How is it possible that some IT workers are ten times more productive than others? Is it because they are more highly educated? Does higher performance correlate to more years of experience? Are top performers simply born smarter? Is a person’s ability to turn in great work linked to a generous salary? According to office productivity research from PdK Consulting, none of these factors are as critical as you might suppose. The day-to-day work environment has a huge impact on software developers’ ability to churn out error free, high quality code.
What Makes the Best So Much Better Than the Worst?
If you haven’t read about the famous “Coding war games”, this study measured the productivity of 600 programmers in over 90 different companies. Then, the participants in the top 25% were surveyed and their answers compared to those in the bottom 25% to detect any relevant variables. Having an acceptably quiet and private workspace were very significant factors, as was the ability to avoid taking phone calls or being interrupted by coworkers. In other words, being left alone to do the job they were hired to do was the ideal working situation. The same likely holds true outside the software development arena for other jobs that require dedicated focus.
Achieving Better Working Conditions Shouldn’t Be a Fight
The best and fastest programmers outworked the least productive by 10:1. However, even the average performers were more than twice as productive as those who were least productive. It isn’t difficult to imagine that even incremental improvements in noise control and privacy could have a substantial effect on helping knowledge workers be more efficient.
Are You Creating or Attracting Highly Productive Workers?
There are obvious limitations to this study given its subjective nature. For example, actual noise levels were not measured—participants simply reported whether they felt distracted by workplace noise. However, others studies that have objectively measured office noise confirm that certain types of sound (particularly human conversation) are highly disruptive and make it difficult for workers to concentrate.
In any event, the conclusion provided by the research team is worthy of contemplation: “The data presented above does not exactly prove that a better workplace will help people to perform better. It may only indicate that people who perform better tend to gravitate toward organizations that provide a better workplace. Does that really matter to you? In the long run, what difference does it make whether quiet, space, and privacy help your current people to do better work or help you to attract and keep better people?”