Receive daily articles & headlines each day in your inbox with your free ERE Daily Subscription.

Not logged in. [log in or register]

The Death of the Cubicle — and the Killers Are Collaboration and Innovation

by May 21, 2012, 5:51 am ET

You might think of your desk or cubicle as simply a place to do work, but forward-looking executives have found that the physical workspace has a profound impact on increasing not just productivity but also innovation. Silicon Valley didn’t invent the cubicle, but it certainly made it an integral part of not only high-tech but also business life. You may even work at a cubicle right now, but you might be surprised to know that the cubicle is dying and going the way of the fax machine and the file cabinet.

This is a gradual death, so don’t expect to see an announcement in the obituaries. The death of the cubicle began at Google and Facebook and is now spreading to numerous startups in the Bay Area. There is no need for a CSI investigation to determine the culprit, because the killer of the cubicle is the higher order need for collaboration and innovation. 

If you don’t believe me, go online and look for a picture of the inside of Google or Facebook. Instead of seeing lines and lines of cubicles, you will instead see broad open spaces where people sit side-by-side with no partitions between them. And periodically you’ll see a “standing desk” where the employee literally stands all day. Obviously without partitions separating employees, there will be less privacy, more noise, and constant interruptions. And that is exactly why cubicles are dying because the increased number of interruptions builds collaboration and sharing, which in turn increases innovation, the lifeblood of Silicon Valley. As an added benefit, the open space environment also increases a sense of community.

Google Began the Slow Death of the Cubicle

I give credit to Google for starting this open space work environment concept. You might think that open spaces and simple desks are a way to save money, but cost is not part of the equation. Google is unique among all firms in that it is essentially a “math camp.” Instead of tradition or history, almost everything is guided by a mathematical algorithm. It has an algorithm for recruiting, retention, leadership, and even the ideal length of the café line. And the root cause of the death of the cubicle is their algorithm for increasing innovation, the lifeblood of Google.

Discovery + Collaboration + Fun = Innovation

For years HR and managers have tried to increase innovation using primarily hit-or-miss approaches. But Google has taken a more scientific approach where it has discovered that innovation is increased only after taking proactive steps to increase discovery (learning), collaboration (working with people from other disciplines) and fun (yes, fun in the workplace). It is the second factor, the need for enhanced collaboration, that is primarily responsible for killing the cubicle. Facebook is also a proponent of this collaboration-building open office movement, as are many other Bay Area firms that rely on innovation.

Maximizing Collaboration Open Space Environment

Imagine if you lined up simple tables (that are no more than 36 inches deep) end to end with nothing separating you from the employees next to you or in front of you. If employees spread their arms out simultaneously, they could literally touch each other. And within a stone’s throw, there is a white board where several people can stand and collaborate on ideas. And within 150 feet, there is a snack area where you can share coffee and collaborate with employees from other disciplines. Some employees even have standing desks which provide even less privacy. All of this may seem crazy, but actually it’s crazy smart. The model is similar to one used by sports teams. Players and coaches don’t sit separately and there are no partitions to reduce collaboration and sharing.

How Cubicles Kill Sharing and Collaboration

There are many reasons why cubicles are becoming dinosaurs in the Silicon Valley. Some of those reasons are listed below. Each is immediately followed with the corresponding advantages that you can expect from the open space collaboration environment.

  • Partitions require walking in order to share – the partitions that make up the sides of the cubicle purposely hide a worker from view. Although this isolation does reduce distractions for a single worker, it also reduces interactions between coworkers. And when a single employee has a startling idea, they must literally get up and bob in and out of several cubicles in order to share it with their team. And unfortunately, that extra time and effort required may lead an employee to postpone the sharing of the idea until the next meeting, which in turn causes many ideas to go unshared.
  • Advantages of the open space solution: in direct contrast, the table and standing desk environment offer no restrictions to the rapid simultaneous sharing of a new idea. When anyone comes up with a brainstorm idea, it can be shared verbally across tables. And if a teammate becomes obviously excited about a new idea, everyone might even be able to see it. When it is warranted, the entire team can instantly walk the short distance to the nearby standup whiteboard wall area to share the details with the team.

