Open Plan Productivity

I’m in the process of writing a functional spec, and one of the things I read while researching it is Joel on Software – The Joel Test: 12 Steps to Better Code.

It’s an article that lists 12 steps to better software development teams. Question no 8 is do your programmers have quiet working conditions? Question no 9 is do they have the best tools money can buy?

Right now, I’m working in an open plan office where all the staff have very old computers. There’s such a fantastic parallel between the two.

Talking to people who’ve worked in this office for some time, they say productivity just disappears because of the constant interruptions (see q8 in the Joel Test). It’s the age old problem of the constant interruptions. According to Joel’s article, on average it takes 15 minutes to get to maximum productivity, or get yourself “in the zone”. However, it can take only a few seconds when someone asks you a question to take you out of the zone, and you’ve got another 15 minutes to get back into it.

I experience this problem myself for probably the last two years, sharing an office with 1 to 3 other people. We tried various things, but they didn’t last. However, I have an idea which I’m going to try the next time I’m in that environment again. I think they key is to have time blocks. For example, everyone in the office agrees that there are no interruptions between 9:30 and 11:30, and between 14:00 and 16:00. These are the two “productivity zones”. If you need to speak to someone during that time, you have to email or IM them and they’ll get back to you when they can. I’ll talk more about email productivity later.

Obviously this wouldn’t work everywhere, but it could make a huge difference in some offices.

Coming back to the office I’m currently working in, the cost of running the office of about 70 people is in the region of £500k/month. However, there are 70 people working on computers that must be 3 years old. It’s ridiculous, a quick check on Dell reveals a new PC of good spec will cost around £600 including a flat panel monitor. So compare, 70 x £600 = £42k, less than 10% of the monthly running costs and everyone would have brand new PCs. Exactly like Joel Test q9.

The world is a crazy place.

2 thoughts on “Open Plan Productivity”

  1. Why does it cost £500k/month to run an office of 70 people, I dont get it? Is everybody eating caviar and drinking champagne on the company tab?

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