Library Rules

March 25, 2019

Walk into any library, and the first thing you notice is absolute silence. Why can’t we design our offices like that?

People behave differently when in a library. They respect others’ privacy and the need for solitude. They don’t have loud conversations. If they need to talk, they go outside or talk quietly. Rarely do people go over to someone’s desk to disturb them. Why are all these behaviours considered rude in a library, are treated as a norm in a modern workplace?

Offices are the places where we go to get work done. It seems, nowadays, more and more companies are actively trying to discourage people from getting any work done at work. To get any meaningful work done, one needs uninterrupted, focused blocks of time, free from constant interruptions, notifications, and distractions. It’s tough to focus on a hard problem if there are multiple threads of conversation going on in the background, or you are getting interrupted every half an hour by someone.

For any kind of knowledge work, be it programming, writing or designing, the switching cost of attention is just too damn high. Every time you interrupt a programmer, all the context related to the current problem they are working on is literally thrown away from their working memory, and they have to start from scratch. If companies realize the losses in productivity and profits that open-plan offices and the constant distractions cause, they might consider establishing library rules at work.