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I've been mandated into a shared open office multiple times a week since I happen to be near where the CEO and the office are. I find that it's generally more distracting than working remotely, especially next to colleagues who are in more "creative" type roles, and I find it difficult to get into and stay into a flow state doing software engineering work. How do I best navigate this and minimize distractions? The engineering team I'm on is remote.

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    You make it sound like you are only mandated to come to the office because you happen to live near. Do you have the same contract as the people working remotely? What does it say about your work location?
    – Helena
    Commented Jul 11, 2023 at 6:54
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    @Helena - I can't speak for OP's specific case, and in my local area a number of companies have begun to mandate a return to office for local employees while retaining at least some form of remote workforce. It's less about employment contract as much as it is company policy. The contract is the same for everyone in the vein of "abide by company policies as required", and then the policy is crafted in a manner to provide distinction. Commented Jul 11, 2023 at 17:53
  • @JoelEtherton How do they distinguish 'remote workforce' from local employees? Just by the distance of the address? Or were the remote workers specifically hired as remote hires?
    – Helena
    Commented Jul 11, 2023 at 23:01
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    @Helena: yes on both counts. It's a specified distance of listed primary residence to the main office. Most fully remote workers were hired as remote workers based on their primary residence. I don't have all of the details specifically as the company employs a wide variety of full time and contract workers in many fields. In tech (the flavor of OP's question), this distinction is more policy than contract. Commented Jul 12, 2023 at 17:27

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You take their money; you live by their rules, and they live with the consequences of their rules.

If your productivity - and that of others - suffers because of the open floor plan they mandate, that's not your problem. Go into the office, do the conferences and if you cannot book a meeting room, do them on your table. Other people being les productive? NOT YOUR PROBLEM. They mandated you being in the office, they mandate you running a remote team, they mandate having an open floor plan. Consequence: Lower productivity.

At some point someone will raise it up the wall and you basically take the stance that they have all the freedom in the world - to change the environment to one being productive, not creative. Not your problem.

While - obviously - looking for a better alternative for yourself.

Been in that position, where I could hear the guys on the phone when they were 20 meters away. RIDICULOUS - but, not the problem of the employees but of the management doing brain dead decisions like that.

Particularly as you have no interaction really with the people in the office - so there is not a lot of benefit for a software engineer on a remote work team. These are not even your clients (i.e. you do not make software for them directly) so - basically you are not related at work at all.

Again, management rules, management lives with the consequences.

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    +1 Unfortunately, this is a good answer.
    – Tom Sawyer
    Commented Jul 11, 2023 at 13:03
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    "that's not your problem" - unless of course you enjoy concentrating on your work and take pride in your output, and the office arrangement undermines that.
    – Steve
    Commented Jul 11, 2023 at 19:57
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    Nope. It is a job, first and foremost - you do not like the work conditions, get another one. Otherwise, if you work under "not my problem" then it may actually GET FIXED. Because between you and me - it is a stupid setup the OP has.
    – TomTom
    Commented Jul 11, 2023 at 20:52
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    It may not be your problem but you need to make sure people are aware of the issue. e.g. if you give your Manager a weekly update mention it there - acheived X & Y but not Z as being in the office is less productive. You need to talk to management in terms they understand - tasks, deadlines etc.
    – deep64blue
    Commented Jul 11, 2023 at 21:08
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    The downside to this kind of advice is that if the worker's progress stalls for an extended time due to mismanagement, their career growth will be stunted. This answer briefly mentions, "looking for a better alternative", but it would be better if that were the main thrust. The just-live-with-it lede is corrosive to the worker. Commented Jul 13, 2023 at 2:01
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The company has made a choice about productivity by having a open floor plan. It is something that somehow appeals to certain people as they think that it will boost morale and productivity, but in reality it keeps people distracted. Since your team is remote, you likely have conference calls every now and then, and these distract other people. When they have calls, you get distracted.

It seems that you interact with the people in the office purely socially and not directly related to your work? Then it might make more sense to meet in the office for social functions. These could be team reunions where your remote team comes to the office. Or having a breakfast with people on site every now and then.

I think that you should bring this up with your manager. Tell them that you don't feel productive and also don't want to interrupt other people. State that you feel more productive working from home.

If you have to come to the office, there are a few things that you can do to improve the situation. You could ask for noise cancelling headphones, those improve it somewhat. Also you could ask for the office team to build some “phone booth” style mini offices where people can go into when they have a call. This way the noise level in the office will go down a bit. Another trick is booking a conference room for focus time and just using that as a single office.

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    Open floor plans are attractive to some companies because they are much cheaper to build out and the costs from lost productivity are hard to measure. There are a few types of work that require that sort of constant collaboration; software development isn't one of them.
    – ColleenV
    Commented Jul 11, 2023 at 14:23
  • I favor the conspiracy theory that open-plan was the office furniture industry's plot to get companies to buy a whole new set of furniture, just as cubicles were in the previous cycle.
    – keshlam
    Commented Jul 18, 2023 at 0:15
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For what it's worth, with practice you probably will learn to tune out many of the distractions. I much prefer a closed working space myself, but even in a three-desk cluster with all of us facing each other I learned how to mostly ignore visual distractions, and I got better at tuning out auditory distractions (though earplugs/headphones do help). When absolutely necessary, I unplugged the laptop and moved to a less distracting location -- a conference room if I could find one unoccupied that hour, a corner of the lunchroom before or after lunch, once or twice a corner of a stairwell at the "attic" level when I really needed to be Away From People.

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I'm in a very similar position, except that I'm sole developer in a small company.

Given the size and layout of the office, there's not a huge amount I can do to resolve things by changing my location, or other peoples' locations, but I find the following helps me:

  1. Bose noise cancelling headphones
  2. Playing non-distracting white noise through these headphones when I'm doing tasks that require absolute concentration
  3. Playing (loud) prog-rock through them when I'm doing mundane tasks but don't want to hear the all the sales-talk and other creative noise

I have also negotiated being able to work from home, or use the conference room (if available) on occasions when I need absolute silence.

So, I take whatever practical steps I can to reduce distractions and, rather than just accept it, try to negotiate rather than complain...

It works for me :-)

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