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July 13, 2006

Workplace Advantage Planning

Yesterday we had a meeting to discuss specifics on how they are going to reconfigure Building 21 for the new Workplace Advantage. This is the plan to have people working in flexible space that can be quickly reconfigured into offices, cubicles, open desks, pods, or whatever you want. It's how the new Microsoft buildings are going to be laid out, and they are running pilot projects where the redo existing buildings. The space that Engineering Excellence occupies in Building 21 (most of the second floor) is one of the planned pilots.

The meeting was in the space occupied by the Patterns & Practices team in Building 5. They redid their space into a series of rooms with various desk arrangements, plus some offices on the walls. They also have a lounge area and two "Focus Rooms" which are small rooms with a couple of comfy chairs and a phone. Plus, they have this cool entry hallway with nice wallpaper, their name and slogan in metal letters on the wall, and a long shelf on which they display various books and CDs they have produced. It definitely looks awesome and the reports from Patterns & Practices is that they love it.

Overall it looks way cool and I'm very excited to have them work their magic on our space. The meeting was with an architect (who managed to avoid using the word "recontextualize") as well as someone from Microsoft Facilities (the dispensers of flat-panel display mounts and video projectors). There is already a rough plan of how Building 21 is going to be laid out; we picked the specific area in which the dev EE team will sit and within that we have freedom to basically do what we want. The nice thing is that if we choose smaller desks (which we probably will), then we have more room for common areas and private micro-offices that are for us alone. I'm hoping we can set it up so we can do our daily scrum seated at our desks, all facing a display projected on a wall. There's no doubt that Microsoft is preparing to fork over the heavy spondulicks to make this happen. Plus, as a pilot site, if we don't like our layout after a while, they will redo it for us.

As someone pointed out in the meeting, the real unknown is not so much how we will like the specifics of our layout, but how we will adjust to the general concept of not having private offices. Some issues I can think of include:

  • Private phone calls
  • Socially unacceptable bodily functions
  • How to indicate that you don't want to be interrupted (the equivalent today of closing your door)
  • Noise
  • The possibility that someone nearby can see your monitor at all times
  • Where we put the accretion of Ship-It Awards, Rubik's Cubes, Lego models, conference badges, and other knick-knacks that people have strewn across their offices

So we'll see. The current plan is to break out the reciprocating saws around November, and move in sometime after the beginning of the year.

Posted by AdamBa at July 13, 2006 10:11 PM

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Screw that. I want my own office and I don't want any New Age team-oriented cubicle. If I wanted that, I'd work at Lexis-Nexis or some other corporate beehive with all the other drones.

I want my own office where I can shut the door, think about problems, and write code with no interruptions. Where I can call my girlfriend and not worry about who is listening in. Where I can eat lunch in peace, shut the door, and tell the PMs to go away and work on their spec and not bother me while I fix bugs.

You can take your new wave drone space and shove it. I'll take my own little office any day.

Posted by: FelixTheCat at July 25, 2006 10:42 PM

Sorry, but if MS engineers don't get private offices, I won't be returning any MS recruiters' phone calls. You can't write code in a cubicle that's worth a damn.

Posted by: Some Guy at July 26, 2006 05:03 AM

Does anyone remember the Airstream groups experiment on this in 1999?

Mark Ledsome spent more money that it would cost to put offices in a space where they had curvey walls, cubebes & private spaces. all i remember is people leaving the team in droves (which could have been more related ot the management style...).

Posted by: Funny at July 26, 2006 08:04 AM

Solution to "no door"?

I bought a shoji screen - "that Japanese folding screen thing made of paper and wood". Normally it's folded up by the side of my cube. Working hard on a project? Eating lunch? Pissy mood and really want to be left alone? Unfold the screen

Posted by: Jim at July 26, 2006 09:07 AM

I simply am not able to concentrate when someone behind my back is typing away to glory or talking continuosly on the phone or making some weird swallowing or breathing noises. I am afraid to bring it up with my manager cos i dont want to be called a whiner and plus there's not much he can do about it. I hope they get us more space real quick.

Posted by: KeyboardSoundHater at July 26, 2006 10:32 PM

Remind me, bro, to tell you what I think about going from an office-based to a no-private-office design - at the same company, with no extra conference rooms made available, and while supervising nine people; and with a job that requires long stretches of intense concentration. Not Good.

Posted by: Becky at July 27, 2006 06:22 AM

I work in the new p&p space, and I really like it. Feel free to read this thread over on Joel On Software for my opinions.


It seems that those who hate open spaces are those who have been just thrown into whatever warehouse happened to be open at the time. This is NOT the case with the p&p space. We *chose* to move to open collab spaces. It works for our teams. It may not work for everyone else, but at least we have the opportunity to try.

Posted by: Chris Tavares at July 27, 2006 11:57 AM

I'll be happy with a cubicle the day that the executives move into theirs. Riiiiight....

Sorry - put me in "flexible open space" and I'm out the door (oh, no door...OK, I'm out the, um, space). There are few things the company could do that would motivate me to leave more than this.

Towels, schmowels...

Posted by: bubba at July 27, 2006 02:43 PM

I have always dreamed of joining MS over Google because of the beautiful offices that MS doles out its employees. I hate long table or cubicle work culture. If dicussions are required, then have plush discussion rooms, or even bigger offices so that people can move to each others office to discuss. Very nice! This simply adds more value to the discussions also. Otherwise my lesser skilled colleagues simply blurb out questions that they can figure out for themselves with little effort. They lose their skill to find things for themself. I loose my concentration and patience. And our company looses employee efficiency.

Posted by: Alok at July 30, 2006 02:16 PM

BS. I was contracting in MS and one of the main reasons I decided to become an FT (and accept the big cut in the paycheck) was having my own office.
Ask contractors (the ones who are good at their job) and their biggest complaint is sharing offices.
I will be gone at no time if they get my office. This is one of those stupid decisions to save money which ends up costing much more.

Posted by: Mike at July 30, 2006 07:24 PM

I must admit, I'm an open office person. I've been in both open and closed offices and much prefer the open style - yes, more talking happens, but more decisions get made correctly instead of people just heading in their own direction.

As for people seeing your monitor at all times, what have you got to hide?

Posted by: Andrew Chilton at July 30, 2006 09:25 PM

Alok, it's true that in an open space you are more likely to ask your colleagues for help. Is this a bad thing? It may interrupt you briefly, but if it gets the other person unstuck and saves them hours of delay, overall isn't that a good thing for the company? And I disagree that people lose their will/skill to find things out for themselves, I would posit that Microsoft employees want to be viewed as competent and will quickly try to get up to speed to avoid having to ask others for help all the time.

- adam

Posted by: Adam Barr at July 30, 2006 11:21 PM

Adam -

Joel Spolsky gives a beautiful example in "Joel on Software": programmer A forgot the name of unicode version of strlen. He can look up on the net (30 seconds) or ask programmer B (15 seconds).

If programmer B is in the cubicle next to A, then A will ask; this will cause B to loose concentration at least for 5 minutes (this is because development requires extreme concentration - not only development, PM/test too - to a lesser degree).

If B is in an office a few feet away, with a closed door, then A will only disturb B with questions that really get him stuck - which is exactly what you want to have a productive team.

Posted by: Alex at July 31, 2006 02:03 AM

Alex, that's a pretty contrived example. It's something that is trivially searchable on the net, which many such questions are not (especially if it's an internal product detail). Plus, the numbers are just made up. Maybe it would take 10 seconds to search for and 20 seconds to ask the person in the next cubicle (who might not know anyway). And it assumes that no social pressure has evolved to not interrupt people in situations like this.

But even if Joel had come up with a good example, which is easy to do, the point is not to play the "I can think of one situation where this idea is bad, so the whole idea must be bad" game (although Joel, as a former Microsoft PM, is presumably adept at this game). Nobody is claiming that moving to a more open workspace (which, as I've mentioned elsewhere, is NOT a requirement of Workplace Advantage, just an option that many groups will probably choose) is a panacea which is universally better in every way compared to private offices. The theory is that overall it is better.

- adam

Posted by: Adam Barr at July 31, 2006 08:28 AM

I've been working for some company with open space office. This really sucks. Currently I'm working at home and I'm happy that I can shut the door and code alone.

Posted by: Alex at July 31, 2006 08:44 AM

We moved to an open space office a year ago. There is about 15-20 people in a room.( the reason was that the teams could work in groups ).
I think that all mentioned above in the comments is true. You can get easly disturbed and on the other hand ideas flow more freely.

I was thinking about ask for an office(we have some nice offices with two in a room), becouse I realy can't concentrate on work with all the talking going on around me.

Peter from Slovenija

Posted by: Peter Kuhar at July 31, 2006 11:23 AM

If you aren't doing pair programming, then offices make a heck of a lot of sense. If you are doing pairing a lot, then maybe some other office layout would be better. I'd sure like to give it a try.

Programming solo in cubicles is hell on earth.


Posted by: Kelly at August 1, 2006 05:56 PM

As a member of the patterns & practices team, I have posted my comments on the space at http://blogs.msdn.com/mpuleio/archive/2006/07/26/679669.aspx


Posted by: Michael Puleio at August 1, 2006 07:46 PM

Open workspace? Man, that's the exact hell I'm trying to escape from. See my post a few days ago: http://bdory.blogspot.com/2006/07/noise-noise-noise.html

Posted by: Nguyen at August 2, 2006 12:01 AM