Scratchy walls. Confining space with no windows. Being able to hear the constant pen tapping of the person next to you--it's not hard to see why cubicles get a bad rap.
In fact, the cubicle has become the symbol of the modern-day corporate monstrosity, where employees are just treated like cogs in the machine without personality or freedom. For many people, walking into an office and seeing a sea of cubicles is a sign that the company is stuck in the past.
A recent survey into workplace satisfaction when it comes to where they work found that workers in high-wall cubicles were the unhappiest by far. Of the 15 factors that contribute to workspace happiness, ranging from sound privacy to the amount of space and comfort, employees in cubicles reported the lowest levels of satisfaction in 13 areas. At the top of their list of complaints was the amount of space, the colors and textures, and the lack of sound privacy, meaning they could hear everything from their colleagues.
With that research in mind, it's no surprise that so many organizations are moving towards open office spaces. Many of the most forward-thinking companies are creating innovative spaces that provide different workspace options, including open offices and private areas for meetings or making deadlines. When done right, open offices tend to increase collaboration and productivity and encourage people to work together and be on the same page about what is happening in the company. Instead of being able to hide behind cubicle walls, employees can more easily interact with each other. Open office design isn't perfect and has led to newer problems in recent years, which is why a mixture of closed and open spaces has been incredibly effective for many companies.
However, maybe cubicles shouldn't be thought of with such scorn. After all, without cubicles we wouldn't have the innovative and modern workspaces of today. The idea of the cubicle was something first created in the 1960s by Robert Probst as a sort of action office. When it was first introduced, the cubicle was viewed as revolutionary--it provided employees freedom and flexibility to customize their space and allowed them to work in the way that was best for them. Although we often think of cubicles today as a way to force employees to conform, the first cubicles gave each employee his or her own space to use as they pleased. In a way, the cubicle was exactly what we talk about with future workspaces--places that allow employees the chance to get their work done in the way they work best.
If it weren't for the cubicle, how we work today would likely be completely different. The cubicle really was the jumping off point for our modern office designs and introduced the idea of employee flexibility to a workspace. The cubicle created the boundaries that we have since been able to push beyond. We may take that idea for granted now, but it was extremely out of the box in its time. Over time the nature of the cubicle changed, but it is still a symbol of the modern workforce. Where there are cubicles, there are people contributing to the economy and getting their work done.
Cubicles might not be the best way to get work done or something that employees hope to have, but because of cubicles we have moved in the right direction towards more collaborative, flexible spaces. Perhaps the next time you walk past the stretchy walls and partitions, stop to reflect on how far we've come.
Learn more by watching The Cubicle.