Some teams make use of the space better than others, of course, but for my group it's been a huge boon to our collaborative culture. The offices are well-insulated, so you don't need headphones to achieve quiet, but if you want to, you can leave your door open and hear what your teammates are discussing at any time.
Over time we're upgrading our older facilities to the same model, but in general there are few open-plan offices or cube farms in the company, and I highly doubt we're going to build more. Many years ago, our founders made it a company priority to give folks a door they can close, to get away from "it all" and focus.
The door provided effective sound isolation, and years later I realized the window was a psychological link to what was going on in the inner "courtyard", after spending time in a completely closed office at Microsoft. The message at Apple seemed to be "Okay, we know you need to concentrate on work, but remember that you're part of a community" while the office of the particular group I was in at Microsoft seemed to say "Please just sit there and write code and do email -- we will feed you under the door".
Architecture matters in the weirdest ways, and sometimes tiny tweaks make a big difference.
Sounds like heaven
I was thinking it would make sense to have roller doors or some other way to open the entire side of the office (on both sides -- "neighborhood" and "hallway" if the occupant wanted.)
Everyone walking past and around would cause the light streaming in through the gaps to randomly flicker
That would be endlessly distracting for me, personally at least
For those of us with non-ridiculous units, that's 5-6 m².
Small spaces _can_ be amazing :)
Boss was happy for me to work somewhere quiet and the only space we had was an unused meeting room that takes up up half the second floor of our second building.
6 m² = 6 * (m²) != (6 m)²
You know it was considered.
give people both options of isolated, private space, and shared space, and let them move between them as they wish.
Architecture firm's site: http://sca-sd.com/portfolio/viasat-2/
Looks very spacious, not sure if it's feasible in high cost (/ sq ft) offices?
It seems like an exceedingly good answer for teams where "water cooler" collaboration is genuinely important, but so is silent work time.
- tribes claiming spaces: there was a couch area where a natural affinity group formed based on common personality types typical of urban/suburban tribal divide. developed an in-group/out-group mentality. a counter group formed in a lunch area.
- posturing: top tech individual contributor used main boardroom for "really important video conference meetings," and it became his de facto office unless you had it booked.
- tragedy of the commons: with no private space other than common spaces, meeting rooms were booked up with standing meetings so that it became impossible to get one when you needed it.
- Callout/performative drama: challenging people would use the availability of earshot to try to draw others into their conflicts. Callout culture, where instead of addressing issues, people would call out others to demand explanations in front of teams, managers, or in main slack channels.
- lack of personal boundaries: technical managers with low charisma routinely embarrassed in open meetings where everyone felt they could table complaints and make others accountable in front of a group, further wrecking morale as result of perceived weak leadership.
Interior design wouldn't solve all these problems, but the aesthetic of a kindergarten or hipster daycare certainly exacerbated them. I may long form this post into something, as the anti-patterns in that org were an effect of its culture, which was expressed by aesthetics rooted in beliefs that would have benefited from more insight.
Pretty much. Drama finds a way. You can find similar horror stories from any layout.
I mean, I take no particular position on this subject and and not personally a fan of open plans. But there's an important distinction between office combatants using the terrain to their advantage and blaming the war on the geography.
I think drama comes from uncertainty and power vacuums, which I would say are artifacts of the terrain.
EDIT: oh. Are you saying Afghanistan?
While it definitely sounds like the open floor plan was weaponized for this, that is definitely its own problem that can be observed anywhere leadership doesn't specifically root it out.
https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=15725493 Certainly not a productive comment.
A quick scan of that users's history seems to indicate fairly reasonable stuff:
Given a lot of other reasonable posts, (apparently) one low value comment seems to be able to get a user shadowbanned. That strikes me as a bit excessive.
If you've checked the comment history and the comments seem ok I guess you can email the mods to let them know.
I have vouched for perhaps hundreds of shadowbanned comments, is that what you mean? Or vouching for a user directly?
LOL, that's an amazing description.
The tragedy of the commons part, though, looks like a structural problem to me. It's pretty common to want a discussion with 3-5 people for 5-10 minutes. With offices or even cubes, you can just have that in the workspace. With open plan, you either annoy everyone around you or book a conference room, which takes it away from standard users.
