Tear Down Your Cubicle Walls

Jurgen! How do you feel about open office spaces?

The thing I like most about an open office space is that it enables me to move people around all the time… You people are working together? Go sit over there, so you can talk more easily! Is development growing bigger? Let's move the service administrators out of the way! Are too many juniors sitting side by side? Everybody stand up, turn around, do a little dance, and mingle with the seniors! Are you promoted to development manager? Move to a strategic position where you can see the account managers approaching, so you can shoot them before it's too late… I think having an open space enables us to be smart, flexible and agile.


Steve McConnell wrote two days ago that noisy crowded offices are classic mistake #8. Such a big open floor obviously runs the risk of being too noisy. That's true. So we've made a number of rules to compensate for that. No yelling. No running. No meetings (except for 15-minute stand-ups). And no disturbing of people when they're wearing headphones. (Many of us like listening to their favorite music while working.) Anybody not following the rules? Tell them, or give them the evil eye.

Privacy vs. Teams
In Peopleware Tom DeMarco and Timothy Lister wrote that open offices are bad for productivity. They claim that it is better for software engineers to have their own private or two-person rooms. That's true, provided that those people are working as individuals or pairs. However, I believe this is not true for people working in larger communication-intensive teams. Team members should be able to see each other, mix with each other, make faces, point fingers, share jokes, and hear each others desperate groans when using the latest IE beta version.

I do believe that cubicles are possibly humanity's worst invention ever (after the Sinclair C5). Cubicles combine the drawbacks of open space (risk of noise) with the drawbacks of private offices (no team communication). To everyone reading this blog while sitting in a cubicle, my advice is:

Tear Down Those Cubicle Walls, Now!

Be inspired by the picture above. Remove the walls. Get together. See your colleagues. Laugh at their faces. Share your body language. Give them a compliment, with either a thumb or a middle finger. But be a team!

Two days ago Mike Griffiths wrote that another value might be added to the Agile Manifesto:

"Challenging the process over following the rules."

Being agile means challenging established rules and practices. Circumstances might require you to choose your own way. Our office is a 90-year old protected monument. We are not allowed to change it! Therefore, Tom and Timothy: thanks for the good advice. But the open office is our way.

Agreed? Not? Tell me! Or read another article:

Specialization is Good

Why I Would Never Hire Steve Yegge

The Cone of Incompetence

  • Lesson Learned: Automate Project Evaluations
  • Follow Your Mind, Not Your Rules
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