Working in an Open Environment

Hi, I’m one of the new guys at Atomic Object. Now that we’ve met, I’d like to share a discovery I’ve made in my first weeks of working here.

One of the lessons learned from the movie Office Space is that we aren’t meant for cubes. Atomic Object employs this lesson very well. There are no cubes! The “office” is almost exclusively located on the second floor and consists of groups of tables and chairs.

This wasn’t so much a shock as it was a relief. Prior to working for Atomic Object, I worked in a cube. Anytime I needed to work with another developer, or discuss a matter with a project leader, it consisted of navigating a maze of cubes only to discover that the individual I was looking for wasn’t even sitting at their cube. Depending on how urgent the issue was, locating the individual often meant walking up and down each row, and even then there was no guarantee of success.

Cube life was further complicated by the fact that we never switched or moved cubes. Rather than encourage knowledge transfer, this creates islands of information. New ideas are slow to spread, and the assistance from the person who is effectively permanently located next to you diminishes with time.

While an open environment continuously engenders collaboration, there is a possible downside. It could be difficult to focus on a particular task depending on the ambiance of the room. I have discovered that this isn’t as much of a problem as it might first appear. When I am focused on a task, I am practically oblivious to what is going on around me. It’s only when I encounter an obstacle that I start to take note of what is happening. I believe that if I am struggling with a problem so much that it breaks my focus, it is time to collaborate with others and find a solution together.

Related post: Benefits of an Open Office Environment