But going from open office to plexiglass dividers seems to be far worse than a cubicle in every conceivable way.
We say this all the time but act as if it's some secret, or just a cynical remark, but it's not either of these. As a general rule your boss likes that you can feel their perpetual gaze as you work, even if in practice it means you are working less.
Because of course you aren't working all the time, and of course you are not 100% being productive. Everyone knows this. It is not a secret that even the most productive engineer spends a huge amount of office time doing nothing.
No worker (as I general rule, I know there are exceptions) prefers open offices to either cubicles or real offices (I wonder how many HN have ever had these?). Nobody feels that they work their best when someone is watching them. Everyone knows that part of working in an open office is figuring out how to create the illusion that you are working.
The only reason to have an open office is because the people making the decision for how the office should be, and the people reporting to them, do in fact like to watch you work, because they like the control that they feel when they do this.
Please let's stop pretending that we don't all understand exactly what open offices are about.
Open offices are crazy cheaper, and most retail developers don't build real offices anymore (and or when they renovate a commercial property pull all these walls out).
It is about cost, for anywhere I've worked or any clients I worked for. I haven't ever known a manager that wanted an open office to control or oppress their staff.
This is (mostly) why new occupancy tech exists as well btw -- the "crotch sensors". Not usually for specific employee surveillance, but to map occupancy trends and determine what parts of a space can be hot-desked or otherwise over-assigned to further reduce space requirements.
The way it works is similar to attitudes toward remote work (until a few months ago): barriers help people waste time and get away with stuff.
Control is not all about what an authority can do (which is actually the least efficient form of control), it's also about what other people are prevented from doing, sometimes structurally so, as in the context of office layout and design.
Sure, there must be times when ~everyone is available to talk. But otherwise, just let people work when they're ready to work. And let them self report their work time.
That's why "Busyness" and "Butts in Seat Per Hour" are seen as proxy for productivity. That's also why politics play such a big role.
Until we find a GOOD way to measure productivity, Control and "Busyness" (the illusion of productivity) is unfortunately not going to go away.
This conflicts with the much, much stronger profit motive.
Even if the floor space itself is open, that doesn't mean that decently high cubicles (or even floor to ceiling dividers) had to go along with it. How much is it really saving to shave 1-2 feet off cubicles for your six-figure staff? Smart workplaces don't think twice about $400 for a second monitor.
Say occupancy costs (all in) are $60 psf. Now assume occupancy is around 1 employee per 200 sf (inclusive of indirect circulation space). That means occupancy cost per employee is $60 x 200 = $12,000. Now make some assumptions about the total labour cost (salary, bonus, benefits, etc) - say $200k - and look at how little the occupancy costs are relative to that - 6% with these examples.
Jam more people in so you get it down to 1 employee per 150 sf, and you've saved $3,000 per employee, or 1.5% occupancy to labour, which can easily be lost in terms of decreased productivity with people shoulder to shoulder.
Lesson: You need only a very, very small change in productivity to counter any savings in relation to occupancy. And not just in terms of productivity of existing employees, but also the cost of lost productivity due to lower retention, or lost productivity due to more sick days given the closer proximity. This is why I've never understood why companies go anywhere but the best locations with the nicest office space... People really are the major cost and the only asset a company has. Do everything you can to make them love every second at work. The added cost of free food, nicer office, better location, etc is insignificant.
The Open Floorplan operates a lot like that.
But they also lower cube walls, or make them transparent, which goes completely against this theory.
In my experience thrift is the overriding factor. The cost difference between an open office plan and individual offices is staggering. It can be an order-of-magnitude difference, especially if you factor in the additional cost to build individual offices into a typical open floor plan. Few companies choose to put their money there. Many could not afford it at all.
In leadership teams at many companies I've heard very little talk about control in this way, explicit or covert. Open office plans aren't necessary for control. Doors are not a shield from control. People in individual offices can be controlled in similar ways.
