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But I feel that the social interaction/brainstorming/overhearing that occurs at the office just doesn't happen as well as it does in person.
I've had experiences where I agree with you, but I've also had experiences where being around other people is a distraction, leads to gossip and rumor-mongering, and simply wastes a lot of time. I'm noticing I have a really strong opinion, probably because I like to work in my own environment (my computer hardware and software and environment has, without exception, been superior to what a company has ever provided, except for a client that I worked with once that supplied me with some amazing hardware), I like to set my own hours where I don't have to work (or look like I'm working) when I need to take a mental break to get some creative ideas on how to tackle a problem, etc.
Basically, what I want an employer to do is to give me the freedom to choose what is the best way for me to get the work done. I'm not opposed to coming in to an office, but I am opposed to stupid rules preventing me from being a sane, productive, individual. All too often, I think that employees are little more than indentured slaves.
It seems to be as if Walt and Marc are largely making the same point: trust the employee to be a professional (i.e., don't si thome and watch movies/play games/etc), and decide what works best for them.
This can vary from day to day; maybe it's best for me to work from home once in a while due to weather/appointments/whatever. I prefer to go in just to get out of the house, but a company should be inclusive of those who don't prefer to (as long as, as Marc points out, they remain productive and accessible).
I think there is some marginal value in being in the office. The other day, I got pulled into a discussion in a product with which I have no interaction, just to have a general discussion about how to solve a problem. Had I not been physically there, I wouldn't have been walking by, and gotten pulled in.
(It turns out that the right answer was to question the preceived requirements. I heard later the understanding of the problem wasn't what the product owner was thinking. I think I added value by being an outside source to point out what was being perceived wasn't a good idea generally, and giving them a new perspective on it to use as an example to go back to the product people with).
Anyway, the marginal value is almost certainly not as great as Ms. Yahoo seems to think it is. Sure, events like that happen once in a while, but they're not an everyday event.
Marc's points about the environmental impact also have some merit, although they're probably not quite as great; the heat/lights/etc at the office are going to be on whether you're there or not. It's actually worse, I suspect, to work from home, because you're heating/lighting/etc your home which you wouldn't otherwise. Not sure how that offsets once you factor in commuting. If you take public transportation, that's running whether you're on it or not; if you drive, certainly you're saving those emissions.
I'm not sure I'm with you on that Marc. The alternative is to set up processes that ensure that all necessary communication occurs. I'm pretty suspicious of process. An analogy I often use is this:
In a cell, things like ATP production in mitochondria occur because, even in the Krebs cycle, enzymes float around and make certain reactions more likely to occur than not. Its not a bunch of gears and levers. If you put a project manager in charge of ATP production, all life on earth would end instantly because they would insist on well defined gears and levers. They'd say "we can't depend on 'chance encounters' and changes in probabilities for something as important as cell energy production."
I guess my point is that the asking people to be physically together and thus capable of interacting and communicating somewhat randomly has a systemic effect that is positive. Whether you call it 'cross pollination of ideas' or the 'watercooler effect', it has a real and valuable effect. Yes there are things you can do (like daily meetings) to mimic its effect when people are remote from each other, but I don't believe it is as effective. There are folks at my work who are considering moving from remote locations back to the Bay Area because they feel left out of the mix. No-one is trying to do that to them and they are absolutely included and welcomed into conversations and meetings, but it isn't the same.
I guess my point is that the asking people to be physically together and thus
capable of interacting and communicating somewhat randomly has a systemic effect
that is positive.
But that same hypothesis can lead to negative outcomes as well.
Tom Clement wrote:
Yes there are things you can do (like daily meetings) to mimic its effect when
people are remote from each other, but I don't believe it is as effective.
I believe that formal code reviews provide that effect explicitly. It allows cross domain knowledge transfer, provides technical knowledge transfer and domain knowledge transfer. When done well it would be hard to see how that couldn't happen.
Where random path crossing might have the impact it is only likely to do so when the people involved already have a social (not professional) relationship.
Tom Clement wrote:
There are folks at my work who are considering moving from remote locations back
to the Bay Area because they feel left out of the mix.
There are places that are wonderful to work for and places that are nightmares.
On average however most places are in between. So most solutions should fit those and not the extremes.
What do you think would be the impact to the culture of your work place if management told you next week that everyone would be required to work from home full time one month from now? Would everyone be "thats a great idea"?
Don't get me wrong here. I am not arguing that everyone should work full time from home or full time at the office. My original point was that a mix is right. I actually am very happy with my work and the flexibility we have. I wouldn't be happy with the Yahoo approach, nor would I be happy with working always from home. (I thought that was my point about folks considering moving away from a working always from home situation. ) Maybe we agree!
I think it largely depends on what you are working on.
If you are working on an individual task, or based on previous decisions you just have 20 or 30 hours of coding to bang out, then it doesn't really matter where you do that.
I find with the stuff we work on though, things evolve rather dynamically and these independent coding stints don't usually last that long. We tend to gather around the workspace area whiteboard and bang out interface layouts or discuss code strategies multiple times a day.
Transitioning seamlessly between gathering around the whiteboard, to splitting off and having a senior dev pair program with a junior guy to show him a few tricks while another dev goes over the object tree structure with the designer so she can setup her bindings properly, to all working independently and someone just turning around and throwing out an idea to discuss...it's magical. You can kinda "simulate" these types of interactions with software, but it just isn't the same, not by a long shot.
We are currently all working from home as we are moving offices, and let me tell you, the collaborative ecosystem has been stiffled considerably. People don't want to keep calling people into video chats because it's more disruptive than just talking to the guy next to you in an offce, so there is less "work in progress" sharing going on. This means that people tend to share their work after it is finished, and by then revisions and changes are a lot more expensive and time consuming, and people feel like they are throwing away large portions of their work.
That said, sometimes a dev just gets a well defined task that we know will take 2 or 3 days to complete...in which case, do it from wherever you like! Hell, feel free to leave early if you have several hours of number crunching or whatever to do and you don't want to sit at the office doing it. I have no problem with working from home in situations like that.
While I do wish my company would let me work from home from time to time
Marc Clifton wrote:
waste of heating/cooling office space
I think it's better to heat one office full of 100 people than to heat 100 separate homes that otherwise don't need heating till the evening.
Marc Clifton wrote:
just transporting their brains and bodies to a cubicle
There's the problem. Why, in deed, bother going all the way to the office if all you're going to do is sit by yourself in a cubicle?
I work in an open plan office and the intermingling is marginally better.
As an aside, I think our company's argument for not allowing work from home is that there is no way to control the hours the employee works. Left to their own devices our employees would work themselves to their graves so they need to make sure they commute so that they only work for the number of hours they are paid for. I'm serious.