Today opens a new chapter in my experience at Microsoft - my team (and larger group) has made the move from the Microsoft-traditional individual offices to the open office layout (team rooms, more specifically). Now, before I come off as negative, I’ll enumerate some of the things that I really like about the new layout.
- The space looks amazing. It’s like what I would expect from a startup who got a ton of VC and had a flair for the dramatic. The overall design has a lot of the elements that really impressed me from walking around the Valve office space.
- The accommodations are pretty nice (at least the vision is) - everything is ergonomic, the desks all have a good amount of space, the desks can all be configured for either sitting down or standing up. Again, the ideas here are pretty cool.
- The desks are all on casters so that the team can rearrange the room as it sees fit. Again, very Valve-ish (which is a good thing).
- There are lots of individual work spaces - from isolation rooms to lots of couches and booth-type spaces. I imagine that you’ll typically find me in one of these areas, especially since I float across 3 different teams.
- Did I mention how cool the overall building looks?
Now, the frustrating things at the moment. I say “at the moment” because we did just move in over the weekend, and I’m sure that many things will get resolved over the course of the next few weeks/months.
- The monitor arms are terrible. They went with these instead of the independent arms per monitor with the idea that it was easier to push them back without the pivot bumping into the back wall. This is a good idea for sure. The problem is that I can’t seem to get my 2 monitors (which are identical) to actually line up on this single back-plane, and it’s very difficult to adjust. After fighting with it for nearly 30 minutes this morning, I gave up, decided to just live with my mis-aligned monitors and got out my laptop. First-world problems? Absolutely. But when you stare at something as many hours per day as I stare at my monitor, those little differences can be like fingernails on a chalkboard.
- While the desks have the ability to be standing desks, this doesn’t actually work in practice because the CPU towers don’t actually fit in the CPU mounts. Again, I think that this will get sorted out, but kind of a day 1 bummer.
- While the desks have good space, there are no book cases, which means that any books I had left in my office will need to go home. More on this in a second.
To summarize, like so many things, I think the vision was awesome and there were issues with the execution. I’m looking forward to seeing these get cleaned up over the next few weeks.
Here’s the larger thing that I’m thinking about with regard to the open space layout: it de-personalizes the individual workspace. Now, before I elaborate, let me say that I think this is intentional and may actually turn out to be a good thing. The hyper-personalization that private offices can create (e.g. “nesting”) can result in teams that stagnate as a result of people staying way too long after they have lost faith in the mission.
However, I’m curious as to whether the de-personalization (or maybe it’s the de-individualization) created by open office layouts has the exact opposite effect and will cause more churn through teams. In order to make the move, the guidance that we were given was that everything needed to be able to fit in 1 box. After today, all of my effects will be able to fit in half of that. As such, I have no real tie to my group or team based on my space. This, then, leaves a) the people, or b) the work itself to keep me here. Again, this seems like a good idea from a purely academic viewpoint. However, at the moment, it feels off, which again, may be a point-in-time problem.
In the end, I suppose that time will tell.