The working environment

The workplace has important effects on people’s performance and their job satisfaction. Psychological experiments have shown that behaviour is affected by room size, furniture, equipment, temperature, humidity, brightness and quality of light, noise and the degree of privacy available. Group behaviour is affected by architectural organisation and telecommunication facilities. Communications within a group are affected by the building architecture and the organisation of the workspace.

There is a real and significant cost in failing to provide good working conditions. When people are unhappy about their working conditions, staff turnover increases. More costs must therefore be expended on recruitment and training. Software projects may be delayed because of lack of qualified staff (DeMarco and Lister, 1999).

Software development staff often work in large open-plan office areas, sometimes with cubicles, and only senior management have individual offices. McCue (McCue, 1978) carried out a study that showed that the open-plan architecture favoured by many organisations was neither popular nor productive. The most important environmental factors identified in that design study were:

In short, people like individual offices that they can organise as they like. There is less disruption and fewer interruptions than in open-plan workspaces. In open-plan offices, people are denied privacy and a quiet working environment. They are limited in the ways that they can personalise their own workspace. Concentration can be difficult and performance is degraded.

Benefits of individual offices

Case study - office organization


DeMarco, T. and Lister, T. (1999). Peopleware: Productive Projects and Teams. New York: Dorset House.

McCue, G. M. (1978). IBM’s Santa Teresa laboratory: architectural design for program development. IBM Systems J., 17(1), 4–25.

(c) Ian Sommerville 2008