Book Review: Peopleware by DeMarco and Lister – Part 2 : work environment

This is the second in a series of articles providing a chapter-by-chapter in-depth “book club” reading of Tom DeMarco and Timothy Lister’s book “Peopleware”, 2nd edition.

The second part concerns the work environment.

The authors demonstrate how there is a direct relation between job performance and the office space. A worse environment means less work done.

How do you recognize a bad space?

When people stay late or arrive early to be able to work in peace.

What is a good space?

The top performers’ space is quieter, more private, better protected from interruption and there is more of it.

From a study commissioned by IBM the conclusion was that a minimum accommodation would be:

  • 10 square meters of dedicated space per person.
  • 3 square meters of work surface per person.
  • Noise protection as enclosed offices or 2 meters high partitions.

Counterarguments to such spaces are normally:

  • People don’t care about glitzy office space.
  • This is true. The person who is working hard to deliver a high quality product is not concerned with the office appearance (maybe the boss is). They just want a functional space not a luxury space. And nothing from the above list is luxury.

  • You could cover noise with background music.
  • This is treating the symptom instead of the cause. Moreover the brain part affected by music is the same responsible for the creativity so you could lose opportunities for a creative leap.

  • Enclosed offices don’t make for a vital environment: the people don’t interact.
  • This can be true but normally people interact in a small group so you could have 2, 3, 4 people offices and still preserve noise levels. Even in open spaces you should group people belonging to the same area into small suites.

An entire paragraph is dedicated to the book “A pattern language” by Christopher Alexander, a book describing pattern of work environments for specific jobs (by the way this is the same book which inspired the pattern design book).
The suggested patterns are:

  • Having people tailor their space
  • Have at least one window
  • Have indoor and outdoor spaces (like a terrace)
  • Have a public space (like to eat or for a coffee break)

That’s all. Not too difficult !

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