Work Space

Let’s start this series of business articles with a discussion of the space we work in.

Many companies use open plan spaces where people share one big room. Usually these are cubicle farms, but it can also be done in more attractive ways. I think open plan spaces are terrible as the primary place where people work. Workers need to concentrate and they can’t do it with the distraction of nearby people chatting, talking on the phone, or even just typing.

A common justification for open plan space is that people easily share ideas and quickly help each other out. I don’t buy it. A little barrier to interaction is healthy because it makes you think a bit before you derail your coworker’s current task.

I’ve heard business people give all kinds of justifications for open plan offices, but to me they seem like excuses for saving money at the expense of workers’ comfort and sanity. The irony is that the business doesn’t really save money because cramming people together lowers productivity.

As soon as I could afford it, everyone at Alien Skin got an office with a door that closes. Most of the time our doors are open and we walk in to interact as often as we need to. But it is wonderful to occasionally close the door to concentrate on something. Even when the doors are open, distractions are low because neighbors are not visible.

With a private office it is possible to become so isolated that you don’t see some of your coworkers for weeks at a time. To address that, we changed our space so that you go through our break room to get to the offices. That means that you often run into people as you enter or leave the building or when you are taking a break or eating lunch. This results in the fruitful random connections that open plan advocates like, but the difference is that for us they happen when we are not busy with an important task.

Here is a little video tour of our office.

About the Author:

Jeff Butterworth is the founder of Alien Skin Software. He used to create the products, but now he does marketing and gets coffee for the programmers.


  1. Eddie July 23, 2011 at 11:26 am

    Good for you. Please keep up with the great leadership. Open space is for insecure bosses who don’t trust their employees. Open space empowers the supervisor to invade their worker’s space. You choose to respect your employees therefore, it is safe to assume you respect your customers and suppliers. In the end, you will be rewarded. The proof? I use Snap Art 3 on almost 30-40% of my output now. There is something in your product that words cannot describe. I didn’t know what it was until now: a human touch. Thank you. Thank you for a piece of software excellently executed.

  2. Joy Gates July 23, 2011 at 12:58 pm

    You guys are my kind of folks! Privacy options plus beauty and efficiency ~ great office place ~ wonderful! I like it!

    Thanks for sharing it with us.


  3. […] I was about to write an essay on this topic, but then I remembered that I already did. […]

  4. Nikki May 31, 2012 at 1:02 am

    So wise! Like food and water, privacy is a human necessity. Some of the greatest minds of our times were introverts who had space to think. Can’t wait for another software engineer position to open up at Alien. Not sure it happens often, but I’ll be checking. 🙂

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