Private / Semi Private Offices vs Team Spaces


What's your experience? Lots of management books etc say that private offices are super important for software engineers. The basic argument usually goes that engineers need to concentrate and be uninterrupted. That it takes them 30−45 minutes to get "in the zone". If they are interrupted for anything (phone call, conversation, question, distraction from the cube next to them, someone else's cell phone ringing) they don't just lose the 5 to 10 minutes for the interruption, they instead need another 30−45 minutes to get back into "the zone". To get their mind back around the problem they were solving. So, if they are constantly or even often interrupted they will never get in the zone and never really get any real work done.

I bought that hook, line and sinker in 1995−1996 but in my experience it's been completely untrue. My thinking has basically been that maybe it's true for waterfall method software development but that it's not true for games where it's not about a spec handed over the wall to some engineer who comes out of his office a week later with some software that matches a spec, it's about this massive amount of interaction between all the different team members. The artist who needs to know how to get some effect working or why it's not working as expected or why his asset is not converting correctly. It designer who needs a small new item to send signals at on specified frames or a new option in his animation playing object to turn it off or to lean over and say "why isn't this working". The programmers all working on different systems who need to ask each other questions about their specific parts of the code.

We had something happen at work in Septembery. We never had private offices but we do have relatively large cubes. My cube space is probably 2.5−>3 times the space I had at Sony which itself was 1.5−>2 times the space I had at Sega. Sega I had one 5x3 desk. With 1 CRT monitor and 1 23inch TV on it it was 100% full. At Sony I had maybe a 6x4 desk and 2 LCD monitors so I had significantly more space. I also had a cube instead of just a desk so there was room for a filing cabinet and a bookshelf hanging on the cube wall. I put the 23inch TV on the filing cabinet. Now, at my current job I have like an 8x3 or 9x3 desk, 2 full bookshelves, a filing cabinet and an extra 5x3 desk.

Well, in September some piece of equipment in the power room blew up taking the power out in half of our building which included our team area. The building management said the power would not be on for at least 5 days, maybe 8 as they needed some custom part that had to be made from scratch. We were crunching for a post TGS internal demo and so we couldn't stop working. So, we moved all the seniors into the executive conference room

Except for the fact that the air conditioning couldn't keep the room cool and that it took a day of juggling plugs until we figured out how not to blow the circuit breakers in our power strips we were super productive. Now, of course just being in the same room sitting 3 feet from each other isn't the only reason. We also made a concentrated push. But at the same time, it certainly feels like putting us all much much closer than we were, being able to look across the table at others and instantly ask questions, collaborate, etc made a measurable increase in our productivity. Even the rest of the company noticed. In fact just the fact that we were in there gave them a different attitude around us. There was an aura that "these guys are really working"

After the power came back on a few people that didn't fit in the room but had moved to other areas of the company where there was power moved back to their old desks. But, 3 people decided to just setup camp outside the conference room so they could be close to everyone else. 2 designers and our cutscene artist. They wheeled over tables and were right outside the door where they can shout, "hey, come look at this and tell me why it's not working"

If they could have gotten the whole team in there and if they could have kept it aired I'd have been happy to stay that way the entire project.

What's your experience?

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