I don't like the feeling of being observed all day, either. I think it's damaging to some/many people's ability to work. It can turn into an artificial hegemony; it certainly can be used for control. But so can many things, from salary to coffee supplies to bullying. Control will always find a way to control. Open offices are about the money.
It sure is. It's like the idiotic startup I worked at for 6 months that gave everyone i7 laptops with 32gb ram and 5400rpm 500gb hard drives to save $100/laptop. True fucking story. The dude who ordered them told me it himself.
I think companies will do some stupid shit to save some cash sometimes.
Besides, all this talk about productivity and stuff? It might be true, it might not. It's a lot easier to just add air conditioning to an old warehouse than it is to build out a divided up office. Right? They're not going to spend all that money to see if they're more productive.
However, back when Apple's Infinite Loop buildings were constructed (in the early 1990s) they were mostly full-sized offices. I was told that Apple had done a cost study and determined that hard-walled offices were cheaper than cubicles in the long term because divisions were always incurring costs by re-arranging the cubical walls every few years, and you just don't do that to sheetrock.
One thing that makes open environments manageable for employees is to make the desks movable. At Valve, the desks are on wheels, and the culture is to move next to the people you are working with. Just shut down your computer, unhook power and network wires and wheel your desk over. Those little wheels make a huge difference.
You can't force a research result, so watching that everyone is "busy" just doesn't make sense practically. If the undergrads don't learn how to convert their time into an expected result, they just wasted _their own_ time.
Taking an open office without this sort of research mentality is simply making everyone uncomfortable, and is setting up unrealistic expectations.
If a team is result-oriented, then it doesn't matter if one didn't type N number of lines, or closed X number of tickets in a day. At the end of all, one reports to the team, not just a boss. You trust your team for the result, not for their not reading HN instead of resolving another bug.
Open offices a much rarer in e.g. Germany. Through then
Germany also has more strict labor protection laws wrt. office "safety/healthiness" so it might just not be as profitable to do an open office? (Note that I'm mainly referring to regulations about chairs, desks, light and noise in offices. Which exists but are in practice hardly if at all enforced on small companies. But from time to time in larger ones.)
No, it was not about 'control' it was just about money.
Your comment is cynical enough that I think you might maybe have a problem.
Your Ops and Accounting people can present Plan A - open, and Plan B - cubicles ... Plan A is always cheaper and the benefits of Plan B are hard to justify.
Now 'others are doing it' ... so it's Plan A.
It's cost, it's that simple.
"Nobody feels that they work their best when someone is watching them."
This is usually not a problem - after 10 minutes, you're working, everyone else is and nobody cares.
"Everyone knows that part of working in an open office is figuring out how to create the illusion that you are working."
If you think this then maybe you're in real trouble!
Yes, it does suck that you 'can't check Facebook' as often, fine, but why would you need to 'create the illusion that you are working ... at work'?
If you need to 'create the illusion that you are working' literally when you are supposed to be working ... then ... this is not good!
"Please let's stop pretending that we don't all understand exactly what open offices are about."
You're mostly on your own here.
I much prefer offices and cubicles, it's much quieter, less distracting, and yes, I feel slightly more comfortable checking Facebook once in a blue moon but that's not really important.
>This is usually not a problem - after 10 minutes, you're working, everyone else is and nobody cares.
This is very cultural. I live in a world where anyone's productivity positively tanks when they're actively watched.
This is what causes car accidents close to police cars
And yes, we also were in an open office before all being sent home. Though I may be missinterpretting, and you may mean more high level c-suite types. But even then, my impression of them is more busy than anything else.
By shielding the team away from dumb political games, providing technical / architecture / design input, and controlling meetings and direction for meeting. Ex: one of the competent managers I knew could always “win” the argument for our team, I saw them convince an otherwise unshakable team to make changes by themselves (convincing an entire team to make a necessary change).
The best managers I worked with were less about control, they trusted you, and ensured no one got in your way, and they were also skilled at architecture / coding themselves.
