Are open office spaces good or bad for productivity?
This eternal debate got a reboot at work this week when someone shared this article.
Maybe there’s an “agile” way to think about this. Maybe different workspaces are better suited for different kinds of problems. Just like we adapt our sprint length based on the level of uncertainty (i.e. lots of unknowns => have shorter sprints), maybe we adjust our workspaces according to the challenge at hand.
If there’s frequent change in our project scope/domain knowledge, having the team in one “noisy” workspace might be better. You get shared understanding for cheap… but will have to compromise on your problem-solving ability.
If the problems are well-defined but very complex, maybe people need more head space, so we retreat to a quieter workspace with predefined collaboration times.
p.s. One aspect new to me (that a colleague brought up) is the impact on people with hearing disabilities. Lots of chatter at high noise levels, coming from multiple directions & sources, has severe impacts on their focus, attention, and stress. This obviously has an impact on their mental health, career success and overall happiness. (Note: this is why I love working here! People speak up - and it opens your mind to a diversity of perspectives you can learn from everyday!)
p.p.s. Other resources on workspace design:
- Peopleware remains, for me, a must-read intro to the subject. Just don’t take it as scripture.
- Joel Spolsky has been a big influencer in this field by loudly evangelizing his company’s private offices for developers
- “Neuro-Diversity & Software Development” by Sallyann Freudenberg from GoTo 2016
- A piece by Vox on the history of open offices