 

  • Cubicles cut eye contact and they make it hard to approach – the partitions of the cubicle essentially eliminate eye contact because you sit facing away from the entrance. The depth of a cubicle itself even requires you to walk in and disturb someone who is sitting down with their back to you. Because the interrupter can’t see what they’re working on, there may be a resistance to approach and interrupt.
  • Advantages of the open space solution: with a simple table and a chair (with no partitions) you can easily establish eye contact with anyone in front or next to you. In addition, you can literally approach another employee from the side with no obstructions. Some Google offices even include semicircular couches so that everyone can maintain eye contact while relaxing during team meetings. Employees at standing desks are the most approachable and thus they offer the most opportunities for collaboration. When someone approaches an employee at their standing desk, they can approach from 360°. And as an added benefit, there is no need for someone to get up from their chair to talk to you. At Facebook, more than 10% of the employees use standing desks. There are even treadmill standing desks where employees get the added benefit of exercise while working. And because the employees are already standing, it is effortless to walk a few feet to the white board wall to collaborate with others.

 

  • Cubicles reduce energy-creating noise – cubicles are designed to reduce noise, which may seem like a good thing, but working in a quiet environment may actually reduce performance.
  • Advantages of the open space solution: strange as it may sound, the right noise level may actually increase productivity and innovation. Just as bars and restaurants plan to create a certain noise level in order to create a sense of excitement, managers can have the same result. The noise of all employees working may act as a motivator to keep everyone else doing their part. But in order to get the right amount and the right kind of noise, managers can use noise filtering and canceling technologies to provide the right amount and the right kind of background noise. And if an individual needs quiet for a period of time in order to think, the simple answer is that they put on their own private music or noise canceling earphones.

 

  • Cubicles are too small for collaborative meetings – because of the size and layout of a cubical, any amount of collaboration needs to be shifted to traditional conference rooms. These unfortunately must be scheduled in advance, and they are often in short supply.
  • Advantages of the open space solution: managers in the open space environment realize that the delays involved in finding and scheduling a conference room are collaboration- and idea-killers. As a result, they have created numerous collaboration white board walls adjacent to the workspace, where a small group can leave their tables in order to get together to hash out an idea. Even when walking to the cafeteria, there are numerous alcoves where team members can stop and outline an idea immediately when it comes up. Overall, there is a conscious effort to provide an overabundance of “instant” team collaboration spaces that require no scheduling or advance preparation.

 

  • Cubicles increase personal privacy – cubicles don’t really provide very much privacy because they have no doors or walls. However, the personal privacy that they do provide emphasizes individualism. And thus it is a collaboration killer that must be partially sacrificed for the good of the team.
  • Advantages of the open space solution: although privacy may seem like a good thing to you, it is a collaboration reducer. Rapid innovation requires a complete team and community environment. Managers educate their team members about the value of collaboration and innovation. In addition, with the growth of the Internet and social media, most employees in the high-tech world have long ago reduced their concern for personal privacy. Managers at Google and Facebook for example understand that there is a periodic need for quiet team meetings, so they have provided an overabundance of team meeting rooms and quiet spaces, and Google even offers sound and light proof decompression/stress reduction chambers for individual employees. In an electronic world, even the desire to view personal pictures is not sacrificed; it is simply transferred to one’s computer files. And although plain tables provide no room for in-baskets, file cabinets, sticky notes, or cups full of pens, there is no need for them because this is a 100% paperless electronic environment.

