Why Open Office Layouts Do Not Work For Software Developers
last modified | 6 minutes
by Jean George, PhD & Caesar Vindor
Over our 23 year history at Open Sky we've watched with dismay at the trend to gather developers into open plan office spaces. This cost savings design trend has proven to be rather poorly thought out. In this article we'll explore some of the reasons why open office layouts do not work for software developers.
Developers are idiosyncratic people
The best software developers are both highly creative and highly idiosyncratic. They are extremely sensitive to sensory overload and require privacy, peace, and quite. "Leave me alone so I can work" is a common refrain from productive software developers.
It kills productivity
Per the old mechanic's adage... If you drop off your car we charge $50/hour, if you stay and watch we charge $100/hour, and if you talk or help we charge $150/hour. The same holds for quality software development, if someone is watching and/or distracting you, it's going to lower productivity. And the studies done on open plan offices back this up.
It destroys morale
Nobody really likes people looking at them while they work. Who thought this was a good idea?
The best people won't tolerate it
The best and brightest in the industry will not put up with it, as they are far too good and in demand. Quality development requires lots of personal (and private) space, several very large monitors, and an absolutely killer workstation. The best developers don't mess around with laptops in common areas because they have work they want to get done. It doesn't matter how expensive the chair is, or how ergonomic the desk is... if it's sitting in the open, they want none of it.
It is insecure
Open office layouts violate the tenets of security compliance. From screens that are easy to watch, to keyboards that are easy to record, to conversations that are easy to overhear, to documents that are too easily left sitting out. It's the opposite of what secure software development is all about.
It lowers communication
Studies have shown that the open plan offices lead to a decrease in team communication. The upshot is people get sick of other people around and in their face all the time... so they communicate with others less, or not at all.
Rather work from home
One of the side effects of open plan offices is an increased desire to work from home. At least at home one can obtain some modicum of privacy and productivity. Is it any surprise that so many developers (most of whom are in open offices these days) reported being happier working under the coronavirus quarantine at home rather than under their previous configuration in an open plan office.
Long live private offices
At Open Sky we provide our development teams with secure, private, tricked-out spaces to work in for maximum comfort, security, and productivity. And it works extremely well. Our teams represent the best and the brightest in the industry and deserve nothing less. Here's an example of one of our private offices.
The above speaks volumes as to why the Open Sky team is able to code circles around our competitors. Moreover, it is in keeping with Open Sky's mission of building software that gets used - for great people, with great people!
COVID 19 Update
Since the pandemic it's worth adding that given a choice, most developers would in fact prefer to work from home. A topic for another day.
Caesar is a Freelance Writer with over 20 years of experience helping businesses grow through Website Design, Blogging and Seach Engine Optimization (SEO). When he's not writing he can be found exploring the stomping grounds of his forebears in Ganajuato, Mexico or Pune, India. You can find him on Medium @caesarvindor and on LinkedIn.
Dr. George holds a PhD in Neutrino Physics and founded Open Sky Software, Inc. in March of 2000. In addition to his role as President, he is a senior software engineer and full stack web developer. For more on Open Sky's founders read about us on this website.