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Is this the end of private offices at Microsoft?

http://www.proudlyserving.com/archives/2006/07/workplace_advan.html

I had always thought I'd like to work at Microsoft some day, so that for the first time in my career I could get my own office.

Is that a dead dream now?
Flow
Wednesday, July 26, 2006
 
 
I work in the patterns & practices space that was discussed in the article.

I really, really like it.

We are NOT in a cube farm! Instead, each project has a space to itself. We work together on a team. Each team room seats from four (the smallest) up to 12 (the largest). There aren't cubicles, we have desks. Each team room has doors that can be closed, so the only noises will be from your teammates.

Yes, we can see each other's screens. But guess what - that's a good thing! It makes it very, very easy to slide over and work together on something.

There are still private spaces available if you need to make a phone call, or work on writing a document or something, but all coding is done in the team room. It's resulted in a well jelled team that creates high quality software.

While I wouldn't mind having more storage space for the book collection, otherwise it's been very nice.

I think that the big difference between what we've got and a cube farm is that cubicles are pretending to be private spaces, but they're not, and a lot of stress revolved around trying to keep that fake "privacy" going. In our case, we KNOW we're going to be collaborating with our teammates constantly, so we created a space that was specifically designed for it.

I like it, and I've worked in environments ranging from a private office (that I never got to use because I had to go offsite) to cube farm to being crammed into the corner of a lab space surrounded by machines that required hearing protection. This is probably the best environment I've worked in so far.

The other thing is that this style isn't mandatory. The whole point is that teams get to decide for themselves how they want to work. If another team decides they are more productive with private offices, then they'll get / keep private offices. For our team, the value of collaboration was such that we rebuilt our working space to facilitate it.
Chris Tavares Send private email
Wednesday, July 26, 2006
 
 
So how are you supposed to call your headhunter when you work in an environment like that?!!
Bored Bystander Send private email
Wednesday, July 26, 2006
 
 
There are private offices too, and the focus rooms which are basically two-person conference rooms that are usually empty.

Personally, I think a loud conversation with a headhunter helps focus management on how to keep me happy. ;-)
Chris Tavares Send private email
Wednesday, July 26, 2006
 
 
I work with a small team in a big room. No cubicles, just desks.  Between the one guy smacking gum and crunching mints and the other dude who is constantly sniffling and sneezing, I've never wanted a cubicle so bad in my life.
Sassy Send private email
Wednesday, July 26, 2006
 
 
I've been working the last few weeks in a big room with desks around the walls.  Some days I like it, and some days I don't.  I find it works best when most people are working on the same thing, and any prolonged discussion is about the project we're all working on.

It works worst, on the other hand, when people talk loudly about completely non-work-related stuff, or when people are working on several different projects.

I'm surprised I like it even under ideal conditions, but in most places where we've had cubicles, two things seem to be the case: (1) people think they can be loud because, instead of an open area, they have a cube; (2) people doing completely different things are put in the same area, which causes a LOT of distraction.
Kyralessa Send private email
Wednesday, July 26, 2006
 
 
I once had to pick between two jobs.  One place had cubes, the other place had the hippy, new age open office junk.  I went with the cubes -- no contest.
SomeBody Send private email
Wednesday, July 26, 2006
 
 
Eeww.

Bad enough in my cube farm where one manic-depressive is one the phone to her kids all of the time and a guy taps his toes on a hard chair mat all day as he hammer-types and grunts.
prairie dog
Wednesday, July 26, 2006
 
 
This is the most depressing piece of news that I have heard in quite some time.
argon Send private email
Wednesday, July 26, 2006
 
 
"There are still private spaces available if you need to make a phone call, or work on writing a document or something"

Something, you mean like be able to think long enough to design a decent program?

"but all coding is done in the team room."

Coding? So you don't believe in code as design I take it. You write the high level design documents in the private space and then come out and 'code it' in the noisy bullpen.

"It's resulted in a well jelled team that creates high quality software."

You keep telling yourself that!
Art Wilkins
Thursday, July 27, 2006
 
 
Personally, I require quiet and no movement in my peripheral vision.  I need an office with a door, blinds, two monitors, and a really nice set of headphones.  Otherwise I am far too easily distracted to get into and maintain the zone state for very long.  Now, assuming I have those things, I can be in the cave for 10-12 hours and not even realize it.  Some people actually laugh when I refer to my office as "the cave."
Joshua Volz Send private email
Thursday, July 27, 2006
 
 
Joshua Volz > Now, assuming I have those things, I can be in the cave for 10-12 hours and not even realize it.  Some people actually laugh when I refer to my office as "the cave."

