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Making Software by Greg Wilson, Andy Oram

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Chapter 19. A Communal Workshop or Doors That Close?

Jorge Aranda

This chapter deals with an apparently simple question: what is the most convenient office space layout for collocated software teams? Intuitively, we know that space and the distance and accessibility between members of a software team are factors that set the tone for their projects. Cubicle farms, telecommuting, shared rooms—these and other arrangements encourage some kinds of interactions and disable others, and in the extreme case, remotely distributed teams restrict team interaction almost exclusively down to electronic communication. But we know that even when team members live in the same city and work in the same building, their office layout has an effect on their performance. So, how important is office space layout, really? And what does our current evidence tell us about the best ways to design our working space?

Doors That Close

Let us begin with a straw man argument: money spent enhancing the workplace of software developers is money down the drain. Developers who insist on having individual offices with doors that close and phones that can be turned off are pampered prima donnas who can’t ever be appeased. If you give each of them a nice office (and where will the space or the money for these offices even come from?), they’ll start to complain about the kitchenette, or the lack of indoor bike parking, or the glare from the windows in their monitors. Inevitably they’ll demand gourmet catering of organic, ...

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