I'm not sure what anyone at the peon or even manager level can do about this, except try to keep meetings short or relegate them to slack/email. It really is a design issue.
The more important you were the longer you left conference room doors open after conference started and the louder you slammed the door when you finally got asked to close.
Extra points for speaker phone at absolute max volume.
I'm in an open plan office and people are quite respectful. I'm maybe 95% as productive as I'd be in an office, mostly due to conversations that happen occasionally.
Bet its cheap though.
That's the bottom line.
I can't really find much meaning in "aesthetic of a kindergarten or hipster daycare" though. People tend to fill hipster with an image of all the qualities they dislike in people. It's a modern scapegoat that has wide appeal because everyone thinks the other guy is the hipster. I think in a lot of peoples minds hipster means immature and facile which helps the reader to feel better about themselves as mature, dutiful and more deeply insightful. I'm sure you weren't using it so divisively but imo that is how it works.
What exactly was the space like?
It's AWESOME, but there are caveats. The biggest one is that we can't really hire newbies; everyone we've brought in has to be mid-career at a minimum because the absence of the "water cooler effect" makes it harder to ramp up quickly. Folks with some experience handle this better.
The other drawback is mostly theoretical: I'm really not sure I could go back to working in an office. I control the music, the temp, the food, the coffee, when I take a break, whether or not I take a midday snooze, and my cats are everpresent. I mean, an office sounds like a dystopian hellscape by comparison.
Should I consider myself privileged in this respect?
Where else do we find people? Well, we're all older, so we already had friends from other activities -- political involvement, volunteering for arts orgs, our cycling group, etc.
It's nice to have a private office with a couch and windows in it.
On the whole, I am happier working from home for a variety of reasons, but it definitely hasn't been without it's trade-offs.
Some days I work from the park, or work from a bar until I'm buzzed and need to go home.
Also the monetary value of not having to spend money on daily transportation, don't need a huge clothing allowance so you have something decent to wear every day so you don't look like a slob, don't have to waste money on food if your employer doesn't feed you and don't have to waste time preparing meals if you don't want to eat out.
If you need that much socializing time you probably don't have enough work to do, or need a hug.
However, if you don't want to pay for one, then the library and coffee shops are alternatives. Sure most people come and go, but after staying at a spot for a while, you will notice who come more regularly.
I support the "craft" of Software; which requires an equal distribution of Apprentice, Journeyman (Journeyperson) and Master level people.
But it's difficult to "pass on" the craft to an Apprentice who is remote, so our team tends to be all mid-career folks.
The company would pay for coffee/food if it's a coffee shop, space/food if it's a co-working space, etc.
A) Try to learn this by doing, which usually involved being very frustrated, taking 3x as long, and writing really quite poor-quality code. I only had the cognitive space to think about making the bare minimum change to accomplish the immediate goal, so I couldn't practice the habit of "do a small refactor to make the change easy, then make the easy change."
B) Ask for good tutorial documentation on the subject matter, which might not exist, especially if the code lives outside of a popular framework.
C) Ask differently-phrased questions that led me to get feedback from a previous employer that I was "trying to understand the universe", which led me to focus on strategy A.
Knowing that I can get walkthroughs, especially of business logic or code that lives outside a framework, is really hugely impactful. (side note: if you've wondered why people reach for frameworks while you think they are overcomplicated, this one reason why)
There's probably a whole blog post I would write with the goal of expanding a new-project-joiner's vocabulary of questions that is socially reasonable to ask.
It really is an essential must have skill for remote workers.
The ability to communicate visually and exhibit spatial intelligence through sharing screenshots and diagrams also goes a long way to being successful remotely.
An open office has the benefit of whiteboards and pen/paper to do visual knowledge transfer.
Any face-to-face setting really.
I'm not sure why we haven't done a better job of cracking the "like a whiteboard (or flipchart or whatever) but for people who aren't in the same room" thing. I know it's partly a surface area thing but you'd think we could do better when it's such an obvious, at least to me, missing piece in remote interactions.
You'd need something with the intuitiveness of MS Paint, which is hard. MS Paint's intuitive program model is world class.
I'd be interested in counterpoints but I'm inclined to agree. I'm mostly remote now though I have an office I can go into. However, while it's true that communication systems are much different than earlier in my career, it's hard for me to imagine the first ten years or so of my career after grad school working remotely. For all sorts of reasons, including social ones.