Good idea. MS should move developers in the basement :-)
Fred
Thursday, July 27, 2006
 
 
<quote>
You keep telling yourself that!
</quote>

Puzzled by the hostility. Is it beyond comprehension that this actually works for some teams? Why do you care?
anon
Thursday, July 27, 2006
 
 
There are clearly pros and cons to any office environment. Many here desperately want offices. I've witnessed development shops that were nothing but long halls of offices. They had so many issues it was difficult to list them all, starting with the fact that no one had any idea how to talk to each other.

I've seen the other end of the spectrum where as well. Some people literally cannot function in an open space environment.

The only thing I've taken from all of these experiences is this: if the team is really cohesive and interested in working with each other, then it doesn't matter what environment they're in. They'll find a way to make it work.

The only other comment I'll make is this: I applaud Microsoft for at least trying. How many of you work in environments where management has clearly not bothered to take any time to think about what it might do to help your team work? How many of you have to hike half a mile simply to have a face to face conversation with another team member? How many are simply slotted into cube farms with insufficient meeting rooms, white boards, or other necessary tools?

At least Microsoft appears to be thinking about it.
Just Me
Thursday, July 27, 2006
 
 
I was briefly contracted at HHS in Washington last year to "patch" a database that it was using for managing the distribution of millions of dollars in funds during the Katrina and Rita hurricane disasters......

...The idiots at HHS had me in a COMMAND and CONTROL center attempting to figure this all out! Can you believe it? I'm in an open spaced room with 20+ other people and I'm told to fix/patch this database - and they want the entire thing done in a few days - code restructure, new specs, etc......

Lest you all become depressed about how the beauracracy of your US gov't runs, I won't spare you the details.....let's just say that they certainly got an earful from me regarding their F&%$^ up practices....
Brice Richard Send private email
Thursday, July 27, 2006
 
 
It's not really surprizing that Microsoft is evolving in such a way. They're basically an old guard company, now. This is the same company that recently forced 1000 contractors to take 7 days off to marginally change the books for the quarter.

I worked at an insurance company in a spanky new office complex in the Toronto area for a while. For the proletariat, workspaces were little half (or more correctly 1/3rd) cubes backed onto walkways, while the upper echelons got themselves full cubes, and the ability to play solitaire in peace.

Initially this was offset by a series of little private rooms, each equipped with a desk and a networked (with internet) PC.

Soon enough the computers were gone. Not long afterwards the desks and chairs disappeared.

The fallback, then, was a large, luxurious common meeting room, full of big comfy chairs, trees, a beautiful view, and so on. If you needed to chat with someone you could withdraw there and chat in a nice environment, or take a moment to unwind. It was originally planned with PCs, but those were never requisitioned given the possibility that people might abuse them.

Soon enough the tables and chairs were removed, and it was turned into a workspace.

All of it went hand in hand with the organization taking a dump as a workplace. With each action, I noticed an increasing frequency of people obviously and fearlessly going over the options at Monster or Workopolis.
Dennis Forbes Send private email
Thursday, July 27, 2006
 
 
One measure I like to look at whenever there is an office space change is square feet per person.

If the goal of the excercise is really to try to design an office space that helps people to work better, then I would expect the sqft/person value to roughly stay the same (or even increase).

But, in almost every office space change I've seen, the sqft/person goes down, sometimes dramatically. These cases tell me that, dispite what management says, the real goal is to reduce direct facilities costs and productivity and employee satisfaction are only distant considerations.
Bill Tomlinson Send private email
Thursday, July 27, 2006
 
 
"Coding? So you don't believe in code as design I take it. You write the high level design documents in the private space and then come out and 'code it' in the noisy bullpen."

Nope. I do all work, especially design, in the team room with my teammates. I can easily get twice as much design work done, and come out with a better result, if I work with one or two other people.

In my experience, its the folks whole like to hole themselves up away from the rest of the team for most of the day and come out holding this little perfect diamond of code that produce the worst junk. That little diamond is usually a cracked piece of glass which is only shiny from one specific angle.

