RE: seating arrangements

Subject: RE: seating arrangements
From: "Ed Manley" <edmanley -at- bellsouth -dot- net>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Thu, 11 Jul 2002 13:14:30 -0700

Might I suggest you take a moment to ask yourself why it really matters? I
have worked in arrangements like this several times, with no loss of
capability. Sure, it's not my chosen arrangement, but that's more my ego and
pride than anything having to do with capacity to put out a good product.

When MedPartners implemented SAP they lined three empty rooms with rows of
folding tables and sat approximately 150 of us; analysts, coders, SAP gurus,
SMEs, etc. side-by-side for over a year (They did this both here in
Birmingham and in their California offices - it worked both places).

My job (a contract) was to document the implementation, meaning that I often
had to pull up a chair between two people at a table and work fairly
intensely with one of them, or have them sit next to me at my table, while
the guys (or gals) twelve inches to the left or right had to keep on keeping
on. We got it done okay.

We did have three meeting rooms available, but over time started to work
ad-hoc wherever we were more often than use the rooms. Having row upon row
seated side-by-side meant that everyone in the room could see your screen at
all times. Telephones were placed in the middle of every other row of
tables, so every conversation was overheard.

After an initial period of resentment and animosity (call it a month for
some, immediate acceptance for others, most notably the contractors) came a
time of adjustment, wherein most people discovered the focus and
productivity of working undistracted for an entire shift. By four months
into the gig we were a friendly, cohesive and collaborative group with
remarkable productivity. MedPartners certainly benefited, with little set-up
cost and little wasted time - believe me, if you goofed off, spent time
chasing your online portfolio or playing with email, everyone was well aware
of it.

There were those who could not hack it, and they soon left. Neither we who
stayed nor the company's management missed them - the mindset was that
everyone in that room was billing well over one hundred bucks an hour, some
over two hundred, and we were going to earn it...and were damn proud to have
done what we did.

I also went through a similar experience at BellSouth, when some management
wonk realized that there was too much wasted time spent in individual
cubicles and adopted an open team seating arrangement (still in use today)
where the whole development team sits facing the walls of an open room with
short partitions between desks. In the center of the room is a conference
table. To join a meeting you just turn your chair and scoot to the center of
the room - you're there.

I love this arrangement! Again - you can't goof off - everyone sees you all
day long, but if you are there to work you have immediate access to whoever
you need. The rate of production and quality of product skyrockets.

More and more companies are adopting such schemes. The new development
methodologies, most notable eXtreme Programming, demand that at least two
people share the same computer...pair programming!

How's that for an unsettling thought - could you sit side-by-side with
another writer and collaboratively write a detailed design doc? Better get
used to the idea - it's coming!

The gist of it is that we would all like gobs of money and a private
(window, please) office. In more and more corporations the realization is
that this is a waste of money. While corporate exec's may well waste money,
don't count on them wasting it on you.

I suspect that many of us will goof off, to some extent, if allowed. I know
that I will read my mail more often, talk to my wife longer, in a private
cube or office. You wouldn't believe the waste that can come from privacy. I
once witnessed a particularly ugly death in a high-level development meeting
when a data modeler was asked to share a data dictionary with another
department. He did not know what one was. Dead silence filled the room and
the tension was so thick you could cut it with a knife. He had been on the
job as a highly paid contractor for over four months. The company flew this
guy home every Friday afternoon and back every Monday morning. He read his
newspaper and emailed friends all day. Many of us, his teammates, wondered
aloud what he did, and where told he did black-smoke-and-mirrors stuff with
databases, besides, he had to implement and configure this huge software
that he insisted we buy. The guy had no clue what a data modeler should do.
He was gone within the hour. Now I will admit that much more than private
cubicles played into his ability to fake a job for that long - but the fact
that he sat where no one could see him and had a role that called for
extended periods of unsupervised work had a lot to do with it (sound

I do my best work in my home office late at night - but having done projects
like those described above I know I can work anywhere. That confidence
allows me to focus on the task at hand and not be distracted by environment.
It also opens up the world for me to work in.

As a side benefit, I found that when the market got tight and wages dropped
out the bottom (I now make about a third of what I did two years ago) I
could still be just as productive, as proud of my work, and as comfortable
doing whatever has to be done in any environment where work can be found as
when I was making big bucks for the exact same work and had clients lined

BTW, I suspect that there is some synergy here - when employers learned that
we could be treated like cattle and would still produce they started
wondering if they could pay us that way too - and it worked! They will never
go back. I know that the corporate mindset went through some real changes,
especially over the last few years, when their fears that employees would
walk or become less productive were found to be unjustified. They can crowd
folks in, squeeze out every possible moment of work, pay us less...and we
line up for jobs and work our fanny off to keep 'em. I suspect that you will
find seating and pay issues such as are being discussed here to soon be the

As far as the commute, I bought a travel trailer; I now set it up close to
the job site anytime I am more than 50 miles from home. I drive the Jeep
home when I want, or sleep in the camper at other times. It works for me.

Anyhoo - maybe there's something in this epistle that will help you see a
way to capitalize on your predicament!

Have fun,

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RE: seating arrangements: From: Bill Swallow

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