I believe that most companies are just cheap-ass bastards that don’t know any better. They do it because everyone else is doing it, and they believe the lies they’ve told themselves about how everyone loves it.
Welcome to the jungle.
I guess I’m the exception then. I had an office to myself with a closeable door once and I HATED it. So quiet and lonely. Everyone around me had closeable offices too so you had to get up and deliberately make an effort for human interaction, or you’d spend all day without seeing another soul.
Occasionally as we would staff up and down I’d end up sharing the office with someone else and that helped tremendously. But when I had the room to myself it was awful.
It drove my so loony that I basically abandoned it and set up a makeshift workspace in the break room where there were always people coming and going. You’d have to put a gun to my head to go back to a traditional office room.
That's what control looks like. Arguing that the typical manager is like that man is like arguing that Obama or Trump are dictators. Only people who have never lived under a dictator would say that.
IME with all the managers I've ever had, and with what little managing I've done myself, few people care what you're doing at your desk as long as you're getting your work done on a weekly or monthly basis, and are responsive to your coworkers. Most of the anxiety you feel is imagined, though in no way does that diminish the anxiety. (I hate open office plans, too.) The reasons for open offices are obvious: cost and convenience. Not only cost and convenience for the employer, but also cost and convenience of the building owner and the next tenant.
Put yourself in the shoes of the property manager. If it's a big tech company, organizations are constantly growing and shrinking. If you're a leasing office, you may have to deal with any particular office space turning over every 2 or 3 years, and spending weeks or months trying to find a new tenant, who will have quirky requirements about how many groups they have and how they want to arrange them. At some point you'll just say, "fsck it", tear down all walls, ban new walls, and make management of the physical working space somebody else's problem once and for all. Bonus points if there's pseudo-scientific research circulating that makes your solution seem like a brilliant, pro-worker innovation; but you truly couldn't care one way or another because your fundamental motivations are entirely different, driven by simple economics. Again, you couldn't care less what people are doing; the whole point is taking yourself out of the equation and making it their problem.
You know, I've always envied US salaries but at least stuff like this is illegal in Europe.
Not that we have a shortage of autocratic and incompetent managers/seniors who try to spend the better part of their day micromanaging you and staring over your shoulder, at lest they can't use tech to make this easier for them.
Companies will be competing with an increasing number of "remote first" or "ultra flexible" workplaces. These companies may think they want plexiglass dividers now. But new candidates will have offers between "work from wherever" or a plexiglass labyrinth that looks like a modern supermarket checkout on steroids. Why would a candidate choose the plexiglass open office? If the company had a flexible arrangement between the plexiglass jungle or a chill WFH environment, who would work in the open office? As companies realize that many don't want to live in their city, and many others don't want to go to their office, they're going to have to compete to make their office more enticing if they want a world where people still go to an office.
Of course, this depends on the broad WFH trend coming closer to gaining critical mass.
If only there were some sort of organization that would enable us to do this collectively!
I think workspace design and office ergonomics are a potentially easy win for collective bargaining in the information workforce, especially now-as stated by others this is a unique opportunity and in my opinion the incentives align between worker productivity and public health.
Interested to hear more thoughts.
Edit: oh. This one flag killed too. Never mind.
I'll definitely be hanging as many database model posters as I can fit on my transparent dividers.
So, what they’re doing is making people work harder at being lazy-taking away from productive time!
But it’s easy for managers to fall into a pattern that has them lording over their paiges and feeling good.
it would allow to even more increase density, even beyond open floor office, so it is "better" for a specific corporate definition of "better". The definition that has been driving the density increase during the last 3 decades from private offices to open space. If not for coronavirus, the next density increase would have taken like a decade too. Now we're going to jump straight into it. Into our personal cozy aquariums. Office dress code - goldfish. Or crabby.
