Does Thinking Outside the Cubicle Promote Collaboration?

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At the risk of seeming cubicle-obsessed (since we've blogged about them twice in the past few weeks), we found another interesting item that we can't resist passing along.


One of our blogs mentioned Microsoft's decision to use a cubicle-free layout in some of its new office spaces. We followed it up with a blog that includes a link to photos of some of the saddest cubicles we've ever seen ("winners" of a Wired contest in which the top prize was, sadly, not an office redesign but a RoboMan Webcam).


Microsoft isn't the only tech company breaking down the cubicle walls, notes this SiliconValley.com story. Cisco, the owner of a whopping 6 million square feet of Silicon Valley real estate, and Intel are also testing cubicle-free work areas.


(Intel's decision may have been prompted by the fact that it has already taken cubicles to their soul-sucking extreme, as hilariously chronicled by Conan O'Brien in this clip.)


Cisco's director of corporate services tells SiliconValley.com that cubicles simply no longer suit a changing work environment in which employees spend more of their time telecommuting or in group meetings.


The company will set up experimental open work areas outfitted with conference rooms, tables and comfy armchairs (the latter two items mimicking the makeshift work areas enjoyed by some telecommuters at places such as Starbucks and Panera). Intel employees also will enjoy phone numbers that follow them and whiteboards that allow them to digitize drawings and plans so they can be transferred to laptops and easily e-mailed to coworkers.


Depending on how the test works out, Intel may take the new design companywide. In a survey taken earlier this spring, Intel found that 88 percent of its employees would welcome a workspace redesign. (Biggest non-surprise ever. See Conan clip above.)


An architecture expert in the story says that "cubes have had their day" because today's work environments increasingly are based on collaborative projects rather than solo tasks.


His statement may be premature, but there seems little doubt that companies will at least try to open up their workspaces a bit. The article mentions pending projects to do so at HP, Intuit and Network Appliance. Collaboration is seen as one of the key benefits, along with reduced costs.


At Cisco, for example, the company could end up spending millions to revamp its offices. (Architects say it costs about $100 a square foot to do so.) However, one floor that has already been redesigned now accommodates 4o percent more employees. Freeing up floor space allows the company to create more conference rooms, a highly sought-after commodity at Cisco.


Company executives say they also have noticed improved productivity, largely facilitated by the faster decisions that occur when colleagues work more closely together. Says a former cubicle dweller at Cisco:

Cubes were nice to . . . lock yourself away from the rest of the world and get some work done. But a lot of work requires interactions with one or more individuals. In this open work space, we can see each other and interact easier.