Do 'Open Plan' office layouts hinder programmers?

By , ITworld |  IT Management, Open Office, Productivity

flickr/a2gemma

Everyone together makes collaboration easier, but does that make up for the distractions?

Not according to Matt Rogish, who says plainly that "Open Plan Offices Must Die!" Too often, companies place long tables in the middle of the room and put all their programmers together. Rogish asks why companies, new and old, "take high-pay, high-skilled, super-smart programmers and cram them into giant rooms full of noise and distraction?" It's as if companies want to be sure no programmer ever gets into "the zone" and creates quality work.

Jim Showalter addressed the same problem two years ago in "Open Cubicles Must Die." He quoted a 1987 book explaining why productive projects fail, in part because of how a bad office environment kills productivity. Beancounters reduce the amount of personal space per programmer to the point there is no privacy. Beans saved, but production drops. Execs like these plans, because they are people oriented and want to talk, while programmers need quiet and focus. But some programmers feel collaboration makes for a better result.

Need my privacy

I'm currently in an open plan where conversations are the norm. Multiple people talking loudly, sometimes for an hour or two -- without regard for others.
Joe Roberts on mattrogish.com

I'm strongly biased towards the belief that programmers should have private offices with doors that close.
mindcrime on news.ycombinator.com

There was one period of time where I was in a noisy room with continual distractions and it was a living hell.
fthinker on mattrogish.com

And they've never invented (to my knowledge) smell-canceling headphones. I've worked in places where it was an issue. And it's a very difficult one to address. "Please be quieter" is much more socially acceptable than "Please use deodorant".
hartex on news.ycombinator.com

Need to collaborate

At my last job, I had an office with a door that closed, as did most developers. That really didn't help our collaboration at all and the work place suffered as a result. I now work in an open work space and love it.
Open Space on mattrogish.com

we had closed-in "mini-office" cubicles with walls nearly touching the ceilings. The environment was very quiet. It stifled collaboration.
Crias on jimshowalter.blogspot.com

Software is a team sport. I want a space that's optimized for teamwork.
gruseom on news.ycombinator.com

Why

I think young programmers like the open collaborative spaces because in college that's all they had. You're right in saying that we haven't worked in offices before.
Bryant Chou on jimshowalter.blogspot.com

Any office setup that only allows for one style of work is bound to have problems.
techiferous on news.ycombinator.com

In the 1970s, IBM's research into this suggested a hybrid model for developer productivity -- it's one I think still works well today.
vessenes on news.ycombinator.com

What do you prefer, a single or shared work space? Tell us below.

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