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Office Space: TV Documentary Looks At the Dreadful Open Office 314

sandbagger writes "The CBC (it's like PBS only without the begging) is broadcasting a documentary about the open plan office this evening. You can hear a radio interview about the documentary here. In this documentary, the history of the open office is looked at, how it has evolved, and how the justifications for it being best for everyone else are used by those with offices. Advocates say fewer doors and walls means more collaboration. Critics say it's all driven by bottom line economics--crowding more people into smaller spaces saves money. Is it just me or do the people who want you to work in open offices sound like the nobility in Downton Abbey?"
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Office Space: TV Documentary Looks At the Dreadful Open Office

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  • by Marxist Hacker 42 ( 638312 ) * <> on Thursday January 23, 2014 @12:21PM (#46046803) Homepage Journal

    I'm still in cubicle land- and the ONLY time I can get anything productive done, is between 6-8am. After that, there is just way too much noise. Even headphones don't really help.

  • by drew_eckhardt ( 30709 ) on Thursday January 23, 2014 @08:23PM (#46052317) Homepage

    The problems are noise and interrupts. For simple problems less communication is better because minutes lost by an engineer using Google instead of his friend make a smaller impact than the fifteen minutes of context switch overhead which can result for the person interrupted. When more communication is needed people can always grab a conference room.

    IIRC IBM's Santa Tersa Laboratory - Architectural design for program development lists a 40% throughput delta for engineers in quiet spaces provided by enclosed offices or with partitions at least six feet high.

    With fully burdened per-engineer costs that can break $200K per annum open offices can waste at least $58K (I don't recall if the comparison was stated as 140% for the good performers implying you get $142.9K of work for $200K from slow ones or slow movers loose 40% of their throughput and don't do $80K worth of work) per engineer per year and cost more than closed offices.

    _Peopleware Productive Projects and Teams_ by Demarco and Lister provides some anecdotes and hard numbers in chapters 8 "You never get anything done around here between 9 and 5" and 9 "Saving money on space."

    Comparing coding wargames participants who performed in the first and fourth quartiles

    57% versus 29% have "acceptably quiet" space
    62% versus 19% have "acceptably private" space
    38% versus 76% do not have "people often interrupt them needlessly"

    Median time to complete the programming tasks was 2.1 times the best and bottom half as a whole 1.9 times the top half.

    Participants with acceptably quiet spaces were also one third more likely
    to produce zero defect work.

Think of it! With VLSI we can pack 100 ENIACs in 1 sq. cm.!