In the first case, I was the only remote employee in my business unit. I was hired because I had a high level of competency with a technology they were investing heavily in. When I first interviewed, they told me that the were only considering on-site, and that my rate was too high. So, they first hired an on-site employee at a lower rate, but he failed to deliver a working installation and the project got perilously behind schedule. When I re-approached them about two months later they were no longer hung up on my rate or request to work remote. It's worth noting that I took a gamble here and put in about 6 or 8 hours interview and follow-up process, after being told that remote was not an option, and then being given the initial "no". During the project, I did stop by their Silicon Valley campus for a few hours of meetings every month or two, which was probably 1% or less of my total billable hours.
In my current engagement, my entire team is remote, so it was a non-issue. The gig was secured for me by a recruiter who had previously contacted me about an on-site position, and I told her I was only considering remote (and followed up periodically).
Both of these positions had multiple technical screens which were very rigorous. Both resulted from initial contacts where I was given at least one "no". You can have a private office at any company if you negotiate for remote and set yourself up with the office you like (e.g. home, co-working, etc.)
I seem to remember Dilbert explaining this as a way to ensure employees felt more like company-owned sacks of potatoes than actual humans. Hot-desking really does seem like one of the most dehumanizing office designs I can think of.
I know the supposed benefits of open offices, but I'm not even sure what hot-desking claims to achieve? Except in call centers I guess, where it's explicitly "to speed up firing people".
For permanent non-traveling roles, I don't immediately see the advantage though.
It's mostly for environments in which the company's short on space and a lot of employees don't routinely come into the office. Hot desking eliminates permanently provisioning office space that may be only used for one day in five or ten.
If that's not the problem being solved, I'm not sure what is. Now no one knows where anyone is sitting and teams are at least theoretically all scattered around.
In call centers, there's another reason: if the company gets big enough, they may have more employees than desks. Since call centers work on shifts, not everyone is going to be in the office at the same time, and so they just lay down a policy of "nobody has their own desk".
My current spot is particularly bad because they have us jammed up 5' away from 4 conference rooms with thin glass walls so we get to hear loud conference calls every day all day long.
Edit: to too two? I can English
> Best case, someone talking to themself hour after hour, as if anyone wants to hear that.
The person who is speaking usually needs to hear it. Sorry, I talk to myself every so often. :)
Oh I agree, dedicated offices are superior to headphones - hence writing 'in an open office'. I'm merely pointing out that privacy should be the same in SRE/DevOps vs devops.
I'm not particularly concerned with downvotes, I've been on HN a decade and am happy to lose karma while making an accurate point.
Since you're new, you should probably read the HN guidelines regarding the types of things to avoid.
No thanks, 8 hours/day with headphones on is already giving hearing problems. I'm done with that.
I've tried all manner of earplug/headphone/earmuff combinations, and nothing works except not having loud people around.
Sun Microsystems, Inc., had offices. More junior engineers would share offices, with two or three engineers per office, while more senior engineers would have private offices. Seniority also dictated office location (think of having windows vs. not). This worked very well. It's not that expensive either (it's certainly not why Sun died).
I don't quite understand why there are no 44KHz noise-canceling headphones on the market...
I made my space a relaxing place for myself with a chaise and fake tree and wood grained wallpaper. Super peaceful.
Even if you have offices, people would still barge in, cutting into your uninterrupted time. Funny enough, in the open-plan at Google, where I am currently, I get far fewer walk-up interruptions. It's always good to ping people on chat so they can respond async.
I just started at a large corporation three years ago and they spent millions going to an elaborate open office plan which was similar to what others have referred to as "neighborhoods". At first it was called "hoteling" where we just had a ton of desks with monitors and a dock so you didn't have a set place or cube to work.
After about six months, teams had taken over areas without telling anybody, they pushed other teams out to other areas. Then they shifted a ton more people to our building so now space was even more limited. They started moving desks into common areas meant for collaboration where people met and ate lunch in order to handle in the influx of new people. People started "squatting" on their desks, putting personal pics and their mouse and other stuff to claim their desks so nobody would/could sit there. This clearly was not what the architect/designer had in mind. I quickly got to the point where I was so frustrated, I just tapped out and now I work from home almost 100% of the time.
