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I recently attended an interview for an IT company. Though the interview process itself was decent, I was shocked by the rather poor working conditions and interior of the office. A few things stood out:

  1. The building is located in a shady area of an otherwise bustling mega-city.
  2. The interiors are not well furnished. No false roofing with AC ducts, wires and pipelines randomly scattered overhead, no cubicles/desks/partitions, no proper meeting rooms.
  3. The workplace had an unpleasant odour.
  4. The interview itself was conducted in a makeshift room - almost looked like the safe locker of a bank to me.

When I asked if they were in the process of renovating the premises, I was told, "No, that's how it's always been". In fact if I believe my ears, he mentioned that the building used to be a barn before the IT company occupied it.

Should I really be worrying about all these aspects of my next employer? Doesn't it clearly hint that they don't have enough funds and interest for the betterment of their own workplace?

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closed as off topic by Walter, Jonathan Khoo, Jon Hopkins, Jarrod Roberson, Anna Lear Sep 6 '11 at 20:19

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Do you really need feedback from the community to decide this? Sounds you already have an well-founded opinion about the company. –  Doc Brown Sep 6 '11 at 11:45
Do they accept telecommuting? –  mouviciel Sep 6 '11 at 11:52
But did they at least have awesome hardware on the makeshift desks? It is an IT company, not a furniture company . . . –  Wyatt Barnett Sep 6 '11 at 12:53
@adarshr You saw shame, embarrassment, and probably weakness and you didn't exploit that? –  Thomas Owens Sep 6 '11 at 13:02
You want to know why the current employees are working there in such a shabby environment. Are they some kind of startup in their garage (or old factory) phase? The work that they are doing is the key, the offices are almost a side issue if the work is exciting and interesting. –  tehnyit Sep 6 '11 at 13:29

17 Answers 17

up vote 24 down vote accepted

It shows they don't care about working conditions. Which is going to suck. Just go somewhere else.

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Well, I kind of agree with both you and Pierre 303. If a company don't even want to spend money on decent equipment, are they worth working for? BUT, if it actually is a great place to work, it isn't that important. So it does mean something, but it doesn't tell you how it would be working at that company. –  Niklas H Sep 6 '11 at 14:57

The best company I worked for was in a 70s building with not very optimal working conditions, but that was one of my best experience. Project was amazing and colleagues fun and smart. Chance that if they call me today, I'll work with them again.

The company that provided the best working conditions (luxuries everywhere, including the restrooms and the private pool) was not the best experience I had. It was quite average in fact.

I feel there are more important factors to take in consideration such as people that manage you, the project you will work on and how you integrate the whole in your personal life.

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+1. I used to work in a company with some great people but horrible office. Today I work in the same company, with almost all of the same great people, in quite a decent office. Companies can move, see. –  Joonas Pulakka Sep 6 '11 at 13:12
I'd weigh both of these in. I've worked in a very average office which had amazing developers that were all very dear friends of mine, but they didn't want to spend a bit more on the developers to give them better monitors, chairs (I have a bad back) or even coffee. Eventually, I had to leave and over time, my friends left as well. –  J_A_X Sep 7 '11 at 3:18

There are a bunch of aspects to take in account when accepting a job in a company as a developer. Joel test lists 12 most important ones. This helps you to evaluate a company, and determine if you really want to work there. For example, if you can't work without a version control and the company doesn't have any, chances are you will decline the offer.

The same applies to the condition of the building itself. Note a few points:

  1. If they don't care about the interior of the building, chances are they don't care neither about the safety of their employees. Are you ready to work in a dangerous place?

  2. In general (even if there might be some exceptions), companies who don't care about the working conditions of their employees tend to write bad software, use old technologies, etc. Not only you will work in poor conditions, but also you'll be forced to write bad code, deliver faster than you can, deal with an unreadable codebase which wasn't refactored for the past ten years, etc.

  3. Consider your future career. Remember that your future potential employers will know that you've worked for a low quality company, and would try to understand the reasons for you to spend a few years in such company.

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#3 is a big thing; if the company is known for being a crappy place to work, you shoot yourself in the foot taking that job. –  Wayne M Sep 6 '11 at 12:15

Unless you are desperate; politely decline the offer. The working environment sounds hazardous.

