We love our Bullpen - An argument for an open office layout

Nate
General thoughts

This week I realized that we work on improving our workspace here at Littlelines HQ all the time, but no matter what we do, it centers around the importance of our open office. We’ve adjusted lighting, brought in plants (two of which are still kickin), tore out the ceiling (that’s a story for another day) but at the end of it all, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve asked Ricardo to roll his chair over to my station and hash through an idea with me.

Office View

There’s a method to our madness

We change seats a lot. Most of the time it has to do with the projects we are working on, other times it goes along with our loose definition of departments. Either way, we have a few key goals with our open office setup, and for it to work, we need to have these things:

Setup

  1. We have to be able to focus
  2. We need to gain momentum
  3. We want to be challenged
  4. We desire collaboration

Focus

If I had to define the first and last couple weeks of any project, I’d definitely use the word ‘Focus’. We’re asked to ramp up on projects very quickly, whether it’s for a startup or taking over development on an existing app. Both scenarios start with our team discovering and understanding requirements. It takes a tremendous amount of focus, and distractions of any sort can take the wind out of our sails. It’s easy to see how this could be an argument for NOT having an open office, but for us, it’s about having the right setup.

On the flip-side, I notice a lot of headphones when a project is winding up. Typically, we get a list of copy changes, minor UI tweaks, or we’ll notice some things we can do to improve performance, all of which are tasks our team likes to blast through at once. Having an open office allows our design and development team the ability to pair up and knock out big groups of items at a time.

Working Together

Momentum

We take a hybrid approach to all of our projects that loosely aligns with Kanban. Any given project is broken down into individual requirements, many of which are broken down further into bite sized chunks, which we execute based on our development strategy. As an office, we update our project boards frequently, however, being in a bullpen allows us to be even more efficient by communicating these requirements in general office communication and collaboration.

Task board

Challenged

Granted, we love to be challenged by our work, but it’s being challenged to produce our best work that really gets us motivated, and our open office helps us with that. Even when you walk to get a cup of coffee, you’ll catch a glimpse of what half the office is working on, and I’ll tell ya, it’s motivating. Sometimes when you’re stuck, the best thing to do is see how others are solving their roadblocks, and then take another stab at it.

From a development side, the bullpen is a morale booster. We’ve all seen developers be pretty harsh to each other via pull requests and the like. Being in a bullpen allows our team to communicate verbally rather than give snap judgements via written text. This allows us to grow in our craft, and also see how other developer’s experience drives why these suggestions are important for code quality.

Collaboration

We like to move quickly, and being in a bullpen let’s us sort through ideas and gather feedback at a rapid pace. We’re too busy to micro manage each other, so being in an open office setting gives us all a quick dose of humility and community.

Summary

We’re always looking for ways to improve our work environment, but our office culture centers around our collaborative nature. We’ve found that being in an open office setting gives us access to our greatest asset - each other.