It's funny how they had this great idea and it was totally ruined by standard human behavior.
Our brain is wired for habits. We form them to ease our cognitive burden, it's a built in mechanism. You don't have to think about reversing out your driveway because of habits, brushing your teeth, checking your email, etc.
People don't want to hunt for a desk every morning because it is fundamentally incompatible with how our brain works, not because they're being difficult. So they adopt a desk. And then someone takes 'their' desk, which is a burden, a bit of thinking they shouldn't be doing. So they naturally mark out 'their' desk.
So in reality, it's a stupid idea because of the way the human mind works. Might as well rage at the tides.
It's funny that a business as reactionary as the education system seems to have learned this lesson but tech companies haven't.
Later I found similar setting during interview at Viavi Solutions. All other bigger enterprises had open space offices. Some with cubicles, some with glas walls and some with tables only.
Open-plan offices are absolutely maddening, I get pulled out of my thoughts constantly, and there's no effective way to shut it out. Earplugs aren't enough, and with headphones I would have to play music so loudly it would be annoying my colleagues, just in order to cut out the constant noise. We have so-called "focus rooms", but 1) there are far too few of them, and 2) they're supposed to only be used for short phone meetings and such.
I raise this with my manager every time we have a "pit talk", as they're now called. But there is seemingly nothing he can do.
Furthermore, administrative controls (headphones) for what is actually a safety and health problem (excess noise) are the solution of last resort from a health and safety perspective. A good health and safety person would advise structural mitigation, not forcing everyone to put on personal protective equipment (headphones.)
When open plan offices can regularly burst up to 95 dB (yes, I took in a meter and measured the last one I was in) and are often 65 dB when they are "quiet", noise is absolutely a health and safety issue. Constant noise, even if not immediately damaging to hearing, can cause increased stress and other physiological issues.
I've also tried earphones with music, but I can't work like that for long, I just start listening to the music instead. I need peace and quiet.
And of course there's the issue of visual noise as well.
I split one in two and use them that way, I've gotten to work with them in before without noticing, maybe worth a shot.
I bought a box of 100 pairs of Bilsom 303 plugs a couple of years ago, for motorcycling. The whole box was $40.
They are very ineffective against voices! Passive insulating headphones are much better.
I think the awful smells I can't escape are worse than the noise at this point.
Yes there is a big glass/sliding door but from what I have seen when closing the door it is quite soundproof (unlike some small conference room). And they provide inside each section different zone with huge whiteboard and sofa/chairs to help facilitate brainstorming/discussion, even each area has its own Apple TV to project on a huge screen through AirPlay.
So overall it is quite good from what I was able to see for the few hours I was there. Folks working there like it.
So everyone at the table has to have identical ergonomics?
If I had to sit on bench seating all day I'd probably quit after a week.
Nobody is spending their work day on benches; that’s a fact.
I’d quit too if I had to work from a bench all day!
Apparentlhy not, if you've ever used their new keyboards and touch bars on the premium laptops, or their awful, awful magic mouse.
My brain can't handle feeling sound pressure on my ears from the ANC, but not hearing the noise because the ANC canceled it out. It gives me a really wicked headache.
I have to have something playing all the time I'm wearing the headphones, which is a problem because that can be a distraction in and of itself.
Now I wish my work wouldn't suck so I could actually use all the focus I get this way :)
The headphones muffle outside noise to some degree and add music to drown out what they can't muffle. The earplugs create an end result of just muffled music, which is basically white noise if you pick the right type of songs.
The only downside is that earplugs can get uncomfortable after a long period of wearing them.
I use some Sennheiser PXC450 over-the-ear NC headphones; they work pretty well for noise cancelling and provide decent noise isolation too.
Link to the DT 770 Pro: https://north-america.beyerdynamic.com/catalog/product/view/...
Link to the DT 770 M: https://latin-america.beyerdynamic.com/dt-770-m.html
These are headphones for drummers, sound engineers and studios, so they sound good / great and are very comfortable.
Maybe they work better for you.
I had a pair of QC25s and while they were nice, they did the worst at blocking out the noise I most wanted to block out.
At least they are eating their own dogfood. I have had several occasions where I was belittled when I complained about noise and lack of daylight by our managers who have private offices with windows.
