My dislike for open office spaces

Open office spaces are a logical step when you are a small company, but as you grow, it has become the "first cool thing to do with your office" in software development. I been working in them since 2008, and before intermittently at some clients while consulting. And the truth is that I still don't like them.

I come to the office primary to work. it sounds asocial [1] and maybe it is, but my main goal is to do my job. I can make friends, I can laugh and tell jokes, but the highest priority is to work, and, at least while coding, concentration is a basic need. It is not that I don't like seeing my colleages faces, in a friendly environment "without walls, all plain". It is more the fact that education and respect become vital, and building a culture of silence is not a trivial task.

Silent hours, public and/or private complaints, forbidding audio/video chats at working areas, listening to music the whole workshift, allowing remote work, clever rearrangement of teams to isolate or at least reduce hearing of noisy ones... I've seen a few approaches, but in the end until everybody learns to keep a "low noise volume", they are just mitigations.

I've also noticed that there are also virtual walls: teams still have to sit together or really near, so changing a team creates a cascade of people changing their things [2]. It might not always be the case, but I still have to see a fully de-centralized team that works always flawlessly.

So far, the best approach I've seen and the most comfortable working environments I've been at is to have separate rooms or at least physical walls separating teams. You distract and get distracted less, you can talk with the rest of the team, makes much easier being quiet, and there are always common areas like the kitchens (or a bar nearby!) to talk with the rest of the company while having a break.

Making an open space office work correctly is possible... but at Tuenti took years (and trying most if not all of the "hints" mentioned earlier). It seems to require quite some effort regarding education and respect.

[1] Back at my university days, as it was far away from home, if I was going to spend 2 hours per day on a train, I was going to either study or do assignments. That's why I never learned to play Mus or CounterStrike, but I managed to pass more than half of the degree while working part-time.

[2] Up to the point I became a "nomad" at Tuenti by having just my laptop, my chair and a monitor in order to move "everything" quickly with the so frequent "reallocations" we had.

Posted by Kartones on 2015-06-27

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