Office Zen

For developers who need to get things done, the work environment is often a frustrating place. Many workers experience constant interruption from meetings, coworkers, telephone calls, email alerts, IM pop-up windows, etc. These interruptions prevent developers from doing real work. After finishing Peopleware, I feel that I have observed the potential for Zen in office life.

DeMarco and Lister break down in detail why so many office environments suck. From my point of view, the environment encompasses people, relationships, physical space, and culture.

What resonated strongly with me was the authors’ description of poor physical work spaces and the tyranny of “The Furniture Police.” Companies make decisions about office space by focusing on the financials without considering all the impacts on employees. The people in charge of these workspace projects (a.k.a. The Furniture Police) get the chance to dictate where teams will operate. This leads to high density, noisy cubicle environments which are not conducive to concentration. These environments appear cheaper for the bottom line.

I work from home a couple of days a week. On my own team, I also have some of the highest personal productivity according to our internal measures. Do I think there is correlation? Absolutely. I am completely aware that I am more productive at home than in the office because of the negative factors of my cubicle environment.

The irony of being cheap about physical work environments is that developer time is really freaking expensive, and the loss of productivity in teams greatly outweighs some office space rent. Unfortunately, it is really hard to quantify lost productivity in dollars so The Furniture Police often win.

DeMarco and Lister discuss more elements of work environments than just physical space. They spend time writing about people, elements of strong teams, pathogens that prevent good teams from forming, management style, and other topics. By absorbing these topics, Peopleware helped me acknowledge the deficiencies in my own office situation. I knew I didn’t like portions of my office life, but I couldn’t articulate all of the reasons why. Although the book’s material is geared towards what managers can do to improve the workplace, every office worker could benefit from reading this book. I highly recommend it.