Something like: We don't care about the message it sends that "concentration workers" are prevented from working by the very architecture of the office yet we support "distraction workers". I guess "concentration workers" are a lower caste at that company and they find it amusing to enforce that value judgement.
It is exactly like making certain races sit in the back of the bus. No matter how many times you claim it doesn't matter or everyone does it and its really trendy, the people subjected to it none the less understand exactly what message it is sending and are insulted. The point of open offices is literally insulting knowledge workers and not caring that they know their noses are being rubbed in it. Sort of an adult version of revenge of the nerds pranks and bullying.
The first time I got moved from an office to an open plan it felt like exactly what it was: a severe demotion. I was being told that I didn't rate an office or even a cube and the ability to concentrate without being interrupted like a low level clerical worker.
I work in healthcare now and share a "large" office with 3 other developers. It feels tight at times, but I still prefer it to the hot-seat style open office that was our other choice.
At the same time open floor offices cause a lot of trouble to people in non-exception situations.
2) Open offices look way better in photos/concepts -- so they'll get chosen over a boring all-offices layout
3) Much easier to reconfigure -- this is why a lot of startups or those in high-growth periods end up in them, even if they'd prefer offices. Even cubicles require some professional reconfiguring, but anything requiring permitted construction is a big deal.
But you can't factor that in a spreadsheet, right?
So many companies are full of upper management who think as engineering output the way one would run a chair manufacturing firm. Too many people think everything there is in a chair has been made, and the only scope left now is a little innovation here and there. All they have to do is get people to saw, hammer and glue as quickly as they can.
You can have an appealing environment to work in for 5-15 and within the same space scale that up all the way to an 80 person battery farm office without spending any more money.
Three guys in a 6x6 cubicle is much quieter and more productive than an open office, but it arguably takes up less space than all but the most extreme density open offices. Another analogy is if you insist on packing people in like crowded picnic tables or middle school lunchroom tables, merely spending an inch to put up walls isn't going to impact seating arrangements.
I don't think founders think the geeks wellbeing is ever a criteria to choose a floor plan. Money, space and ability to check on your team mates are the first points.
The idiot that interviewed me was proud of the environment. Fortunately they didn't accept me so I didn't need to make excuses to the recruiter.
I always wonder why people don't split the difference, chop up the big company office into 5-10 person mini open plan offices.
Also, I doubt that Basecamp (formerly named 37signals) has open floor plans.
The standard room is 3 people in 6x6m space, which is actually way too much for just our desks, but we have collaboration tables in the middle of each room where we can put laptops or paperwork when discussing things - plus tons of whiteboard space.
But it's not for everybody.
- being able to motivate yourself;
- being disciplined;
- being autonomous;
- being capable to communicate efficiently asynchronously, with time and space constrains on limiting medium;
- accepting less social time;
- juggling private and pro time/space. Which includes your friends and family. My GF still hasn't get used to the fact that when I'm home working, she should consider I'm not home. It makes things harder.
Honestly, you should never, on hiring, accept remote work right away. First, assess the person on site on all those points for a few months, then make a short test of remote, then decide. And don't be afraid to say no.
I know more devs that are not fit for remote that devs that are, despite most of them stating the contrary. Particularly, a lot of my colleagues can quickly work on a non priority topic if left unchecked, just because they don't have the client as a priority, but the tech. You can loose a lot of time to this.
But I believe the real cause is not some personal defficiency but the shitty corporte/factory type of work where politics is a huge part of day to day job, where nobody really wants others to do meaningful, deep work, nobody wants to commit and give clear answers and offer personal responsibility.
That's why devs need to communicate(read interrupt) so much in person with each others; add in "agile" which in 99% of the cases means nobody really knows or is imaginative enough to know how things should progress, what the requirements are, what resources should be available before the project starts.
But the reality is it's not.
We have a lot of shitty things to do, and bosses are part of the machine to make you do those things. Remote bosses have less grip on you.
And I'm lucky enough to like my job. I feel like I have 10x more interesting things to do in my day to day activity that the average Joe. But a lot - a lot of a lot - of people don't.
You're both dead on with your points. Going remote removed a large part of the nonsense from the job. Also agree that it's best for both employer and employee to always start in the office. I like that personal connection, even if I'm socially awkward.