You need a basic working environment that is quiet, clean & ergonomic. That sounds like it's scoring "0"

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The first question that pops up to my mind is: If they can't afford decent office space, will my paycheck bounce? I would do a lot more research into the actual financial status of the company before accepting a job there.

You don't say what the smell was, but consider if it could be something dangerous (if the smell was a chemical smell vice a we haven't cleaned lately kind of smell). You can't escape the smell, do you really want to work there?

Of course, being female, the shady part of town is a dealbreaker for me. I want to be safe at work and going to and from work. I don't want to worry if my car will be missing tires or a battery or even stolen. I don't want to worry if I stay late and no one else is in the building.

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Intriguing question. My first instinct is that you should run away as fast as you can. Indeed if they don't care about working conditions as much as you do you will have a big problem.

But when thinking a bit more and put in a list on what I value most than the working conditions aren't that important. If

  • the work you are going to do is exactly what you want to do
  • growing possibilities are amazing
  • colleagues seem like a very good fit in character and knowledge
  • possibilities to learn are also better than great.
  • travel time is acceptable
  • pay is decent

Than at least I would try the job and see if the bad working conditions are not as bad as they look at first.

But when you have other options with a better working environment I wouldn't even try.

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I think either they don't have enough funding, or they don't want invest in the work environment. It appears their approach is "Just get the job finished! We don't care how it is done!", and that they don't care about the people working. I'm afraid you won't get paid regularly at this place :) .

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It could very well be the fact that they don't stress on working conditions or the head has no sense for asthetics so the place is mess.

But then you have to look out for other points

  • Is the work interesting
  • Do you get paid (gotta catch hold of someone to know this)
  • Do you have Work from home option

Its still saddening that you didn't ask upfront as to why is this place in such a mess, that question could have probably answered your dilemma.

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1.The building is located in a shady area of an otherwise bustling mega-city.

It is not fair to judge the company based solely on there location. Afterall if they are saving money on their facilities they have more money to spend on other things like developer/admin pay. I would be more concerned about what they have done to minimize the risks that are a part of living in a "shady" area. Do they have a secured or monitored parking lot? Is the building secured with on location security personel? Is the entire building well lit at night?

2.The interiors are not well furnished. No false roofing with AC ducts, wires and pipelines randomly scattered overhead, no cubicles/desks/partitions, no proper meeting rooms.

Are the wires kept safely secured and not a safety hazard? Is the temperature in the workarea comfortable? Are there work spaces that are effective?

If yes to both of those then I do not see a problem. Just because a work area in unconventional does not mean it is not effective or pleasant.

3.The workplace had an unpleasant odour.

How unpleasant? If the odor is only noticable for the first few minutes and does not cause physical discomfort you can get used to it. There are some odors that we can not get past. This is probably the most disconcerting but if the odor is more odd than unpleasant then I do not think it will be a big deal. But if it is persistant and you do not get used to it quickly then this odor could make your job intolorable.

4.The interview itself was conducted in a makeshift room - almost looked like the safe locker of a bank to me.

Was the room functional? Did it make you feel uncomfortable to be in it? If so then I would be concerned. Otherwise unconventional is not always a bad thing.

You could be offering a rather generous description of the building or you could be overly critical of the location because it does not fit your stereotypical office. If you would not be comfortable working here then I would encourage you to look else where. But if your concern is that the business is shady because of the apperance of the property you should look at the things that really matter to being successful. Evaluate managerment, personalities of the other people that they have hired, and their business plan. These are better indicators of the viablility of the business.

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I don't think you can make a good decision with the information you have. You have enough information to determine you need more information.

Go back to them and ask more questions. Ask to see the equipment you will be working with. Ask to see the tools you will be working with. Make sure the tools have paid licenses. Ask to speak with a couple of other employees to see if the building reflects the overall work environment.

If they deny those requests then skip this offer.

But those are actions you should take with any job offer.

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Should I really be worrying about all these aspects of my next employer?

Would you really like to spend the next XX years of your life working 8+ hours a day and 5+ days a week in a place like that? I wouldn't.

Doesn't it clearly hint that they don't have enough funds and interest for the betterment of their own workplace?

Indeed it's a sign that they can't afford a better place, or worse, they don't care at all.

