Open-Plan Workspaces: Getting Cozy with your Coworkers

Some tech companies are blasting cubicle and office walls, installing software developers and other workers into open-plan workspaces in a bid to increase communication and collaboration. But while open-plan workspaces certainly lead to more conversation, not everyone agrees that they’ll lead to greater productivity overall.

Oracle developer Puneet reports on an open-plan experiment at Oracle happening in one of Oracle’s headquarters buildings in Redwood Shores. Puneet has moved to Building 300’s renovated 16th floor, where 24 developers are sitting bullpen-style in blocks of four people, each block surrounded by a short wall. “The main driving factor for this experiment is to see if this results in an increase in the level of communication within the team,” says Puneet.

As Puneet points out, Google prefers an open layout for its workers, putting them in shared four or eight-person offices or large shared cubes of four people each. One Google employee told me “it’s really easy to be distracted” in a large open plan with many people but says there are many common areas he can escape to.

A Googler turned Microsoftie says, “Google doesn’t seem to think that private offices are valuable for technical staff. They’re wrong.” Joel Spolsky, head of Fog Creek Software, agrees: “Open space is fun but not productive,” noting how a conversation between two people can distract a bunch more, whereas more private workspaces keep distraction from spreading to all people in the space.

What do you think? Do you prefer a private office or shared workspace? Or would you prefer to escape the office setting entirely and work from home or café?

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