was fairly low-rent, and didn't have cubicles. We just set up some desks around the edges of the office space, and some in the middle. One of the coders, in particular, had his desk facing the wall, and everyone in the room could see what was on him monitor.

        This same coder had his email client set to automatically open new messages. Yes, you can guess what it coming - one day, right after he left for lunch, he received some porn spam. Not just any porn spam, but some pretty far-out stuff, the kind that even most people who like porn wouldn't go for. The next person to walk past his desk was the VP of the company...
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by BJH ( 11355 )
      So he explained this to the VP and the VP went and reamed out the system administrators who'd been slacking off on their maintenance of the spam filters, right?

    • by quigonn ( 80360 )
      That's why lock your computer when you leave. On Windows, Windows-Key-L does this, and on Linux, most of the widely-used desktop environments have an equivalent functionality built-in.
    • At one of the first companies I worked for out of uni, one of my colleagues put something pretty derogatory about a particular manager in an e-mail - and accidentally sent it to that manager. (Must've been thinking his name, subconsciously added it to the list of people in the To: field - who knows?)

      Fortunately for him that manager had just popped out of his office.

      Cue Mission Impossible style assault on that manager's office by the employee in question, in an attempt to delete the e-mail from the manager'
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday November 24, 2006 @04:22AM (#16971744)
    Private Offices Used for..

    1) Showing higher status
    2) Shagging the Intern/Teenage Junior
    3) Surfing on the internet without being spotted by other employees
    4) Playing music in
    5) Watching TV in
    6) Sleeping in

    Open Plan Offices

    1) being forced to do what you are paid to do as long as someone else is bothered to monitor your activity
    2) Daydreaming about Orgies involving all the teenage interns and juniors until interupted by supervisor for not looking like focused on work
    3) Chair Races when supervisor in toilet
    4) Smelling other people's farts
    5) Organising fag breaks
    6) Discussing last night's TV, night out or spousal problems.

  • They goof off all day. That said, some managers can't do basic time management of their employees. Consider, when was the last time your manager asked you "so, what are you working on at the moment?" If it's been a long time (or it has never happened), and you've actually been doing work lately then chances are you've got a good manager. The rest of us hear this often. I have friends who get asked to provide a weekly report on what they are working on. When they submit a report that says "didn't do mu
    • I get asked maybe once a month for a two minute update, other than that I'm left to my own devices, even though said devices are really "not doing much work at all" (and getting paid consulting rates at all).

      Best / worst bit? My boss remarked to division manager who stopped by that the presence of every daily newspaper in our little open plan area was for "when we were twiddling our thumbs looking for something to do", in all seriousness.

  • by o'reor ( 581921 ) on Friday November 24, 2006 @04:24AM (#16971760) Journal
    1. Whenever you're on a business trip abroad, buy small plush toys at the airport to make gifts for your co-workers.
    2. When you've done enough trips, everybody has at least one plus toy on its desk
    3. Twice a day (possibly more), when the project manager is out of the room, yell : "PLUUUUUUUUUUUUSH FIGHT !"
    4. Enjoy as the plush toys begin flying around.
    5. If this does not decide your manager to create smaller, separated offices, at least it's a good way to have fun. ;-)
    This is really what happened daily a few years ago when I was working with some 20 other co-workers in an open space lab. Oh, and the fact that most of us were under 30 *did* help us enjoy it ;-)
  • by neonux ( 1000992 ) on Friday November 24, 2006 @04:26AM (#16971766) Homepage

    Read Peopleware and offer it to your manager for Christmas, this book is the bible about productivity in IT.

    It is extensively implemented at Google (and Microsoft for instance) by letting each developer have his own desk - with the door shut - or have a small desk with 2 to 4 people inside, in order to improve focus as it is critical developers doesn't lose focus too often as it is very easy to do when you work in a open space.

    A typical developer needs 15 minutes to get into the "mental flow" of productive work, so even if he is disturbed for only 3 minutes, he will really lose about 15+3 minutes because of the delay of being in the right/productive "mental flow" again.

