Open Offices Aren’t Always the Solution

What’s with the latest craze in the office organization of the service industry? Are we really going back to huge, open spaces with no sense of privacy at all? With companies like Facebook, Google, and even smaller companies like Valve praising the open office concept, it sure seems like it will be here to stay for awhile. That’s unfortunate, because open offices suck!

The Concept

Look, I get it. Someone saw the cube farms and said, “Why are all these people locking themselves away? We need to be more collaborative! Our products are failing because no one is talking to each other. Tear down these walls!” Down came the walls. Soon enough the facility planners were shuffling desks together, removing all partitions, knocking down walls and replacing them with fishbowl style glass walls, and preaching Agile processes. All the while the seasoned veterans are running for the doors as quick as possible.

The Good

There really isn’t a whole lot that I like about open offices (as an introvert), so this might be a biased section. However, I will say that open offices do encourage you to talk to people near you that you normally wouldn’t. This can be a good thing in the sense that you get to know your coworkers. But when a project needs to be worked on diligently, the open office spaces seem to encourage people to just chit chat about random stuff all day. Joking, yelling, talking loudly, and throwing stuff around is just a little bit of what can be experienced in an open office. See, I wasn’t really a good candidate to praise whatever virtues open offices may have.

Is this my desk? Cool. Wait, why is the guy across from me turning on his radio. Oh wonderful, I guess I’ll learn to like Insane Clown Posse.

The Bad

The walls weren’t the only thing to fall. Efficiency, privacy, and and overall sense of quiet-time came crashing to a halt. Where you once had the opportunity to sit, relax, and think on a problem without much interruptions, you’re now constantly bombarded from all senses. Annoying coworkers throwing a beach ball around? Yea, it’s in your line of sight. People blasting music because it’s “collaborative?” Sorry, you just have to put up with LET THE BODIES HIT THE FLOOR until 5 PM. Deal with it. Forget about concentrating on anything useful when this kind of behavior is tolerated or even encouraged by the management.

All Things In Moderation

To be honest, I’m sure there are varying levels of the open office concept. Some offices have no partitions, low partitions, half partitions, or see-through partitions. Others may have only glass walls, some glass walls, or no walls. I’ve worked in the most extreme concept of open offices in which the entire office is one large space with no separation between desks and only glass walls between other rooms.

There were literally no opaque walls in my office at the time of working there.… Read more

Get Over Your Fear of Remote Work

This article is aimed at both employers and employees alike. In some circles of the technology industry, there seems to be this pervasive anxiety when discussing the activities of remote workers. In fact, certain CEOs have gone so far as to reign in the egregious act of working remotely by effectively banning the practice altogether. I’m sure he or she sent out a memo including words like “agile,” “synergy,” and “cohesion” to seal the deal.

As the complexity and needs of software continues to grow, companies need to be willing to hire workers whose only option is to work remotely due to location or other life circumstances. Rejecting a possibly great candidate because they are unable or unwilling to relocate across the country is a huge loss for many reasons.

First, the employer missed out on an opportunity with a great candidate. Perhaps that person would have been responsible for saving the company a lot of money or publishing a renowned product. Second, by hiring a remote worker, the employer can forgo the cost of physical on-boarding, providing a phone, providing a desk, and providing a location for which the employee can conduct work. Instead, the company only needs to provide hardware and software to get the employee started. Third, remote employees have far more time to actually do work without having to worry about travel time to and from the work location. In some instances, traveling can consume hours each day depending on the commute distance. Instead of wasting time in traffic, the employee can spend time on work.

Yes, there are downsides to remote employees, but many of them can be mitigated by occasional trips to the main office and conducting shared activities on remote communication technologies like VOIP and instant messaging. When talking to people who are skeptical, the first fallacy that I hear is, “But I need someone to be physically next to me to get my work done!” To be honest, this sounds like a personal problem. If you are unable or unwilling to get work done without physically seeing your coworkers, then you need to work on adjusting away from such an attitude. Between webcams, phones, instant messaging, desktop sharing, and remote desktops, there should be almost no excuse to having difficulties communicating with remote workers.

Remote work is going away. I would argue that it will increase in necessity as population increases, cities become more widespread, suburbs move beyond reasonable commuting distances, and job opportunities become more spread out. There’s simply no way to avoid the globalization of our economy. In order to adjust appropriately, we all need to be more accommodating to qualified candidates who would prefer or must work remotely. Your company may depend on it.… Read more