If you are not in an absolutely need for a job, look for something better.

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What business are they in, and how long have they been at it?

If they're a startup getting ready to publish their first product, maybe they're trying to conserve resources. With a company like that, a well-polished business plan is more important than a well-polished office.

If they've been in business for a while, though, and especially if they do work for other companies, you really have to wonder. Where do they meet with their clients? What to kind of clients do they attract? Basically, are they having a hard time selling whatever they produce, and if so, why?

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Many years ago, I worked as an IT contractor for Enron for a short while, walnut desks, dual black NEC top of the range monitors, sleek keyboards, cool designer chairs, bleeding edge tech ... well no guesses as to what happened ...

I also worked for a very well known consultancy, they had two really large main offices in the city, one for sales / clients and one for us lot (help desk, support, development), so it probably won't surprise you when i tell you i found myself in the pretty basic one ... however, the projects were very interesting, later on, i had my own project room, (in the basement no windows ... see told you), where i built a pre-production server farm to test code, which was eventually rolled out firm wide, a good job well done. Of course i could not do this alone and i worked with a great team of people, from fellow developers to support and help desk staff they were really good and i enjoyed getting into the office and working on the next problem.

For me, i would rather get paid a little less for more interesting work and working in / with a good team and ideally someone who i can learn something from, and take to the next job, then worry about the building too much ... the building stuff can change ... the people the projects the culture, in my experience don't ...

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I find the interior provides a better indication than the exterior; every two-bit snake oil IT company touts itself as being a "leading provider" or similar marketing BS - it could be a three-man shop and I guarantee the company refers to itself as a "leading" company in its industry.

Poor office conditions is almost always an indicator of several things:

  1. Cheap company; if they can't even have a decent office with proper professional accommodations, what do you think the chances of getting decent equipment is? Even a startup should have some type of capital if it's looking to hire people, so even if you're a one-man shop expanding you have no excuse for crappy working conditions. Two of the absolute worst places I've ever worked at had run-down, messy offices in what amounted to a strip mall in a "trashy" part of town; the places were barely clean and had a slight moldy/musty smell. In contrast two of the best jobs had real, professional office space (one had a small "campus" of sorts, buying out an entire office complex for their use, the other leased a nice section and kept it well-furnished)
  2. Fly by night operation; less office stuff means less you have to pack up and move when the jig is up or things go belly-up. This is like the snake oil salesman of yore with his wagon, just pack up and move on to the next town.
  3. No care about the workers/company, just a desire to make a quick buck. As with #2 less office equipment means less cost, which translates to more money for the owner(s). A scam, putting it lightly.

I think you were justified in thinking the company would be a horrendous place. Real businesses take the time and effort to have a proper work environment before they look at hiring employees. Whether that's leasing space in a professional office complex or have their own building, a good work environment indicates a good company. A run-down or "cutting the corners" office indicates a scam company or one that puts zero effort into anything, often including the quality of the code and services provided.

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If you don't any other options left, Try it for a month only if there is no agreement or of that sort. See if it really works for you. I'm sure, you'll get to know on lot of things in a month.

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What about worrying about the actual working conditions of the office space, and now how it looks?

  • How is the temperature, can you work there?
  • Is there natural light, so you do not get depressed?
  • Is the room well lit?
  • Is the chairs comfortable and good for sitting in for many hours?
  • Are the desks liftable?
  • Etc.
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My mother started in sales with a "shared" table consisting of two filing cabinets (one pointed to each side) with an old interior wooden door across the top. They each had a phone and had to work across from each other in what was best described as a warehouse.

What is it beyond the facilities that makes the company appealing? If you can't put your finger on that, then would it matter if the facilities were top notch? For my Mom, the facilities had a top-notch training program, and that is what she needed then.

A few companies later, she took that training and a lot of hard work and became Wang Laboratories top sales rep for a few months running.

You haven't mentioned the good parts. For some people it's associating with the right team, for others it is training, for some it is the product, for some it is a foot into an industry, some need a modicum of prestige (hey, future employers don't know about work conditions, they too see the external face of a company), some need to build a company up from within. Make sure there's something in it for you that's not paycheck related, then you can balance that with the decor and either come to ease with the facilities, plan to use them temporarily to achieve your goals, or walk away.

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