Your employer will pay for office space, but when you're working remotely, you're providing the office space.
Since our living space is normally underutilized when we're at work, it's a fairly low cost to you, but as your remarks indicate, it's not 0 either.
> being capable to communicate efficiently asynchronously
Have you mentored anyone remotely?
And I'm curious how you think it affects your opportunities for promotion.
Everybody was excited as we could finally afford cubes.
If you need to do more creative thinking, it is better to have a high ceiling, the higher the better (think cathedrals), though there must be a ceiling at some point.
One size fits all decrees like this are almost always baloney.
When space got tight, they removed most of the interior partitioning and furniture in the six-packs and crammed more people in. The most I ever saw was ten people stuffed into a six-pack in the building's interior (no windows, ugh), and let's just say that the ventilation was not up to the task of servicing ten bodies and many computers and game consoles. Towards the end of a crunch-time it got pretty ripe.
Facilities never budgets enough power. I think the planners assume "Excel" workers with a desktop computer and a phone, and ("yeah, yeah, okay") grudgingly double that number for engineers, while the actual engineers have a black market going in sufficient power strips to run all the hardware they need. Facilities ran additional power several times while I was working there, and this was just a software group . . .
Give me a conservative cube farm over a hipster open office any day.
I spent two years in a "tech company" after that, which had a cubicle setup, and I totally hated it.
I'm back in academia now with my own office, which is pretty sweet. "Non-office" setups are probably a dealbreaker for me at this point.
At our startup, Delibr, we try to combine these conditions with personal preferences. We are 6 people and 3 of us have our own rooms.
It's hard - every study of individuals shows they are significantly less productive in an open office environment.
But what second order effects are there?
You might be less productive individually but it might encourage team work and make the team as a whole more effective.
Team room is not an open office. Open office is a place where a number of teams congregate.
And open offices generally seem to hurt even team work, so the only thing speaking for an open office is that it's cheaper. Any other 'advantages' are just marketing by consultants whose business is to develop open offices and site managers (or the corresponding financially responsible party) who want to save on their budget.
If you are employing fairly expensive software engineers I'm not sure you should implement savings on a less expensive resource that will just devalue the output from your expensive resource.
Knowledge workers like devs (mostly) measure productivity by things getting done. Usually things getting done involves one individual passing unit tests and committing the corresponding working code, not turning every minor issue into a massive teambuilding exercise of endless talking and no doing. This kind of productivity is minimized in an open office.
Its a classic talk about it vs do something about it argument. Both extremes are pretty bad, unfortunately at this moment in the industry we're at one extreme swing of the pendulum.
If an open office plan helps a team develop a more on-target product, even if that happens a bit slower, it could still be a win.
Just like how in Mountain View some Googlers live in the parking lot. It's not cause they think parking lots are hip, space is expensive.
In a high rent market like SF, a programmer's salary plus benefits and employer taxes (loaded labor) is about $200K. Open plans have an anywhere from 25% to 50% productivity hit from increased distractions and sick time (sorry, I can't look up the studies right now.) So while you might save $30K/year/dev going from offices to open plan in an expensive market, you will lose $50K/year/dev in productivity. Since those come from different budget buckets, and management never really sees the productivity hit, management thinks they've saved money and convinced people that open plan is "hip", "open" and "collaborative", when in reality most people are unproductive, stressed, unhappy and now despise their noisy, smelly and messy coworkers.
Open plan anything makes me nostalgic for the smallest cubicle I ever had (4ft x 5ft). Give me walls, even if they are short.
I legitimately don't know how it is.
My current employer was founded in the 80s and still uses cubicles.
At Applied Security Inc. in Reston Virginia, most people have individual offices; there are, at most, two or three people per office.
> How is this acceptable?
Because it's totally fine. If you can't work with another human nearby you might want to get over yourself and think about what you're doing with your life.
Easier communication is certainly a benefit but I'm not sure if it outweighs the loss in productivity, especially for people that don't constantly have to talk to others to do their job.
Besides that part, there's plenty of roles where you can negotiate time to work from elsewhere on the odd occasion. At that point it becomes a time management excercise that's mostly not too difficult to solve.
