Defuse, wait, “forget”

Yes, I’m that annoying guy in the office that is never really happy with how things are working. So, please just indulge me.

Every time I bring up a concern, I am met with a calm and rational response which usually indicates a solution is right around the corner. The solution, as it happens, never does come around.

“We will adapt to change as required” is a common aphorism when a team responsible for reinventing some solution does not actually have a real answer to a commonly held issue.

I’ve had so many of these kinds of topics kind of just “vanish” or never get taken into consideration and they tend to follow the same pattern. So I’m going to outline a few of these, in the hope that someone can tell me it’s either in my head, intentionally malicious or just plain incompetence.

Office Space #

Normally what happens is that pain builds over time until there is enough pain to rally against the cause. I’ve been working in open offices for 9 years now, I can comfortably say I hate the open office, so much so that I have been looking at ways of surviving for some time.

Preface #

Of course, Ubisoft policy is “everyone in an open office” and the official reason for that is that “it fosters collaboration”, which is pithy and not at all true; nonetheless Massive did have some people in 2-5 person offices for a time after I joined. (I was sadly not one of those).

But we’re growing and as such we kinda ran out of space; and as this happened Massive has unceremoniously demolished meeting rooms, foisted many people out of their group rooms and into the open space and densely packed more people into the already unprepared space.

Of course there’s a good reason for doing so, our move to a larger property is delayed (although we have already exceed the initial design capacity of the new office).

My largest gripes are not with how densely populated the office is, it is that in general there is a distinct lack of acoustical planning, all I hear all day is people loudly enunciating into their microphones over skype, broadcasting to the whole office how important they are.. or certainly how crystal clear and booming they can make their voices with little justification or having a group laugh from across the building while they do some team socialising.

I can also gripe about the lack of visual privacy, and a very strong lack of peripheral distraction guards, people constantly popping up and vanishing, hands waving nearby to signal “remove your headphones” (when in actuality the guy who is facing you for 9hrs every day was just yawning).

And I wont go into the lack of ventilation and cooling, it’s regularly a sauna on my floor, but that is not a common problem across the whole studio at least.

Defuse; #

Regardless, it’s quite clear for me that I do not do my best work at Massive, I get around 20% of my normal throughput on a good day, I go home utterly exhausted. My experience is compared to previous companies.
I have raised concerns, my direct manager has been as courteous as he could be and stuck me in a corner, with a divider but my frustrations live on, because they are not an individual problem, they are a cultural one.
When I share my frustrations, I am regularly directly contacted and people not only sympathise, they outright support; in many cases people are too worried to speak out against the culture themselves.

However, nothing has happened of course, and the promise was always that “in the new office, things will be better”.

Wait #

If there is hope for a fix in the future, then people will likely stop complaining. I mean, it’s a waste of effort and temporary pain is acceptable if there is hope that it will be alleviated in the future, right?

So, in order to be less of a pain in everyones backside, I stopped complaining, attentive that our desires are not forgotten, but otherwise I drop the subject.

Forget #

Everything you just read is a long way to explain that: in the new office, there will be open offices.

Not only will there be open offices, there will be much larger areas of open office, with hardwood floors, more densely packed with desks and as far as I’m aware at the time of writing, no aisle baffles or even a suspended ceiling.

So, not exactly ideal if you’re looking at the new office as having “solved the acoustical problem” of open offices.

Now, credit where it’s due, because there were people being vocal about acoustics, and due to it being a commonly shared problem, there was the idea floated by the architects that we could have “phone booths” for people taking meetings or calls, and a serious increase in the number of meeting rooms.

Unfortunately the phonebooth idea has been relegated to a “we’ll see what happens”. As most quality of life things go, it’s not a hard-line requirement for getting work done so it will fall by the wayside.

When it comes time to actually implement noise isolation there will be nothing done, because institutionally, we don’t care.

For context: I am in a quiet section of our current office and the noise level averages 65db with regular jumps to 95db; I should mention that I’m sitting in a corner with a sound baffle next to me. I can’t imagine how it is on other floors. But that’s just me complaining.

There was an idea floated that “If it turns out there are noise isolation problems which hamper focus, we will outfit everyone with noise cancelling headphones”

I think I’ll do a separate write-up on that specifically because I can poke holes in that idea all day.

I believe it’s fair to say that the issue has been utterly forgotten in the context of moving to a new office.

Titles #

A similar thing happened regarding titles; I am officially a “Online Infrastructure Engineer”; outside of Massive, that title really has no meaning.

I asked my manager and HR to change our titles to something that exists already; something like “SRE” (Site-Reliability Engineer) or “DevOps Engineer” (despite hating DevOps as a job title). Hell, I’d take “Sysadmin”.

There was supposedly going to be a unification of job titles when the make-up of our section of the organisation was significantly changed; however the change was mostly modelled on our team and the way we had been working, so our team was left entirely untouched. So I had waited for a title change as part of that to no avail. Other people in the organisation were branded “Cloud administrators” or specialists within an operating system class or so-on. We are the only “Online Infrastructure Engineers” at Ubisoft.

I should note that we had struggled to expand our team for 3 years; I managed to convince HR that a different title needed to be listed as part of the job description. They “did what they could” and now the job title is listed as being “Online Infrastructure Engineer/Site Reliability Engineer”.

I’m happy to report that since appending “Site-Reliability Engineer” to the job title both the quality and quantity of potential candidates has increased substantially and we even managed to hire someone!

But our titles remain the same.

“Officially” the hold-up on changing my title is due to the “Engineer” moniker in the new title (despite the current title having that) because Engineer is a protected title in Canada, and while we work in Sweden the leadership of Ubisoft would like to unify titles eventually. However we have many architects and that is also a protected title in many countries where we operate. And, like I said, I’m already listed as an Engineer.

So they say change is coming, but it’s been over a year.

The cynical/critical part of me believes that the reason for this, is a long standing Ubisoft policy which pins salaries to slightly below market rate. But there is no market for a job title that doesn’t exist. Thus, they can grossly underpay.

Since then every time I bring it up there has been “significant progress”, however, nothing in reality.

I sincerely believe that they hope I forget.

Conclusion #

I don’t really have a conclusion, maybe I’m just frustrated, I have so many examples of this. From logistical nightmares like our internal datacenters to processes and job functions. Every time I raise a concern I am met with words intended to calm me down, followed by a promise that the future will be better due to $new_thing on the horizon, and then later when the $new_thing finally arrives it does nothing to alleviate the concerns I had originally raised.

In the case of the office. It’s actually significantly worse.

 
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