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Quiet working conditions, productivity  - correlation?

Can anyone point to some tangible research or articles that talk about the increase in developer productivity that can be gained through the introduction of quiet working conditions?

It's wild in here this afternoon...

There are 9 people within my immediate vicinity, 4 of them have been on the phone for the last half hour, 2 others are talking crap and ripping some huge cardboard boxes open. Printers are whirring, people are walking in and out slamming doors.

Haven't been able to concentrate on anything all afternoon.

Productivity: 10%
redeye Send private email
Tuesday, February 14, 2006
Too loud makes it difficult for me to work, but too quiet can almost be worse.  Often it gets like a library in my office, where any slight noise can be heard....that's REALLY distracting, I need some background noise to help me concentrate.  In both situations, noise cancelling headphones  with music playing do wonders.
Phil Send private email
Tuesday, February 14, 2006
I'm the same way, too loud obviously is bad, but too quiet is just as distracting for me.  I do best when I either have an open window to get some fresh air and normal outdoor sounds, or if it's too cold putting on some classical or jazz helps.  I can't do anything if there are lyrics.

Ideally I find that I get the most work done when I'm in a semi-crowded coffee shop.  It forces me to get work done because I don't have the temptations of TV and video games, but at the same time it's more comfortable than the library.
Larry Send private email
Tuesday, February 14, 2006
This is addressed in "Peopleware - productive projects and teams" by DeMarco and Lister.  They refer to studies about the effect of noise to productivity. Unfortunately I don't have the book with me at the moment.

A good read anyway.
-L Send private email
Tuesday, February 14, 2006
I think you're going to have to get some Bose Quiet Comfort headphones.

I had my current pair for 5 years and they've only just broken this morning.

They screen some of the noise out, some of the time. On the other hand, you have only nine people in the room with you. I have at least 40, all of whom have jobs that require them to talk on the phone all day, every day. One of whom sits only 4 feet away from me, another of whom sits 8 feet away from me and has a very, very loud voice and a tendency to monologue.

In light of which, screening out some of the noise, some of the time is impressive. I've put a rush on my order for a replacement set. In the meantime, would somebody please pass the Valium?
Fernanda Stickpot
Tuesday, February 14, 2006
I notice that the temperature in the room has a remarkable impact on my performance. I'm sitting next to a window, so I get fresh air if it's opened.

If it's cold I can think very well but if I get cold hands typing is very uncomfortable.

If it's warm I'm unfocussed and I get distracted easily.

Finding the right temperature can be pretty hard sometimes, so I wonder if anybody else feels that the room temperature and or fresh air makes a noticable difference.
Tuesday, February 14, 2006
+1 Peopleware.

I have it *literally* within arm's reach along with a handful of other strategy/project management books.
KC Send private email
Tuesday, February 14, 2006
Not to bad where I work. I am in a room with about 8 other people and there is always the noise of people talking, but its not too much of a problem, as we all stick our headphones on when we get it and don't take them off until we go home, or unless we have meetings or need to discuss stuff with other people obviously :-)

Some of the artists in the other room get a little rowdy sometimes, but we just beat them wirh sticks until they quiten down. ;-)

Steve Haunts Send private email
Tuesday, February 14, 2006
There is not a lot of research on the topic.  "Peopleware" seems to be about the best [I work on a lab where one engineer has a computer with a loud fan.  I have at least got him to turn it off when he isn't using it.  He just turned it off and it is much nicer in here now.  Still room for improvement, but better than it was a minute ago.] reference on the subject.

Here is a link to a collection of links on the subject of office space with follow up discussion: the discussion covers more than just noise.  And here is a link to a report on effects of noise in the classroom: not quite the same issue but shows the problems of noise.
argon Send private email
Tuesday, February 14, 2006
Headphones and ear plugs.

I have two cube neighbors with extra-loud voices.  Maybe they have deaf partners at home; we've asked them to tone it down and nothing works.  I keep industrial-grade headphones at my desk, and I always carry 33db earplugs in my purse.

Noise is like spelling--it's either neutral or negative, and the people who don't notice it are not capable of recognizing what a difference it makes to those of us who do.