    Additionnaly this book is all about employee happiness == employee productivity. ts-Teams-Ed/dp/0932633439 []
    • by mangastudent ( 718064 ) on Friday November 24, 2006 @04:39AM (#16971862)
      I was going to mention Peopleware but neonux beat me to it. However, no matter how popular, well reasoned, etc. that book (and others) are, it's been out since 1987 and pretty much all of the industry ignores its messages on productivity.

      I think the only overall answer to this problem is a variant of Natural Selection. Companies like gasp Microsoft (despite all their internal/architectural/legacy problems), and I hear Google as well, manage to beat companies that don't "get it". And this is not just a component of why, but evidence of the understanding their management has about at least some of the things that are important.

  • by nick_davison ( 217681 ) on Friday November 24, 2006 @04:26AM (#16971768)
    Some business owners and managers cannot understand the advantages of teleworking, different office layouts, or the morale benefits of private offices with Aeron chairs.

    Thank god someone dared to say this.

    I've been looking for an just such an environment: where I can stay home, doze in a really comfortable chair with no one around to catch me, completely refuse to interact with team members except via IMs and e-mails on my own passive aggressive schedule and justify my lack of productivity on my home ISP that's like totally unreliable so it's not my fault I wasn't even logged in all morning, let alone working. I'm never going to power level my Warcraft character if I have to keep alt-tabbing out whenever my boss walks by.

    Now when will managers get a clue and realize this kind of shining future would be awesome for my morale!?
  • "Why get rid of cubicles? It's worked so far and the programmers in India don't complain about it. If you don't like it then I can have 500 resumes for your replacement in an hour. Get back to work!"

    And thus, nothing changes.
  • Kill the executives and management and take their offices.

    Form a union and have a walk out and picket strike until you get what you want.

    Break into the building at night and start a sit down down the nice offices.

    Blackmail and extortion against your bosses. (If you don't already have access to sensitive info, run a sniffer on the LAN for a few days, you should be able to pick up plenty of useful information)

    Quit that job and form an anarcho-syndicalist collective with better working condition
  • by plopez ( 54068 ) on Friday November 24, 2006 @04:28AM (#16971784) Journal
    1) People are commodities. When one quits we can just hire another one jus as good...
    2) Cost, cost is everything. we need to squeeze every penny we can from floor space.
    3) Everyone else does it so it must work.
    4) Offices are reserved for high skill positions, like management.

    There you have it, how they think.
  • Call me crazy... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by georgewilliamherbert ( 211790 ) on Friday November 24, 2006 @04:31AM (#16971808)
    ...but for anything other than programmer teams, I want my people talking and cooperating on fixing problems, and cubes, open offices, bullpens and the like work just dandy.

    I do IT operations and development rather than programming, so they are different work types. Joel may be right for cutting edge programmer productivity. But I've also seen very productive very loud programmer teams in open offices.

    Some programmers will do terribly in that environment, but many will either thrive on the noise or tune it out (or put on headphones).
    • by aXis100 ( 690904 )
      I agree.

      I work in a service oriented team. The programmers on the other side of the partition get shitty with noise and activity, but I thrive on it. I'm contantly working between my colleagues - helping them, discussing customers problem etc.