Additional Collaboration-increasing Options

In addition to “killing the cubicle,” there are many other actions that firms are taking in order to increase collaboration. For example, offering a shuttle bus to work may seem like an expensive proposition. However, because workers in the same team don’t live close together, shuttle buses provide a valuable opportunity for workers to interact with others from many disciplines. This cross-functional interaction helps to speed up learning and best-practice sharing. And if the riders are members of an overhead function, it may help to reduce bottlenecks and roadblocks by increasing understanding and empathy. Google headquarters even has a laundromat which also helps to improve cross-functional collaboration, and the physical placement of business functions are often determined based on how walking patterns can increase collaboration between interdependent but disparate functions.

When Sun built a new office years ago, it even dramatically increased the width of the staircases so that teams would not have to break up into a single file and thus lose collaboration while walking to the cafeteria. The most outrageous implementation of the concept has to be the Google “conference bike,” where six team members can collaborate and exercise at the same time, while riding around the campus.

Enhancing Collaboration With Remote Workers

Many high-tech firms in the Bay Area offer remote work options, so efforts must be undertaken to increase collaboration with workers who do not physically come into the office on a regular basis. The most obvious solution is a widespread use of internal and external social networks to enhance collaboration and idea sharing. Firms like IBM have developed a number of tools and approaches which educate both remote and regular employees on how to increase team collaboration and innovation between each other.

Final Thoughts

HR and talent management leaders may think that I’m exaggerating about the importance of physical space in increasing productivity, sharing, collaboration. and innovation. But if they do a little research, they would rapidly adopt the idea. One study by USC showed a significant increase in productivity. Firms like Google and Facebook don’t do things on a whim; they have hard data to show that these approaches produced measurable business results.

If you’re still cynical, do some research into the value of innovation at your own firm. Once you or the CFO calculates its extremely high economic value, it’s easy to gain support for approaches for increasing the collaboration that eventually results in implemented innovation.

This article is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended to offer specific legal advice. You should consult your legal counsel regarding any threatened or pending litigation.

  • http://www.glennlist.com Michael Glenn

    You are wrong. I have been an IT recruiter for almost 15 years and have worked in an open and cubicle environment.

    A decade ago, Extreme Programming was all the rage (or XP programming). You have an open room with desks (no cubes)

    Here are some real scenarios:

    - You got Fred, the DBA, eating his nuked fish leftovers and a side of lentils. (enjoy sitting next to him)
    - Sally having a “talk” with her kids everyday and asking them what their homework assignment is.
    - Billy Bob, Net Admin, who computer parts and mountain dew bottles on his desk area
    - Ravi who needs a place to pray everyday at Noon
    - Jerry, who likes to listen to talk radio and wants everyone to know his political views.
    - Ravi and Jerry don’t get along because Jerry thinks Ravi is planning a terrorist attack.
    - Mary is getting married and all she talks about is her wedding.
    - (later) Marry is pregnant and all does is complain about being pregnant.
    - (later later) Marry has a baby shower and you have to participate – yeah!!
    -(later, later, later) Marry has a boy and all she talks about how smart he is and all things he can do – btw, he is 6 months old and can’t even walk yet.
    - Fred is pissed off at everyone because they told him to eat his food in the break room
    - Ravi is quitting and nobody knows how to code, plus he has seemed to misplaced all the documenation for his work
    - Gordon from the PM group wants to have a conversation with Ravi about the project but winds up talking to the whole group and everyone has to stop and listen – work stoppage.
    - Sally and her husband are separated and she has heated phone conversations daily.
    - Fred has bad gas – deal with it.

    Be careful what you wish for – You might just get it!

  • http://www.lasallenetwork.com Tom Gimbel

    For companies that want to foster collaboration, creativity and camaraderie among workers, an open floor plan is the way to go. As a staffing firm, our open floor plan allows our recruiters to interact and share ideas, triumphs, failures and experiences. We believe in over-communicating, and the anti-cubicle atmosphere promotes that.