Now, if I could only find noise-cancelling speakers so I could run a chainsaw during a church service...
Silence is golden Send private email
Tuesday, February 14, 2006
This topic comes up now and again...

Here are some other studies:

When I first got out of university, I was employed by EDS. In that day, they sent you to 10 weeks of coding boot camp.  The camp was a filter.  If you failed any assignments, you lost your job.  While they claimed it was training, IMHO they were looking for people who could code in "adverse" conditions.  So for seven days a week we were filtered.  We went to class from 8 am to 5 pm.  We were then given assignments that usually required six or so hours to complete if you were good.  A great many spent many a night with a couple of hours sleep.  In the end those of us who made it (attrition was about 60 to 80 percent), knew we could code about anywhere.  Later when I became a consultant, I found you find you are often placed under the air conditioning vent, or next to the restroom, or across from the break room.  The ability to focus on the task at hand is very beneficial.

But should we have to endure the noisy neighbor or chattering air conditioning vent? 

That is a philosophical question. In the end, temperature, noise, humidity, and air quality all affect productivity.  How much varies by individual, which creates an interesting conundrum - do you fix the environment or hire people the environment does not bother?  When you consider most places employ cubicle farms, the choice to move all of those people to offices is not cheap - nor likely to happen.  So how much is your productivity impacted?  Peopleware claims that the average person, once interrupted will lose 15 minutes of productivity.  So do we ban phones? Email? IM?  Do we prevent you from conversing unless you schedule a meeting?  All of these (at 15 minutes per incident) are far more easy to quantify than the benefit of an office door.

I wish the news were better, but in this day and age when most developers are considered an expense, that is the road you will be fighting.  If you do manage to pull it off, let us know how. 

Good luck.
Tuesday, February 14, 2006
Here is one more: where Jack Ganssle discusses his experience trying to convince management of the benefit of quiet office space only to be told that the company will build cubicle space because it is more "flexible".  That is, they are built for the convenience of the people providing the space.  The usefulness for people working there is not a consideration.

Keep in mind that you do not have much chance of improving the situation at your current employer.  There are a few, very few, employers who provide a good work space for developers.  They are hard to find, but worth the effort if you do.  If a company provides a good workspace it is generally an indication of an overall commitment to quality.
argon Send private email
Tuesday, February 14, 2006
From my past experience, I can say that there's a very strong correlation between a quiet working environment and productivity.

I used to work at a company where everyone was contantly bothering us throughout the day. I couldn't get any of my work done, so I came in at 6am, and by 10am I already had most of my work done for the day. What helped was that my group's office was at one end of the building and most people didn't show up until 10am.

I would prefer an office where I can just close the door and put a "do not disturb or you will die a slow painful death" sign on it...
QADude Send private email
Tuesday, February 14, 2006
Depends on how you learned to concentrate.

I grew up studying at the kitchen table with pots clanging and women chattering (yes, they were women). A little external stimulation gets the juices flowing for me.

By the time my younger brother came along, our parents were richer and were able to afford private rooms for the kids. He studied in the quiet and today needs it to be so to do any concentration.

The lesson for employers is: if you have an open office plan, hire the (other-things-being-equal) immigrants. :)
nananon Send private email
Tuesday, February 14, 2006
You need a quiet area...plain and simple!! However, some have pointed out that some noise is BETTER then NOT being interruptions. Interruptions are the real issue

It is very common to see those old TV shows with the busy newsroom. Zillions of desks…and zillions of phones..and lots of noise. It turns out that a good many people can do their homework, or write software in a noisy environment. Apparently, newspaper writers can also write their columns in a noisy environment too.

I often see people reading, or doing home work in a coffee shop.

So, you can work..but I think it really comes down to the “level” of work. Design work is far more difficult in a noisy environment (at least for me).  Once I figured out how to do it..then I can write code with some noise.

As a few mentioned peopleware, they found that production was actually the same in the noisy vs the quiet environment. However, the big wow discovery was that the problem given to the groups actually produced the same output as the inputs. The quiet group by a factor of 2 to 1 figured this out. So, if you want those create ah-ha moments to occur, then apparently you need to turn off the music…and be in a quiet area for those “special” ah ha creative stuff to occur (those break throughs). If a company values those extra creative moments of people, then they need to provide quite areas.