Funny how the speakers always seemed to be failing in the engineering areas. Simply cannot imagine why :-)
I realize some people could not handle the claustrophobia, but for those that can this seems like an easy win to minimize footprints while isolating those who are bothered by the distractions of others.
Peopleware also covers the subject of the working space quite well.
People in charge just don't want to listen. You spend millions of dollars paying the people and after that you cheap out on office space. But hey, the people responsible for the office can point at how they saved money and it's also really hard to measure the productivity loss so it must not mater.
Enter Rona: Hold my beer!
Looks actually kind of roomy in that gif
edit: here's a video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jr3eIAIFyo8
It’s really worth watching the film (that one scene is worth it on its own) but you can get a glimpse of the seating arrangement and the manager after “We is stressed” in the trailer:
I see now that there are plexiglass dividers between the desks. Terry Gilliam is a visionary.
open offices never have coat racks. I've been told it's because they don't like they look nice. In one office I worked in people just threw their jackets on the floor, especially when it was rainy out and they couldn't be kept on the back of a chair.
The other advantage would be able to go "BLAAHH!" every time the manager interrupted your flow.
I've been running my bathroom exhaust fan while WFHing these days and it's been getting rid of all kinds of smells and vapors in my apartment without me opening the windows.
You just have to remember that you're not confined to that space. So you close that door and you crash out what you need to do. Then you stand up, and you go for a walk outside that space to relieve the cramped feeling.
What also helps is to also have a Window that looks out into something green. If I'm sick of looking at my screen and need to think, I get to look out and watch dogs play at a daycare which is immensely relieving.
I am willing to put up with so much more shit having this peaceful environment, I feel like it is win win for my company+clients, and myself.
Why pay someone six figures and bombard them with distractions and noise and render them useless? To save a couple hundreds of dollars in office space per person a month? It's moronic.
I assume by 'everyone' GP isn't referring just to software people.
It was absolutely the norm in the '70 and '80 and before. How comes that technology improves and worker's rights regress?
I don't think there are a lot of good normative answers -- I dislike open offices and cubes aren't much better (and at present, I'd especially have trouble regarding a management team that's still on board with them with either respect or trust).
But I'd guess the descriptive answer is that the open office is essentially the new factory floor. Many information age jobs look "white collar" but at a certain level, they function and are viewed through a widget-factory management lens.
So now we have to squeeze into and share the space already built.
I also wonder how many people really had private offices 30-40 years ago.
IBM (and presumably any other company of that ilk) certainly had one person per office up through 1990.
One thing that people forget is that you had a land line phone. And you spent a lot of time on it. And haranguing people was considered a negotiation tactic. So, being able to close your door to not bother others was important.
I think this is an important point I haven't heard discussed before: The cell phone kind of enabled the open office explosion. That really explains a lot. Before if you needed to be reachable in a company, you needed a physical location from which to engage in phone calls.
In 1990 corporations? Goodness, no. Most companies didn't even have a corporate email system. IBM was probably one of the few exceptions. And external network access required signatures from 3 VP's (one senior), your firstborn, and probably your left ovary/testicle--it basically just didn't happen.
Programming teams were colocated or they didn't communicate. CVS was an advanced idea. C and UNIX were those toys from academia--real programmers used mainframes and COBOL or FORTRAN. If you had a forward thinking team, they might circulate useful technical articles and ideas via inter-/intra-office memos. Otherwise, you bought a book or went down to the corporate library and borrowed a book. At IBM you could pull up old issues of the IBM Journal of Research and Development (which were gold--and still are).
A 128Kbps (yeah, that's 12 kilobytes) dedicated leased line was considered pretty fast and was pretty expensive. A 250MB SCSI drive was considered pretty big and local networking at 16Mbps (Token Ring) was godly and ferociously expensive.
I can go on and on ... but we're already well into "Back in my day, we walked uphill to school--both ways. And we counted our bits by hand." territory.
