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How To Get Rid of the Cubicle?

Zonk posted more than 7 years ago | from the i-suggest-a-hammer-and-a-pry-bar dept.

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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368 comments

fp (4, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16971552)

Upper management loves stats; give them stats.

Re:fp (4, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#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:fp (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16971616)

How long did he take? I see a time gap of 3 minutes between my FP and your SecondP.

Re:fp (2, Funny)

IrquiM (471313) | more than 7 years ago | (#16971720)

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

But why is this a problem, it works here???|!! (1)

hotcakes.co.nz (874015) | more than 7 years ago | (#16972114)

This is not a problem in NZ. Is this an American thing? I work in an open plan office in NZ at an un-named Tertiary institution and its great. There are anywhere between 5-7 of us in the room at any time and the communication within the team is excellent, thought provocative and means we're not just staring at a screen all day, which needs time away from now and then.
Cheers,

Re:But why is this a problem, it works here???|!! (3, Insightful)

ArsenneLupin (766289) | more than 7 years ago | (#16972178)

This is not a problem in NZ. Is this an American thing? I work in an open plan office in NZ at an un-named Tertiary institution and its great. There are anywhere between 5-7 of us in the room at any time and the communication within the team is excellent, thought provocative and means we're not just staring at a screen all day, which needs time away from now and then.

Cheers,
5 - 7 is not that much people. Try 30 instead. Or 50.

Re:But why is this a problem, it works here???|!! (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16972276)

Apparently, the modern American worker is a whiny pussy. I've worked in open plan offices my entire working life now, and currently sit in an office with upto 60 people in it. It's great. We can communicate easily without bollocking around too much. I've not heard a single person complain of being distracted, quite possibly because people have common sense and don't tend to have loud conversations over the heads of others, and they take their mobile 'phones out of the office if they need to make a call.

So yeah, it seems it is an American thing. The rest of the world gets on fine with open plan. Whine on though, I say: the whiny American workforce will only end up costing their employers more money, which in the long run will just mean more work for us as the same employers move jobs to lower cost centres.

"wikinerd" && "cubicle" (-1, Troll)

Adolf Hitroll (562418) | more than 7 years ago | (#16971562)

get a friggin' like or you'll end up a virgin in your mom's basement...
wait... you already are there...

I Quit (5, Insightful)

TechyImmigrant (175943) | more than 7 years ago | (#16971568)

I didn't like my cube ridden environment. I quit and joined an employer who did these things better.

Re:I Quit (2, Insightful)

Genocaust (1031046) | more than 7 years ago | (#16971592)

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:I Quit (2, Insightful)

CowboyBob500 (580695) | more than 7 years ago | (#16971806)

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...

Bob

Re:I Quit (3, Interesting)

cliffski (65094) | more than 7 years ago | (#16971978)

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.

Can't be done. (4, Insightful)

$pearhead (1021201) | more than 7 years ago | (#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).

Re:Can't be done. (1)

Anonymous MadCoe (613739) | more than 7 years ago | (#16971642)

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).

Re:Can't be done. (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16971792)

Maybe you'd get even more if you learned how to spell at least, say, the level of a ten-year-old.

Telecommuting (2, Interesting)

EmbeddedJanitor (597831) | more than 7 years ago | (#16971654)

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:Can't be done. (2, Funny)

tezbobobo (879983) | more than 7 years ago | (#16971844)

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:Can't be done. (1)

jne_oioioi (890078) | more than 7 years ago | (#16971856)

I like it better in it's original form : "Bork bork snorf bogley bork"

Re:Can't be done. (5, Funny)

poopdeville (841677) | more than 7 years ago | (#16971916)

As a native Swedish speaker, I am disgusted by your post. The correct way to phrase this is "Bork bork snorf bogley coobical borken".

Simple solution (5, Funny)

NineNine (235196) | more than 7 years ago | (#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 (1)

thedarknite (1031380) | more than 7 years ago | (#16971714)

Graphs and pretty pictures in a presentation. If you don't need to use a projector then it isn't important enough.

