It today's highly competitive environment, many companies try to cut costs by eliminating private offices, moving employees to cubicles, and shrinking the size of cubicles. While this can certainly cut real estate costs, it is important to look at the impact of workspace on productivity to see if there are associated cost increases due to lost productivity. An internal software productivity study done at a large aerospace company compared two groups of programmers. In the first group, programmers were given private offices with ergonomically designed workstations where they could work in undisturbed concentration. The second group was placed in open cubicles with standard office furniture. The skill sets of both groups were matched as closely as possible. The programming assignments given to each group were also matched in difficulty and size. After an eighteen month study, two of the most interesting results were:
The programmers with private offices developed 22% more lines of code than the second group.
The programmers with private offices had 27% fewer software problem reports filed during subsystem test and system integration testing.
While this study is over fifteen years old, its results are still reflected in the current practices of leading software development companies. Here are some of the best practices top software development companies use today in designing workspaces:
Programmers should have private offices with closing doors so they can work undisturbed.
Workstations (desk, chair , etc.) should be ergonomically designed and adjustable to accommodate different sized employees.
In windowed offices, office layout should allow the programmer to work without having to stare out at busy intersections, sidewalks, or other public areas that would distract his or her attention.
Office spaces and meeting rooms should have adequate whiteboard space on walls that will not be obstructed by office furniture. Large whiteboard spaces are crucial to program design.
There should be plenty of meeting areas and public spaces to foster both informal gatherings that improve team communications. Software development facilities at Xerox PARC still include the famous "beanbag room" where developers gather for informal conversations. Much of the cost justification for more public gathering spaces is achieved through smaller offices, something most programmers find a worthwhile trade-off.