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One thing I've learned about myself is that I'm incompatible with the new trend towards "open floorplan" workspaces in tech companies. It makes me miserable and unproductive.

(Don't take this to mean that I'm anti-social. I eat lunch with my team every day, and go to all the company parties and get-togethers, and I often do fun things with my coworkers on the weekends. I just can't deal with a bunch of noise and distraction when I'm trying to concentrate on work.)

One of the sister StackExchange sites lets companies list Joel Test scores which include a check-box for "quiet working conditions", but there's no way to search for companies by this attribute, and (even when I try searching with Google's "site:" feature) none I can find within 1000 miles of me.

I don't want this to turn into a debate over what office layout is best, or how to deal with noisy offices -- those have been done to death already. Given that I want a quiet private office within commuting distance of my house (in a medium-large city known for its tech companies), and am willing to compromise on almost everything else (including job title), how might I go about finding employers who offer this?

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This isn't really an answer, but due to the sheer nature of the job, most office jobs that require a security clearance will typically be in a private office. –  panoptical Apr 16 at 20:46
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The Joel test uses open floor plans as an example under that point, but I'm not sure you actually need a closed floor plan (or whatever the opposite is) to get a 'check mark' on that one. I know that's not your really your point, but just saying. –  Dukeling Apr 16 at 22:17
    
@panoptical Really? Because I've definitely seen open plan offices on secure sites. My previous work had a "secure room", which was also open plan. –  Nathan Cooper Apr 17 at 16:22
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@Dukeling I totally agree with you. No open floor plan office will say that it has a noisy work environment. The ONLY reason for an open floor plan is to save them money. They do say that this way people can get into a healthy and productive conversations. But is your performance measured by the number of conversations you engaged in or the number of tasks you completed? –  Farhan May 27 at 16:06
    
@panoptical i have worked in several high security facilities, and have never had a private office. As a matter of fact, in the most secure facility I worked, I shared a cube and it was a very noisy environment. –  Bill Leeper May 28 at 17:13

4 Answers 4

I doubt there's a big database somewhere where you can find a list of such employers. Even if you could search based on some criteria a company filled out in a form, there's no guarantee that what they consider 'quiet' matches what you consider it to be.

Apply for jobs and during the initial interviews make it clear up front you are only interested in positions if they provide a suitable workspace for you - but that you are very flexible otherwise. A lot of companies that aren't capable of such flexibility will cut you from any consideration - but that's what you are going for, so that shouldn't be an issue.

You also might consider telecommute positions, if you feel you have the discipline to work effectively from home. Then you'd have total control over your workspace.

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I've done telecommuting before, but it's not ideal. I miss out on all the team lunches, and often there's no substitute for face-to-face communication. I want to see my coworkers every day -- just not every minute. :-) –  Ken Apr 16 at 19:31

Given that I want a quiet private office within commuting distance of my house (in a medium-large city known for its tech companies), and am willing to compromise on almost everything else (including job title), how might I go about finding employers who offer this?

Since it is so rare that companies offer private offices these days, any company that does so almost always proudly proclaims it on their "careers" page.

Find the companies within commuting distance to you. Look at their web pages. If they have private offices for everyone - they will tell you!

Alternatively, if you work with a headhunter, make it clear that this is a requirement of yours. The good ones know their clients well enough to know if they have private offices, or can call around to find out if the company offers private offices to some or all employees.

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I was going to mention the recruiter/headhunter option also: any good recruiter will be familiar with the environment at their clients' offices, and will be able to help with only putting you forward for roles that fit what you're looking for. –  Carson63000 Apr 17 at 2:01

I think you're best bet is networking. As you say, you're a social enough person - go to industry gatherings in your locale - so that you are narrowing down your search to the local area at the outset. Then gently nose around for working environments that work for you - see who you meet that has an office themselves or knows of companies that offer this, and target your search in that direction. The bonus is, you also develop a personal network that helps get you in through recommendations as opposed to posting to open positions with the masses.

The other thing I can think of is to try to diagnose what strategies lead to companies finding it a worth while expense to give people offices. Offices are more expensive than cubicles - most places pay per square foot, and offices simply take more space, plus the work to build more walls and plan out air flow - a one time cost, but it has to amortize over a certain number of years.

One would like to think that every company puts a priority on people having the ability to focus, but clearly there are other tradeoffs that favor open floor plans and I don't think anyone's really made a definitive case for every circumstance. One thing I see is that - with a wide sweeping brush:

  • Offices connote status - companies that want to show that a given role has a high status will get that role an office. This is a factor not only of the need for showing status, but also the need to show status to people who are visiting in person.

  • Roles with confidential information sharing where the whole team does not have a need to know. You'll see it with some info sec, and lots of manager roles.

  • Roles that involve work that is annoying to others - for example, the one guy who takes phone meetings all day may get locked up away from everyone else, because it's easier to wall him off than to give everyone else offices. Similarly, I've seen guys with really loud machinery (white noise but still loud) get private spaces, more like labs than offices, because of the noise of their tools. If what bothers you is human voices vs. white noise, working in a private lab may be an option.

All of these are cases where your need for an office is less likely to change. One trick is that moving into a team that offers offices for no obvious reason other than "we've had lots of offices in this building so it just worked out" - means that your office is as likely to remain only as long as the lease remains. If there's a driving reason for you to have that office, it's more predictable that it will stay around.

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During the interview, you can say that you work better in a quiet space than an open-plan or shared-lab environment and count on the folks who consider flexibility important rejecting you... but that may mean giving up job opportunities that you'd be interested in.

And even after that screening, you have no guarantee. The job which has a private office now may not next month when the company decides to consolidate several locations into a single building, or otherwise changes layout/policy/whatever.

I know that isn't the answer you wanted. But I don't think the answer you want exists unless you are enough of a superstar that the company is willing to write this into your contract despite the costs/inconvenience it may impose on them.

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