Like I said above, this setup works for US. If you don't want it nobody's forcing it on you, or on any other group.

However, if you don't want to work with your team, then you won't work in our group.
Chris Tavares Send private email
Thursday, July 27, 2006
 
 
One other thing I'd like to mention: I've seen a lot of complaints above about "open plan" areas. All of them have had developers stuck in a space that wasn't designed for development. The command & control center was probably the worst (best?) example of this.

The thing that's different about our team rooms is that they were specifically DESIGNED for team development. A lot more thought went in beyond just knocking out walls. There are no marketing people sitting next to me. Our room has testers, devs, and PM's sitting together. When there's a bug report from a tester that I don't understand, the guy is right there to ask for clarification. If I have a question about a requirement, the PM is right there. If somebody else needs help, I'm right there. If I need help, it's right there.

We have raised floors with all power and network connectivity underneath, which makes it trivial to rearrange desks without being shackled to power outlets. We've already taken advantage of this.

Three of the four walls are whiteboards, so we have LOTS of surfaces to use as workspace.

We have doors that close, so we can keep out external interference.

Yeah, if you're stuck in the desk in the middle of the NYSE trading floor, I'd agree with you that sucks the big one. But there's a big difference between "inappropriate open spaces suck" and "all open spaces suck".
Chris Tavares Send private email
Thursday, July 27, 2006
 
 
Laughing at someone who is only foooing themselves is certainly not hostility, Mr. Too Cowardly to Even Post with a Fake Name.

There are types of coding you can do in a bull pen. These types of programming can be outsourced.

There are types of development that require concentration and quiet. Those of you who don't think so are simply not developers, you're coders. You'll be replaced soon enough. In the meantime, don't apply for a job here. We don't need you.
Art Wilkins
Thursday, July 27, 2006
 
 
"However, if you don't want to work with your team, then you won't work in our group."

This statement is proof of how delusional and out of touch with real development the Microsoft Zombies have become.

It is not mutually exclusive to work with a team and have a quiet office. Give me a fucking break.
Art Wilkins
Thursday, July 27, 2006
 
 
"When there's a bug report from a tester that I don't understand, the guy is right there to ask for clarification. If I have a question about a requirement, the PM is right there."

That's all fine, and if they were in their own private offices in the same workgroup area, would it be so different? Also notice that when you ask the tester a question, the pm and the other developers all get distracted. I know you'll say this keeps everyone in the loop. And keep telling yourself that is important for every trivial detail.

"If somebody else needs help, I'm right there."

The question you need to ask is if it is worth breaking the flow of everyone in the group to be able to ask questions in a way that everyone can hear, even those not being asked the question, rather than take an extra minute to try and understand the problem, or to send an email that won't disturb everyone. I know you'll say you are saving a valuable minute of thinking for yourself and the cost of 10 other developers that overhear * 15 minutes for each interruption is completely worth it according to MS style economical analysis.
Art Wilkins
Thursday, July 27, 2006
 
 
I seem to have hit on a popular topic.  Of course, where most of us spend most of our waking lives and make most of our money is pretty important!

Thanks, Chris, for the inside information.

The redesign seems like it would work well for teams full of people who like to work together.  I worked in a very productive environment where we had the team of about 8 people in our own bullpen.  There was also a separate office that people could take turns using, when they needed privacy and quiet for phone calls or long document writing.

In my opinion, our creativity went downhill when we were moved to another building with a standard cube farm.  Some cubes were merged to make a lab, but the lab only had room for a couple of chairs.  That did away with the collaboration that made that particular team such a success.

What if someone was delighted with his or her private office at Microsoft, and wanted to keep that in the redesign?  Would they be able to do so, or would the team be able to outvote them?  If they got outvoted and put into a team workspace, and then their productivity went down, would their "I told you so" count at annual review time?  Is Microsoft concerned that people like Art, Joshua and myself would be much more wary of a Microsoft job now?

(Of course, Mini-Microsoft should be thrilled at anything that could make candidates stay away in droves.)

Chris, I'd like to see this topic addressed in a Softie blog.  What about concerns like Dennis's that this is the start of a slippery slope?
Flow
Thursday, July 27, 2006
 
 
"Like I said above, this setup works for US. If you don't want it nobody's forcing it on you, or on any other group."

Maybe not today.  I think a lot of the hostility around the idea comes from the idea that if this works for some teams, Management will start expecting it to work for everybody, and start penalizing the folks who need more privacy/quiet/etc. to be productive.