Re:Simple solution (5, Interesting)

killjoe (766577) | more than 7 years ago | (#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:Simple solution (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16972310)

Are there some other, hidden, secret forms of communication that I'm missing, here?
There's always the art of communicating with dance. Although I doubt that it would be as effective as your two suggestions. Maybe it'll work. Maybe just no one has tried this before.

I like open plan (5, Informative)

tom17 (659054) | more than 7 years ago | (#16971596)

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 (5, Informative)

man_of_mr_e (217855) | more than 7 years ago | (#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: http://channel9.msdn.com/ShowPost.aspx?PostID=2383 21 [msdn.com]

It's very interesting.

Re:I like open plan (2, Insightful)

JoeInnes (1025257) | more than 7 years ago | (#16972108)

As someone with insider knowledge, the microsoft system is very relaxed, and basically all they insist on is that you make the "code-drops", but apart from that, it's entirely your call. You can work from home, stay in the building, whatever. (This is in the UK) Joe

Re:I like open plan (1)

tom17 (659054) | more than 7 years ago | (#16972130)

When I worked there (Winnersh & TVP) I was in a tech support role so had to work from the office to answer the calls. But the cubicle atmosphere was great - for me.

Re:I like open plan (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16971882)

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


It must be just you ... and you are most likely a freak :)

Re:I like open plan (1)

Bwian_of_Nazareth (827437) | more than 7 years ago | (#16971898)

It is not just you... I also prefer working in open-space. But then again, my work usually involves a lot of interaction with other people. Had I had a job which would be "get the assignement and now go away and work on that alone for two months", I would probably prefer working from home.

Maybe I was just lucky, but all the open-space offices I have seen (and I have seen quite a lot) were sort-of-ok designed with a lot of quiet places to run to when I needed to make a longer phonecall, discuss something with someone, or just stare at the wall and let my thoughts run thru my head.

To summarise, I would not want to work in an office anymore - I would feel lonely. :)

cubicles are all bad (5, Insightful)

jdblair (3634) | more than 7 years ago | (#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.

Re:cubicles are all bad (4, Interesting)

mwanaheri (933794) | more than 7 years ago | (#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:cubicles are all bad (3, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16971936)

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 person in the other cube, or the guy walking by.

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

And the third person has some disorder where he can't tell the difference between his and other people's business. He feels it's his duty to look over people's shoulder and see what they're doing every time he walks by. Often making comments or asking questions. And god forbid you have a conversation without him. This dim-witted moron forcefully inserts himself into ANY and all conversations within earshot. He has no idea what the conversation is about, but that never stops him from trying to find out. Fucking idiot.

It'd almost be funny if it weren't driving me crazy 5 days a week.

Re:cubicles are all bad (1)

Achromatic1978 (916097) | more than 7 years ago | (#16972208)

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 announced he'd finally been diagnosed with tuberculosis.

get a good study published (5, Insightful)

bunions (970377) | more than 7 years ago | (#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.

Re:get a good study published (1)

Mike1024 (184871) | more than 7 years ago | (#16971900)

How about CNN [cnn.com]?

It more concludes that working from home is the answer (Justifiably IMHO - otherwise you end up with tiny, windowless offices or much increased building costs).

Re:get a good study published (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16972342)

How much does productivity need to be increased? Looking at the dual flatscreen monitors, they can probably be had for ~$1000 for the pair. Lets assume that they last 3 years (one would hope that they last longer) and that I'm do work chargable $100000 per year. So, distributing the cost over the chargable work of 3 years we get that the productivity must increase by 0.33 percent.

Turning it around, lets instead assume that a better work environment (desk, chair, computer etc) can increase productivity by 2%, then the cost this is worth would be $6000 over 3 years. This is of cource assuming that the extra productivity would actually generate more income without increasing other costs.

Productivity? (1)

ThreeGigs (239452) | more than 7 years ago | (#16971614)

Private offices, or internet access.... pick one. I'd say it's harder to goof off in a cubicle.
Or, at $10-$15 per square, is it worth a pay cut for an office, or commute to the burbs?

