The startup programming environment represents the victory of showhorses over workhorses. It’s more important that these companies manage up into investors and look busy than it is for them to get any actual work done. In other words, startup programmers are more valuable as office furniture (see: $1-5M/head acqui-hires) than for what they actually do. Open-plan offices are terrible for productivity but they look busy. For this reason, I don’t see them going away any time soon.
Also, open-plan offices are probably better than cubicles, which still have the noise and line-of-sight issues. If you’re in a typical cube and still visible from behind, then you get claustrophobia (brick wall in front of you) and agoraphobia (seen from behind, surveillance-state anxiety) at the same time. What we really want are private or pair offices… or just the ability to break away and code for a few hours. Cubicles would be a step in the wrong direction.
The ideal office would have open spaces and private offices, so people can meet in the commons, break away, or have individual coding time. It’s amazing to me that this is judged to be “too expensive”, because a better office pays off multiply in productivity. I think that one of the problems is that office culture is in a deep state of denial. The fiction is that everyone’s working as hard as they can, at 100% productivity at all times, and that office accommodations are a nice-to-have rather than a critical factor in the quality of work. In other words, the stingy people who are constantly looking for ways to cut (and by “cut” I mean “externalize”) costs on office space see it as a nice-to-have and a morale issue rather than a raw productivity issue. You can’t raise the issue around open-plan offices without admitting that the corporate fiction (that people are already working at 100% efficiency) is false.
Open-plan offices also have a problem with adverse selection. The really good individual contributors, as soon as they have leverage or clout, start working from home: first a day a week, then 3 days per week, and then consistently. The managers and wannabe managers show up every day, and so do the juniors who aren’t in a position to work from home, but the senior individual contributors usually get out of that environment. So this supposedly “collaborative” environment ends up losing the people who might actually be able to make others more productive, and gets stuck with the ones who make people less productive.
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sigh I used to feel bad, as if it was particularly my problem, that I get jumpy about people standing behind me, even at considerable distance. Then I talked to other people with complex PTSD, discovered it was a shared experience, and realized that “back to the wall” is perhaps the most common stereotype about PTSD in general.
Acknowledging that there’s a reason it’s hard for me to control does help.
This is a fairly common issue, but no one in tech talks about it.
This is exactly the sort of reason why we need some form of collective organization (maybe we need a guild rather than a traditional union, but we need to do something). These things are individually embarrassing to negotiate or even bring up, but they affect a lot of people. Also, I’m sick of the macho bullshit. When you drive people out of the industry for no good reason, and develop a culture that considers that OK, you end up with a lot of the worst people– hence, the routine harassment scandals and general immaturity for which the tech industry is now known.
Employers tend to confuse extreme industrial reliability (i.e. can this person tolerate 12-hour days in open-plan offices) with ethical reliability (i.e. can this person be trusted). At least at the extremes, they’re negatively correlated. This leads to a lot of the best people being flushed out, and a lot of the worst people being the last ones standing in these ridiculous eating contests. We all lose in that game. The problem is that excellence is intermittent and hard to measure, whereas suffering is evident and chronic, so companies end up staging macho competitions around who can suffer the most– and people with pre-existing difficulties that would never be an issue under normal circumstances are at a disadvantage.
I suspect that most tech employers can afford to lose 10% (or more, arguably much more) of talented employees on stupid cultural nonsense and irrelevant criteria. This is because most of them are not about technical excellence, any more, but marketing businesses using technology. However, I’d like to hear them say it, rather than scamming government (H1-B abuse) and insulting everyone with this “talent shortage” nonsense.
Well, I’ve made it a personal mission to talk about mental health internally at the large company where I work. I can’t promise to be effective, but I’m an existence proof that someone is talking about it.
I agree with you about needing structural fixes. I still feel out of my depth as far as feeling that I know what would help.
Also, open-plan offices are probably better than cubicles, which still have the noise and line-of-sight issues.