Albert D. Kallal
Edmonton, Alberta Canada
Albert D. Kallal Send private email
Tuesday, February 14, 2006
I find listening to music just as distracting as the other types of noise I mentioned earlier. I find I work best in near silence or with very low, residual background noise.

I wouldnt go so far as to say everyone (or I) should be given a seperate office, just that developers should be seperated from support drones, receptionists, managers etc - people who are on the phone, or are talking a lot.

They shouldn't be placed beside busy doorways or in areas of the building where there is noisy equiptment.

Two jobs ago, I worked at a company which grew quite quickly, from 3 people to ten in the space of a few months. Everyone was crammed into the same small office, there were constant interruptions, phones ringing, managers & sales talking, clients coming in and out. Productivity was next to nothing.

The company then rented a new office in the same building and placed the 5 devs in there, productivity increased exponentially. Nothing fancy, just a quiet office with no external incoming phones, no clients coming in and out, and no one constantly talking.

I found myself completing things I'd been trying to get out of the way for months, but couldn't because of the constant interruptions. It even increased my general sense of wellbeing, I guess feeling that you were actually achieving something is important too.
redeye Send private email
Tuesday, February 14, 2006
Work is boring w/o distractions.  At my old job, marshmallow fights would break out now and then, with big marshmallows flying over cubes.  Was fun.
Not Data Found
Tuesday, February 14, 2006
>>> I wouldnt go so far as to say everyone (or I) should be given a seperate office,...<<<

Why not?

For a software development company there is no good reason why there shouldn't be a quiet private office for every employee (except the receptionist).

The real question is why do so many people try to make excuses for not having them.  The fact that there are companies, from small to big, that have them and are profitable is a good indication that they don't "cost too much".
argon Send private email
Tuesday, February 14, 2006
Definitely a correlation. Today has been a noisy day; clients visiting, people coming and going near my office, being boisterous (oh, I hate those boisterous jerks!), and worst of all, the guy behind me coughs REALLY LOUDLY every 2 minutes. My concentration has been shot all day.
Tuesday, February 14, 2006
"For a software development company there is no good reason why there shouldn't be a quiet private office for every employee (except the receptionist)."

Ok, what about the other 90% of developers who don't work at software development companies?  Also, every "office" i've ever had always consists of walls that are just as thin as your typical cubicle.  (In my current office i can hear the phone conversation of the person next door), I don't think thats entirely untypical as most office space is temporary...
Phil Send private email
Tuesday, February 14, 2006
I try to be careful with the construction of my statements.

At the least, employees of a software development company should have quiet private offices.  For other companies the software development and other engineering departments should have offices even if not all employees have them, but I don't have enough experience to argue the point for every industry.

After years of experience in various types of office space I have learned that one needs to be careful with the specification.  So far I am up to: "quiet private office with a door that closes and a clear window, located near the offices of other team members, in an environment where you don't often really need to close the door".

I have been in private offices where the HVAC made it sound like I was sharing the office with a hurricane.  That and your thin walled office don't qualify as "quiet".

None of the offices that I have been in fully meet the criteria of a perfect office, but a few have been close enough to show that it is possible to have an environment where distractions are a minor problem and most of the day can be spent concentrating on developing software.
argon Send private email
Tuesday, February 14, 2006
Look, it's quite simple. Offices are for managers and up. Offices are not for the little codies.

If the codies can not deliver the code from a cubicle or open space, then replace them with some PROFESSIONAL codies who CAN do it.

About this 15 minutes to refocus after an interruption: that is going to stop starting today. If you are interrupted, you will get back to work IMMEDIATELY. We will not tolerate a 15 minute 'refocussing' break.
Your Manager
Wednesday, February 15, 2006
It's the hot looking women in the office that offer the biggest distraction. I don't know what it is about this client I have now, but they have nothing but incredible looking ladies walking around here all day.
Hyper-lazy programmer Send private email
Wednesday, February 15, 2006
The ladies are off limits to you codies. Get back to work or I'll fire your ass.
Your Manager
Wednesday, February 15, 2006

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