      Sometimes guys in my team need to concentrate on a specific task, so they put on some headphones. Seems to work fine...
  • by emmagsachs ( 1024119 ) on Friday November 24, 2006 @04:33AM (#16971820)
    Everything is looked at through the lens of the Dollar. As management listens to whatever research and advisory firms already output, let's see what Gartner, as an example, has to say on the subject., July 2, 2004 []:
    As vice president for research firm Gartner, the world's largest IT research group, he's studied the question at length and learned that just because a new technology makes something possible, it does not, sadly, make that very thing probable... "I can point to clear examples where call centers are highly virtualized," says Raskino, "with agents working almost entirely from their homes." But when he speaks to other managers about how virtual technologies are being used, they look at him in utter disbelief. "They say, 'Can it be possible? I'm sure our unions won't accept it.' The forces of inertia get in the way. They don't stop the change, of course. They just slow it down.", 30 Oct 2001 []:
    In his October 30 address at Symposium/ITxpo 2001 in Brisbane. Gartner vice president and research director Simon Hayward... enjoyed poking fun at today's cubicle environment, using the cartoon character Dilbert to help him out. "It's not just the workers who are objecting to the cubicle culture," he told his audience. "Managers also recognize that people will be more effective if the environment is better adapted to the reality of work.", October 01, 2006 []:
    Another factor pushing companies to reconsider office space is the widening gap between what workers need and what workplaces provide. At one time, office employees labored primarily in solitude; today, they spend two-thirds of their time collaborating, according to Gartner. But offices are still set up for the old style of work. "In most companies, you find that conference rooms are overbooked while offices and cubicles are empty," says Mark Golan, Cisco's vice president of worldwide real estate and the chairman of CoreNet. "It's insane. Not only is it wasteful, it doesn't suit the needs of your workforce."

    Even if you can build the case against cubicles, you still need to be able to communicate with management. That means, y'know, diplomacy, communication skills, a lil bit of cunning, and what not.

    Nevertheless, you might be heard, but don't expect them to listen.
    Of course, if they've already invested in cubicles, tough luck. Nothing's gonna change their minds. Cubicles might be less productive than other office layouts, but dumping an existing design == dumping money. Bad ROI.

    As for Aeron chairs? Why not demand an onsite spa and inhouse office-desk pizza delivery while you're at it?
  • by Harri ( 100020 ) on Friday November 24, 2006 @04:33AM (#16971824) Homepage

    Being a "software engineer" doesn't mean that I spend my head down programming all the time. Half of being a competent engineer is teamwork, and that works much better in an open-plan office.

    I wonder whether people's objections to open-plan environments come from experiences with bad acoustics, or in offices shared between developers and sales staff that are on the phone all the time. In the open-plan offices I've been in, unwanted interruptions from other people's noise have been minimal - mainly due to good acoustic design, but also partly due to everybody being reasonably considerate and taking loud conversations off to a meeting room.

    Anyway, not all sofware engineers are hermits! Some of us are sociable!

    • I'm sorry, but this is bullshit. There's team work and then there's coding. When I'm coding, I like to keep my door closed with a post-it note on it saying "Email Only". If someone interrupts me every 20 minutes I get nothing done in a day because it takes me about 15 minutes to regain context and re-concentrate. When I want to talk to a person down the hall, I have no problem walking down the hall and talking to the person.

      This has nothing to do with being sociable or being a hermit. This has to do with in
      • by Harri ( 100020 )

        This has nothing to do with being sociable or being a hermit. This has to do with inability to concentrate when frequently interrupted.

        In an open plan office, I can look over and have a good idea of whether you're head down and busy or whether you're interruptible. If you're in a private office, I have to go over there and interrupt you just to find out whether you're busy.

        There's some good discussion of this topic in the "Agile Software Development" book - the relevant chapter is even online:

        Formin []

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      Couldn't agree more. I like working in an open plan office. When I want to isolate myself I just plug in my headphones.

      I've worked both as a developer, and as a manager, up to CTO position, always in open plan offices. Not all members of senior staff want to be locked away from the action.

      I'm used to some noise and people talking about what they're doing. Indeed a recent job of mine was at an online music store and we usually had music playing the whole day. What I'm finding not great about my current
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by g2devi ( 898503 )
      Agreed, but for other reasons.

      I used to work in an office that had one cubicle per person. It was extremely noisy -- not from sales or tech support since they were far from us -- but from other developers. The problem with cubicles is that people automatically assume that just because any neighbours that they aren't there, so they talk louder. When the walls come down, you see your neighbours, so you tend to talk in a quieter voice. This is precisely what happened when the walls came down. The whole develop
  • I've had the experience of working in a place where everyone had their own office, and also in my current employer (who shall remain nameless) where *no-one* has an office.