    Another way we’ve found to foster collaboration and creativity is to have staff move desks. Here are a few advantages: http://pastfive.typepad.com/pastfive/2012/04/increase-employee-moral-move-their-desks.html

  • http://www.widen.com Amy Esry

    Pretty much everything in Mr. Glenns list, the noise, employees not getting along, overhearing phone calls, employees being to chatty, all happen with cubicles already. We are trying the no-cubicle idea and there need to be ground rules regarding smelly food, keeping your work area fairly tidy (our employees have under-desk cabinets to keep personal effects), etc. Our employees have headphones for when they want to listen to music. Many of the things that Mr. Glenn lists as issues, have nothing to do with workspace. Providing a private conference room for prayer or for private conversations (including private calls home- that what cell phones are for) is needed with cubicles or with an open work space. The only way you are going to avoid the issues Mr. Glenn mentions is if everyone has a real office with a door, and everyone is isolated. Our employees asked to try the open workspace, and its worked well for us. Everyone has a laptop so they can move to a conference room for conference calls with clients. Everyone is respectful regarding noise, so it hasnt been an issue. This type of work space will not fit all cultures, but its working for us so far.

  • Keith Halperin

    Thanks, Dr. Sullivan.
    Michael, you hit the nail on the head.
    “Open plan” aka, “bull pen” is one of the best arguments I know for tele-commuting. Who wants to be crammed in cheek-by-jowl with visibility and audibility all the time?

    Cheers,

    Keith

  • http://lisneysearch.wordpress.com/ Peter Lisney

    Dr Sullivan, thank you for your insights and a well written article. I suspect that this type of environment will be best suited for those professionals that need to be creative by collaboration. I’d be worried to see an investment banker conducting his trade from a hammock, even in the Cayman Islands. We frequently encounter concerns from candidates when placing legal professionals from practise into a bank or telco. Environments that encourage more team work and process. We often receive the immediate feedback, how do I concentrate if I don’t get my own room. Indeed, certain professionals need their individual space, especially those that are more individual players. A solution for those professionals may well be your own room or cubicle and then have an open playground area for those team meetings.

  • http://www.raccareers.net Jim Wahl

    A few questions. If cubicles are such a bad thing, why were they invented in the first place and so readily adopted? Didn’t we have open space before them?

  • http://www.glennlist.com Michael Glenn

    Companies will spend a lot of money to create a great open area environment but they slowly revert back to cubicles and ultimately costing more money.

    I’ve personally seen corporate IT departments try to mix Agile/Scrum methods using an open room (XP programming style). They wind up having more failed iterations.

    But this idea of a communal works space spawning creativity and increased productivity has been implemented for decades and as ALWAYS it’s been the exact opposite.

    IT candidates want to telecommute. Having to drive into work every day pounding out code in large room of other programmers is a very hard “sale” and it makes for a LOT of turnover.

    Recruiters – Please tell your manager to never have this type of recruiting environment. You need to develop relationships with candidates and the candidate needs to feel like they are talking to a recruiter NOT a CALL center or a Telemarketer. Plus, you want to be happy.

  • Pingback: The Slow Death of the Cubicle « annenimke

  • Bree J

    Thank you Michael Glenn, I agree with everything you’ve said. Creative collaboration & creativity are great sounding buzz words. But everyone knows the most creative innovators are people who need to CONCENTRATE on producing things. Periods of intense concentration that is needed is not fostered in these ghastly noise & interruption ridden work places. I’ve experienced first hand how extremely difficult it is to work when people are always approaching at you with their nonsense.

    The recruitment industry seems to operate on this myth that people need endless noise & distractions in order to stay motivated & to achieve more. But in these type of offices, the exact opposite occurs. We all know how poisonous negative employee’s morale can be to the team. Well guess what? When you are constantly exposed to them every minute of your work day – you are a sitting duck. Who wonders why at the end of each day why they didn’t achieve as much as they expected & vows to make up for it tomorrow, and then the next day & the next.

