July 12, 2016

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It's Time Development Teams Chose Their Own Working Environments

I'm a great believer in software development teams taking back control. For too long now, the way we work has been dictated by people who aren't software developers. No more so is this evident than in the office environments in which we're expected to work.

Typically, developers have no say in their working environment. After the tyranny of cubicles came the dystopia of open-plan offices.

For the past two decades, open-plan has dominated the scene, inflicting a soul-destroying face-time culture and countless concentration-destroying distractions on developers across the globe.

A quick poll on Twitter suggests that very few of us think open-plan is an appropriate work environment for what we do when it's applied exclusively. More of us would prefer to work in our own office, or from home.

But the vast majority of us would appear to want the right working environment for when it suits what we're doing. Sometimes we want to be a team and collaborate. Sometimes we want to lock ourselves away and think hard. Sometimes we don't want to come into the office at all.

Most of the developers I speak to - and this mirrors my own experience - report getting a lot more work done when the office is empty, or when they're at home on their own. Most people I speak to who pair program find that it works best when the pair aren't distracted by what anyone else is doing. Again, I get many reports of high productivity pairing in their own office, or remotely from home offices.

Some Agile teams report highest productivity when they're all co-located in the same room, but only when there's nobody else working in that room (e.g., they're not stuck in a room with people from accounts or marketing).

What can we make of all of this? Well, it would seem there is no one ideal working environment for software developers. For sure, writing software is a very different occupation to selling, marketing, accounting, and a whole host of other professions. But on the surface, it looks just like office work. Which it is, of course. So it's natural that the Gods of Facilities Management might assume we need a similar kind of working environment.

For example, if you think developers should have their own offices, check out the prices (e.g., a 4m x 4m office for one person costs roughly £4000/year more than a workstation in an open-plan office here in London), do the sums, and make the business knowingly choose to throw money away on false economies like saving space.

A customised working space, with small private offices and bigger collaborative spaces, with better facilities for secure and reliable remote working, doesn't cost as much as maybe some people think. For sure, if they just threw the money they're currently spending in total over the wall and got working software back, would they even care how much was spent on office space?

Again, the problem here is that the decision is in the wrong hands. It's up to us to push back and challenge that assumption. Getting the working environment you need can have a profound effect on your productivity.

Posted 3 years, 11 months ago on July 12, 2016