Open office space?

There are a lot of debate wether is open space office is better than closed / partitioned space office.

On the one side, the open space skeptics said that open space office is counter productive because of open space office allow lot of distraction and context-switching.

One the another side, the close space skeptics said that open office is productive because it’s allow open communication.

For me, I will not judge wether open or close is better, because it depends.

Let’s take a look at history:

In the 19, software developer were famous for “communication problem”. We were seen as someone who can only be talked in some weird computer language, and hard to communicate with.

Take a look how the comedy show IT Crowd portrait us, and you will know what I’m talking about.

At that time, we try to overcome this problem with comprehensive and clear documentation, so the business guys don’t have to talk directly and annoyed by all those tech / geeks vocabs and debates. We talked to each other via comprehensive document.

It has been called “Waterfall model”

When we were doing this, side effect that happen is we actually discourage any sort of human communication between developers and business. Everything have to be communicate via email or documents. At some point, developer feel that it is unhealthy to their job to talk to those business guys in person. (And trust me, lot of us still feel this way)


And then in 2000, bunch of people come up with the things call “Agile methodology”. They said that we cannot workaround the communication problem by comprehensive document without actually talking to each other anymore. It’s would be better for project if developer actually talking to business, instead of passing down requirements through business analyst, system analyst, project manager, etc.

They said that if we try hard enough, we can talk to each other (with kinda make sense to me, because after all, devs and business is still belongs to same human species).

Just because sometimes we, devs and business, misunderstood each others, it doesn’t mean that we should stop talking and start putting barrier and middle-man between user and developers.

And turnouts, this agile things works pretty well. In late 201x, nearly all of us wants to jump into this “Agile bandwagon”

Nowadays, agile is pretty well-accepted in software industry, and lot of companies want to be agile.


But then, lot of devs, who have been taught all these years not to be “so open”, still have those fear imprint to ourselves. In the inside, some devs still being very defensive about what they talk.

So it’s not like that some agile consultant guy can come to our office and says “Hey devs, let’s be agile. Let’s talk more”, and then devs will communicate openly since the day the sentence is spoken, and then we lived happily in harmony ever after.

No, human mind did not work that way.

So, some guy come up with idea of open-space office. Because psychologically, without physical barrier, such as partition or private room, we humans talk to each other more.

Open space office pros: Encourage communication

Why communication is very important?

As a devs, I can tell you that sometimes I ran into situation where I spent 6 hours to figure out something that I can ask my colleague and have it solved by 5 minutes.

But in culture where asking for help is considered “incompetent”, These types of problem will re-occur again and again.

We need to communicate to be productive. But to have a proper communication, people need to feel “safe” to communicate first.

That’s where open office shine, it’s make people feel more safe to communicate.

Imagine the office that all devs have their own private room. I can never feel comfortable run into someone room to ask question 4 times per hour. But if we sitting with each other without any physical barrier, talking to someone 4 times per hour (every 15 minutes) feel pretty common to me.


But then in the last few years, some devs now complain about open space office because it have too many distraction.

Oh….

Yep, sometimes we need quite space to actually be productive, and I completely understand how hard it is to actually get things done when all the distraction are being thrown around.

Open office cons: Distraction

Open office encourage communication, but too much communication can hurt productivity.

We need a right balance amount of communication.


So back to the question. “Is open space office good or bad?”

It depends.

All I can tell you is open-office make people feel more safe to communicate, at the cost of sometimes it’s encourage distraction.

So if you are working on a company where bunch of people don’t want to talk to each other. Meetings must be set to make people communicate in even a tiniest detail,

A: Hey, should this button be red or blue?
B: I don’t want to answer this question in the informal conversation. We should setup a meeting for that.

Then open-office is a way to go.

But then again, if you are working in office where people feel very safe to communicate to each other, to the point that sometimes devs cannot stay in the flow for more than 10 minutes.

Then please, set up some private area for us.

At the end of the days, there are no “best” solution for the problem. You need to monitor your team and your company about how people feel about communication between each other, and adapt your physical environment match the situation.

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