When software developer Computer Associates International built its headquarters on Long Island, N.Y., last year, CEO Charles Wang assured his managers they'd get hard-walled offices with doors. But, he added, that's all they'd get. Wang had looked at the empty spaces and seized the chance to create an equitable floor plan. "There's only so much sunlight, and there are only so many offices with doors," he indicated. "It's unfair to give both benefits to the same people." So the executives were dispatched to the building's center, where the sun never shines. The lower ranks sat around the outside, in doorless but sunlit cubicles.
"Our feeling is that a working environment should encourage communication," affirms Tracy Brusca, the designer in charge of executing -- and promoting -- the status-leveling scheme. "The convention of putting all an office's 'cubes' in the middle and its hard-walled offices on the window line doesn't foster good communication. At most companies employees resign themselves to it because that's the way it's always been. Here, you can feel the difference -- people do communicate."
Computer Associates is a $1.8-billion operation in which a doorless complainer can quickly be shown a door -- to the street. But can a cube-intensive layout fly in a small business? Following the principles outlined above, Computer Associates is redesigning its own 10-person field office in Birmingham, Ala., from all hard-walled offices to predominantly cubes. The affected parties were nervous at first, admits Brusca, "because usually, being put into a cube means you're being tossed into a box." She persuaded them to think positive: " Our cube means sunshine and light.'