Cubicles Can Be a Collaboration Killer

Ann All

One of the most persistent myths about millennials is that they won't have anything to do with the old farts with whom they work.


Not true, found the creatively named Hidden Brain Drain Task Force, a group of 50 multinational companies committed to global talent innovation. Fifty-eight percent of Gen Y employees say they seek professional advice from Baby Boomers more than any other generation. A like number of Boomers report they enjoy helping millennials navigate the workplace.


So employees of all ages are open to knowledge sharing, and companies are becoming increasingly aware of its importance. They are looking for alternatives to traditional business communication tools like e-mail, which are not effective for collaboration. And collaboration software, especially delivered via the cloud, is a certifiably hot IT spending category.


Another way of promoting collaboration, of course, is putting people in close proximity to each other. Sort of a "Back to the Future" approach, if you will. Several technology companies, including Cisco, Microsoft and Intel, are tweaking their office layouts to emphasize open gathering spaces rather than cubicles. This Harvard Business Review article describes similar redesigns at pharmaceutical company Boehringer Ingelheim and biotech company Genzyme. Both are intended to promote collaboration.


Like other workplace perks, some companies are promoting their more open offices as a way to attract employees. Says Julie Durgin, a member of Genzyme's Leadership and Organizational Development Department:

The younger generations really love the modern and collaborative green office environment. We find that this has served as a selling point for bringing in high-potential talent.


It's worth remembering, however, that many employees appreciate more privacy than may be offered in open layouts.

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Add Comment      Leave a comment on this blog post
Sep 13, 2009 1:13 PM Marcia E Marcia E  says:

This is interesting stuff - thanks!

Read about a Gates Foundation sponsored high school in California that takes this type of open-space/problem-solving/collaborative approach to education - seems they're doing great things - it's called High Tech High, and, as the name implies it's very much cutting edge in tech too.

In this world of heavy-duty virtual communication, creating these types of environments conducive to collaboration makes tons of sense.

Sep 14, 2009 1:10 PM Dena Coe Dena Coe  says: in response to Al

I agree! Working for a large corporation has its perks, but when they pitched the cubes for an open forum, competitiveness not collaboration rose amongst the desktops. Which made for a non productive and very tense air to breathe. Cubes have their perks...privacy with a touch of teamwork.

Sep 14, 2009 4:03 PM Al Al  says:

Having worked in a personal office, a cubicle in a smaller office, a cube farm in a large office, and in an open arrangement (no walls), I have to say the open arrangement sucks the most.

I've really enjoyed listening to you sling back and crunch ice for the past hour, even though you're 20 feet away.  Or cut your fingernails.  Or get in a fight with your wife.  Or shoot the breeze with somebody 10 feet away for half the day.  Or rustling that bag of pretzels at 10:30am for 20 minutes.  I really enjoy all that.

Sep 14, 2009 6:17 PM James Neely James Neely  says:

Some corporate furniture companies are addressing this very topic.  Consider the offerings from Kimball Office called HUM: Minds at Work.  You can see pictures of the furniture that inspires an interactive work environment here:


I am not an employee or in any way connected with this company, just thought you might appreciate what they are doing.

Sep 14, 2009 7:29 PM Ludmilla Korzhuk Ludmilla Korzhuk  says:

As companies in cutting costs hire lower quality and younger employees they have to try with 20 juniors collectively do what one or two experienced employee would do. We all know who asks many questions and likes collaborate on obvious tasks.

Not a good environment for talented and experienced people.

Sep 14, 2009 7:55 PM Omar Barbosa Omar Barbosa  says:

How does social business software apps like Jive fit into this work environment shift?

Sep 17, 2009 7:06 PM jane yurko jane yurko  says: in response to Dena Coe

When I moved to an open layout, the biggest perk the company offered was noise cancelling head phones!  The environment doesn't increase productiveity, it inhibits thinking.

I don't see how companies save money by spending on new furnishings, and expensive noise cancelling headphones to compensate for the new furnishings... 

I am all for having cubicals in close proximity to fellow team members, and having open areas with computer access other than the workdesk for collaberation sessions.


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