Cubicle, We Hardly Knew Ye

Ann All

I love situations in which I am cutting edge without trying to be. Thus I was thrilled to discover some months back that my workspace at IT Business Edge is the sort of modified open office layout being adopted by companiestrying to offer a productivity-enhancing blend of public and private spaces.


As I wrote earlier this year, some companies are eliminating cubicles in favor of totally open workspaces. While that's probably an improvement over claustrophobic cube farms, it leaves many folks craving a little privacy. (At its new office space in Menlo Park, Calif., Facebook solves the privacy problem by scattering phone booths throughout its open spaces.)


Also, not everyone has the same collaboration style. While enhanced collaboration is the ostensible purpose of open office layouts, some folks prefer to thoroughly run through ideas in their own heads before discussing with others. They may feel uncomfortable brainstorming in wide, open spaces. As Dan Keldsen, chief innovation officer at Information Architected Inc., writes in an InformationWeek piece:

There's no single workspace design that fits everyone's needs. Not in the physical world, not in the virtual world. Collaboration needs/wants can change hundreds of times a day, so don't expect open office spaces to be the solution any more than you'd expect corner offices and cubicles to be.

Keldsen's advice is to aim for a work environment that is able to offer both privacy and openness, the kind of blend I mentioned in my first paragraph. Some organizations, including several federal agencies, are turning to shared spaces out of economic necessity. No matter why they are doing it, though, there's no question tomorrow's offices will probably contain fewer cubicles.


Even cubicle devotees like Intel are modifying them, lowering the walls from 62 inches to 54 inches. The modifications are part of a broader redesign called "The Way We Work," according to an Austin American-Statesman story. Lower walls are one of the ideas mentioned in a list of cubicle improvements suggested by design professionals in a Fast Company story.


Think it's a little silly to devote this much attention to office design? Consider an Ohio State University/National Institute of Mental Health study mentioned in a Wall Street Journal blog post about the topic, that found white-collar professionals working in an old office building, with low ceilings and loud air-conditioners were far more stressed than colleagues working in a renovated space with skylights and open cubicles.

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