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Give The Cubicle a Proper Burial

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Yesterday I called for a proper burial for the desktop PC. It stands to reason that it should really be a double funeral. After all, don't the two go together like peanut butter and jelly? I'm going out on a limb. I think it's time for the cubicle to R.I.P., as well.

Here's why...

The bottomline is that we are an increasingly untethered workforce thanks to mobile technology and remote access to corporate networks. I say this as I sit at home late at night in my pajamas writing this for Inc; so case in point.

To understand why the cubicle should be history, let's review it's history.

The cubicle came on the scene with the best of intentions in Silicon Valley. Cubicle historians (talk about a niche expertise) debate whether it was Intel or Hewlett-Packard that first introduced the cubicle office floor plan to employees. The "beta" version of the cubicle was developed, however, by one Robert Probst who debuted the "Action Office" back in 1968.

Probst believed the individual employee actually needed more space; a little mini office with more counter space to spread out all their papers. In other words, it was those Cat five paper hurricanes of the early information age that propelled the need for cubicles.

So, this would be clue number one that the cube is a dinosaur. Paper hurricanes have been replaced by monsoons of digital documents. We don't need more counter tops; just lots of data storage and easier retrieval.

Here's a couple of footnotes on Robert Probst:

- He worked for Herman Miller; you know the people who invented that high end, ergonomically correct chair that is one of the enduring icons of the tech bubble years. It continues to be the self-proclaimed "official office hockey chair", as well.

- Probst died in 2000. But, before his death even he admitted that cubicles had become "monolithic insanity".

The other big early proponent of the cubicle was David Packard, Sr. and Bill Hewlett of HP acclaim. Also with best intentions, cubicles were a cornerstone of the famous HP way. Cubicles were about bringing employees together encouraging team work and congeniality.

Then Dilbert came along.

By the 80's and 90's, cubicles had become a tiresome symbol of the dehumanization of white collar information jockeys. I can testify on that one. I spent most of the 80's and 90's as one of those dehumanized workers.

The cubicle implied privacy. But it gave none; thanks to low walls and co-workers sitting three feet away with big ears.

The cubicle implied a place for me to express my individuality. But, it's hard to hang family pictures, diplomas and reprints of "Starry, Starry Night" on a wall that is only two feet tall.

The cubicle implied a safe, exclusive space; but, anything more valuable than ten bucks was also fair game to any sticky fingers that might breeze by when I wasn't around.

So now what?
Last updated: Mar 6, 2009




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