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    We all have personal tolerances on how much we want to see other people. If my tolerance is, say, 2 hours per day, then I will have spent all of it by 10 o’clock at an open office, regardless whether I had any business with other people or not. After it has been spent, I will not actively contact people that day any more.

    I think the people who design offices know this. They just care more about the costs.

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      Sadly, this stuff has been well known since at least the famous “Peopleware” book of the 1980s, and certainly firmly ensconced into conventional wisdom by the zeros. Facts and new studies are not moving the needle on this one. (My pet theory: tech companies are much more risk-averse than they like to pretend, and doing anything different from your peers is too scary, especially if it costs more.)

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        tech companies are much more risk-averse than they like to pretend, and doing anything different from your peers is too scary

        I think it’s more active than that. Tech companies want to emulate silicon valley startups. Silicon Valley startups are funded by VCs, who want to check on their investment. At some point, someone decided that open-air offices would 1- show thrifty spending, and 2- show people being busy. From that point on, everyone’s been doing open-air, even when it’s no longer #1 (I’m thinking of some significant remodel work that’s gone into some open-space workplaces, not to mention climate control costs or morale/productivity loss), nor #2 (when open-air offices are as large as football fields).

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          It’s not just startups, although I bet most successful startups have open floor plans. Facebook and even Microsoft are moving or have moved to the model.

          To quote Dan Luu, speaking of Peopleware:

          This book seemed convincing when I read it in college. It even had all sorts of studies backing up what they said. No deadlines is better than having deadlines. Offices are better than cubicles. Basically all devs I talk to agree with this stuff.

          But virtually every successful company is run the opposite way. Even Microsoft is remodeling buildings from individual offices to open plan layouts. Could it be that all of this stuff just doesn’t matter that much? If it really is that important, how come companies that are true believers, like Fog Creek, aren’t running roughshod over their competitors?

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            I asked the Facilities people at Google about this last year and they told me why they subject us to open plan offices despite knowing we hate them. Apparently the #1 reason is flexibility. They move teams around frequently as they grow so being able to easily defrag space is their top priority.

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              That’s long been a reason. I wonder if the answer is to try to make easy to build or tear down spaces that are more like actual offices. Especially with noise resistant material in between the “walls” maybe in form of squares or rectangles that can be shoved and stacked in there. I guess it would look like cubicles that go up to the ceiling with an outer wall, filler, and inner wall. If they have different shapes, windows could be another modular component in some of them if someone desires.

              I wonder if anyone has tried something like this.

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              I believe this is called survivor bias

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          Not surprisingly, this shift from face-to-face to electronic interaction made employees less effective.

          Why is this taken as a given? Remote-only, distributed teams are a thing.

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            Face-to-face communication is likely more effective. However, in an open office, you have to put up with noise, lack of privacy, lack of space, increased sick days etc. That drags down productivity, so I’m sure remote work can easily be more effective than open offices - but probably not as effective as a good office.

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              Face to face is the very highest bandwidth form of communication. Organizations can succeed without it, but it requires a lot of compensatory work.

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              Huh. Why do people think open offices are meant to increase interaction? The only reason for open offices is a lack of floor real estate. I’ve been stuck in them for over six years because I’ve only really taken work in cities.

              Do managers actually believe the lie that it makes people more productive? I use to hate the cube, so much, but open offices are a new layer of hell.

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                I think people (including managers) are, on average, pretty poor at empathising with different levels of tolerance for social interaction. If the manager finds the open office level of interaction tolerable or even enjoyable, on balance I expect they will project this onto their staff as what they perceive to be a reasonable expectation.

                Not everybody is this way, but it seems quite common – not just in office layout decisions, but in weighing the cost of additional meetings or even in planning for team social events. In contrast I’ve known people that are themselves comfortable with a lower level of interaction, and their lower level tends to influence their targets for others too.

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                  I have met in every open office a vocal fraction of colleagues who said they enjoyed it. “here I csn stay informed on what is going on in the department”, a small office would be isolating, et etc.

                  So managers will find people who share their opinion.

                  Also typically middle management doesnt decide on this stuff but more higher ups who either have their own office or spend their days in meeting rooms.

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                I work from home so I don’t have to put up with any of this nonsense. :)