Our team works in an open-space office. Luckily the cubicles are quite big (L shaped tables for everyone!), there is quite a lot of space so we are not sandwiched. Without going into further detail, there are comfortable spots (window), normal spots and stupid spots (near the corridor).

Until recently, the development team of twelve engineers was seated so that all types of spots were occupied and we were all close together.

In the old arrangement, verbal communication was very easy - half of the team was withing talking distance. The other half was like ten steps away. Often times I could ask, discuss, solve problems without leaving the cube.

Most of the communication is work related, no bullshit or mental masturbation that would unnecessarily distract others.

Now we have moved to another part of the building and have larger space to occupy. At this point, everyone could pick their spot. Naturally all stupid spots are left empty (for the poor newcomers to occupy bwehaha).

In the new arrangement, the development team is stretched across the floor and some of the key engineers are seated 'far' from each other - definitely not within talking distance.

I have yet to experience how this works out but am getting concerned that team work and communication may have been traded for personal comfort.

Finally the questions...

What do you think is better office arrangement?

Such that allows for free verbal communication but trading for some developer's comfort, or such that potentially hinders verbal communication but makes developer's more comfortable in their spot? Or maybe it does not matter at all and we will evolve to be efficient in any arrangement?

What is your personal experience?

Note - yes I read books and posts how workplace is important in our job. However in this case - we are all still in open space and the difference between the different spots are not really groundbreaking. So I'm thinking the little comfort that few developers gain is not worth the loss of easy communication.

  • 2
    joelonsoftware.com/articles/BionicOffice.html - Joel has some interesting comments on the subject.
    – Pemdas
    Jan 5 '11 at 20:10
  • +1 to Pemdas if you think the man earned himself a beer right there. Jan 29 '11 at 4:22
  • @finrod Now that it's been several months that you experimented your new organisation, do you have an update insight? I would be interested to know
    – xsace
    Nov 10 '11 at 9:35
  • Get some chat software installed

Aside from that you may find some of the other developers find verbal communication breaks them out of the productive 'zone', regardless of how work related the talk is.

Also of note is that by having everyone in the same location, while work talk between Dev A and Dev B may be productive, it is most likely nothing but distracting noise to Dev C, Dev D, ...

  • I'd be interested in hearing/understanding the reasoning behind the down vote? I can't learn anything from a click on a downward facing triangle alone! Jan 5 '11 at 21:30
  • Of course we do have chat software :)
    – finrod
    Jan 5 '11 at 22:47

Personally sitting within talking distance without a door sucks. You may be discussing something work related with the person next to you, but what about the person next them? They are probably distracted by your conversation causing them to be less productive. Personally, I would find a spot as far away from everyone that I could.

  • Well isn't this always the case with open space? I mean.. there will always (at least in my context) be people next to you and there will be always some noise...
    – finrod
    Jan 5 '11 at 22:45

Using physical proximity as a way to gauge how effective communication is, to me, slightly off base.

If you want to communicate with another party you will. My experience is that more often then not those who did not want to communicate used distance/location as the reason whereas those who did want to communicate had no issues with the distance/location and communicated efficiently.

This boils down to behavioral traits; not physical location.

  • 1
    +1 for the disconnect between physical proximity == effective communication. Jan 5 '11 at 19:48
  • This is a good point. Please note though that the question did not contemplate on effectiveness but easiness. Regardless of that though I think we will learn, adapt and go on.
    – finrod
    Jan 5 '11 at 22:42

Personally I do enjoy having someone right next to me that I can discuss various subjects with but I am also aware that sometimes I bother them for petty things that I could have just found out myself. It varies a lot from person to person.

I think your answer will have to come from your developers themselves.

Some of them were used to the verbal communication before, they probably do not mind it or even like it. These people usually get along just great because they interact all the time (you should know who these people are).

Others may not have ever liked it at all and prefer their own spot where no one bothers them with stuff that they're not focusing on at the time. Trying to concentrate on what you're doing when someone keeps bothering you about other things is going to be an impossible task.

Assessing who belongs to each group might not be the easiest task but asking them about it is the first step you need to take.

In the case that verbal communication is really not possible anymore, try the alternatives. I really like the idea of a company IRC server with channels for groups/topics. At least you know that history is preserved and one can easily see the chat history over the last few days on a given subject.

Another really good thing that I've experienced is chatting at the 'coffee table' or similar, sometimes it brings some really good collaboration between people, mostly because of the more relaxed environment.

Hope it helps.


If you can't sit together can you at least get some small conference rooms dedicated to your team (we call them breakout rooms). Then you can work quietly at your desk but have a place to go for the small informal discussions that teams need.

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