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rjurney · 2015-02-23 · Original thread
Considering how cheap office space is compared to labor, the trend of compacting workers into ever tinier cubes (with or without walls) is insane.

I wrote about good data science/engineer environments in Agile Data Science (O'Reilly, 2012). You can read it here:

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Agile Environments: Engineering Productivity

Generalists require more uninterrupted concentration and quiet than do specialists. That is because the context of their work is broader, therefore their immersion is deeper. Their environment must suit this need.

Invest in 2-3x the space of a typical cube farm, or you are wasting your people. In this setup, some people don’t need desks, which drives costs down.

Rows of cubicles like cells of a hive. Overbooked conference rooms camped and decamped. Microsoft Outlook a modern punchcard. Monolithic insanity. A sea of cubes.

Deadlines interrupted by oscillating cacophonies of rumors shouted, spread like waves uninterrupted by naked desks. Headphone budgets. Not working, close together. Decibel induced telecommuting. The open plan.

Competing monstrosities seeking productivity but not finding it.

—Poem by Author

Before very long, people get very confused that the process is the content. That’s ultimately the downfall of IBM. IBM has the best process people in the world. They just forgot about the content.

—Steve Jobs

We can do better. We should do better. It costs more, but it is inexpensive.

In Agile Data Science, we recognize team members as creative workers, not office workers. We therefore structure our environment more like studio than office. At the same time, we recognize that employing advanced mathematics on data to build products requires quiet contemplation and intense focus. So we incorporate elements of the library as well.

Many enterprises limit their productivity enhancement of employees to the acquisition of skills. However, about 86% of productivity problems reside in the work environment of organizations. The work environment has effect on the performance of employees. The type of work environment in which employees operate determines the way in which such enterprises prosper.

—Akinyele Samuel Taiwo

It is much higher cost to employ people than it is to maintain and operate a building, hence spending money on improving the work environment is the most cost effective way of improving productivity because of small percentage increase in productivity of 0.1% to 2% can have dramatic effects on the profitability of the company. —

—Derek Clements-Croome and Li Baizhan The Sane

Workspace Creative workers need three kinds of spaces to collaborate and build together. From open to closed, they are: collaboration space, personal space and private space.

Collaboration Space

Collaboration space is where ideas are hatched. Situated along main thoroughfares and between departments, collaborative spaces are bright, open, comfortable and inviting. They have no walls. They are flexible and reconfigurable. They are ever changing, always rearranged. Bean bags, pillows and comfortable chairs. Collaboration space is where you feel the energy of your company: laughter, big conversations, excited voices talking over one another. Invest in and showcase these areas. Real, not plastic, plants keep sound from carrying and they make air :)

Private Space

Private space is where deadlines get met. Enclosed and soundproof, private spaces are libraries. There is no talking. Private space minimizes distractions. Dim light, white noise. There are bean bags, couches and chairs, but ergonomics demand proper workstations too. Separated sit/stand desks with docking stations behind (bead) curtains with 30” LCDs.

Personal Space

Personal space is where people call home. In between collaboration and private space in its degree of openness, personal space should be personalized by each individual to suit his or her needs. Shared office or open desks, half or whole cube. Personal space should come with a menu and a budget. Themes and plant-life should be encouraged. For some people, this is where you spend most of your time. For others… given adequate collaborative and private space, a notebook and mobile device, some people don’t need personal space at all.

Above all, the goal of the Agile Environment is to create immersion in data through the physical environment: printouts, posters, books, whiteboard, etc.

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