    In the everyone had their own office scenario, it was great to get things done. But it was a bitch when you were new and didn't know many people. There just wasn't the opportunity to mix much. Once you get over that hurdle, it's very good.

    In the current place where it's all cubicle/open floor, I find it annoying. Not because of disturbanc
  • by Bromskloss ( 750445 ) <auxiliary.addres ... y@ g m a i> on Friday November 24, 2006 @04:39AM (#16971870)
    Weren't we, just recently, all for OpenOffice?
  • by shawnmchorse ( 442605 ) on Friday November 24, 2006 @04:49AM (#16971912) Homepage

    Granted, I can see where an open plan might be stressing in a corporate environment. Fortunately I'm not in one of those, and instead work in an office with anywhere from three to ten others. We have a few visual barriers around (bookcases sitting on desks), but for the most part are desks are all open and right next to each other. I find this the most productive way to work on things, overall. If I need to ask a question or consult with someone, all I do is take off my headphones and stand up. It also keeps me more focused on what I'm doing overall, since others can chat with me just as easily (and that tends to remind me of what I should be doing at the time). I'm positive that I'd get a lot less work done in a private office with nobody bothering me, because I'd get sidetracked on random things for too long.

    My one caveat is that desks should, if possible, never be arranged such that people can walk up behind you without you seeing them. I carefully positioned my desk when moving into our current office so that I could see both the door and the hallway leading to actual offices, and that may be a key reason why I don't think it's stressing.

  • Try filling out a force field analysis. This lays out the situation in a logical manner, using a well known management method.
    Write a few sentences or a paragraph under each of these headings:

    1) The Problem
    2a) The Present Situation
    2b) The desired situation
    3) Resisting forces
    4) Actons to Reduce or Eliminate resisting forces
    5) Driving forces
    6) Actions to Increase driving forces
    7a) Steps Towards Solving the Problem
    7b) Resources Required
    8) Sequence of Steps
    Steps When How

    Then lay on a 30 minute presentat
  • ...but then I got involved in extreme programming (XP).

    In that world you go to great lengths to achieve a workplace layout where people can constantly overhear each other all day, to promote communication. Since you're always pair programming and talking anyway, it really works well.

    But it is a whole different way of programming. The "lone ranger" programming style where you have to focus like a laser for 30 minutes before being able to form the first line of code is viewed with big suspicion in XP. If the
  • Have the employees work in groups of 2-3 or so. Perhaps at most 4 or so. 5 is right out! ;-)

    Seriously, I think that works best. You gain the benefits of being able to directly communicate with each other if you need to (obviously only people in the same departments should be grouped up), while having the relative silence at least compared to an open office landscape. I can't believe managers still trust in either of the extremes. What's the benefit of isolating your workers to not be able to easily exchange
  • Comon, we are Linux installing masters of our own domain. I've been working from home for 3+ years. I even took a paycut to telecommute at first, and once I proved my worth I politely demanded a raise via a subtle threat to quit like any good highly-skilled techie. This is the modern age, 2.0+. As long as you are a hard-working skilled techie, you can call the shots if you are somewhat reasonable.
  • I used to work in
    the following office layouts
    - private office for two
    - open-style office for eight with large desks
    - open-style office for 20 with small desks, everybody has only his own 2 feets of space.
    My opinion - choose either
    - private offices with its privacy and calm comfortable athmosphere
    - or VERY cramped offices where people are forced to sit very near to each other - that can increase interworking relations and pair programming/administration benefits. If yo
  • by pakar ( 813627 ) on Friday November 24, 2006 @05:54AM (#16972274)

    1. Start talking really loud.
    2. Stop taking showers.
    3. Fart atleast once every 10 minutes.

    Good thing here is if you are located very close to your manager :)

  • The problem is small, enclosed spaces.

