Introverts and Why Open Office Culture Needs to Die

I am about to finish Quiet by Susan Cain and I cannot express how thrilled I am to have found this book! If you have not read it, or “have it on your list” like I did for many years, drop everything and go get that  book (finish reading the post though). Especially if you are an introvert. This book will change your worldview. It changed mine because I suddenly realized what has been bothering me for the past few years working in the software industry.

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Most Engineers are Introverts

It is obvious to guess, just from stereotypes and without having to read Ms. Cain’s book, that the majority of software engineers are introverts. We love living inside our head, solving problems, coming up with what-if scenarios while writing tests, imagining a better architecture of the software we work on. Yes, it is true that occasionally we need to sit down with a coworker to pair program or even several co-workers to mob program, but in the last 1.5 years at Microsoft I found this to be an exception rather than the norm.

The main times I find myself talking to my fellow co-workers is during scrum, lunch, planning meetings or when I have a question. Most of these events happen outside of the room where we work. The question stands: why are introverted thinkers cooped up inside a loud open room with lots of noise and distractions when they do not spend most of their time talking to each other?

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Multitasking is a Myth

When you place product managers and leads, who generally tend to be extroverted types and who attend more meetings than the quiet engineer types, all hell breaks loose. The productivity, the quiet contemplation over the nature of the problem engineer is tackling, the concentration you need to really think things through – all vanish with a poof. Suddenly engineers find themselves eavesdropping on the conversations of PMs and leads at the same time as trying to code a problem. That creates bugs. More time to spend fixing them. More inefficiency for the company operations.

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Life in a fishbowl

When you are in a open office, the only time you get truly alone is the restroom. That is a ridiculous notion for the introverted types. It’s like writing the entirety of your doctorate dissertation on a subway, when any time you move your eyes off the laptop to think, you inadvertently catch someone’s eyes.

One day, I did a small experiment and decided to work the first half of my day from home arriving to the office in the afternoon to go to a couple of meetings. The result? I was not only more productive that morning, finishing off a feature and crunching several bug tickets, but in the evening when I came home, I was less stressed and had more energy to do things (normally I am too exhausted after work to go out).

How did we get here 

Like most public ideas, the idea of an open office was an idea of one man, having a philosophical notion without any scientific proof that putting people in an open space would liberate people from confines of boxes. That idea, still without proof, was taken up quickly by the corporations as an excellent way to decrease costs. In the first half of the 20th century, this idea turned into a white collar worker assembly line, which got replaced by cubicles in the second half. But now we are back to the white collar worker “creative” assembly line.

Where do we go now

There are only a handful of companies that realized that open space idea is hurting them. The open office setting is still a popular notion. If you are an introvert who feels like the open office is not helping your productivity, try doing something different. Work a day from home, get noise-cancelling headphones, ask for a divider from the hallway. Let’s be CodeBrave and hack the office space together while the leadership figures out that open offices actually hurt their ROI.

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Introverts and Why Open Office Culture Needs to Die

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