As any friend of Atomic knows, we have a great “open office environment”:https://spin.atomicobject.com/2009/08/18/benefits-of-the-open-office-environment and “matching open culture”:http://greatnotbig.com/2011/05/openness-is-about-more-than-just-a-cool-workspace. But not all open offices are created equal. My previous employer had the layout of an open office, but not a truly open environment.
A fully open environment means new ideas are shared, problems can be globally solved, and a sense of “camaraderie”:https://spin.atomicobject.com/2011/06/03/camaraderie-check-and-mate/ can be built among coworkers.
Each desk at my previous employer had short cubicle walls with lots of extra space. At any given time, a person could observe more than a handful of developers wearing headphones and tuning out the world. Any knowledge transfer was usually initiated by an email or instant message. I found myself IM’ing the developer behind me to get him to turn around and talk about an issue. Headphones block out the office noise, but they also block out the communication benefits of a truly open office environment.
This was a bad trait that I carried over for my first couple of months at Atomic. I was flying solo on a small project and wanted to focus. While I’m sure this helped with a small boost of productivity, it violated some of the guiding principles of Atomic:
*Give a shit*
Give a shit is one of our core values. Giving a shit means more than just caring about your current project. This value includes caring about all things Atomic. We are all constantly investing in our people, practices, and craft. Wearing headphones essentially isolates you from contributing to the professional growth of your coworkers. It also hinders your ability to help them with problems that you may have already encountered.
Communicating effectively does not just mean working directly with customers. All atoms are expected to be able to work with customers directly to define requirements, understand and report how projects are progressing, and set expectations, but that’s not enough. When working with other developers and designers they must communicate their ideas effectively and be open to all members of the team. Headphones often come across as a giant “leave me alone” sign.
I work with some of the best people in the software industry. Sitting in a room full of experts is almost useless if they appear unapproachable and are hiding in a set of headphones. The cross-pollination of ideas simply does not happen with people that are tuned out of the world and tuned into their headphones.
There are times when a person can be more productive in the short-term with music in their ears, but in my experience at Atomic, regularly worn headphones are dangerous and can hurt the open office environment. So next time you think about pumping your ears full of some sweet jams to code/design to, think about the long-term benefits of having open communication channels.