  • http://www.pjmconsulting.com.au Peter Macdonald

    May I remind those of us old enough to remember the failed experiment of “open Space” classrooms, all following the theories of one female teacher who later admitted she was wrong. A generation of reduced learning outcomes due to the noise and interruption factor especially for those students who are easily distracted. Well those same distracted kids are now working in an open space next to you!
    My observation of some early applicators of this approach convinced me it was all about not letting employees hide and therefore an attempt to make them only do work at work. In fact employees seen hanging around anothers workstation were often counselled as to why they weren’t working.
    This is just another example of the wheel turning in a circle. Remember the typing pools of the 1950′ – all open space!

  • sunaina khanna

    I love the underlying excitement in this article. However, the open space leads innovation and collaboration cannot be applied as a general rule across board. I work for a non profit organization of about 40 employees. We all are compartmentalized with no intercations for days with one another- just work on our individual areas of expertise. Initialliy i tried to break this dichotomy by presenting ans sharing ideas … which fails to work. There are other factors wich hinder innovation even if you go totally open…. POLITICS at work. No matter how open the floor plan is.. politics and power game kills all innovation and collaboration.Collaboration happens only at levels where there is no threat.

  • Keith Halperin

    @Michael, Bree, Peter, Sunaina: Well said.

    I think it ironic that this is taking place in IT-related companies. These companies have high proportions of folks with Asperger’s in them, and to many Aspers: an environment like this would be hell.

    A question: who actually would like to work in an environment like this- not folks who think people should work in an environment like this, but people who would actually prefer it?
    I assume there are a number, and I would guess they are predominantly younger and extroverted.

    Cheers,
    Keith

  • Scott Weaver

    Its interesting to see everyone’s thoughts. In our HQ, we moved office space from a suite that had an individual office for each person to currently operating in the “open plan”. Its been met with mixed reviews. We have 2 open spaces or “bull-pens”, about 30 squares with no walls that everyone operates their work day within, 3 closed offices with window walls (for CEO, COO, and VP of HR), 1 large conference room, 1 small “meeting room”, and 2 travel/swing spaces when absolute privacy may be needed. Additionally, we have a large break room w/ tables, TV (premium package so everyone can watch whatever sporting event), and a patio outside.

    It is interesting to witness. We’re a professional consulting firm w/ a laid back atmosphere. Many are so quiet on the phone that its actually more silent then it may have been in the past. On the other hand, there are certain times in the day when it gets pretty busy and people are joking all around the office. The company also bought bose head-sets for everyone so they could listen to music during the day.

    My point is: I think the jury is still out on whether or not it creates more productivity and I’m sure it depends on the type of business you run. Regardless, it does create some fun times.

  • Keith Halperin

    @ Scott. You made a good point. Personally, I think instead of working toward a fun, no-boundaries, 24/7/365 mixed work/play environment, we should be more like the Germans, who work fewer but more focused work hours and then go on with the rest of their lives OUTSIDE of work.

    Cheers,

    Keith

  • Pingback: HR Blogposts der Woche 21/2012 | HR Software Blog

  • Pingback: More on the vanishing cubicle: is it a good thing? | Workforce Watercooler

  • Pingback: “HR, Tear Down Those Walls”… and Increase Decision-Making Speed By 45% - ERE.net

  • Paula Filseth

    Just had to comment on this …

    I worked in an open-environment office 8 or 10 years ago. It was a complete and total nightmare, and it led to massive workplace dissatisfaction amongst a very unhappy workforce. It is disheartening to see this trend being pushed so hard by “design” firms with a clear financial interest in getting companies to pay them to create these allegedly more “innovative” and “collaborative” environments.

    Many of the points have already been made, but I’ll reiterate them from my own experience … the worst problem was the noise, followed very closely by constant visual distractions. Nor was the noise a result of excessive personal calls … continuous work-related conversations can be just as disruptive to another person’s ability to concentrate on his or her own job.

