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I want to create a new workspace for a small software development team (4-15 developers).

Is there any research into whether open workspaces or small offices make for a better working environment?

  • For open / closed, you mean a completely open space with no separation between developers vs separately cubicles or offices? – DaveG Feb 13 at 11:40
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    "Better" in which aspect? Cost? Flexibility? Employee production? Employee happiness? – Abigail Feb 13 at 13:46
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    Vote to close as too opinion-based, as I think we can all see from the comments here. As a software developer, who is also a huge introvert, I enjoy my open office space and would be reluctant to go back to a cubicle. Even introverts need to collaborate and the lack of high walls makes that easier. This directly contradicts several comments here. You aren't going to get a definitive answer. – Seth R Feb 13 at 21:50
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    @SethR there have been actual objective studies of this question (see the accepted answer, for example), closing it as opinion-based is inappropriate. Downvote answers that don't include citations if you like. – Kevin Feb 14 at 0:28
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    Being this is 2019, also consider remote working. – GrandmasterB Feb 14 at 6:25
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The problem is that different people work better in different environments. What you should do is have plenty of private spaces and a few usable public spaces for groups. Your spaces will not effectively work at 15 people; try to design spaces for 6 or fewer.

I’ve worked in cubicles, a private office, a shared office, and a open area. I disliked the open area because of a lack of privacy. And basically all the open space pioneers backed away from the idea quite long ago.

EDIT; Here are some interesting reads:

Harvard Study

Chicago Tribune

Forbes

  • Yes, 15 is too many for an open area – Kilisi Feb 13 at 11:47
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    worst place I worked in had an open plan office space designed for about 40 people but that due to the department growing without them getting funding for more office space now housed 80 people. I literally got ill, seriously ill, from the noise and people moving around me constantly. – jwenting Feb 14 at 4:15
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    @Kilisi that really depends, best office/team combination so far, despite earlier reservations on my part, turned out to be an open space office with about 15-20 people. However, it was neatly separated into smaller spaces (visually, e.g. flowers, desks etc.). Everyone was very disciplined (because of the open space) and the project had a requirement for short reactions and quite a bit of communication. So it made a lot of sense and helped there. If you however don't have such a project, then I'd agree that you won't gain its benefits and have its drawbacks. – Frank Hopkins Feb 15 at 12:21
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Contrary to the original (claimed) intentions behind the open-plan office philosophy, namely the improvement of collaboration and communication research has shown that they actually cause a significant decrease in both face to face interactions and productivity.

They also appear to lead to a negative impact on employee health, one study showing a staggering 62% increase in the number of sick days taken by employees in an open plan environment vs having closed offices.

The only real benefit to open-plan is that it allows for reduced expenditure on office space, now in some locations where space is at a premium this trade off may actually make more financial sense:

An approximation for the cost savings in using open-plan can be done:

(Square feet per person saved via open offices * # of employees * Cost/square foot of office space)

So as the number of employees goes up - so does the value of potential cost reductions.

If the lost productivity of the open-plan model results in lost revenue of less than the additional cost of having closed plan offices then it can still make sense.

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    Don't forget that "lost productivity" may also include increased turnover and potential employees turning down your job-offers, in favor of companies that offer them better (non-shared) workspace. – SeldomNeedy Feb 13 at 20:10
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    Empirically, when someone can see what's on my screen at all times I spend so much time worrying about making sure that what's on my screen looks like work that I never get any work done. – Wayne Werner Feb 13 at 23:29
  • @SeldomNeedy in the UK i don't think there is any choice all offices are one huge room. – WendyG Feb 14 at 9:24
  • The problem is that the “additional cost” is easily quantifiable while the “lost revenue” isn’t, so budget holders will almost always go with the superficially cheaper option. – Gwyn Evans Feb 14 at 23:23
  • @WendyG {{citation needed}} – SeldomNeedy Feb 15 at 22:41
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4-15 developers.. that's a lot of variance, it's difficult to get something liked by everyone.

To add to what has already covered by UnhandledExcepSean's answer, I'd say, even for the same person, not everyday work requires same working condition.

Example: In a design review meeting, I'd like a open workplace where I sit face to face and discuss. Same me, would like to have a semi-private workplace when I'm trying to read, understand and debug someone else's code.

What I'd say, organize the available place into three categories

  • Open working space : For collaborative works
  • Head-down cubicles : Semi-private space for small period of high-focus individual work.
  • AV Room (Audio-Video Privacy Room): For Conference calls.

Even if you can't get the third one, it's okay. Have spaces for both 1 and 2, and let people choose what they prefer.

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    I think #3 is quite important. In fact, it could double as #1 (open working space / design space). I'd go with #2 & #3. – DaveG Feb 13 at 13:58
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This is just my experience about what I found worked best. In one company we were in an old big house. Each room was large enough for 6 people, so each team had a room to themselves. The volume and "fun" were controlled for how busy each team were.

The team members could just ask a question to the room and the correct person could now answer. Without disturbing other teams to who this question was irrelevant.

I now work in one room with the entire company, not a single sound barrier. Everyone is sat with headphones on, so nobody can add their own information which is relevant but you didn't know existed to ask about. But i guess they are cheaper for the company.

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    I used to work in an old house, but each room was treated as a private office. Me being the junior at the time ended in what had been the walk-in closet shared between two bedrooms. – Peter M Feb 16 at 13:23
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Anecdotally: I've worked at companies that have had shared offices (usually 2 people per office) and that have had an open office arrangement.

Ironically, I've found myself collaborating less in open office arrangements.

  • To deal with the extra noise created by open office layouts, many people end up wearing headphones all the time. However, by wearing headphones, they provide a (possibly unintended) cue that they don't want to be disturbed. I avoided talking to them.
  • I want to avoid disturbing bystanders, so I usually avoided talking to people in general.

In contrast, with private offices:

  • There is a clear visual cue whether the occupants are okay with visitors or if the occupants don't want to be disturbed: whether the door is open or closed.
  • I worried less about disturbing others since if discussion in the office gets too loud, we (or the people disturbed) could close doors.

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