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Best Seating Arrangement For a Team of Developers? 520

Posted by timothy
from the corner-office-round-table dept.
TekNullOG writes "I was given the job to prepare the logistics involved with moving our office. At the same time my bosses asked me to look into buying new desks for a small team of four developers and to consider if it could benefit the team to sit at a round table. In many offices and departments it increases productivity and makes collaboration easy. However, I am concerned that putting developers around a table could potentially be distracting consequently diminishing productivity by increasing coding errors. What are your thoughts?"
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Best Seating Arrangement For a Team of Developers?

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  • Non sense (Score:5, Informative)

    by AthleteMusicianNerd (1633805) on Friday April 23, 2010 @06:57PM (#31962748)
    This is an awful idea. I've been in that situation, not quite a round table, but 5 guys in the same room. It's a great way to not get shit done, and have a lot of conversations about the latest MMO. At that time it was Everquest. I guess it'd be Starcraft now.

    In addition, the foul odors emitted in that room were quite offensive. The farting, sweating, lack of showering...etc.... The best configuration for programmers is individual offices.
  • Re:Non sense (Score:4, Informative)

    by Symbha (679466) on Friday April 23, 2010 @07:07PM (#31962868)

    Agreed. I've worked in a shared space, a cube, and an office.
    The office is the best.

  • Re:It all depends... (Score:3, Informative)

    by girlgeek54 (806824) on Friday April 23, 2010 @07:13PM (#31962934)
    Completely agree. Need private office with a collaboration area or lab. In 27 years of sw engineering, that was the best, most productive setup. The team would congregate in the lab every day for an hour or two, but when we really needed to buckle down and seriously code, the private office was great.
  • by dubbreak (623656) on Friday April 23, 2010 @07:14PM (#31962954)
    I strongly agree that developers need their own office with a door. There are times as a dev when you need to close the door and have no distractions for a few hours straight. A personal office allows that.

    At my work R&D has offices in a circle around a shared bench area. If you want to collaborate you can go to the center area or use someone's office. If you want to listen in you just have to leave your door open. If you need some privacy and no distractions you can close your door. Best of all worlds.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 23, 2010 @07:16PM (#31962980)

    There is a whole book, "Peopleware" by Tom DeMarco and some other guy, about shit like this. The most important thing developers need is peace and quiet.

    This comment [] gives the answer pretty well. Put two people in each office. Not more. Not less. Any more than two in an office and the conversation and distractions kill productivity. One person in office = thumb twiddling and pr0n surfing. Zero people in office = empty room, nothing happens. You want exactly two. Heaven.

  • Re:What's an office? (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 23, 2010 @07:29PM (#31963102)

    What if you want delicious chicken wings? I'll grant you that Hooters, as a "regular" restaurant, is unimpressive. But, as a wing shack... it's tough to beat!

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 23, 2010 @07:32PM (#31963136)

    The bullpen can work pretty well. I was most comfortable in one, at my previous job. We basically had a bunch of cubicle walls up, separating "our" space from a big hallway (it was originally meant to be some kind of foyer). We had three desks up, on different sides of the pen. But the nicest two things: we were far away from our "team leader" (who was very nice, and quite capable, but loved to interrupt us to shoot the shit -- though when he did visit, he would shoot the shit for about an hour), and we had much better control of our lighting than in any other space we used. We kept the fluorescent lights off and used halogen desk lamps if we wanted some task lighting. It was also pretty quiet there. We got more done in that hacker den than anywhere else in the building. We were ostensibly an XP team, but the dynamic changed for the better when I got there and made my mark.

    So, of course, our manager decided to move us to a brightly lit, loud, poorly laid out, shared space (shared with non-developers, who constantly jabbered about American Idol and other such crap).

  • by dpbsmith (263124) on Friday April 23, 2010 @07:57PM (#31963326) Homepage

    The idea that the seating arrangement matters much smells to me like Management Fad.

    You say "In many offices and departments it increases productivity and makes collaboration easy." Is there a shred of data to back that up?

