Thinking at Work

Having worked from home for the last few years, I have a hard time understanding how people get anything done in open-floor plan offices. I would be overwhelmed and frustrated by the noise and commotion.

I assumed open-floor plans for software shops were a relatively new invention. However, I just started reading Peopleware: Productive Projects and Teams, first published in 1987, and discovered that the first third of the book rails against open floor plan offices. I particularly enjoyed this quote:

In my years at Bell Labs, we worked in two-person offices. They were spacious, quiet, and the phones could be diverted. I shared my office with Wendl Thomis, who went on to build a small empire as an electric toy maker. In those days, he was working on the Electronic Switching System fault dictionary. The dictionary scheme relied upon the notion of n-space proximity, a concept that was hairy enough to challenge even Wendel’s powers of concentration. One afternoon, I was bent over a program listing while Wendl was staring into space, his feet propped up on his desk. Our boss came in and asked, “Wendl! What are you doing?” Wendl said, “I’m thinking.” And the boss said, “Can’t you do that at home?”

The difference between that Bell Labs environment and a typical modern-day office plan is that in those quiet offices, one at least had the option of thinking on the job. In most of the office space we encounter today, there is enough noise and interruption to make any serious thinking virtually impossible. More is the shame: Your people bring their brains with them every morning. They could put them to work for you at no additional cost if only there were a small measure of peace and quiet in the workplace.

Last updated on Feb 05, 2024 12:37 -0500