Open office plans suck.

Cubes are only slightly better.

Private offices with doors are best.

In an open office plan or in a cube, I put my headphones on when I want to get real work done. I don’t work optimally with music but I sure as heck work better with music than with hearing other people talking about things that aren’t relevant to me.

If I had a real office with a door that closed and walls that went up to the ceiling, I could close my door when I want to get real work done. Then I won’t need my headphones and I can work optimally. Other conversations will be muffled to the point where I can’t understand any talking I can hear and I won’t get distracted.

The closed door is also a sign. It says, “I’m doing real work now. Don’t bother me unless it’s urgent.” If I’m not doing real work, I’ll leave the door open, feel free to interrupt me.

Non-real work includes answering email, searching the web, or reading blogs related to something I’m interested in. Real work includes writing code, thinking about hard problems, reading technical papers or data sheets, writing important documents, or testing things that might not work correctly. I don’t want to be interrupted when I’m doing real work.

It’s hard to put a price on the ability to do real work with a closed door. Quantifying $X per year of output in order to justify the cost of building real offices with real walls and real doors is difficult. You can’t do a direct comparison with two different people, their abilities won’t match. You can’t stick me in an office for a year, measure my output, then stick me in an open office plan and measure again and produce any kind of reasonable comparison. I won’t be doing the same work (otherwise the second year better be way more productive since I’ve already done it once!).

Real walls and a door can’t cost more than a few thousand dollars. Cube walls will also cost a few thousand dollars, but possibly slightly less. Yes, cube walls are reconfigurable, but how often has anyone actually seen cubes get reconfigured? I’ve seen it once in the past 7 years, and if they hadn’t been reconfigured, no one would have cared (we moved 3 semi-cubes from one end of the office to the other because they matched the furniture over there better).

If you’re planning on rearranging your office, either give everyone real offices with walls and doors or don’t rearrange your office. Save your money. Nothing but offices with walls will be better than what you currently have, so either build real offices or don’t do anything and keep the money in the bank.


28 March 2012