Software developers are some of the most vocal opponents of noisy workplaces. That’s because they do work that requires a great deal of prolonged concentration. Any interruption can make them lose track of what they were doing. Then, they have to backtrack and pick up the thread of their thoughts to get reenter the programming “zone”. If you have ever used a piece of software that was buggy, you may need to blame the programmer’s work environment rather than the programmer. Employees in this industry suffered more than most when businesses started doing away with private offices for all but the most senior staff. Suddenly, they were expected to work in an open space with little or no protection from the constant distractions around them. Is it any wonder they complain?
Enter the Workplace Manifesto
In response to these challenges, Jeff Atwood created a “Programmer’s Bill of Rights”. It lists the bare minimum requirements that employers should provide for software developers to be successful at their jobs. The demands aren’t really outrageous. It’s basics like a decent office chair and a fast internet connection for research that programmers really want. “Right” number 6 is about workplace quality:
“Every programmer shall have quiet working conditions. Programming requires focused mental concentration. Programmers cannot work effectively in an interrupt-driven environment. Make sure your working environment protects your programmers’ flow state, otherwise they’ll waste most of their time bouncing back and forth between distractions. “
The original post was written back in 2006. The trend toward open office designs has only become more prevalent since then, so this blog post is actually more timely than ever. These may not be inalienable rights, but they are good things to provide if you want employees to be able to do their jobs “right”.
Employers Can Do Something About All This
In another of Jeff’s posts, he describes a company that hired a fancy consulting firm to uncover the top complaints a cadre of more than 1000 programmers had about their job. When the results came in, the noisy and distracting environment was at the top of the list. The company shrugged its shoulders and said there was nothing they could do about that. Fortunately, they are wrong. There are steps virtually every employer can take to minimize noise and distractions. Our privacy panels and cubicle extenders are a good example of where to start.