Oh, and take these types of situations into account when discussing your KPIs, if they affect them. Always have KPIs because they're not just there to help your employer - they're also your leverage in negotiations. You did better than your initial goal because of [X], but you can also be worse than your goal because of [Y]. This means [Y] needs to be adjusted. Or your KPIs.
People who suggest noise cancelling headphones to fix this are childish and immature. The employee has no moral obligation whatsoever to adapt to a working space that is not suited to the work at hand.
Putting expensive software engineers into an open office is wasting a resource that has huge running costs to save on a resource with less running costs. Although, I understand some places the cost of office space actually is quite high, and I realize in these cases the tradeoff has merits.
The problem with this is that management in other locations start to ape this inane concept even though their office space costs are considerably lower.
So, sure, if it costs an arm and a leg to have office space then just maybe an open office has merit financially.
I have nothing against shared rooms that are actually separated with walls as long as they are not used for hotdesking. Those don't have the same disturbance dynamics as an actual open office and I enjoy them the most of all the combination of work spaces I've been in 12 years as a software engineer.
"oh there's bob, does bob want to say hi or is he busy? he looks stressed probably dont want to interrupt him, should i say hi? nah well he's talking to fred now so i'll go back to fixing this unit test i guess...now where was i? oh look there's gary, i probably should say hi, (he's also a manager), does he want to talk about issue X if i interrupt him", nah it will probably piss him off without a meeting and a heads up, plus i'll look like a noob,
ok back to the code again..."
x 200 times per day.
The most disturbing frequency band (on cognitive tasks) is probably the middle frequency, especially when the noise has "information" (language, tones, signals); but on a physiological level (directly affecting health (CNS function), performance and well-being it is the LOW frequencies that, albeit not cognitively disturbing at first, will have the greatest effect on a long-term perspective.
Headphones/noise cancelling headphones are good a fixing problems in the mid/mid-high range but perform poorly in the low frequency range.
My suggestion is this: your health comes first, no matter what. If you develop a noise-related disorder, you will under-perform and eventually get fired. I would do two things: use an app like SPLnFFT to document the noise level. Use a spectral analyzer to find out where the noise peaks are. ... then get proper in-ear hearing protection from an audiologist (comes in skin-colored, looks like an hearing aid). No-one can blame you for investing in your health to maintain your ability to perform, right?
Literature: http://www.noiseandhealth.org/text.asp?2001/4/13/33/31803 (K.P. Waye. Low frequency noise pollution interferes with performance)
Do you have a good recommendation for a recording dB meter and recording app suitable for graphing noise levels over a daylong period? Such a thing would be useful in proving the noise load of a busy open office and allow it to be compared to OSHA standards.
It's a recent Sony top-model, which from reviews seems to be on the top together with Bose regarding NC technology at the moment.
When they are on, but not playing music, I can still hear loud voices but it’s significantly dampened (like in the room next door).
With music playing, at a relatively low volume, I can’t hear anyone - unless someone is shouting right next to me.
They're great for airplanes, trains, and low-frequency background noise, but for a crowded office where people are having chats and telcos, I'd rather use Shure in-ear monitors.
This was only slightly paraphrased from written policy at a former workplace.
You have to show some political savvy; wearing headphones in a open office is exactly like being noticed playing games on your phone or sleeping while the CEO speaks at gathering, or making a big production of refusing to answer phone calls or questions from certain coworkers.
There's a critical distinction of scale; if "they" don't want you working and prefer talking and distraction to the level that they bake it into the physical architecture of the office, that's really bad for the company on a large scale, but on a small scale trying civil disobedience by wearing headphones will just get you fired. Personally on the downside you're better off crashing the company than getting fired and on the upside the people responsible for the large scale operation of the company probably have quiet private offices anyway and aren't going to reward you for fixing the company anyway even if by some miracle you did it.
Open offices are literally in the most straightforward sense a declaration the company has no idea what its doing so talking about it is a good first step. Cutting yourself off from that with headphones means they may as well not pay you.
Civil disobedience in this case has no positive outcome; ditch the headphones.
A constant background noise is unpleasant but not so distracting - and it gets filtered out.
Sudden voices are way more distracting and they don't get filtered out. On the contrary, they stand out even more once machine noises are filtered out.
On the thinking about what they are doing with their life comment, not necessary and what they seem to be doing with their life is finding a better place to work. Seems pretty productive to me.