Back in 2016, I reported on a rumor that was circulating about employee dissatisfaction at Meta (then, Facebook). Developers, it seemed, were unhappy with the company’s trendy, but also unbearably noisy and distracting, 8-acre open office floor plan.
“Developers need to concentrate,” explained an amused Joel Spolsky at a conference that year, before going on to add that Facebook was paying a 40 – 50% premium for talent because people didn’t want to work under those conditions. A commentator on my essay pointed to a podcast episode where Facebook insiders claim that the open office was never more than 30% occupied. “Apparently, the majority of people that work there make sure that they are away from their desk when they need to get work done,” he explained.
As reported by the Wall Street Journal last month, it looks like Meta is finally ready to do something about this self-inflicted problem. After hiring a fancy design firm and working through multiple ideas and prototypes they landed on an innovative solution: cubicles.
(To be fair, the company takes pains to argue that their solution is not cubicles, because, well, the walls are curved, and they are made out of fancier, sound-absorbing materials. Sure. Okay…)
I, for one, am pleased by this news. The open office boom is right up there with the spread of Slack as representing the peak of early 21st century distraction culture — a period in which the knowledge sector completely disregarded any realities about how human brains actually go about the difficult task of creating value through cogitation. The fact that Meta is closing the book on its ill-fated open office experiment is perhaps a glimmer of hope that we’re moving toward a deeper future
In other news…
On Monday, Scott Young and I are re-opening our popular online course, Life of Focus, which combines ideas from Deep Work, Digital Minimalism, and Scott’s excellent book, Ultralearning. For those who are interested, registration will be open Monday until Friday at the course site.
A quick word of warning: I am going to send three short emails about the course throughout the week, so be ready for that. (Each such message will also includes a link at the bottom you can click to opt-out of any future communication about the course. )