    Make cubicles bigger and more comfortable. If it's somewhere you're willing to spend 5-8 hours a day, it's a place you're willing to work. Work space is no place to start getting spartan.

    The only reason why I advocate FOR the cubicle is because I work in an open office environment. I have absolutely no privacy what so ever. Being productive means being productive while someone's not watching and occasionally slacking off.
  • by ivi ( 126837 ) on Friday November 24, 2006 @06:12AM (#16972384)

      (Actually, this comes from a "mind's eye" plan for a
      "Geeks' share house" but it may work as an office...)

      1. Start with an ideal orange
      2. Cut a slice at right angles to its center-axis
            (getting rough idea of floor plan)
      3. Draw a circle with center at center of slice
      4. Empty the circle, eg, for service & server gear
      5. Make windows of each occupant's preferred height (for air & sun)
            - or, better, maybe make windows capable of moving up & down -
            each along the wall correpsonding to the orange slice's rind
      6. Make flexible work areas at opposite end of each sector-shaped
            work room
      7. Whiteboards & occupant's choice of art blended along the other
            two walls (thst divide one sector from two adjacent ones)
      8. Setup windowed-walls to rotate (in part) to yield doorways
      9. Services are delivered to the center (to minimize use of
    10. Make a conference/meeting room one level up, but
            of a smaller diameter, leaving room for sky viewing,
            antennas, deck chairs, etc. on the rest of occupant's
            roof area
    11. Build all this above a car park (so sun isn't hitting cars
    12. Since cars are All-Electric they charge at a central post
            (& there's no exhaust to breath above the car park)
    13. (Now, it's your turn... what have I forgotten?)
    14. A large windgenerator rises up from center of conf/mtg rm
    15. storage batteries are below the conf/mtg rm (among other things)
    16. all of the above (built as a unit) is located up on a
            very scenic hill top, with a few others like it dotting
            other selected/nearby hilltops
    17. The whole structure defends its occupants from weather &
            intruders (physical & electronic)
    18. Just a walk away is a similar or compatible structure,
            which provides underground living spaces, underground.
  • by MickDownUnder ( 627418 ) on Friday November 24, 2006 @06:23AM (#16972466)
    Use SCRUM !!

    Create groups of 5 co-workers strap them together with ropes back to back eliminating the need for chairs or desks.

    Every morning pitch scrums against each other making them run from opposites sides of the office to clash in the middle. The team that manages to push the other team back to their side of the office gets to spend half the day eating coffee and drinking doughnuts, whilst the other team is forced to refactor all the work done by the winning team the previous day.

    I think I should be writting books on this stuff.
  • by Wansu ( 846 ) on Friday November 24, 2006 @06:44AM (#16972610)

    Eat lots beans, chili and other flatulence inducing foods. Then cut rank farts that peel the paint off the wall.

    Stressful open office layouts? That's exactly the point. These seating arrangements are designed to maximize stress. Any oranganization that adopts them has that as it's goal.

  • by Aceticon ( 140883 ) on Friday November 24, 2006 @07:24AM (#16972792)
    You could start by adjusting your pitch:
    - Sounding angry doesn't help
    - Teleworking is a whole different ball game. There's a lot more factors in teleworking that just offering a potential work environment.
    - Going for private offices with Aeron chairs is a long shot and it weakens your whole argument.

    I'll explain:
    - Nobody negociates with angry people
    - Teleworking can decrease communication within the team. In my experience phoneing the guy working from home is harder than just turning your head and talking to him - this does not affect discussion of "immediate and important" factors/issues but does affect all others. Above all, the person working from home will be much less likelly to "absorve knowledge from the shared knowledge pool of his collegues" (in other words, that person is less part of the gestalt that is the team). Also, some people work beter out of home, either because of their personality (some people work beter working alongside other people) or because their home environment is not conducent to concentration (for example, due to noisy kids).
    - Two points:
    a) In our current corporate culture, private offices are still seen a symbol of status, which in practice means they're a management perk.
    b) Why are you going for expensive chair associated with the excesses of the dot-com bust?