Even in universities, 1988-89-ish was just at the point where using ftp to pull a .tgz from somewhere might actually be faster than sending a physical letter through the mail and having them mail you a magtape in return. And you sent a physical letter because very few people in a university at the time had an email address that was generally accessible. For God's sake, in 1988 /etc/hosts could still enumerate in an actual file every single host on the ARPAnet.
The amount of technical change from 1990 to 1999 was ENORMOUS.
also, up until 5-10ish years ago this was the standard at Microsoft for example where you would get your own office, or if you were a newb you had to share an office with someone else. let that sink in. the current state of affairs is something we have concocted in the last 10ish years - because savings.
It was a huge success and we got a complex product built in a few months. Unfortunately that was 2001 and the client went bankrupt without ever paying the invoice and we were all made redundant over the next few months.
But above all, I like working from home, where I can have a nice space with windows and no distractions. Of course, I am lucky because not everyone has a space like this in their home.
I think you hit the nail on the head, this is why cubicles were hated, it wasn't the cubicle, it was the sprawling cubicle farm that was hated. Even a private office in the middle of that farm is not pleasant, so the the private offices went around the outside and made things even worse in the inner cubicles. Hopefully this campus style building dies.
At least around me the trend has been towards much thinner but taller office buildings for a while now, partly out of necessity as city plots of land get smaller. These accommodate cubicles and/or offices with natural light really well. The often derided glass and steel architecture also helps because you get floor to ceiling natural light.
I can take my own mouse/keyboard to the office, but I'm sure someday that will be forbidden in the name of information security. Sigh.
Still, my home office is a lot more comfy! Plus I can open the windows!
I always ask people in the industry what company has private offices for programmers. The only answers I've ever heard are "Fog Creek" and "maybe Microsoft?", but my friends at Microsoft say that's not so common any more.
Yikes, that's kind of an insulting assumption. I just get bothered by sounds, and don't want to bother others with sound (and smells).
also, as far as interruptions go, acoustic interruptions are only one type of interruption. Your brain is physically wired to pay attention to things in your visual fields - it's physically wired to pay attention to people coming and going, continuously assessing the situation. just because you can function in an open space environment it does not mean that the environment is optimal.
I have a pair of shotgun hearing protection ear muffs next to my bed. I only use them for emergencies when I really need to sleep and neighbors are partying very late. However, putting them on cuts any noise to a mumbling like in the distance.
Not the exact model or make but similar. Not electronic.
I am really glad that the status quo works for you and feels fulfilling. I genuinely am.
But I can't focus in an open office, I end up wasting the whole day on busy work, and when I get home in the evenings I end up doing my actual work.
So, I'm glad for you, but don't drag me into the open office. I'm not productive and you will resent my lack of productivity.
But I do hate the lack of productive areas. Although, I did once work in a tech giant that really spaced out some individual desks, and positioned many of them next to beautiful open windows.
we are already having people's kids and family on conference calls...
Then I got to thinking 5 - 10 years in the future when maybe VR Tech is going to be cheaper and more ergonomic, with Unreal 5  coming up and who knows what the engines a decade from now will look like, how awesome would it be to work from home and have the daily meeting in some amazing virtual space.
No point to my post really, only that work conditions are hopefully going to be more playful in the future.
Was a very eye opening experience for many students.
EXACTLY. The open office plan has never achieved the spontaneous productivity companies had hoped for. Instead it's led to misery, lower productivity, and mental and social health.
I want to work at work. When I want to socialize (or do anything else which might distract others), I wait for a break and go outside.
Open offices circulate air in broad strokes of huge air ducts on the ceiling. This is not going to easily map to a grid of smaller cells where horizontal streams are impossible. This of course can be addressed, but it seriously more expensive than just plastic walls.
If you don't solve the ventilation, the workers will suffer from high CO₂ and overheating, lowering productivity and morale.
If you don't separate the cells enough to block the air flow between them (that is, leave them as cubicles), then the whole point of separation as an infection-resisting measure is lost.