Re:Productivity? (4, Insightful)

frosty_tsm (933163) | more than 7 years ago | (#16971836)

Perhaps, but that's the mentality of the management.

- Should an employee take a pay cut for something that makes them more productive?
- Does a little goofing off really damage overall productivity?

I say a happy, motivated employee who can concentrate when he wants to get stuff done is going to be far more valuable.

In the UK... (4, Informative)

linuxci (3530) | more than 7 years ago | (#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.

Re:In the UK... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16971718)

Where I have worked in open plan, we always had meeting rooms (and even special "unbookable" privacy rooms) so that if you want to close the door, you just go into one. People using their phone are encouraged to go there in any case (we didn't have desk phones, so everybody could just walk off if they wanted to).

Without that it is just crazy.

Re:In the UK... (1)

IainMH (176964) | more than 7 years ago | (#16972308)

Open plan is a nightmare unless everyone wants to work in library conditions. I work in London and I've been in offices where operations staff or sales people are barking at each other or down a phone. It_becomes_impossible to code well. And what is really annoying is that when you mention this to anyone who could do anything about it, they just roll their eyes in a way that says "well it's good enough for everyone else..."

This is why I have a pair of Bose noise cancelling headphones in my laptop case at all times. Luckily I get to work from home too where I can control the environment.

One example of such a mentality... (5, Interesting)

NerveGas (168686) | more than 7 years ago | (#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.

steve

Films by Sadistic Directors MAY suffer (0, Offtopic)

pg--az (650777) | more than 7 years ago | (#16971678)

> suffices to Google up Ken Watanabe's praise for the rare NON-sadistic director. LOTS of movie-makers will not feel right unless they are torturing their subordinates, might natural selection someday eliminate them ? *I* would trade some salsry for working conditions anyday !

Office (2, Interesting)

slidersv (972720) | more than 7 years ago | (#16971692)

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.

One argument *for* cubicles (5, Funny)

NerveGas (168686) | more than 7 years ago | (#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:One argument *for* cubicles (3, Funny)

BJH (11355) | more than 7 years ago | (#16971814)

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?

Right?

Re:One argument *for* cubicles (1)

quigonn (80360) | more than 7 years ago | (#16971876)

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.

Re:One argument *for* cubicles (1)

lindseyp (988332) | more than 7 years ago | (#16972008)

Better still, that's why you don't set your mail client to open mail automatically. OR display images by default.

When was this, 1994?

Re:One argument *for* cubicles (1)

ArsenneLupin (766289) | more than 7 years ago | (#16972282)

Better still, that's why you don't set your mail client to open mail automatically. OR display images by default.

Eggggsactly. There are soooo many thinks that can go wrong if you set your e-mail (or just about anything else) to auto-open...

The most benign is some window popping up right in front of the emacs where you are doing other work in, swallowing half of the sentence you were typing, and disrupting your concentration.

And the worst is to receive a very embarrassing mail right while you are doing a demo of some stuff on your computer to your manager.

At least, in the porn case, the victim could make the case that it was just spam, and not something which he requested deliberately.

Even worse than that (2, Funny)

tttonyyy (726776) | more than 7 years ago | (#16972116)

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's e-mail client while remaining hidden in case the manager returned.

Amazingly, he managed to get away with it!

It's not the shape (1)

residents_parking (1026556) | more than 7 years ago | (#16971722)

I don't think the shape or layout is that important, it's how much you're allowed to personalise your space that's the issue. I worked in one company where they made too many rules about what you couldn't have in/on your desk - food, coffee, for instance. Even books were supposed to be kept in the library (!) That's terribly de-humanising. I didn't stay long. Now, I work 2 days at home in a good-sized room with a nice sound system and all I need for software development. The other 3 days I work in a small open plan office, just 4 of us, and I concentrate on hardware. There are pros and cons to both. At home no-one nicks my tools and I can really use my imagination when "dressing down", but work is a friendlier place to spend a coffee break, and the collaborative process is invaluable.

Re:It's not the shape (1)

lindseyp (988332) | more than 7 years ago | (#16972034)

At home no-one nicks my tools and I can really use my imagination when "dressing down",

eugh. I'd rather you didn't make me use *my* imagination thanks!

