Open-plan offices are certainly the rage these days among corporations, but how do developers and other tech pros feel about them?
Not good, depending on whom you ask. Cal Newport, a computer-science professor, recounts in a new blog posting how Joel Spolsky, CEO of Stack Overflow, claimed at the GeekWire Summit that developers don’t want to work at Facebook because of its massive open-plan design.
“Developers don’t want to overhear conversations,” Spolsky reportedly said. “That’s ideal for a trading floor, but developers need to concentrate.” Facebook pays a premium for developers, he added, “which is usually a sign that developers don’t want to work there.”
Facebook’s headquarters (glimpsed in the photo above) is considered the largest open-plan office in the world, a seemingly endless expanse of raw space and desks, topped with a nine-acre garden on the roof. While it features enclosed offices for private meetings and nooks where a harried employee can take a breather, Facebook’s solution for noise and distraction seems to be “27-inch monitors for each desk as well as noise-cancelling headphones upon request,” according to Facebook product designer Tanner Christensen, speaking to Inc.
Should developers be given enclosed offices and quiet, instead? Some offices have long adapted for that sort of need: some buildings on Microsoft’s Redmond campus, despite embracing open-plan designs, feature “focus rooms” where someone can grind away at some coding problem for hours with a minimum of distraction. That emphasis on flexible space has been emulated at other firms.
Of course, open-plan offices do have their benefits—if executed correctly. Lots of developers feel that sitting in a single, massive room with colleagues encourages collaboration and teamwork; younger ones who’ve spent their careers at startups have probably never seen the gray expanse of a cubicle farm.
If you’re a startup founder, consider the sort of environment that your developers want to work in, and adjust accordingly. And if you’re a tech pro debating multiple offers, consider whether the office environment is conducive to your working style. If it isn’t, but you still want to take the job, consider asking your future employer whether you can work from home, or if the office can accommodate your need for quiet in some way. It never hurts to ask.