Everything you do leaves a digital footprint: issue trackers, version control, instant messaging, e-mail. Everything is timestamped, everything leaves multiple copies.
If you want to check if someone is working, it is not necessary to see if someone is at their desk. If you want to grab someone's attention, you can have a meeting that does not distract people in adjacent desks.
You can still gather and have IRL activities. That is OK. But I don't need to that every day. Most days I need to get things done, and focus.
During meetings, the most important thing I need to get from that meeting is information in order to make decisions. I need to focus my attention on what's being presented, not on how people dress, their haircut, their age, weight, stature and other superficial aspects that have no impact on the product whatsoever. Likewise, I don't want the meeting to be interrupted by someone commenting about someone's haircut.
Then, there's non-verbal communication. Some will claim you need body language to perform sentiment analysis or to cross-validate what's being said, etc. But those activities take away attention from the points being discussed.
Then, there's legal liability. If you want to go "off the record", then you will not like things being recorded. If you are a honest person acting within the law, you don't have strong reasons to go off the record. If your modus operandi is to gaslight people, you won't like meetings that are potentially recorded. Overall, visibility is accountability, and accountability is key to keep things healthy and legal.
People's appearance and other superficial aspects of a contributor should have very little importance when compared to their deliveries. A remote culture helps people to focus on what's important.
Since we are humans this necessarily involves some socialization and shared experiences. I don't believe in 100% remote work - maybe we can do remote 3 times a week, and that might work. The idea that workers will replace their social interactions on their own is naive. There is an epidemic of loneliness among many once they are no longer forced to socialize via school or church.
(In terms of productivity, I feel like remote optimizes individual throughput over system throughput, due to degraded avenues of cross-communication.)
I hope that this cheering for remote dies. Many managers read Hacker News and they might actually take it seriously. The less tightly the team is bound via social connections the more likely the job function can simply be outsourced to an external contractor.
Also, speaking purely of my own self-interest, I like where my job is located and don't want to move so I can equalize my standard of living with similarly smart and dedicated developers in eastern Europe, Asia, or even the deep south or rural midwest.
Then, working remote is not the same as working remote from a different timezone. The latter can make collaboration more difficult.
I have worked with remote engineers, and over time, I have learned to appreciate and respect their work. I know many of their names, especially the brilliant ones that I can trust 100%. I know from their deliverables that they're dedicated and reliable and I would write them a recommendation letter any day if they asked for it, have lunch with them if they're in town, and I am honestly interested in learning about their backgrounds and perspectives on life.
On the other hand, at the office, there are people working some few feet away that I have never talked to. I don't know anything about them, or their lives. Some of them even work on my team :)
So, no. Offices are not magical facilitators of friendship and cohesion. And when two people decide that they don't get along it can become quite miserable to be present in a tense environment.
I have no problems working with people living far away. If they're good, I want to work with them and assimilate what I can from their knowledge and problem solving skills. Also, secret santas with them are the best, try it.
If you are concerned with jobs going away, or wages being depressed, these are a list of things you have to worry about in addition to outsourcing: lower entry barriers to programming, coding camps, AI. In the end, the only effective way to protect your job is to acquire and polish your skills, and the best way to do it is by working with as many strong engineers as you can no matter where they are from.
There doesen't need to be a social obligation to force you to work proper. Feeling appreciated and important is a hell of a morale-boosting drug. Gaining some breathing room to do your own thing is the best way to achieve that
I don’t think engineers, particularly programmers, have the communication skills to pull of remote work. Only ones who I’ve seen do it well are those who had a liberal arts background. As in they are already good writers. Our profession as a whole has such bad writers and communicators and that’s why remote work is so controversial
It’s definitely gonna become the norm, so I think it’s worth investing time into becoming a better writer, even to the point of gasp a liberal arts minor
(BTW, none of the above bothers me in particular but I know this happens on all the time and I've watched people in large corporations play psychological games with extremely good employees just to make them miserable in open office environments.)