Private Offices and Open Plan Offices (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#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.

Some people just can't telecommute.. (1)

QuantumG (50515) | more than 7 years ago | (#16971752)

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 much this week" their manager gets mad at them, "what havn't you been doing anything?" they ask. Unfortunately, many of my friends do not reply with "because you havn't assigned me any work bozo." and instead take it as a warning that they better make themselves look busy.

Re:Some people just can't telecommute.. (1)

Achromatic1978 (916097) | more than 7 years ago | (#16972262)

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.

A modest proposal to deal with open space offices (4, Funny)

o'reor (581921) | more than 7 years ago | (#16971760)

  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 ;-)

The bible of office productivity (5, Informative)

neonux (1000992) | more than 7 years ago | (#16971766)

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.

http://www.amazon.com/Peopleware-Productive-Projec ts-Teams-Ed/dp/0932633439 [amazon.com]

Re:The bible of office productivity (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16971854)

2-4 people in a small desk? no thank you. My cubicle is small, but that would be worse.

Re:The bible of office productivity (5, Insightful)

mangastudent (718064) | more than 7 years ago | (#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.

Don't They Know I'm Trustworthy? (3, Funny)

nick_davison (217681) | more than 7 years ago | (#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!?

This is the business owner's mindset (1)

Travoltus (110240) | more than 7 years ago | (#16971770)

"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.

A few ideas (1)

delirium of disorder (701392) | more than 7 years ago | (#16971772)

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 strike.....in 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 conditions.

Get a promotion?

The thinking behind the 'office plan' (5, Insightful)

plopez (54068) | more than 7 years ago | (#16971784)

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... (3, Insightful)

georgewilliamherbert (211790) | more than 7 years ago | (#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).

Re:Call me crazy... (1)

aXis100 (690904) | more than 7 years ago | (#16971888)

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...

Try to talk their language; don't hold your breath (5, Informative)

emmagsachs (1024119) | more than 7 years ago | (#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.

Processor.com, July 2, 2004 [processor.com]:
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."

Gartner.com, 30 Oct 2001 [gartner.com]:
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."

CFO.com, October 01, 2006 [cfo.com]:
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?

Open plan all the way (5, Insightful)

Harri (100020) | more than 7 years ago | (#16971824)

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!

This is bullshit (1)

melted (227442) | more than 7 years ago | (#16971928)

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 inability to concentrate when frequently interrupted. I don't go to work to socialize after all, I go there to design and write quality code.

Re:This is bullshit (1)

Harri (100020) | more than 7 years ago | (#16972030)

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:

Forming Teams that Communicate and Cooperate [awprofessional.com]

Also, remember that you may lose productivity when you are interrupted, but the people that interrupt you gain productivity, because they're not stalled all day trying to figure something out that you knew all along. It's important for the office to be productive as a whole - not just for you to be productive on your own.

Re:This is bullshit (1)

Achromatic1978 (916097) | more than 7 years ago | (#16972304)

Very good points. So often this debate on /. dissolves into elitist rantings of how "I am a finely tuned machine", and being "in the zone", and other platitudes designed to be not much more than (with apologies to Titanic) "congratulating each other on being Masters of the Universe".

Thus the post it note (1)

melted (227442) | more than 7 years ago | (#16972330)

>> I have to go over there and interrupt you just to find out whether you're busy

No you don't. I have a post it note on my door.

>> because they're not stalled all day trying to figure something out that you knew all along.

In 90% of cases, their question could be handled by Google perfectly well without breaking me out of the flow. For the remaining 10% there's email which I check every couple of hours.

