What IT Engineers Need in Their Office Interior Design.

Posted by: Mitchell H. Kirsch 1 comments

Office interior design often does IT workers a disservice – while many managers extol the modern open floor plan, many IT workers actually prefer to work in more secluded quarters. IT workers are bucking a trend in open office layouts; unlike other creatives, IT workers need quiet environments that encourage concentration and creativity.

“Asking programmers or network administrators to do their jobs in an open space where noise, distractions and interruptions abound can be akin, for some of them at least, to departmental decimation,” writes Computerworld’s Cara Garretson.

This presents a conundrum for the facility manager, who must weigh team interdependence and the intensiveness of the work when creating an office layout for an IT department. To use Bell and Kozlowski’s model of task dependencies, IT engineers represent an excellent example of an intensive workflow.

More on what IT engineers look for in their office interior design, after the jump. Read more…

Collaboration and Privacy. Intensive workflow demands a high degree of collaboration, as each worker depends on another for the completion of one’s overall task. But this collaboration needs to be balanced against the need to concentrate in a private area. Research by Cornell professors Frank Becker and William Sims suggest that fully-optimized knowledge workers make use of both spaces: closed offices that allow them to concentrate, and open offices that allow them to build trust and interact with fellow team members.

“Our research […] indicates that the more open the ‘open’ plan office environment, the more conducive it is to overall work effectiveness, when communication and interaction are critical elements of the work process,” explain Becker and Sims.

On the other hand, IT workers require an environment where they can concentrate on certain tasks. “The need to concentrate at work… requires a quiet setting with relatively few distractions,” explains Thomas Davenport of Harvard Business School. “Some studies have found that programmers spend only 20 to 30 percent of their time doing solo programming, but others have found workers devoting up to 64 percent in ‘quiet work.’ Whatever the fraction of time, it’s important for the production of final knowledge work outputs.”

Close distance matters. Despite the advance of remote communication technologies, distance still matters, as Gary and Judith Olson demonstrated in their paper (download PDF). Workers separated by distances greater than 30 meters saw their interactions drop precipitously. Under the magic 30-meter boundary, though, awareness of co-workers increases collaboration, allowing informal interactions to take place.

All these factors affect the kind of office that IT workers require to get their jobs done. “At a minimum, there need to be meeting spaces and conference rooms,” explains Davenport. “Maximum facilitation would be to create a variety of collaborative spaces, technologies, and facilitation approaches for an array of collaborative purposes. Technologies for collaboration—from videoconferences to webcasting to shared networks—are increasingly making a big difference in collaboration.” All this, of course, must be balanced out with the need for privacy – a space that facilitates information sharing with a minimum of outside distraction.

Is there more to workflow and space planning? You bet there is. Download our white paper, and read more about space planning and workflow in your office interior design – download “Space Planning for Your Office: Designing for Optimum Workflow” (PDF, 75KB).

Sep 11, 2011
9:18 am

I read an article by a software developer last year that came down very strongly against open office spaces for tech workers: http://agiletracksoftware.com/blog.html?id=7 He doesn’t even like cubicles, preferring private offices for all software engineers to really cut down on distractions.


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