My company is setting up rules for how we’ll return to the office once the govt. says its okay, and it involves basically pretending that we’re working remotely from the office, plus the need to Lysol down conference rooms once you’re done with them. A few months ago I’d be happy to return to the office, but now I’m genuinely wondering why we should bother.
Speaking only about my own department, I find the little awkward home distractions lovely. The other day in the middle of a conf call someone's kid popped into the video and asked about potato chips. It was really important because the other parent had informed them there were no chips, but they had to get a second opinion. These things are really humanizing. Instead of "Chuck from the integrations team" it's "Chuck whose kid loves chips." For what it's worth, our time to market for new integrations has improved by almost 30% with everyone working from home. And we're not the kind of shop where work from home means working all day.
All the emotional cues are there in the voice and with less lag from not having video hog up all the bandwidth, I find the smaller latency aids in smoother conversations.
Thankfully I'm one of the lucky ones that was working from home even before COVID.
Long story short, talk to your boss about investing in one of these. It helps me a lot personally.
I've found rain sounds and ocean sounds to work alot better but of course they're easier to puncture.
We always got to this "open" vs "closed" space opinion-match.
PrezsHub's entrance was that old 'Apple Store' style, but somehow more brutalist. Just glass, but at that angle that just reflects and doesn't let you see in. Faux-invitational, Terry called it. The front door was frosted glass. It was that special kind that would be clear when you put a voltage to it. The giant windows directly next to the door were like that too. Or so Terry heard. He'd never seen them frosted all at once. Some would be, some wouldn't. Faulty wiring, he guessed.
Terry stood in line to get into PrezsHub. There was always a line. They got rid of the badge scanners, too unsanitary. His turn. He waited as some scanner somewhere read his face. At first Terry had smiled every time he stood in front of the door. The massive door of plate glass on tiny little hinges with a tiny little motor to swing the thing. The smiling stopped soon enough though. Terry had thought his boss actually cared to see the smile, or that maybe someone did. Nope. The scanner took it's time, you never could tell how long it would take. Terry shifted his face this way and that. Finally, the door defrosted and tried to open. Slowly, inch by inch, all the way open. Terry ducked inside long before it had taken the full three minute twenty-two seconds to complete a cycle of opening, pausing, and then closing and refrosting.
After passing by the Wellness-Entrepreneur-And-Sanctuary-Expert team's front desk, the cavern opened up. PrezsHub was ultra cutting edge. The CEO was one of those unicorn people that really believed he wasn't going to die. He had escaped taxes, so why not death too? So, slowly at first, he had gotten rid of almost everything at PrezsHub.
First it was the cubes. That move was nice at first, a bit more air. Long tables sure. Then the noise, the chattering, the gossip, the microwaved fish. Ghastly. After covid21 subsided, everyone came back to the office to find, well, nothing.
The CEO had ripped up the floor, put in charging ports and wifi, and then covered the whole thing in hardwood. No desks, no chairs, nothing. Even the toilets had been replaced with Japanese ones, bidet and all. The walls slowly sloped up to the roof too, it made a great half pipe, but there was nowhere to put a back against. The whole company was now 'floor gang'. The CEO said it was great for your body, just you and the hardwood. He sat there for three hours in a yoga position that first day back. By the end of the week, he was working from home for a bit. He almost never came in anymore.
Terry's butt had gone numb before the first 15 minutes had gone by. Everyone's had. People started bringing in camping chairs and card table desks. Then one day the Wellness-Entrepreneur-And-Sanctuary-Expert-Team said no more camping chairs. The CEO was concerned about them scrumming up the hardwood floors they had paid for. People started to bring in cushions and even more low budget camping equipment. Again, the Wellness-Entrepreneur-And-Sanctuary-Expert-Team stopped people after getting past the door. Those were creating dust and some were staining the flooring. The CEO was 'wigged out' about it. As his video address echoed off the walls of the empty building, he said everyone needed to be health conscious and just sit. So for the rest of the week, thats all Terry and the rest of PrezsHub did, they just sat. The CEO was adamant that no work be done, so that the chakras could align with Mars or something. Of course, half the company got put on a PIP for failing to meet deadlines.