    In Peopleware, DeMarco and Lister concluded that there was only one variable that correlated with programmer productivity: number of square feet of office space per programmer. If so, then to the extent that seating people around a round table puts them closer together, it will reduce productivity.

  • Peopleware (Score:4, Informative)

    by QuietLagoon (813062) on Friday April 23, 2010 @07:59PM (#31963338)
    If you want to be productive, buy and read the book []. Better buy two copies and give one to your manager to read.
  • by michael_cain (66650) on Friday April 23, 2010 @08:30PM (#31963550) Journal

    In 25 years, with experience being both the developer who had seating arrangements dictated, and the manager of a group who had to dictate seating, I have never heard a developer complain over the long haul that individual offices on the same short hall were causing too little collaboration and cooperation between the people on the team. OTOH, there were numerous complaints that being jammed all together created large impediments to ever finding a quiet time without interruptions to think through a complex problem.

    Ask your experienced people which they prefer; someone who is six months out of school is not qualified to have an opinion.

  • by GWBasic (900357) <> on Friday April 23, 2010 @09:30PM (#31963906) Homepage

    My employer recently implemented the best productivity improvement ever. We replaced all of our desk chairs with toilets. Now, we get about an extra hour of work from people a day because no one needs to get up from their desks for bathroom breaks. It took some time to get used to, because the foul smells and rude noises were distracting at first; however, management solved the problem by installing large oder-proof and noise-proof rubber gaskets on everyone's toilet seats.

    After the success of everyone getting their own toilet, we realized that too much time was being wasted finding food and coffee. Thus, we implemented a system that delivers coffee and liquified nourishment to everyone's desk on tap. It also gave us another additional hour of labor per day.

    Now that no one has to get up from their desks, my employer boasts that it has the most productive workforce in the world!

  • by chriswei (1739934) on Friday April 23, 2010 @10:12PM (#31964156)

    I've worked in quite a few different situations over the years, both as a developer and developer/manager:

    a) a shared trestle table with 6 programmers facing across each other in pairs

    b) a private office in a group of 8 offices surrounding a common area with couches and floor-to-ceiling whiteboards

    c) a low bench in the back of a semi-trailer on a folding chair (luckily only for a week of 14-hour days)

    d) a shared office with one other person

    e) a regular private office

    f) a shared office with three other people

    g) a standard 6' high cubicle farm with your back to the 'door' on busy aisles, next to the creative department with 'open plan' tables, 4 to a 'pod' all facing the center

    By FAR the best situation was b). The doors and half the wall facing the common area were glass with blinds. You could leave the door open and blinds up if you felt like being 'part of the community', or you could close the blinds and the door and turn on some music - without headphones - to focus for as long as you wanted. Discussions were held in someone's office or taken out to the common area for more of a group discussion.

    The shared offices weren't bad, as you'd establish a rapport with your office mate(s) and come to some understanding of how your mate(s) worked.

    The worst is the situation I'm in now - the cubicle farm next to the 'open-plan' teams. There's random noise all day, people having meetings in their cubicles or on the phone all day with customers. The only way to focus is to put on studio headphones and crank up the volume, and then you end up with people standing behind you in the cubicle talking at you for five minutes before you realize they're even there.

    And since it's all open, everyone feels free to shout questions to each other over the cubicle walls instead of sending an IM, walking over to ask a question quietly, or take the discussion to a meeting room. And having a conversation with one of your direct reports means scheduling a meeting room or standing out in the hall outside the office.

    Needless to say, I get at least twice as much done in a given period when I work at home. The dev team is always coming up with new excuses to work from home. And, of course, senior management, who all have nice window offices, can't understand how it could be difficult to work in that environment.

