There is something about wide expansive views.
Leaning back in a chair.
Looking out the windows.
Staring into the far-far distance.
It is more productive than you might imagine.
Before my current employer moved to new offices out in Western Sydney, there were floor-plans to look at in reception. Specifically a floor-plan showing the layout of the top floor, and the available seating across it.
I had a look at the plans, I evaluated the direction the building would be built in, and I decided one specific corner would be the best place to sit from a sunlight / heat perspective through most of the year. Next time the managers were admiring the plan, I pointed out the corner and indicated that I wouldn’t mind that spot. I didn’t expect anything to come of it, but for about 5 years (I think?) I sat in that corner… enjoying the minimal glare, the even temperatures, and the view across a wide expanse of landscape.
It worked out better than I could have hoped.
(Or it may have just been coincidence)
I spent many a moment reclined in my chair, staring out at my near-270-degree view letting a problem percolate through my brain. There are studies that have shown that your environment has a lot of impact on your thinking.
Small offices without windows result in closed-in thinking.
High-ceilinged offices with big windows result in broad open ideas.
It is almost literally a matter of thinking-outside-the-box.
Open-plan offices are obviously an entirely different matter altogether. The noise pollution across a floor can be very distracting for anyone that cannot readily tune out background noise.
I used to be very good at that in my programming job, but in my management job I need to have a better sense of what is happening around me. Now I easily get distracted when I hear my name, or certain key words that I might need to pay attention to. Even when nobody is calling for that attention. It isn’t the best way to get focused work done.
Add to that the fact that Lync (online video-chat by Microsoft) is starting to become a victim of its own success. At first it was a great way to have meetings with remote resources. Now, when 4 people in a shared open-office quad have different meetings at the same time, our single-ear headsets can make it hard to focus on the meeting I am in myself. I am going to experiment with an over-ear stereo headset to see if that helps bring my focus back to the meetings I need to pay attention to.
Conventional wisdom is though that programmers should have private offices to be most productive. Although it is conceivable that open-plan will lead to better communication and collaboration, studies based on the actual reality have shown this to be far from the truth.
Serendipity still only happens by accident.
And flow is the constant victim.
There are no easy answers of course. From a cost perspective, private offices are a tougher sell, and flow is hard to quantify a-priori. Maybe there is an answer somewhere in the idea of having a certain number of rooms that are available for focused thinking to allow retreat into privacy only when the task requires it. We kinda have rooms like that already, but we aren’t actually using them that way.
I guess what I am saying is, if you at all have a choice in the matter, make sure you choose the private office with the expansive view. It will give you the best of both worlds. Throw in an espresso machine and you’re set for maximum productivity.