The Open Office Layout

I have over the past couple of years had the privilege of working with some wonderful companies.  I like to think myself a lucky person as each and every one of those companies had decidedly different views and approaches to taking care of its employees.  I came across this article on the New Yorker, and it make me stop and think about my experiences.  I decided that I would share those here, and my options about them.

The High Walled Cubicle Farm ( >5 feet )

While working in a big financial institution it was a large open floor with cubicle type separators that were about 5 1/2 feet tall.  They were high enough that you didn’t have people just casually leaning over the side to chat, they had to intentionally come into your space to discuss something.  While this reduced casual discussions, and it didn’t focus on creating more harmony, it did wonders for productivity.  Getting things done, was the primary focus not discussing various subjects.

Having brainstorming sessions became slightly more difficult, as office space was limited and not convenient for just “discussing”, and required more planning.

The Low Walled Cubicle Farm ( <4 feet  )

While this had some of the benefits of the higher cubicle walls, you didn’t necessarily see everything everyone was doing, and it did cut down on some of the noises you typically have in an office space ( telephone calls, random discussions, people walking by, etc.

The frequency at which random people walking by your desk just leaning over it, and striking up a discussion was quite frequent.

The Open Space

The open space, is possibly the worst layout for technical people.  I have had the privilege of working in a creative company as well, where the main product delivered was ideas, and the open space in the situation works really well, as inspiration for creative ideas can come from anything and everything.  However, being a technical guy, the reality isn’t the same.  Trying to force designers into cubicles essentially forces them into isolation, reducing external stimulation and idea flow.

For technical resources, who are all suffer from attention deficit disorder to some extends, don’t deal well with too many stimulators when trying to focus on a complex task.  There are already dealing with complex code, incomplete feature requests, and bug reports, stopping in and interrupting them, or a too loud discussion on the phone can prevent a developer from completing their tasks.

The Islands

The Islands are just a variation of the open space concept, where you have your groups working together sharing a desk space.  This configuration is really convenient for discussing features, problems and creating team harmony.  This works really well, if the teams are isolated from other teams, otherwise there is a lot of ambient noise to deal with.  It also works best if people respect their colleagues when taking personal calls.