In one study after another, workers failed to give much weight to decor in choosing, for instance, among variously colored panels and fixtures. The feeling seemed to be that depressing surroundings would be counterproductive, but as long as the office wasn’t depressing, then you could happily ignore it and get down to work.I’ve become fascinated by the concept of office space design for knowledge workers, in particular software developers. There’s a fantastic site called Office Snapshots that gathers information and photos about the offices of hundreds of companies, including many well-known software companies.
So we see the paradoxical phenomenon that totally unworkable space is gussied up expensively and pointlessly with plush carpets, black and chrome furniture, corn plants that get more space than workers, and elaborate panels. The next time someone proudly shows you around a newly designed office, think hard about whether it’s the functionality of the space that is being touted or its appearance. All too often, it’s the appearance.
— Peopleware, “The Issue of Glitz”
We’ve all heard about the lavish offices of Silicon Valley, where tech companies gather the best programmers in the world and spare no expense to provide for their every need. After looking through tons of cool office photos of many of the hottest companies in the Valley, I started to play a fun game I made up called “spot the desks”. I’ll show you what I mean.
An all-you-can-drink coffee bar with free snacks!
A bright mural and custom-made propaganda posters (HACK! MOVE FAST & BREAK THINGS!)
I see a lot of awesome stuff, but where is the quiet area where your big brains go to make world-changing software? Oh, jeez. Were the geniuses that wrote Cassandra and HHVM sitting in a bullpen like this?
There’s that coffee bar again. More free snacks!
It’s like a Dave & Buster’s up in here!
Ok…now where do the developers sit? Oh, I think I see them in the background of this conference room photo. Wow, that looks kinda noisy. Is that guy at card table #2 working on Bower?
DropboxWe could go on all day, but let’s check out one more office. Who doesn’t love Dropbox?
It’s like they have their own Panera!
Just chillin’ in my treehouse / log cabin / conference room…
You know the drill by now. Let’s see where the desks are where the devs have their big monitors, keyboard, ergonomic Aeron chairs, and all their gear set up. You know, where they get in the zone and write that world-class code. Wait…what the f*ck!? I wonder how many MIT grads per square foot you can fit in here?
I could go on and on and on. The pattern keeps repeating. With everything we know about open plan offices, why are these mega-rich companies knocking themselves out to hire the very best and brightest minds from the world’s best universities, paying them huge salaries, tapping world-class architects to design artisanal office spaces in the most expensive place in the country, and then cramming desks together in noisy bullpens?