I'm sure this kind of layout works great for teams full of extroverts that do a lot of intense collboration.  I had a cube on the periphery of one of those kinds of teams once and the neverending prairie-dogging, yelling between cubes, paperball fights, etc. made my workday a *black screaming hell*.
Lazlo Send private email
Thursday, July 27, 2006
 
 
"What if someone was delighted with his or her private office at Microsoft, and wanted to keep that in the redesign?"

Chris stated explicitly in his response that there was no flexibility for those who want their own office - having a door that shuts is considered to be inseparable from 'not working with the team' and therefore people who need a quiet space free from interruptions to be able to design well 'won't work in their group'. That's pretty clear cut as to what the 'new way' at Microsoft is, and frankly it doesn't suprise me at all. Whenever a big company with pathenic, lame products, and fat, lazy managers like MS, is sinking into obscurity, the first think they do is 'rearchitect their process' which always means to 'question the way we have done everything'. In practice, this always turns into taking the things that were well known to give them a competitive advantage (ie, a sane environment for design, as any designer knows about) and throwing them out for the substandard approaches of their weakest competitors. The reason they do this is that there is no longer any one left at the corporation who 'gets it', so they just do stupid stuff, somewhat randomly, but not completely randomly. That which glorifies upper management or demeans those actually doing the work is somewhat preferred.

I am looking forward to watching the slow motion meltdown over the next few years. I find all this exceptionally entertaining.
Art Wilkins
Thursday, July 27, 2006
 
 
"Is Microsoft concerned that people like Art, Joshua and myself would be much more wary of a Microsoft job now?"

Flow, don't you know that we are 'not team players' and therefore 'your skills don't meet our needs at the present time but we will keep your resume on file and contact you if there is a change.'
Art Wilkins
Thursday, July 27, 2006
 
 
I am in a team room environment at the moment - It isn't too bad, although I would far prefer offices.  To find out how much time I lose from interruptions/distractions, I just need  to compare my productivity before 9AM (when the devs arrive) to that after 9AM.

A couple of years ago I was in a team room with 2 guys who argued a lot.  Now THAT is living hell!
Jax The Old Grump Send private email
Thursday, July 27, 2006
 
 
I followed the link and read a couple of the articles.  It does sound like MS put some effort into this.  But the overall impression is that their ultimate goal is to cram more people into less space.  At best one could get 80% of an office.

I have had the experience of working in a private office.  It was an order of magnitude better than any shared workspace I have been in.  Nevertheless, there was still room for improvement.  It would be nice if a company like MS would put some effort into improving the private office environment.

You can say that no one is forcing us to work in the new scaled down MS workspace, but, as indicatd in the OP, this is dashing our hopes for the future.  It would be different if half or even a tenth of employers provided decent office space, but they don't.  I don't work for MS, but I feel this as a loss of opportunity.

For now, I have to plan a schedule where I can stay late a couple of nights a week.  I have a new office mate who constantly fidgets when sitting at his desk, then interrupts me at intervals of 10-20 minutes to ask something or show me what he has done.  He'd fit right in at the new MS.  The only way I'll get any work done is to stay for a few hours after he leaves.
Q7 Send private email
Thursday, July 27, 2006
 
 
Can Chris or anyone describe the kind of software development that would benefit from this kind of constant interaction?  I have been trying to accept the notion that there are some types of software development that would work better in a shared environment, but just can't imagine it.  Many of the projects that I have been on require a lot of interaction with other team members, but also require intervals of solo work.
Q7 Send private email
Thursday, July 27, 2006
 
 
Well it's at night and I am at home coding for work. Why is this? Because I am in management. All day long I have to make decisions and listen to people. That is fine, it's my job. But I also contribute to the more difficult problems like making something that takes 2 hours process in 100 milliseconds, designing new algorithms, hard stuff. There is no way I can get that stuff done in an environment where I am being interrupted. But as a manager, there's no way around that, it's my job to be interrupted, so the development work happens at home, tonight I'm in the den.

Now the people who work for me that aren't in management, they need time to get things done. The best way to ensure that is to make sure they have a quiet place to work free from interruptions. And they do. And this means the company makes enough money from its products to pay me  into the six figures.
Art Wilkins
Thursday, July 27, 2006
 
 
I have my own office with a view but I would gladly give it up to a cube farm if the pay was better.
Anon
Friday, July 28, 2006
 
 
Art,

It's amazing the amount of bile you have out of this one.