From best to worst.... (1)

wiresquire (457486) | more than 7 years ago | (#16971860)

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 disturbances as when I get focussed you could probably let off a bomb and I wouldn't notice. But what really pisses me off is the 'grandstanders'. Basically, you're trying to have a discussion with them, but they are talking to show their 'superiority' to the people around them - like their boss at the next cubicle. Meantime, you have to wait patiently while thinking "I know. Yeah, that's pretty f'ing obvious. Who would ever think of doing that?". It's also an environment that's difficult to have 'unofficial' conversations in. Which is how you get things done and what makes the world go round...

ws

How about a choice? (1)

jrmiller84 (927224) | more than 7 years ago | (#16971868)

In our offices you can have whichever you prefer. The cubicle walls aren't that expensive depending on which you get and we even have extra from people who decided they wanted it and then decided against it. The IT department I work in is only three people and we work extremely tightly together so an open configuration is a must. We tried cubicles and it just doesn't work when you work together that much.

Tax benefits (1)

Whaargh (173348) | more than 7 years ago | (#16971872)

I remember reading an article about the creator of the cubicle - he meant for modular offices to be larger.

Anyway, the reason they're popular is that they amortize as furniture instead of as a building, so the company can write it off in 7 years instead of 30. I don't think management really wants cube farms, so get rid of the tax loophole and you're all set.

As far as convincing them about better chairs, larger monitors, etc., you could pay for it yourself or find a different company to work for...

Re:Tax benefits (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16971984)

What the fuck are you smoking. Buildings and cubicle walls are tangible so they to not "amortize" but depreciate the asset. Even then the "tax loophole" depends on the country you are working in. I took Accounting 101 so I am a fucking genius and can point out fucktards like you.

Re:Tax benefits (1)

wikinerd (809585) | more than 7 years ago | (#16972286)

About better chairs, larger monitors, etc... I am willing to pay for them myself, but at a company they said they could not allow employees to bring their own chairs even if we pay for them. Go figure!

The government is at fault (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16971894)

You have high taxation for businesses in the US, AFAIK.

Now cubicles count as office furniture, while real offices count as rooms, and there are different rules how to pay for both. In the end cubicles are a lot cheaper in the short term.

And we all know that CEOs only make short-term decisions, after me the apocalypse...

Open Plan != Stressing (2, Interesting)

shawnmchorse (442605) | more than 7 years ago | (#16971912)

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.


It's an ego thing... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16971926)

I'm an executive and I have an office. You're an expendable drone and you don't.

Are individual offices really better? (1)

happypenguin (734065) | more than 7 years ago | (#16971982)

The Agile programming folks (Extreme Programming, etc.) say that the whole project team should sit together in one room so that barriers to communication are minimal. So a group that is going to use those development methods shouldn't have individual offices. I've never had the opportunity to work on a project that used an Agile approach, so I don't know whether the approach really delivers the benefits the advocates promise, but apparently they have many real-world examples of successes.

It might be that having individual offices is a good idea for projects using the more traditional development methods, but if the Agile methods really do provide better results, it could be that having individual offices won't be important in the future, as the Agile methods become widely adopted. On the other hand, if the people are really working on independent things (not working as a team on a single project), then probably nothing about the Agile techniques are relevant and individual offices might provide the best productivity.

So, as usual, the best approach depends on the circumstances.

Re:Are individual offices really better? (1)

wikinerd (809585) | more than 7 years ago | (#16972124)

I know companies that randomly assign employees to a desk in an open-plan office, and the result is that your team members may be far away from you scaterred in all directions, and your immediate neighbours are unrelated to your work or even to your profession. So even if open-plan offices have some benefits, some companies seem to use them for purely economical reasons (they are cheaper than private offices).

We should also focus on open-source projects where lots of people all over the planet cooperate through the Internet, and their creations are better than teams working for a company. With the Internet we have the communication benefits of a single large room (if these benefits exist at all), combined with the productivity-enabling environment of a private office (or your home, or your car, or your nearest lakes and mountains if you are a mobile warrior and have broadband Internet connectivity on your laptops). Personally I enjoy programming near the sea on a sunny day, and whenever I do this I write more code and of higher quality than what I write in a noisy office in double the time.

Re:Are individual offices really better? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16972314)

We work with 14 developers in one room, sales and management have their own offices. All desks have wheels underneath them and there are power, telephone, and network outlets along the walls. We do not have anything else standing in this room besides some flipcharts and two sofas right in the center. Whenever a projects starts and a team is formed then those people move their desks together.

