The office space pendulum

Ash Patel, my former boss at Yahoo, told me yesterday that Yahoo’s offices these days feature all open space floor plans. When I worked there 10 years ago, everyone was in a private cube. The pros and cons of open floor plans vs private offices have been discussed at length over the years and big tech companies seem to slowly oscillate between them, once a decade switching from all private to all open and back. The current trend seems to be all open space with noise canceling headphones for the people who want privacy. Open spaces have advantages; they look better, foster more interaction, and they don’t have as much “jockeying for the nice office with the windows” going on. But they are more distracting and don’t work that well for people who need to focus for long periods of time – a private space is really helpful in that case. Ideally, an office would offer both. Open spaces for collaboration/inspiration and private spaces for taking that inspiration and turning it into action. Depending on the job, I think a good balance is about 20% collaboration and 80% heads down execution (I know some people will disagree). At Automattic, we have found a balance with collaboration that happens during in person meetups and in virtual get-togethers (video conferences and chat), and execution that happens in peoples’ home offices. In centralized companies with physical offices I could imagine a similar model where the office serves as collaboration space one or two days per week, and the rest of the time is spent working from home (different teams could use the space on different days to avoid having it sit empty a bunch). This type of office could be really fun to create because it could be 100% focused on collaboration needs, more like a clubhouse or a cafe than a traditional office.

3 replies on “The office space pendulum”

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