Open Office Spaces: Collaborative or Crappy?

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Turns out my employer was years ahead of its time when I worked for a small southern Indiana daily newspaper. The entire staff toiled in a single large open room. People were shoved into every crevice. It was dirty, cluttered, and yes, smoky (thanks to a sportswriter's two-pack-a-day habit).


Now Microsoft is adopting a similar open layout (minus the dirt and smoke, I presume) for some of its new office spaces, reports the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Such designs are thought to promote collaboration, enhance communication and offer easier access to executives. Heck, say designers, with today's workers using laptops, mobile phones and other smaller devices, they don't really need individual cubicles to house their gear.


IT Business Edge blogger Rob Enderle wrote about these so-called super-cubicles back in September. His take:

How about if we put a whole bunch of employees in one big cubicle along with their manager? That way, we can combine the things we hated about the office before the '60s with the things we hated ever since, and create something that you wouldn't even want to think about stepping in, or into.

Like the Post-Intelligencer columnist, Enderle thinks the super-cubicle concept may be a sneaky way for companies to encourage employees to telecommute.


I work in a sort of super-cubicle layout, as described (and bonus, pictured) by IT Business Edge blogger Ken-Hardin in his earlier commentary on the subject. I also usually work from home a couple days a week. While I find it easier to crank out copy at my home office, it's not because I find my coworkers noisy and/or annoying. I just find it easier to roll out of bed and get right down to writing at home.


My few complaints about my work environment relate less to privacy and more to temperature and lighting limitations in the restored historic building in which we work. (Although I should note that I find it easier to tune out chatter because of my aforementioned newsroom past.)


Like Ken, I think cubicles have become a convenient whipping-boy for all that ails corporate America and, in a broader sense, for all that is impersonal in today's society. He writes:

... cubicles don't make your manager stupid, and they don't make your pay scale stink. They don't dismiss your ideas and promote tenure over competence.

Yet in light of the tight labor market and need to retain top workers, companies may want to at least gauge employee opinion before investing big in the super-cubicle concept. Lack of private office space was one of the alleged downsides of working at Google mentioned in a leaked internal memo that circulated around the Internet earlier this year.