The Private Office

Joel has spoken a lot about programmers and the private office. As he described in his article, “Not every programmer in the world wants to work in a private office”, which might very well be true, however, I think it’s important that your developers have at least the “choice” to work in an environment where they can do their work without being interrupted.

The no. 1 problem with the private office is probably the status that is attached to it. A lot of companies will simply not provide a private office for their developers because it’s seen as a status symbol and only the CEO of the company, the most important person™, will get this “luxury”. Most companies will simply fail to understand that a private office is just part of a software developers toolbox.

The no. 2 problem with the private office is undoubtedly the cost association. Not every business is in a position to afford a private office for each of their developers. There is a good compromise for this scenario though; Have a “loud” and a “quiet” room. This way your developers have at least the choice where they will be working and most companies will be able to afford the two spaces.

But what is so important about this private office and why on earth would a developer, who’s pretty much a glorified typist (right?), need a private office anyway?

When I take myself as an example, the way I work isn’t a constant flow of productivity. Sometimes I just mess around for hours or even days. I clean up code, do bits of R&D, read about certain new technologies, hang out on Hacker News, maybe fix a bug or two here and there.

However, then suddenly “BOOM”! I find the groove. I’m able to do the amount of work in 2 hours that would normally take 2 or 3 days. I’m in the “flow” and it’s in these moments that I’m most productive. Pretty much any other developer will know what I’m talking about.

The problem is, if I’m in an environment that prevents me from getting into that “flow” I pretty much get nothing done, ever. You can basically sum it up as this:

Inspiration + Motivation + Concentration = Quality Work

Its the Concentration variable that a private office provides.

As a business owner you can pretty easily assess if your developers can get into the flow. Ask yourself this:

  1. Do your developers come in early or stay late?
  2. Do your developers tell you they will implement this or that feature over the weekend?

These are signs that your programmers do not get the quality time they need in the office. The sad thing about this is that 8 hours of work at 5 days a week should be enough to get plenty of work done, even if it’s done in 2 or 3 hour bursts.

The idea of the private office is that it allows developers to get into the “flow” on their terms and that they are not interrupted by, or at the mercy of, their environment. When those gold nuggets of quality work flow out of their brains and into their keyboards you want to be sure you capture it. As a business owner it’s simply up to you to stage the correct environment.

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