So Terry went to find a working outlet on the floor and sat down with his bag and personal laptop, a perk. He plugged in, saw that it wasn't working and had to go get up and hunt around the room for a working outlet. Like at the airport, but more cliquey. He found a group, the Support And Development team; they weren't too Slack-y. He could get those tickets closed, maybe. He put on his carpal tunnel splints, opened his laptop, changed his password in the system yet again, hunched over, and got to work.
Terry's back hurt.
Less sick days will pay for the private office floor space, plus productivity increases.
Open plan office designs are chosen so that executives can treat their office spaces like works of art - lots of signaling and often very little practical value.
They are often built at huge costs (way beyond outfitting the same space with offices or cubicles for the same number of people), often actively paying a lot of money to destroy existing privacy features, and they not only include but are completely oriented around opulent roof decks, party spaces, kitchens, game rooms, massage areas, and on and on.
It’s 100% about infantilizing the workforce and swindling them to accept greater degrees of counter-productive surveillance and total lack of privacy. It is not about cost reduction, flat out.
On the flip side software folks tend not to exactly embody a professional-class aesthetic or attitude, but I think that behavior'd flip around damn fast if elevated social status became more easily available to those who did. But maybe that's not worth having private offices and assistants and deference to our professional judgement, and so on.
[EDIT] relevance being, open plan offices are notable for not just avoiding giving status, but for swinging way the opposite direction. Almost like passive-aggressive compensation for having to pay developers so much. "Well, at least I can seat them like minimum-wage call center employees, since for some reason that's considered fairly normal".
Private offices are a professional class perk. Large bonuses are a professional class perk.
Open plan offices with a deejay booth and free beer are the exact opposite, working class “perks” specifically meant to endow the workplace with an overwhelming infantile culture that ingrains the idea that you are compensated with hedonistic fun times and not with money, status, experience-building projects, or respect.
Well, and nerds not caring about visual status like an office if they get paid.
Take a finance guy, for instance. You give him a set of rules and objectives, and there is no need to define what "success" is like, based on the output. Success is his ability to make money.
A software engineer may implement features A, B, and C in the product. She may even increase the performance of the pipeline two fold. But there is no way to objectively quantify the impact of such changes within the current work organization frameworks. These are tools for middle management to quantify a team's output, nothing more. Thus a good software engineer would get a nice bonus at the end of the year, and a compulsory, but meaningless, promotion.
Now, I'm not saying that promoting individualism is the way to go, nothing further from the truth. I understand that there are intrinsic differences between finance and software. Yet I believe that there are very few companies out there with the right tools to evaluate the output of software engineers, and recognize it accordingly.
As a software developer, this statement feel like hubris.
I'm a co-founder now (and only developer) at a small company that makes 7 figures and i still feel like a code monkey at times, though in a much better position than most.
[EDIT] It just occurred to me that this is because programming is, so far as social pecking order, perceived as blue-collar.
I worked at Google X from 2013-2015. During this time, we transitioned into a shiny tremendously expensively updated building at "The Rails" (a converted shopping mall off San Antonio Rd). You have described it perfectly. All signaling, no substance, tons of useless recreational space, engineers packed in cheek-by-jowl. I used to hide in the EE lab with my laptop so I could think. Couldn't stand sitting at my 5-foot-wide desk where my nice desktop CAD workstation was parked.
Other people would just camp out in (and fight over) one of the hundreds of conference rooms, because there were zero private offices in the entire building. A building that used to contain AN ENTIRE SHOPPING MALL.
Well if you put more people in a smaller space that saves money on rent. If you start using "productivity" or "output" or "net savings" that's effectively economic voodoo in comparison to "the rent is $10k per month vs $20k per month".