Hackernoon logoHere is why the Open Office culture might not work for you team by@marsbergen

Here is why the Open Office culture might not work for you team

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@marsbergenPatrick van Marsbergen

The open office workspace. It’s one of those great benefits in teamwork, they say. But is it really? Lately I see a lot of articles passing by on Twitter discussing the whole open office trend.

As a Software Engineer I’m used to work in an open space with my colleagues. I’ve been working in teams of different sizes and have worked in many different type of office buildings.

In August 2015, Blake Thorne already wrote his article on the IDoneThis blog about that the Open Office trend might not be right for your company. I completely agree with his thoughts that the open office only works in an environment with same-minded co-workers.

One of the open floors at the Facebook HQ

In all my time as an Engineer from intern until today I’ve been working in open spaces with my team. In the beginning of my career this was in an open echoing (old garage) space with a team of about 20 people. Engineers, Support, Sales, Finance, everyone shared the same open space. 
It was a great place, but everytime the phone rang it was a distraction. Which was fine in the beginning, but it distractions increased fast from a couple calls a day to over a hundred!

After a year or two we moved away from the open space to a typical Amsterdam multi-level canal house. This forced us to split up the teams and so we got a dedicated room for the engineers. This was a huge improvement for the focus! No distractions of other departments and people walking by. The room was just quiet and peaceful.

People drawn to development value analytical, systems-based thinking and a calm environment. Put in a vacuum, they will maintain this environment.

In the years after that I’ve been working at several places as an in-house and freelance developer and I can honestly say that the Open Office workspace does work, but with conditions.

Put people with the same role together. Don’t mix your departments or force them to work in the same room. Of course, people will work, but their attention span will be way shorter and less work will get done.

Like Blake stated in his article:

People drawn to development value analytical, systems-based thinking and a calm environment. Put in a vacuum, they will maintain this environment.

It’s us other workers — those pesky sales and marketing types — who screw it up. We couldn’t Fizzbuzz our way out of a death sentence, but we can strike up a conversation with anybody and everybody. Put us all in a room without partitions, and that’s exactly what we’ll do.

These days I’m working for a marketing company (Greenhouse Group) which runs (online) marketing campaigns for bigger companies and I’m working as a Software Engineer for LemonPI, an in-house developed SaaS application which allows Advertisers to run banner-campaigns based on user-context.

Here, at Greenhouse Group, we all work in several open spaces with closed meeting rooms on the department. Until a couple months ago we were working in a separated room where only 2 scrum teams were closely working together. Since we moved to our new floor I’ve noticed that my attention span is way shorter than it was before. Nowadays we’re surrounded by designers, marketeers and business people who pass by to ask us questions, have meetings and talks in meetingsrooms and open spaces.

To be honest, I have to admit that we lost our vacuum and a lot of focus and energy is wasted. For me it’s a good learning point to actually trying to work in a closed office space again (like working in a meeting room for half a day) and block my agenda to focus, although this might be a bit of the world upside-down.

One of the open floors at my current office at Greenhouse Group

Before y’all comment that I have to buy a (noise-cancelling) headset, I want to note that I have/always had a multi-monitor setup and do own/wear a good noise-cancelling headset. Although often this is not enough to keep focus on the day to day work and having to wear a headset all day is not something I prefer.

How is your workspace environment and did you experience any of these issues too? Please share them with me so we can learn and improve our work-life balance!


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