For what it’s worth, in my experience, the office with cubicles has been much better than the open-plan office (low-wall partial cubes rather than “bunch-of-folks-at-a-table”). It’s quieter and more private, and I can set myself up so the angles of approach are more constrained. There are definitely overarching differences in office environment, too—my current cubicled office is quieter overall and I’m not along the hot path the salespeople all take—but I think at least some of that is due to the fact that the space is partitioned rather than open.
Office preference depends on personality. I have a suspicion that it has something to do with what one assumes is a universal human experience, but isn’t [1,2].
Just because someone is a really good individual contributor has no bearing on whether they’ll like working from home. For instance, I worked form home for 2 years before I switched jobs so I could work in a co-working space (among other reasons). I know of another (very good) developer who is wants to leave their current employer because they want to work in an office.
what has kept me from being productive:
what has kept me from being productive:
I prefer to spend my free time with people I don’t see all day (and, preferrably, with people who don’t know what GPIO stands for, or can hide it if they do), but I find that Mondotorree Fun Days actually help me treat colleagues as human beings. Bonding works, apparently.
Giving myself a reward for 3 hours of continuous coding (usually in the form of “internet time” like checking Hacker News or twitter)
Do you suffer from coding so much that you must reward yourself? With HN, fererisssake?
What makes you unproductive,
Antagonistic colleagues. Bullies.
and what do you do to combat it?
Not well. Like the author,
I either come of too strongly, or I sit there and let the other person walk all over me.
(usually the latter, followed by the former).
I find that Mondotorree Fun Days actually help me treat colleagues as human beings. Bonding works, apparently.
I tend to agree, though the important part of it is that those events be during the work day. If it’s after hours, not only is it harder for many people (e.g., parents, particularly single parents, people with less disposable income, people with other responsibilities), it’s infringing on my personal time.
While I agree that they should be during the work day I think it’s also very important that they be welcoming but not mandatory. Most people will happily show up to a fun event without being forced to. Being forced to show up automatically puts a bad taste in a lot of peoples mouths. Especially if the event happens to occur at a time when they really can’t afford to take a break for whatever reason.
By making them non-mandatory you ensure that the people who do show up want to be there and thus help keep the atmosphere actually fun and not a mutual commiseration fest.
On the other hand: Have you ever tried to take a month off to work on your personal project, found a completely distraction-free environment and so on? The productivity is great for first few days, then it begins to drop.
Hi and welcome to lobste.rs!
(He is the original creator of ZeroMQ.)
Hi and thanks! I’ve joined yesterday.
This is only somewhat related to the article (it was mentioned in there) but leaving my phone in “do not disturb” mode has been a revelation both to my productivity at work and my happiness/peace of mind outside of work. It started as a way to not be bothered during the work day by the various group chats/texts from my social groups and family, but it really has changed the way I use my phone in what feels to me like a very healthy fashion - it has basically transformed me into a poller of my phone, rather than letting my phone push information to me.
I also love that in iOS by default apps ask to enable notifications which I seldom allow.
I just turn them all off, save for text messages from my wife. If anybody else needs to get in touch with me on their schedule, they can incur the costs of calling me on the phone.
I can relate to far too many of his bullet points for non-productivity (open office floor plans suck). The biggest thing that helped me stay productive and lower the number of distractions was buying a nice pair of noise cancelling head phones. It’s the best $300 I’ve ever spent! I couple that with instrument-only music stations on Pandora with an ad blocker, so I’m never thrown off by disruptive ads. Helps a ton.
I’m one of those people for whom open office plans don’t really hinder productivity. Mostly because I have a phenomenal talent for shutting out my environment and focusing. So much so that it can be harmful at times. I kind of like having the occasional interruption to force me out of the zone every once and a while. It forces me to surface and realize it’s actually lunch time or time to go home.
Ethics is a killer for me. Kiss up, Kick Down management.