Stok Footage

Continually experimenting with new ideas and techniques — Reconstructing, Developing, Modernising.

Remain in Hell, Without Despair.

It’s a beautiful Sunday afternoon in the Labour Day weekend in Canada. Toronto is quiet as many people are out of town at their “cottages”, though planes from the air show for the CNE sometimes manage to violate the peace. The summer’s heat is in retreat, or so it seems. All is well with the world…

There’s a worm in paradise.

On Tuesday I return to work as a software developer in an open plan office. This type of office seems to have become de rigueur in technology companies these days. From time to time my experience of the space makes me question my own sanity — am I the only person who doesn’t thrive in the brave new office landscape? Let’s cherry pick some stuff from around the web to make me feel better!

To me it seems that open plan offices seem to be favoured by companies who want to catch a sense of Silicon Valley, cargo culting the environment in the hope that it’ll summon a benevolent spirit. Certainly to the casual observer an open office looks like a productive collaborative environment, buzzing with energy and ideas. My experience of this type of environment is not so rose-tinted — as Michael O. Church sagely rants in “Why “Agile” and especially Scrum are terrible”:

To put it bluntly, an open-plan programmer is more valued as office furniture than for the code she writes.

I have long been a fan of the book Peopleware. One of the things the authors focus on is the effect of noise in the workplace, for example Tom DeMarco reminisces:

A California company that I consult for is very much concerned about being responsive to its people. One year, the company’s management conducted a survey in which all programmers (more than a thousand) were asked to list the best and the worst aspects of their jobs. The manager who ran the survey was very excited about the changes the company had undertaken. He told me that the number two problem was poor communication with upper management. Having learned that from the survey, the company set up quality circles, gripe sessions, and other communication programs. I listened politely as he described them in detail. When he was done, I asked what the number one problem was. “The environment,” he replied. “People were upset about the noise.” I asked what steps the company had taken to remedy that problem. “Oh, we couldn’t do anything about that,” he said. “That’s outside our control.”

In a New Yorker article Maria Konnikova summarises Matthew Davis’s findings after surveying many studies of open plan offices:

He found that, though open offices often fostered a symbolic sense of organizational mission, making employees feel like part of a more laid-back, innovative enterprise, they were damaging to the workers’ attention spans, productivity, creative thinking, and satisfaction.

In a recent Economist article about the current shabby treatment of more introverted employees, a Schumpeter article observes:

The biggest culprit is the fashion for open-plan offices and so-called “group work”. Companies rightly think that the elixir of growth in a world where computers can do much of the grunt work is innovation. But they wrongly conclude that the best way to encourage creativity is to knock down office walls and to hold incessant meetings. This is ill-judged for a number of reasons. It rests on a trite analogy between intellectual and physical barriers between people. It ignores the fact that noise and interruptions make it harder to concentrate. And companies too often forget that whereas extroverts gain energy from other people, introverts need time on their own to recharge.

So it seems I’m not entirely alone in my dislike of open plan offices as a place to do intellectually challenging work. I thoroughly enjoyed the camaraderie of team sized offices or spaces, the type of environment I was lucky enough to work in until a couple of decades ago.

Like Cnut the Great I can rail against the tide of open plan offices in full knowledge of my ability to turn the tide. I can still hope that in the future the tide will ebb again.

I feel better for writing that!


Title taken from the lyric from Under Heavy Manners:

Trumpets
I can hear trumpets

Solipsism
Euphemism
Pessimism
Pointilism
Flagellism
Nihilism

Urizel O Urizel

Negativism
Positivism
Legalism
Asinism
Cynicism
Terrorism

Urizel O Urizel

Jurism
Tourism
Neologism
Imperialism
Cleverism
Criticism
Cataphatacism
Apophatacism
Dogmatism
Apologeticism
Schism
Schism
Baptism
Christening

Bells. I can hear bells.

Conservatism
Liberalism
Centrism
Socialism
Communalism
Leninism
Marxism
Maotseism
Communism
Trotskyism
Fidelism
Facism

Sunder Here Navy Man

Scofistism
Kenosisism
Pneumatologism
Theandricism
Synergism
Monothelitism
Nestorianism
Sacerdotalism
Theurgism
Ecclesiasticalism
Eucharisticism
Episcopalianism
Hesychasticism

Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah

Remain in hell, without despair
O Urizel

Remain in hell, without despair
O Urizel

Stop!

I am resplendent in divergence
I am resplendent in divergence
I am resplendent in divergence

Continue

2 Responses to “Remain in Hell, Without Despair.”

  1. Shannon says:

    Thank you for this post. I find the open-office concept not just detrimental to my productivity but a source of overwhelming anxiety comparable to what I feel in large crowds or self-deemed “inescapable situations”. Thankfully, I’ve been able to resolve that by working primarily from home, but I certainly feel empathy for those who, for whatever reason, can’t produce their best work in these spaces.

    Side note: Robert Fripp = LCD Soundsystem? Discuss.

  2. Alex Beamish says:

    I’ve read the Peopleware quote before, and I shake my head at the “Noise? Can’t do anything about that.” quote.

    I’m lucky enough to work in a cube office area, and that provides enough quiet for me to get my work done, but also enough access to the rest of the team.

    Perhaps see about spending an hour or two in a private area every day?

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