There’s been a lot of discussion lately about whether particular office floor plans are detrimental to your startup’s success.
Since I moonlight as an Investigative Journalist, I decided to analyze three popular approaches that you can take:
An “open floor plan office” derives from the Polish phrase meaning, “fuck the employees let’s shove them all in a pile and let them sort it out”. This plan, popularized by Henry Ford, became pivotal in the 1950’s to America’s continued technological advantage over the Soviet Union due to the USSR’s overwhelming surplus of walls. No matter what approach the Politburo tried, the only way they could feasibly deal with this surplus was to create fields of cubicles, leading to the infamous open floor plan gap that would dictate foreign policy for decades to come.
In an open floor plan, teams of developers tend to be regurgitated onto endless miles of tables, which are pushed together so that management can easily corral them into meetings (but not close enough such that developers unionize).
To defend themselves, the immune systems of these developers naturally evolved extensions of their earlobes into growths that we now call “headphones”. This led many developers to claim that techno music “really helped them concentrate and code”, which is a fate easier to swallow than sitting and talking about something called “360 degree feedback” in a meeting room with your manager.
The open floor plan grew in fame in recent years because, according to Peter Thiel, “everyone wanted to be like that one guy in The Social Network trailer and yell MARRRRRRK! and throw shit on Mark Zuckerberg’s desk”.
The “closed floor plan office” came directly from those misled years spent in those Soviet grain farms which grew walls that formed the basis of their cubicle society from 1952-1991.
Though detrimental towards Team Bonding, cubicles eventually were adopted in the American workplace by Enron executives in 1994, who sought a more potent way to demoralize its workplace through the use of emotionally-crippling loneliness and isolation. After a few months of this approach, Enron’s handlers found they didn’t even need to lock the doors to cubicles anymore; employees would naturally sit at their desk until the end of business at 10PM. (Though oft-attempted, the economical and lucrative bathroom/cubicle combination was found to be unfeasible until new laws were passed by Congress in 2008 through rider on an extension of the Patriot Act.)
Still, closed floor plans are generally frowned upon by startups primarily due to the death of a prominent FORTRAN programmer who had a heart attack in his private office while drinking his eighteenth Mountain Dew™ that day during the first dotcom bubble. His body wasn’t discovered until the second bubble.
A relatively late contender, the remote office became wildly popular with the introduction of Skype calling, which let you listen in with crystal-clear quality on the exact sound of the splash made while your coworker was on the toilet discussing thin client strategies during your 9am standup (well, sit-down).
The remote office would have similar soul-crushing loneliness of the closed floor plan office with the exception that now it is no longer necessary to wear pants. With that single achievement, remote work has been scientifically proven to be accessible, approachable, and advantageous to millions of remote workers who happen to be found in the same timezone as the main office.
Luckily, there’s always one asshole who is literally across the entire world and one of you always has to wake up way fucking early in the morning to talk to them and oh just kidding it’s always going to be you because the other dude is “a little hungover and still rolling a little from this crazy paris hilton dj set last night” to do it in his morning today so could you just wake up in eight hours thanks i’d really appreciate it!
So, as you can see, all of these office structures have considerable benefits and drawbacks.
After studying the problem for awhile, I’ve come up with two possible solutions.
Abolish work. I’m not sure it makes sense to do work anymore, and I’m starting to think that people are happier just like, not doing it.
Use a mixture. Maybe — just maybe — the long, passionate discussion and debate about this is indicative that different people have different tastes. Some people dig open offices, some hate them, and some hate offices of all kinds (or have existing obligations at home that preclude them from going into an office every day). So it seems to me that a good approach might be to have open spaces, closed spaces, and a healthy remote environment, and let people choose. People’s tastes change over time, after all, and some days they might want isolation, some days they might not. A little flexibility goes a long way.
That said, the real best-of-all-possible-worlds option is, of course, to have one gigantic bathroom with beds in it so that people never have to leave the workplace. Traditionally it’s appropriate to buy employees an expensive watch after a few decades at the company, but I’ve always found it more prudent to give them TWO watches (one for each wrist!) during their on-boarding so that you can attach the chains directly to their new stainless steel watches so that you don’t have people accidentally leaving the company before their 30 years are up. Not sure why people haven’t adopted that practice yet.