The limit on open offices

(written by lawrence krubner, however indented passages are often quotes). You can contact lawrence at:, or follow me on Twitter.

I like this comment:

That’s the theory of why open plan is good.
In practice it doesn’t pan out that way, because most 5 minute questions don’t save that much time (answer was a 2 minute search away), don’t take that much time (take much longer), and overall cost much more time (due to loss of flow).
Most (if not all) programmers need a state of flow to write quality code. Achieving flow after an interruption can easily take 15 minutes or more. If the environment discourages a state of flow by having frequent brief interruptions, the quality of the code written in that environment will be poor. If you had the ability to collect the right metrics, you’d probably find that bugs disproportionately are written right after an interruption.

My main client has a very small office with 24 people in it. I’ve seen the staff go out into the hallway and stairs to get some privacy for work or phone calls. I just went to the stairwell and I went up one flight and sat there and checked my email on my phone. A computer programmer came out onto the stairs below me, not realizing I was there, she sat down and sighed heavily. She had brought her laptop with her, and she did some work, sitting on the stairs. I have to assume the noise of the office was distracting her, so she preferred the stairs.

Then my friend Rob came out of the door above me, and he laughed and said, “Whoa, man, is this your spot? I don’t mean to interrupt.”

“I was just checking my email,” I said.

“The thing is, I meditate twice a day,” he explained. “I usually do it up there.” He pointed to the stairs above us.

“I was just leaving.”

“You don’t have to leave, but do you mind if I go up there?”

“Not at all. I am leaving.”

I went down the stairs. The woman was still there and of course she now knew that there were two of her fellow workers in the stairwell with her. I went back into the office and she came in just a moment later. I suppose she’d gone to the stairwell hoping for some space and quiet and we’d ruined it for her.

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