Open office plans are the best choice for startups

Open offices don't have to look like an economy flight. A little extra space could go a long way.

Posted by Tejus Parikh on January 9, 2014

Open office plans get a lot of bad press. They are characterized as loud, overly-exposed, and distracting. Yet, for a small technology team, they are the best office layout.

Headphones, big screens, furious typing and infrequent verbal communication characterize the working environment in small engineering teams. Regardless of official HR structure, individuals in engineering teams also operate as peers which makes the shared environment more socially comfortable. This also helps with privacy. Every listener can be viewed and spoken conversation does not result in mole heads appearing above cubicle walls.

Startup privacy screen. Original Photo

In return, the engineers have a near seamless transition from text communications to personal ones. Adding a member to an informal meeting is as simple as waving. Meetings can be discretely exited by replacing headphones. Issues that effect multiple modules are easier to resolve and the team is more aware of what the other members are doing.

Not having cubicle or sheetrock walls allows for more interesting usages of square footage and budget. More emphasis can be placed on common areas, phone booths and furniture quality. Phone booths and huddle rooms are a must. People, especially those in sales and customer service, will need to use the phone and they will be annoying.

Comfortable chairs and cool desks are better than walls.

To keep the environment functioning, some ground rules are in order. Mechanical keyboards are no-no. Super leaky headphones are subject to ridicule. Turning a small conference room into an office deserves the wrath of the entire team.

The environment will need to change as the company grows. For both productivity and security sound barriers, separate spaces and offices will eventually be required. However, for a small team focused on a singular goal, an open office plan is nearly ideal.

Original image is CC-licensed [original source]

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Tejus Parikh

Tejus is an software developer, now working at large companies. Find out when I write new posts on twitter, via RSS or subscribe to the newsletter: