Open offices are the future. What a shame.
A Washington Post article, Google got it wrong. The open-office trend is destroying the workplace, describes how the author’s ad agency moved her from a private office to an open space environment. She now sits at a table with 11 other writers. Every cough, sniffle, telephone call, and business or casual conversation interrupts a dozen workers.
Open offices are hip, cool and modern. People lounge around on beanbag chairs. Bright colors and Warhol wall garnishes abound.
The article states: “While employees feel like they’re part of a laid-back, innovative enterprise, the environment ultimately damages workers’ attention spans, productivity, creative thinking, and satisfaction. Furthermore, a sense of privacy boosts job performance, while the opposite can cause feelings of helplessness.”
Engineering is an intensively creative enterprise. People need undistracted time to think, to focus, to mentally assemble a complex bit of code. The model falls apart after any interruption. In fact, interruptions are the biggest productivity killer for software engineers. Tom DeMarco and Tim Lister documented this well in their seminal Peopleware: Productive Projects and Teams. They found it takes, on average, 15 minutes to assemble that mental model. Yet, the average engineer is interrupted every 11 minutes (Mark, Gonzalez, Harris, 2005, "No Task Left Behind?: Examining the Nature of Fragmented Work." Proceedings of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computer Systems). Peopleware showed that eliminating these interruptions gives almost a 300% boost in software engineering productivity.
Let’s see: a 3X productivity improvement for engineers, some of the most costly workers in an enterprise. Or, we can save a few bucks and crowd everyone together.
Continue reading on EE Times’ sister site, Embedded.