  • Peopleware (Score:2, Informative)

    by magical liopleurodon (1213826) on Friday April 23, 2010 @10:17PM (#31964194)

    To answer the question: read peopleware!! []

    It deals with this specifically. The conclusion that the author came to is basically that people should have offices. Cubes and "open workspaces" are too noisy and distracting. This whole thing with open workspaces came out of the 70s -- I think you had to be on drugs to think it was a good idea tbh. Education/academia found out the hard way that it didn't work, but businesses haven't figured it out yet -- all businesses look at is "if I cram this many more people into a tight workspace, I save so much more money vs renting more space" without a care to productivity. Productivity is a hard thing to measure after all, but a good effort is made in peopleware and IBM did a study as well. IBM and Microsoft give their workers offices, the reasons are inside the book.

  • Re:Why not (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 23, 2010 @10:18PM (#31964206)

    I work under these conditions, and I'm looking for a new job. Unlike the other freaks on here, I do NOT like a work environment where I have zero privacy, where I get distracted every time someone walks by or a big crowd gathers around a neighboring engineer and has a loud conversation, and where I can't have a private phone conversation without everyone in my group hearing every word I say. Worse, this company has very few conference rooms, so it's frequently hard to find a private place to talk on the phone during breaks, and I end up in the hallway half the time (as do many other people).

    This exactly. We have these "desks" that are arranged like this: one low, straight wall down the middle (you can peer over it while seated, it's that low) with desk space on both sides. There are two or three people on either side of the desk per row. You have exactly zero privacy, you can hear everything, and there's no cover or protection from someone sneaking up behind you (you may laugh, but it's really hard to focus when you know that someone might come up behind you at any moment)

    So far, the turnover for our programming division has been nearly 100% over six months or so (the only guy who hasn't left is the guy who's up high enough to have an office). In fact, the company is currently hiring some contractors, just because they can't find programmers willing to work in these conditions. I'm not sure who made the decision to install those horrible desks, but I have suspicions it was one of those aforementioned extroverted bosses.

    The thing is, it does work for other people. The various divisions have loud arguments over the fine points of their respective specialities, people shoot each other with Nerf darts, people toss fake footballs. I'm even fine with it because I'm currently on-site tech support, so it's my job to be interrupted all the time. The corporate culture doesn't really care if you watch a bit of South Park or YouTube or read Slashdot, so privacy for those things isn't an issue.

    The problem is that the good programmers will see this floor plan, and go somewhere else. I'm not sure anyone realizes this.

  • Re:Good plan (Score:3, Informative)

    by Bob Cat - NYMPHS (313647) on Saturday April 24, 2010 @12:42AM (#31964952) Homepage

    You might want to reconsider doing such things - you could end up in prison. []

    "In late July 1995, a trial jury convicted Schwartz of three felony counts under Oregon's Computer Crime Law. The charges related to his activities while working as a consultant at an Intel Corporation facility in Beaverton, Oregon."

  • by jgeada (1304637) on Saturday April 24, 2010 @01:26AM (#31965142)
    Development requires utter concentration. As far as I am concerned, the optimum arrangement for developers is one enclosed office each with plenty of bookshelves to stash away reference books and surfaces put up enough monitors. A nearby conference room with lots of whiteboards and chairs for the occasional brainstorming meeting would also be very helpful. However, management, as I've been told, relies on communicating with people. Maybe they should be the ones put around that circular table in the middle of the room that is now available ... :-)
  • Re:Good plan (Score:3, Informative)

    by stephanruby (542433) on Saturday April 24, 2010 @01:51AM (#31965226)

    - Block Youtube et. al., they eat your time

    Don't block YouTube/Google Videos/Vimeo, they might actually need those for their job. If your developers have a problem with YouTube, tell them to stop going on it. Do not rely on technology to solve a management/employee problem. A goof off will always find something to distract him, even if he doesn't have access to youtube.

  • Re:Good plan (Score:3, Informative)

    by teg (97890) on Saturday April 24, 2010 @02:52AM (#31965448) Homepage

    My desk also happens to be right next to the break room where people religiously burn popcorn, microwave fish, and speak to each other as if they are in a stadium because the television is turned up loud enough to drown out said people. There is someone about 12 feet behind me in a similar such cube whom I constantly hear sucking on one of those water bottles and randomly taking a bite out of an apple or other similar food product

    Try some noise canceling head phones - I recommend Bose QuietComfort 15 [], and most background noise just disappear. I've had noise canceling headsets before, but this one was leagues ahead of my old ones (in price too... but it was worth it).