    I sugest aiming for group offices - closed spaces with 5 or 6 people. Big enough for a team, small enough to significantly reduce noise and visual distractions. Best of all, it helps build team spirit.
  • by rfc1394 ( 155777 ) <> on Friday November 24, 2006 @09:35AM (#16973540) Homepage Journal

    If you're going to get management to understand the reasons for better treatment of programmers, you have to make a business case argument. The simple matter is to argue (in the sense of making a proposal, not in the sense of expressing anger) that it is more cost effective to do it this way.

    Software developers are skilled professionals - or they should be, anyway - and professionals need proper tools and resources to be at their highest productivity levels. Higher productivity means more value for every peso spent. No one would expect even a moderately competent surgeon to work in a dark and cramped operating room with dull tools, doing every job in the operating room with no support staff, and expect anything but sub-par, low grade work with a very high mortality rate. And you wouldn't expect it of a world-class surgeon either.

    And this is exactly the state of software development today in the places that don't make it possible for their software development staff to do anything but sub-par, low grade work with a high probability of failure and an strong likelihood of cancellation of projects as unfinished and a waste of valuable resources.

    The purpose in having a programming staff is to deveop the software tools that allow your organization to obtain the one thing that no other organization in the world has: a competitive advantage and a reason for the customer to select your company over all of your competitors.

    Every piece of hardware you can purchase commercially, and every piece of shrink-wrapped software you buy does nothing but give you the same tools as your competitors have, because you all can (and do) buy from the same suppliers. Software either makes your company more efficient - that it can get more done with less resources than your competitors - or it gives you the capacity to offer products or services that are markedly better than anyone else, or potentially unavailable from anyone else.

    If software isn't there to give you a competitive edge relative to your customers, then what do you have software developers for? Why even bother to have them if you aren't getting something more than every other company with a checkbook? Fire them all and use off-the-shelf applications. If you have software developers, the whole idea is that what they are capable of doing, that no other people can do, is supply you with something different that no other company has, that you can use that difference as a competitive edge that makes your company more valuable to your customers than any of your competitors.

    An advertising company can purchase office supplies from anyone else, they can hire - or freelance - artists to do drawings, photographers and models for ad campaigns, announcers for voice overs, but none of these things can give them a competitive edge because everyone else can buy from the same suppliers, and none of these things will make a difference other than in the technical quality of the ads they produce. The competitive edge is in the people who can think up a great idea for an ad campaign that works to sell the customer's product or service. That competitive edge is something you can't buy, you need high-quality people who can think to get it.

    If you're in the business of selling a commodity product or service that they can buy from anyone else, your sales people are the stars that allow you to make a difference because your salespeople can give your customers new ideas on how to use your product or service more effectively, or show your customers reasons to use your product or service over anyone else. And for that, sales people are paid high salaries, or they get special compensation packages. Because the extra resources that they get provide the company with a competitive advantage.

    The same thing applies to any company that uses software developers to create software used in their business. If your business is the development of software, this is an even more imperative issue, because the software you sell is the only thing t

  • I just quit (Score:3, Interesting)

    by cdn-programmer ( 468978 ) <> on Friday November 24, 2006 @10:25AM (#16974002)
    I quit a long time ago since I'm an old fart (and a PHB).

    I just quit. Programmers need solitude. While I quit, others may look for a different strategy.

    It is my opinion that people tend to employ a strategy in life that they feel will help them get ahead. Most look for acceptance by the group and tend to be very gregarious. For these people, figuring out what is politically correct is the first order of business. The second order of business is to look good and fit in. Given a difficult decision to make, these people will tend to want to put it to a vote. Given a technical or scientific or mathematical problem to solve - they will tend to fall back on the strategy they know best - and will tend to try to put it to a vote AS WELL . A good example of this is the debate on global warming. Science in general and global warming in particular are not subject to public opinion. Yet look at the dimension of the political pressure that is applied on both sides of the issue.