It wasn't "Microsoft management" that decided to rebuild the p&p space. IT WAS THE DEVS. WE WANTED THIS.

As for what kind of software benefitted? Pretty much all of the p&p releases for the last couple of years. Enterprise Library. CAB. Smart Client Software Factory. Mobile Client Software Factory. Web Service Software Factory (coming soon!).

When we didn't have this new space, the devs had to resort to stealing conference rooms so that they could work together.

As far as "no deviance will be allowed", well, don't you think a team should have the right to decide who works and who doesn't? Our organization values face-to-face collaboration. Someone who holes themselves up in a cave for 12 hours a day doesn't fit with our group's culture. You may fit in just fine with other groups here.

I personally find it interesting that other groups at MS are touring our space, and many of them are impressed and want to have their own space set up in a similar manner. And invariably, it's the developers on those groups, not the management, that's asking for these things.

Ask yourself this: what's easier: leaving all the walls up and sticking people in the offices that already exist, or shutting down entire floors of a building for 90 days while you rip out walls, put up glass, rebuild offices, buy new desks, chairs, monitors, etc.? Why would management go to all the trouble and expense just to save a few square feet?
Chris Tavares Send private email
Friday, July 28, 2006
 
 
"Is Microsoft concerned that people like Art, Joshua and myself would be much more wary of a Microsoft job now?"

Microsoft as a whole barely notices that this space, or this style of collaboration, even exists. I think it'll be a very, VERY long time before it's more than a fraction of the working arrangements at the company.
Chris Tavares Send private email
Friday, July 28, 2006
 
 
>"As for what kind of software benefitted? ..."<

I am not familiar with these products and certainly have no idea about the internal structure of the code. Thus, I have no idea what "kind" of software you work on.

I develop programs for scientific and engineering applications, including embedded systems.  No business apps nor products.  There is usually some requirement for interaction with other developers.  But there is also a need to be able to spend an hour or two or more concentrating on a task, coding or documenting.  The question here is: what kind of software development can be done well without the possibility of an individual working on a task for a significant interval without interruption.

Most software does get written without the developers being able to concentrate on tasks for long intervals, but that doesn't mean it gets done well.
Q7
Friday, July 28, 2006
 
 
Oh, and since Art has already questioned my professionalism, quality of work, and intelligence just for having the gall to disagree with him about how *I* like to work, I think he'd be a no hire from me even if he was interviewing in a group that has private offices.
Chris Tavares Send private email
Friday, July 28, 2006
 
 
Chris, I'm afraid that if two of us were on an interview, it would be you who would be applying, and you're right, the result of the interview would be a no-hire.
Art Wilkins
Friday, July 28, 2006
 
 
You do what you have to in the circumstances under which you find yourself.  If you find yourself in a noisy, cold, factory trying to rewrite a shared memory manager then that's what you do.  If you find yourself in a sterile, silent room full of people with headphones on then you do what you do.
Simon Lucy Send private email
Saturday, July 29, 2006
 
 
>>> Why would management go to all the trouble and expense just to save a few square feet? <<<

Because that is what management does.  It doesn't make sense to me that most companies put software developers in shared work space that hampers their productivity.  But they do it.
I suspect that as soon as the facilities people find they can get away with this it will spread fairly rapidly throughout the company.

Chris, it is nice that your group got what they wanted.  But for most of the software developers out here, it is one less chance to get a decent workspace.
Q7 Send private email
Saturday, July 29, 2006
 
 
This is an amazing thread -- how people cannot believe that different layouts work in different situations is beyond me.

Both the most and least productive times in my career have been in private offices. The second-most and second-least productive times have been in group settings. It all depends.

And yes, I work for Microsoft and currently have a private office.
Jim Lyon Send private email
Saturday, July 29, 2006
 
 
Jim, so you're one of the lucky ones.  Do think MS developers are in any danger of being dumped into shared office space?
I really am trying to decide if it is worth the effort to apply there?

Of course, the private office isn't the only consideration.  The real question is: Is MS a place for a software developer to have a career?  The private office is the most obvious physical indication of a possibly great place to work.
argon Send private email
Saturday, July 29, 2006
 
 

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