Productivity and Workplace Design

If you are working at a company where cost savings are really really important, then chances are that after reducing cost factor number 1 (wages, i.e. headcount and hourly rate), cost factor number 2 is up. And that is office space.

However, there is a lot of evidence that a correct office workplace is one of the most important factors in productivity, as DeMarco and Lister put it in “Peopleware: Productive Projects and Teams”:

Police-mentality planners design workplaces the way
they would design prisons: optimized for containment
at minimal cost. We have unthinkingly yielded to
them on the subject of workplace design, yet for most
organizations with productivity problems, there is no
more fruitful area for improvement than the work-

As long as workers are crowded into noisy, sterile, dis-
ruptive space, it’s not worth improving anything but
the workplace.

A factor of 2-3 can be reached compared to an open office or cubicle workspace by following one basic principle of somehow putting the team together in one location and limiting outside interference. Ed Yourdon mentions a few methods for achieving this in his “Death March” book:

  • Frontal attack: Convince a project owner such as a high-level manager to put the team into an effective work environment.
  • Skunk works mystique: Isolate the team in a separate location isolated from the rest.
  • Squatter’s rights: Commandeer existing empty office space.
  • Telecommute: Tell everyone to work from home an meet regularly at a location outside of the office.  “As an additional diversion, you can put scarecrow-style dummies at the desks normally occupied by the project team; management will have a hard time distinguishing them from the other zombies in the office.”
  • Graveyard shift: Shift working times to the night shift.
  • Barricades and buffers: In an open office space locate the team together and put up barricades such as cupboards.
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