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As a result of reading Peopleware, I'm thinking of sending a survey out to our programmers to determine how they feel about their office environment. One obvious question is whether the office is too noisy or not.

What other questions should I ask our programmers about their work environment?

I'll post the final survey I put together onto this thread.

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closed as off topic by gnat, Martijn Pieters, thorsten müller, MichaelT, Bart van Ingen Schenau Apr 14 '13 at 17:45

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The 'Joel Test' is a pretty good place to start. –  Tim Post Dec 13 '10 at 12:53
Have you considered making this a team effort instead of a survey? I probably would have gathered the devs together and made some kind of simple workshop out of it to find what the real issues are and see if they can agree on it together. You may discover interesting stuff there. –  Martin Wickman Dec 13 '10 at 13:49

10 Answers 10

up vote 11 down vote accepted

You might want to try asking some of the perk/benefit questions in the following form:

"If given a choice between ___ and the equivalent increase in salary, which would you prefer?" (On a scale from 1-5)

Potential perks could be:

  • Better breakroom/lunchroom
  • Free lunches
  • Free drinks
  • Trips to dev conferences
  • Private offices
  • Better conference/meeting areas
  • Better equipment (computers/monitors/peripherals)
  • Paid mobile phone service
  • Paid home internet service (to facilitate telecommuting)

Every developer is different, and I've met a few who would probably rather take the cash than any of the above. But, asking the question in this way should give you a good idea of where your developers' priorities lie in general, or where your current benefits are weak.

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+1, Many people want stuff, the way you phrased it helps to ascertain what is actually needed. –  Tim Post Dec 13 '10 at 12:54
Not a fan of this as it seems more like perks. Yes some will help productivity but I prefer Craig Schwarze's answer below as it really focuses on the environment which is what the question is actually about (if it was 'what can u do to motivate your employees?' or 'what would make you more effective generally' this would be a better answer to that question. –  Michael Durrant Apr 14 '13 at 16:27

Would you rather work from home?

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From the way you worded your question, you seem to be a manager or leader in your company.

I suggest you get your notes together from this thread, and rather than sending out a sterile survey, take each programmer to lunch, one at a time. Repeat multiple times until you have gotten a true view of how things are working out for each one of them individually.

Consider the following two scenarios:

  1. I'm unhappy about X, or wish to see Y improve... My boss sends me (and everyone else) a survey for me to tick and tie and give back. But it doesn't really address the issue I am having.

  2. I'm unhappy about X, or wish to see Y improve... My boss treats me to lunch (on the clock!), (on his credit card!), and sincerely talks to me about how things are going. I have an opportunity to speak to him frankly about X and Y.

I take the point of view that life is about relationships, and that it is not different at home or at work.

You are asking each employee to trade a significant part of their life for a paycheck. That is the framework for this discussion (worth keeping in mind). Within that, I would consider how you can make their time there most personally and corporately productive, enjoyable, and pleasant. First things are first, meaning that a trip to a conference doesn't mean much if you cannot stand the idiot that is sitting 3 feet from you the other 51 weeks a year. Soda and drinks don't help a lot when you cannot afford the dental visits that will inevitably come :)

While I'm rambling, I will mention that when I installed a filtered fresh ice and water dispenser at the office, it was a big hit. I also got a convection microwave oven, and some of the guys would cook fresh chicken over lunch to put on green salads. They enjoyed that.

A couple of things to address in your discussions could include:

  1. Is there any strife or grief that you can resolve?

  2. Are their desk, computer, monitor, and chair providing them with any frustration at all? Can it be better? (30" hi res monitors are nice, by the way).

  3. Is life working out with the job. Or is the job standing in the way of life? If the answer is negative, what can be done?

For consideration.

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In the same idea, you could ask "how are you happy at work ?" –  MatthieuP Dec 13 '10 at 13:30

Are there enough whiteboards?

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Really? I would have thought that coffee trumps whiteboards. :) –  Robert Harvey Dec 13 '10 at 4:04
Never really needed one... –  user8685 Dec 13 '10 at 13:00

I'm amazed nobody mentioned the Joel test

The Joel Test

  1. Do you use source control?
  2. Can you make a build in one step?
  3. Do you make daily builds?
  4. Do you have a bug database?
  5. Do you fix bugs before writing new code?
  6. Do you have an up-to-date schedule?
  7. Do you have a spec?
  8. Do programmers have quiet working conditions?
  9. Do you use the best tools money can buy?
  10. Do you have testers?
  11. Do new candidates write code during their interview?
  12. Do you do hallway usability testing?
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Pass the Joel test. At least get a 9. Once you're pretty good on that start looking for smaller optimizations. –  SingleNegationElimination Dec 13 '10 at 5:01
would you mind explaining more on what it does and what it's good for? "Link-only answers" are not quite welcome at Stack Exchange –  gnat Apr 14 '13 at 12:11
@gnat I'm not sure its worth editing answers on marginal questions from the early days of the site. But since you have more experience on this site, I'll assume that you feel there's value here and this answer really needed to be updated. –  Conrad Frix Apr 14 '13 at 16:12

I came up with the finally broad areas to ask about -

  • Noise level?
  • Artificial light?
  • Natural light?
  • Temperature?
  • Desk space?
  • Shelf space?
  • Working area?
  • Whiteboards?
  • Plants?
  • Meeting room availability?
  • Interruptions?
  • Toilets?
  • Water coolers?
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I really like this as it focuses specifically on the environment as asked in the question. –  Michael Durrant Apr 14 '13 at 16:28

To really examine this data, you'll want to ask some demographic questions (e.g., age, years of experience, highest degree obtained) and some background questions (e.g., rate your familiarity with these tools, with these design patterns; what languages do you know/use/heard of/not familiar with).

Showing the different results of your survey based on different ways of slicing your subjects can lend some insight into how people feel. For example, more senior people may have different priorities from more junior people, and you will need to take that into consideration

You can also ask the programmer how they are feeling, if they are comfortable and well rested. You sometimes need to ask the same question in slightly different ways in order to adjust for variability in answers. The reason for asking for how fatigued they are is to be able to compare it with the other responses, to see if there are variations.

Then, ask them to compare the environment with previous experiences: Describe how this is better, how the other was better. What do you like best? What do you like the least? Be sure to make those open ended questions, to get the best feedback.

Assure the survey takers that their answers will be anonymous.

You will want the survey questions to be on multiple pages (I assume this is a web-based survey?). You'll want to time the results, to see if people are actually reading the questions, or just clicking on boxes to finish as fast as they can (if the survey is required).

If the survey is not required, you will have troubles getting enough people to take it to get any meaningful results. In that case, you may offer an incentive, or give them a chance to win something in a drawing. If you know everyone, you can ask them if they will take the survey, and when. If they commit to you in person, there's a good chance they'll actually take it.

Before you release it, pilot the survey on a couple of volunteers first, and ask them why they answered the questions they way they did. This can also help you find out if something was missing.

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+1 , First answer that suggests collecting data responsibly. –  Tim Post Dec 13 '10 at 12:55
  • Are there tools that would have a significant impact on your job, that you don't have? (Followup: Why can't you use them?)
  • Have you had the opportunity within the last x months to progress or improve in your career/position?
  • Do you respect your co-workers?
  • Are your co-workers committed to doing good work?
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Ask if they'd prefer to build/bring in their own machine (and have to maintain it if so) or have a company-supplied machine. I've been fortunate enough to be able to use my own laptop for work and it's been a huge productivity gain.

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"Would you like to have a more ergonomic mouse / keyboard / chair / desk?"

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