Open Floorplans: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

BitSight was my first experience in an open floorplan. When I joined the team for my first co-op, they were a small company consisting of maybe 25 people total in an office park. There were lots of desks, all arranged in rows of 2x3 where each employee was given one desk. Some employees even had drawers. As the company grew, the office space began to get cramped, so they moved to the next floor up into a much bigger space. The desks are still clustered into groups of at least 2x2 however. Initially I loved this layout, but now the honeymoon is over and I have some reservations.

The Good

As I said before, initially I loved the layout. I'm a shy person, it can be incredibly difficult to force myself to talk to someone I'm unfamiliar with, even more so if I've never met them before. With the open floorplan, it was much easier for me to learn who everybody was and become much more comfortable around them, especially since I was able to grok what may be going on because I'm able to hear discussions about it. Additionally, while the company was still small, they would eat lunch together, which also helped to make me familiar and comfortable with everyone. However, once comfortable, the cracks began to show.

The Bad

Simply put, an open floorplan makes it incredibly easy to become distracted which makes it incredibly difficult to concentrate for an extended period of time. Unless you have headphones in, you can hear everybody's conversations and if you're unlucky enough to have a desk facing the door, you see all of the foot traffice outside which can be incredibly visually distracting as you'll always be looking up due to something in the corner of your eye moving. Additionally, it's incredibly easy for someone to interrupt you by just walking up to you since the floorplan is open. This is both a blessing and a curse, as it makes people really easy to find when you need them, but it also makes yourself incredibly susceptible to interruptions.

The Ugly

Okay, so all of that's bad enough, what could be worse? A company which does nothing about it! Thankfully, this does not apply to BitSight. Back in September of 2013, they implemented a policy of "Quiet Hours" between 2PM and 4PM, meaning nobody is allowed to speak, all communication must be done via HipChat or email. If you need to collaborate with someone, you must do so in an empty room as to not disturb others. The only exceptions to these rules are Ops and QA and only if they're being blocked on something (i.e. cannot make any progress). This policy has helped out tremendously, as there's always a guarantee that you'll have at least two hours of quiet to focus.

Now that BitSight has more space, they've been actively building more and more office spaces throughout. While some of these are being transformed into hotel spaces, it seems that most will become more office spaces. This can only be a good thing, in my mind. Currently it doesn't look like they will be assigned to people, rather they will be available to be booked as needed, but it is a good first step in my opinion. While of course it would be ideal for each employee to have their own office, it simply is not economically feasible to do so.

In conclusion, I've come to a much better understanding of why people dislike open floorplans so much. While BitSight will continue with their open floorplan for the time being, they're doing all they can to ensure everybody can have a peaceful, productive working environment, which is really the most I can ask for.

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