Perspectives from the *other side* on Software, Management and Life

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Office Space

My favorite topic! What makes people get up in the morning and spend a significant portion of their life in a place other than home. This subject is spoken with great emphasis in the startup world. I remember being pitched by a dot com in "those" days, on how my room can be of any color of my liking. The only thing that hit me back then was, you got to be kidding me ...I really dont care what the color is as long as its not bright red!

(Picture of a typical callcenter setup. NOT a great cubicle layout, specially if you're doing software development)

Hiring and retaining top talent is a tough challenge. For a high growth company, an exceptional team is its competitive advantage. For a low growth company, IMHO, too many intelligent employees makes the life of the managers more difficult. I say that because operational tasks constitute the major chunk of workload in a low growth company, and above average intelligent folks begin to nag their managers for challenging tasks more quickly. And since there arent enough challenging tasks, its a nightmare for the front line managers to keep their workforce excited.

Returning back to the subject, here are my thoughts on an office space in an offshore software development house (hopefully a high growth one!):
1. Cubicles - yes, its not necessary to give everyone an office. Its too expensive and with emphasis on agile development, its not as productive either. My wishlist for an ideal cubicle is:
a. Minumum 6x6 (feet) per developer. Having it shared by two developers in a 6x12 works well
b. 5 feet high
c. Laptop friendly ie all power sources on the desk so employees dont have to get under it twice a day.
2. Window space. I'm not a big fan of having a window with a view. I remember being in North Carolina on a client visit and having the meeting in a conference room that had two window walls overlooking a lake. Everyone kept getting distracted and well, I dont even remember the topics covered except for the view. I'm perfectly content with having no windows in the office.
3. Meeting rooms. There's a school of thought in interior designing that believes that common space is a more important place than the private areas of individuals. Whether you believe in this or not, as the team grows you need to ensure the meeting rooms exist for teams to meet up and be comfortable during it. This means having meeting rooms capable of accommodating 90 percentile team sizes and having sufficient number of them to avoid collisions.
4. Lighting. I've seen offices that have dull lighting, and you DONT want your office to be one of them. Make sure the lighting is good.
5. Laptop friendly. For offices that restrict wireless for security reasons, get a life and check out WPA.
6. Line of sight for managers. This may sound like micromanagement, but managers must be aware of their team's activities. This requires manager be seated within the vicinity of their team and not on some other floor or in a "managers" area where they're completely disconnected from team.
7. Common area for employees to engage in activities like table tennis, dart throwing etc. I prefer not to have a TV in the office as major sports events generally distract a large percent of the workforce.
8. Chairs - get the best (high back with firm support and plenty of flexibility in height, arm rests, recline etc)!

Since we're talking about "offshore" offices, there is a strong likelihood its a developing country, so it must also have:
7. Power and internet backups
8. Good cleaning services

For another perspective on office space, check out


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