All the teams here work on similar projects. Even if one is not a member of a certain team it often is usefull to be able to listen to their discussions and be able to step in and help. Sometimes it gets a little distracting but that by far is outweighted by the advantages. Before we had small offices with 2-3 people. There often people wandered around the floors looking for someone who is able to help. Some even did not go on "help-search-journey" but tried to solve the problems which took them days while somebody else would be able to do it in minutes. Now one can _see_ when someone is having problems and the barrier for asking is way lower.

Also the large room (20x15 meters) has windows on three sides which is quite nice. I really like it and I have been a real sceptic before moving in here.

Force Field Analysis (1)

permaculture (567540) | more than 7 years ago | (#16971992)

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 presentation for the management, with coffee and biscuits provided. Get a team of like minded staff, and have each person present a 5 minute portion of the analysis. Use A1 flip charts, or powerpoint or something similar to create the presentation materials. Rehearse it through before you book the meeting, so you can work smoothly as a team. This shows management that you've thought carefully about the problem, and are working as a team towards what you perceive to be a solution.

More info here: http://www.extension.iastate.edu/communities/tools /forcefield.html [iastate.edu]

I used to think like this... (1)

Gorimek (61128) | more than 7 years ago | (#16972038)

...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 code is that complex, the chances that anyone else will be able to read and maintain it is very slim, so in practical terms that code is worthless if it ever needs to be changed. And useful code always needs to be changed.

I completely disagree... (1)

cmoguy (993529) | more than 7 years ago | (#16972056)

I structure and trade mortgage bonds on a wall street style trading desk so I believe this falls into the financial engineering category. I share a VERY long desk with quite a few people with each of us having just enough room to squeeze four 19 inch monitors into 'our' space, not to mention we all have colleagues sitting directly in front of us with the only separator being their monitors.

Now I am VERY happy with this setup and can confidently speak for my colleagues when I say we would never have it any other way. Our mortgage desk, which actually consists of a few physical desks and about thirty five people, has a dynamic cast of characters from hardcore quants with masters and PhD's in chemical and electric engineering from MIT and Caltech, as well as veteran sales guys who never finished high school. We all get along great, we fight, we scream, we throw things at the guy who least expects it, we listen in on peoples phone calls and throw in our two cents to the guy who sits five seats down. And we are ALL better off for it.

I don't see the point of separating people who are all working toward a common goal.

I think the best is a compromise (1)

Jugalator (259273) | more than 7 years ago | (#16972098)

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 ideas when they need to? And what's the point with building among the most noisy and distracting environments possible?

It's actually their responsibility to know better as a proper work environment can heavily influence the company efficiency.

Work from Home (1)

Heembo (916647) | more than 7 years ago | (#16972132)

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, dot.com 2.0+. As long as you are a hard-working skilled techie, you can call the shots if you are somewhat reasonable.

My opinion (as programmer,sysadmin and manager)... (1)

WetCat (558132) | more than 7 years ago | (#16972168)

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 you are a good manager, you can offset low comfortability with additional money benefits, flexible time or other
Cubicles and open-styles with large desks are noisy, thus making people much less productive (even if they do phone calling, they are less attricative as managers at other end!) and also as relative distance between workers is large, personal communication is crampy. So cubicles is the worst design...

Easy Solution (1)

gbobeck (926553) | more than 7 years ago | (#16972258)

How can we get rid of the widely hated cubicle and its ugly cousin, the stressing open-plan office?

I find that the overly liberal usage of high explosives and/or the combination of liquified petroleum gas plus a source of ignition to be a suitable method of getting rid of cubicles and open-plan offices. Of course, a thorough bulldozing and proper disposal (i.e. burial at sea) should follow.

Make yourself unreplacable..... (5, Funny)

pakar (813627) | more than 7 years ago | (#16972274)

and.....

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 Cube isn't the problem... (1)

RyuuzakiTetsuya (195424) | more than 7 years ago | (#16972300)

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.

the answer is sex (1)

operato (782224) | more than 7 years ago | (#16972344)

if everyone in the office were caught having it off behind some cubicles then they'd definitely think about removing them.
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