Time And Space

In recent years, the technology office has undergone two parallel, divergent trends.

On the one hand, the decentralized, mosty-remote team, connected by phone, web conferencing and instant-messaging applications, has gained respectabilty.  For two of the past three years, I’ve worked nearly 100% from home, and I’d do it again in a heartbeat.  With the right team, it’s an incredibly productive way of doing business.

The other extreme is the current officing fad the co-located team.  Forget about offices; don’t even think about cubicles (themselves seen as a Metropolis-level destruction of individuality 30 years ago.   Not only are cubes being replaced by tables, and the dividers between tables tossed, but the idea of assigned seats, with personal space of any kind for storage, is out the window.   The newest management fad is a bunch of tables, assigned to a design or development team, with chairs first-come, first serve; just grab an open seat and open your laptop – after you’ve found somewhere to stash your coat.

WIth that in mind, it’s probably utterly fitting that someone’s developed this.


12 thoughts on “Time And Space

  1. If they want to destroy an engineer’s productivity I can think of no better way than a common table and desk. I already wear headphones to keep out distractions when I’m working, but to add visual distractions would be about intolerable. And to be stuck with a random set of applications and not the ones I need for my work? Yeah, right.

    I can see why management, whose function is almost always to run from meeting to meeting as their “work”, thinks that promoting that kind of workspace might be productive, but if you’re really trying to DO something, it’s horrible for anyone else. Well, maybe sales and marketing might like it, but nobody who is an “individual contributor” in tech development likes it.

  2. this the grim march to commodification….never entertain the notion that this management structure values any individual contribution, you are part of the collective and sooner or later the collective will happen upon an adequate solution (not, best, not correct, or elegant, or even maintainable, just adequate to the moment)… sort of Marxism meets MBO.

  3. I love working from home – and I have a couple of “teams” that I’m part of around the world. I’d return to an office at the point of a gun, I think. Unless it’s one of those co-located offices with communal work areas, in which case it would take a tank to make me go to one of those.

    Those are probably fine with the young generation of multi-taskers. My daughter can write, or work, on her laptop, while listening to music on her headphones, while also maintaining a text thread on her phone, without any trouble or psychoses. My older brain and nervous system, however, requires (relative) quiet and not too much going on in my peripheral vision just to type an email.

  4. I have slowly seen the walls come down in my work environments, and I’ve witnessed a gradual decline in quality of my environment. When I worked at my first job out of college years ago, I had 4 fabric walls 5′ high and a 24″ opening in one wall. I was also far-removed from any windows showing the outside weather. I rarely wore headphones at work, and with no window to the outside world, I didn’t find my concentration waver as I thought about how nice it looked outside, or whether I needed to leave early to get a jump-start of clearing snow off my driveway, and any idle conversations outside my cube were muffled background noise that was easy to dismiss.

    Then I went to a work environment with a similarly-sized desk, but with only two fabric walls, one of which was half-height. Look up from your keyboard and share an awkward gaze with another employee less than 4′ from you. Get distracted by the conversations behind you, or get scared out of your skin by the people inconsiderate enough to have noisy shoes or announce their presence before they’re right beside you.

    Now, I have just two half-height walls at my desk, someone else’s desk next to mine, and I sit in a “pod”. It’s now a rarity that I don’t have the noise-canceling headphones on at my desk.

    I have the opportunity to work from home, except my position necessitates a frequent close-proximity to hardware. But occasional nights in the home office, after my kids go to bed, do wonders for the productivity.

  5. Everybody who does data entry is the same, right? They’re Interchangeable Personnel Units (IPU) so they don’t need personal space, photos of their grandkids, music. Those are distractions from work.

    When you arrive at work, each IPU takes the first open library carrel, logs into the system, and starts entering data. Totally impersonal, totally efficient, right?

    No. It’s dehumanizing. It’s demeaning. It tells employees they don’t matter, they’re just tools to be used and tossed aside. That might be how management actually feels about them – but you can’t tell people they are meaningless and then expect devotion and loyalty and extra effort. Instead, everybody does just enough to avoid being fired.

    Another fad that sounds good in a grad school paper but falls flat on the office floor.

  6. I work alone in a concrete room on the top of a very tall mountain in the middle of a very big ocean. Sometimes I have to train in a new guy. I hate that, he sits right next to me all night long.

  7. One of the Optum buildings in Eden Prairie is like this. They have large tables with 2 monitors and a permanent dock at each seat. You just drop your laptop into the dock and start working. They also have small “huddle rooms” for 2 – 4 people so you don’t have to reserve a conference room. They have couches with power cords (natrually, you’re on WiFi so no need for an Ethernet cord), and they also have small single seat stations with a table and reading light that look sorta like business class on a trans-Atlantic airline. You don’t have your own space from day to day. I’ll try to get a few pictures next time I’m over there.

    It LOOKS somewhat cool, but I’d go bonkers. I have too much crap to not have my own cube.

  8. Bill C I wouldn’t post any pics of Optum if I were you – there are folks in UHG who may not see it as an innocent activity particularly if there is anyone or anything that is specifically identifiable.

  9. This “common work collaborative” idea needs to be scaled up. This is capitalism! Grow or die!
    So here are a few ideas about expanding the jobs that should be done collaboratively:
    Postal & package delivery. Not one UPS guy, but a gang of them delivering mail & boxes to your door.
    Night watchmen. Get a dozen or so people walking the same halls and checking the same door locks.
    Hair cutting: just imagine how fast you would be out of the barber shop if six guys were cutting your hair at the same time.

  10. Open floor plans mimic the kindergarten environment most millennial NPC’s were first indoctrinated in.

    They are also a sure sign that nothing of value is being created.

  11. MP works alone, in a concrete room on the top of a very tall mountain, breathing air with 40% less O2, in the middle of a very big ocean, in the wee hours of the night.

    MP is a unique individual with a unique job. Lol.

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