In honor of the long holiday weekend starting tomorrow, our company announced earlier this week that today would be an “Extreme Casual” day. This is just our fancy way of saying that instead of, say, khakis, nice shoes, and button-ups, we could wear things like blue jeans, shorts, T-shirts, sandals, and hats. I like wearing hats, and I just got nifty new shoes that I really like. Also, because of the holiday, there were only about half as many people in the cube farm, and it was a lot quieter. My boss had taken early vacation for the day as well, so it was only me, the project manager, and the other developers.
I can’t tell you the last time I’ve been this productive at work.
Between testing, wrapping up or closing out old issues, fixing a few broken things I neglected or forgot previously, and talking casually with my teammates about our issues without fear that I’d be interrupting other departments’ work, I got a ton of work done, and was generally much more happy about it. Our policy prohibits deployment of Production code on the day before a weekend, so that kept me from finishing out another issue, but still.
I have to wonder: What if I had this type of environment every day?
I know my boss has his office with a door that closes, and so do the executives and high-level managers, but the rest of us (creative, sales, marketing, product development, and systems) are out in a 2-story cube farm. It’s got subtle distractions, like squeaky shoes from members of other departments visiting the office near my desk, phones ringing occasionally, and even hearing other team members typing away at their keyboards. We normally have to adhere to some silly “business casual” dress code, and I can’t wear my hat. Pandora and Youtube are blocked, so I can’t throw on headphones and just let music play to drown everything out. I feel like a worker bee.
On Extreme Casual days, I feel like a college student again. I’m just chilling here and punching out code, and fixing things. It’s quiet. I can grab a soda from the vending machine, like I used to do when sitting in the Campus Center and working on programming projects. It doesn’t feel like, well, work. It’s comfortable. It’s almost fun.
“But Nick,” you may be wondering. “It’s not supposed to be fun! It’s work, isn’t it?”
Some people may think so, but I actually like the challenge and struggle of programming. If I’m in the right environment, I lose sight of the fact that I’m getting work done, and I just.. get work done. The problem comes from when I get distracted (something that happens far too often, given my ADD) or impeded in my work by something I can’t control or change. I like control.
My first summer internship, a one-project job developing a DO-178B test result analysis tool, gave me my own office, a wooden desk with my own set of highlighters, a printer, a decent chair, and a door that closed. I had an exterior window overlooking the rear parking lot, with a nice view of a tall oak tree. It was quiet and focused. We used C# (which has since become my favorite language) and Excel VBA (which was a lot of fun to work with, thanks in no small part to Mr. Joel Spolsky). Even as a summer intern with zero experience, I was allowed to sit in and have an equal voice during software design meetings, and one of my design ideas was adopted and became a large part of the design direction of the program. Probably the only bad part was using Visual SourceSafe as version control; exclusively locking files on a shared directory was a PITA, but we made it work. The project had an aggressive release date, and despite mine and the other intern’s lack of experience, we got it out and fully tool-qualified in time for release (with only one late night: the night before launch.) That was, by far, my favorite programming job; I’m just sad that they ended up running out of work for me to do, and I chose to terminate my employment with them and find somewhere else.
Where am I going with all this? I don’t know. Maybe I’m saying that if we had more Extreme Casual days, we might be a little bit faster and more attentive at our jobs. I’m no workplace productivity expert, but I know how I feel, and this feels good.