    You don't have to play music for them to be useful, I often just turn them on to blank out noise. It won't protect you from emails constantly arriving, or co-workers approaching you, but it will help with noise not targeted at you.

  • Re:Good plan (Score:3, Informative)

    by c-reus (852386) on Saturday April 24, 2010 @02:58AM (#31965464) Homepage

    - 2, maximal 3 people per room

    4 or 5 is ok, too, IMO but only if all of them are in the same team (QA in one section of the office, office IT in another, etc). After all, the reason why the people are organized into different rooms is to encourage them to work better as a team.

    - large desks, large monitors

    The desks should be arranged so that one person can't see other person's screen. Everyone facing towards the center of the room, for example.

    - keep it quiet, put some plants there

    Provide the employees good headphones or encourage them to buy those themselves. Have soundproof conference rooms that people can use for phone conferences or even regular phone calls. Having to listen business people talk on the phone 8 hours per day is quite horrible.

    - make it easy to collaborate without interrupting people (e.g. Instant messages*)

    This is a must. Get everyone a jabber account (set up a local server for that) or if you're into Microsoft software, use Office Communicator. Make sure every employee can contact any other employee via the instant messenger. Make sure that private contacts cannot be added, thus enforcing the "use this only for work related stuff" mentality.

    - Block Youtube et. al., they eat your time

    I disagree with this for a few reasons.
    Firstly, watching some instructional Youtube video may actually help if the employee is stuck with some problem (granted, this is not a common case but realistic nonetheless).

    Secondly, you can't force people to work 8 or more consecutive hours. Unless you handcuff me to a chair, I will take a few minute breaks every now and then either to rest my eyes from staring at the screen or get my mind off the task I'm working on. I can read the news in Slashdot or the dead-tree newspaper near the coffee machine - is there a principial difference? Punishing me for doing this is unfair and makes me question the manager's sanity.

    Thirdly, there are better ways to raise the efficiency of an employee. Have regular status update meetings (at most 20 minutes long per team) where every team member has to explain what tasks has he/she completed after the previous meeting. Constantly reporting simplistic tasks like deploying new version of some piece of software in local development environment means that either you have serious problems with the environment or you aren't trying hard enough. Either way, the manager should then go to the employees desk to see what exactly the problem is.

    Having to improvise on those meetings (inventing tasks that haven't been done for example) and sounding believable at the same time is quite difficult.It is much easier to talk about the things that have actually been done.

    If you find out that an employee is watching Youtube or reading Slashdot all day long, have a strongly worded chat with him and if that doesn't work, fire the person. By blocking various sites, you're effectively saying that you don't trust the employees to be able to manage their working time. A successful working relationship is built on mutual trust. Unless you really lock down the computers (no software installations, no browser configuration of any kind), there are ways around the block.

  • Re:Good plan (Score:3, Informative)

    by springbox (853816) on Saturday April 24, 2010 @08:02AM (#31966474)
    Yes, being in an open office can be a bit noisy and distracting. This is exactly why I have these [] jammed in my ears all day. Of course, having a workspace with better isolation (aka an office) would be even better.
  • The tally so far (Score:3, Informative)

    by presidenteloco (659168) on Saturday April 24, 2010 @01:04PM (#31968270)
    I counted the preferences in this whole discussion to about 3/4 of the way down to this post.
    Here's how it pans out, give or take one or two that I misinterpreted, and not counting wafflers and OTs:

    Private Office:  77 (62%)
    Cube Farm:       14 (11%)
    Open Area:       33 (27%)

    The "privacy and peace required" advocates are in the clear majority.

The superior man understands what is right; the inferior man understands what will sell. -- Confucius