Evaluating Office Layouts

The environment of your office matters a lot. Not only are offices the space where work (theoretically) gets done, but they are also the primary location where ideas are generated, work friendships are formed, and the majority of non-transit waking time is spent during the week.

In other words, it’s really important that your office environment match both your personality and the work you are trying to complete. These considerations can help you when you are looking for a new job, or when you are trying to find ways to improve your work environment. They can also help you design your home work-space, if you are lucky enough to have one.

Your office environment might be hurting your productivity or just making you miserable. Knowing what kinds of office environments work best for your personality type, your current task load, and the work environment can yield clues to how to fix it if work becomes unpleasant. Shared space can drive both collaboration and conflict, so it’s important to know what can possibly go wrong in a given environment. Once you know, you can preemptively take steps to mitigate the problems (or you can just avoid the environment if it’s a particularly bad one.). A work environment that doesn’t match the work that people say they are doing is a sign of a problem.

Episode Breakdown

8:00 Types of Offices

    • Open Floor-plan

Everybody is crammed into one shared area with no barriers. Frankly, this is the scourge of programming environments because everyone is working on different tasks. It is best for the bean counters who don’t have to sit in them. These are common, but are terrible for knowledge work.

    • Team Offices

Large office with three to ten people in it. Everyone in the same group or team in one office. Usually working on the same projects, same type of projects, or under the same command structure. Works well for larger internal projects

    • Shared Offices

“It’s maybe even slightly better than the team office.”

Small office with a couple of people in it. Collaborating on the same project. Works well for senior developers to mentor juniors.

    • Private Offices

A real office with a door that closes. Best for deep, complicated work, usually by someone senior. Also works well for management who need to have private conversations.

    • War Room

A team working on a specific deliverable around a conference table. Usually done temporarily for a very short time period with a defined ending. Theoretically helps with productivity of a team; practically ruins it. Can be good for early project kickoff or when team has expanded a lot in a short time. When recurring, this is a sign of bad management.

    • Home Office

“The thing about working from home is that it is great if you have to be deep in thought.”

Individuals work from their own homes. Can be done full time or only part of the time. Good for deep work, so long as you know what you need to do. Excellent benefit for team members with a good work ethic. Can be tricky for junior developers or people who aren’t set up for it. Have to spend extra effort to show productivity

30:15 Office Furnishings

    • “Real” Desks

Can be good, but often aren’t built for modern office environments. Tend to be more expensive than cubes.

    • Cubicles

Tend to provide a little privacy. Tend to be used instead of private offices as a result of accounting practices. Can be ok for knowledge workers.

    • Conference Tables

No privacy. Terrible for extended work if you need to concentrate. Is really good for collaboration over a short time period.

    • Kitchen Tables

“For me having an office area in my home is so natural it’s weird for me to think of people not having it.”

Very private. Not an ideal ergonomic work-space.

34:35 Distractions

    • Piped In Music

Universally awful.

    • Gaming Tables

Can be fun, but shouldn’t be in a work area.

    • Phone Calls and conversations

Sign of inadequate sound absorption. Can also indicate poor management.

    • Common Area Noises

Being by the kitchen, water cooler, copier, or a door can lead to constant distraction.

    • Loudspeakers

Indicates that someone in management doesn’t know that developers have to concentrate.

    • Equipment Noises

Can be an issue in industrial environments.

    • Visual Field Interruptions

Facing a walkway can often be distracting. Glare from windows can also be a problem.

    • Back to Open door

Makes it hard to wear headphones to block other noise. Have to have a culture of few interruptions for this to be ok.

    • Vibrations

Can be the result of heavy equipment or nearby roadways/train tracks. Subtly distracting and can make you sick.

    • Smells

Other people’s food or body odor can be problems here. People that like to scent their workspaces can be an issue as well.

45:09 Project Types

    • Internal Applications

“This is a dumpster fire but at least my trash bags fit.”

Requires more face to face communication with other people in the company.

    • Client-Facing Applications

Requires a mix of face to face communication with company folks and computerized or phone communication with externals.

    • Client Applications

“You cannot afford to waste time.”

Working for an external client. Communications are mixed due to talking to both project managers and clients. Unplanned meetings should be minimized, but often aren’t.

    • SAAS Applications

Working for a large number of external clients. Probably will not be contacting them directly, but will need to interface with people in the office. If production problems occur or you deploy infrequently, can lead to conference room setups.

    • Startups

“You may get left over furniture.”

Will be working directly with the company founders and on a small team. Usually tight financially, so not enough money for really slick offices. Pivots frequently and quickly, so shared spaces are common.

51:00 Worker Types

    • Introvert vs. Extrovert

“We’ve got a great dynamic here because I’m an extrovert and Will’s an introvert.”

Extroverts may find more collaborative offices more easy to work in. However, extroverts may be more distracted by interruption-driven work-spaces.

    • Management vs. Managed

Management is harder without an office with a door, especially if having to deal with HR-type issues. Managing people in separated spaces can be more challenging, especially if you can’t pull them all off to a conference room or get them in a group chat. Heavily shared spaces can increase the amount of interpersonal conflict. Private offices can increase the amount of gossip.

    • Junior vs. Senior

Private offices are harder as a junior, as asking for help requires you to go into someone else’s space or bring them into yours. Open offices are awful for senior developers, as the frequency of interruptions can make getting into flow impossible. Mentoring has to be an intentional cultural practice of a company or the two groups can have conflict.

IoTease: Product

SparkFun micro:arcade Kit

 

Designed to be used with the micro:bit, an ARM-based embedded system designed by the BBC for use in computer education in the UK. Inside each micro:arcade kit you will find all you need to build your own game system. The gamer:bit serves like a hat for an Arduino but for the micro:bit to allow access to a number of pins in the form of buttons laid out like a classic Nintendo NES controller.

Tricks of the Trade

Team structure determines program structure. If your team structure is broken, your application structure will be broken. The gaps in your teams will eventually show up in your app, usually to the detriment of the user experience.

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