    Programmers and engineers, technical people in general, tend not to be part of this group. These people need to deal with real science, math and logic. Programs and bridges are not open to politics and popular opinion. If there is a bug in your program it will crash regardless how popular you are and being politically correct likely won't help your bridge stand up if you are an engineer. In fact, many of the disasters which have happened are due to trying to applying political solutions to technical problems. The sinking of the Titanic is probably a good example. Double hulls were in use for over 100 years and high bulkheads to fully compartamentalize the ship were also well understood. These were eliminated or compromised. Even the breakneck speed the ship was travelling at indicates a clear lack of respect for reality and the powerful, yet subtle desire to gain status in a peer group.

    Managers and supervisors tend to be in the "people oriented" group. Since they see their strengths as comming from the group, they want to round everyone up (like a flock of chickens in some cases). Often they simply cannot understand that technical people cannot work in such an environment.

    This is compounded by who makes the money. Sales people tend to be gregarious. Customer service people tend to be gregarious. There is a simple test one can do to confirm this.

    Suppose you have an issue with say billing from a utility. Suppose you just simply refuse to pay the bill until they fix the problem. Your other option is to attempt to call them and they will put you on hold for hours and try to make you listen while their robots annoy you with elevator music.

    The thing is that you cannot simply tell them "hey - you have a problem - please fix it". For some reason these people cannot seem to work unless they have you on line and are wasting your time. See the need for "personal interaction"?

    Ok.. so you undertake to not let them waste your time. If you don't pay the bill - you know they will eventually have to call you up. At least you avoid most of the robots. Again - you are unlikely to be able to get them to do anything to correct your account unless you are willing to let them put you on hold.

    IMHO part of the rift between the sexes falls into this area. Women have always carried the lion's share of the responsibility of raising the next generation. Babies and children need constant attention and were it not for their mother's propensity to talk, babies would propbably never learn to speak. Given this, is it such a surprise that women tend to like careers that are "people" oriented? People like this tend to view solitude as punishment, certainly not an opportunity.

    Back to cubicals. The rift is that the people who manage the company and who tend to bring in the revenues via sales and marketing all tend to be "people oriented" and see their strength in the group. When they go off on their own they tend to shut down. It is di
  • Different people (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Spazmania ( 174582 ) on Friday November 24, 2006 @11:58AM (#16974936) Homepage
    Different people respond to cubicles and open-plan offices differently.

    Management tends to consist of extroverts. They're in meetings or on the phone with lots of different people all day. This energizes them. Spending an entire day in a closed office typing code on a keyboard is the worst torture they could think of. They understand that you like it, but they have no idea why. At least with cubicles you're able to chat with your neighbors while you work so that your experience with the company isn't so awful.

    Engineers, especially the good ones, tend to consist of introverts. Spend an entire week with nothing but a problem to be solved and your tools and you're in heaven. Meetings and chatter with your neighbors are not good things: they're interruptions. Worse, they're draining. The definition of torture is that you accomplish nothing all day due to constant meetings and chatter. Its exhausting and not in a good way. If you're lucky your music headphones at least let you pretend that your alone so you can occasionally get some work done.

    Its a personality trait thing. Any good psychologist could explain it.
  • by coldtone ( 98189 ) on Friday November 24, 2006 @12:00PM (#16974950)
    Putting people in cube farms is how a business tells you:

    1. Your job is easy to do.
    2. You are not vital to the companies goals.
    3. You are easy to replace.
    4. You are not likely to find anything better.

    Are they wrong?
  • by phallstrom ( 69697 ) on Friday November 24, 2006 @01:06PM (#16975734)
    Just like the airline VP's who eat their own airline food a couple times a week, make the VP use a cube for a week or two and then let him decide. If he's still able to concentrate, make phone calls, etc... then he probably won't change his mind, but if he's not, perhaps he'll understand.

    At the very least he'll know a bit more what it's like.

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