    Collaboration is frequently heralded as the reason to switch to this sort of office arrangement, but I believe this supposed benefit is vastly over-predicted and over-rated. The people at my company who needed to work with one another had already been doing so before the change, meeting in one another’s cubicles or using larger conference rooms when needed for bigger meetings. This didn’t change with the workplace redesign. The only thing that changed was that the “in-cubicle” meetings became much noisier and more disruptive to workers around them. Interruptions were constant. As a writer, I desperately need quiet to focus … but with the redesign, I found my computer on a desk top sitting catty-corner to those of three other people. One of these listened to loud rock music through his headphones 8 to 10 hours a day, and sitting where I was (just a few feet away), I endured a constant low-grade buzz and beat (as well as the visual distraction of his head bobbing in time). I often found myself six or seven hours into the day with barely a dent made in the work I needed to get done and almost in tears from frustration … between the constant interruptions and distractions, I found myself having to take home work every day and work another three or four hours into the wee hours.

    The demand on conference rooms was enormous … and not just for meetings; employees desperate for a quiet space to concentrate on their work signed up for even a half hour here or there wherever they could. This led to even more impromptu “collaborative” meetings in the open space. It was a vicious, unending cycle.

    Another issue that I rarely see mentioned at all, but which was a very big problem for me and a number of others, was a constant, visceral feeling of unease and unhappiness stemming from being constantly visually “exposed.” If you are the sort of person who feels most comfortable sitting with your back to the nearest wall and facing into a crowded room, you know what I’m talking about … you’re sure to feel a constant, nerve-jangling distress if your new workspace places you in the middle of a very open room. It’s an exhausting kind of claustrophobia … the sort of stressful feeling I most associate with waiting at a crowded airport gate for several hours, sitting cheek to jowl with equally stressed strangers. In the end, the working environment made me so miserable that I had to quit.

    I’m at a loss to explain how corporate execs can imagine this sort of environment is in any way conducive to collaboration, innovation, or efficiency. It is worth noting that in the case of the company where I experienced this setup, the execs who made the decision to design this “open” and “collaborative” workspace all maintained private offices (with doors and walls) for themselves. I think that pretty much says it all.

  • Pingback: Collaboration and Group Think: Stand and Work | QuinnCreative

  • Omar Hussain

    I think workers spend too much time talking to eachother as it is, and not enough time working. All this “collaboration” and discovery sounds great, but just how many new ideas are people coming up with in a day? When is there time to actually sit down and code something and get stuff done?
    No wonder Google and Facebook have so many software engineers on staff, they need all those people just to get anything done, because the rest of the time they’re jogging or having fun?

  • Pingback: Is a Cubicle or Open Layout Best For Your Business? -Office Suites PLUS

  • Pingback: Office Spaces: Amazing Cubicles with Modern Style

  • Tara Simmons

    When our customers plan to make big changes in their work environment we encourage them to have plenty of employee involvement. The more input employees have, the more buy-in they will have for the end result. http://www.custeronline.com/custer/workplace-trends-in-design

  • Molly Jay

    Yes, it is very important that you involve your employees in your plans! But don’t worry — you don’t actually have to give the employees any REAL input or ACTUAL choice (and if you’re moving to an “open-plan” office, it’s probably better than you don’t, as these layouts are very popular with the designers who get paid to create them and the employers who get to pay less to squeeze more workers into them, but not so popular with the workers themselves).

    Just follow the following tried-and-true plan:

    First, send out a company-wide email to let your employees know how much you value them, and that in appreciation for all they’ve done to help make the company successful, you’ve decided to “upgrade” and “update” their workspace and daily work experience. Emphasize that of course you’ll be seeking their input! This email costs you nothing, promises nothing, and plants the seed that you actually give a fuzzy rat’s posterior what your employees think.

    Sometime later, send out a short email survey or questionnaire asking employees to rate what is most important to them in a workspace. (It doesn’t really matter exactly what questions you ask, but remember that if you make them multiple choice, the survey will take less time away from your employees’ real work.) Don’t worry; you don’t actually have to read workers’ responses or incorporate the answers into any of your planning or thinking. All that is important is that you make the empty and symbolic gesture of asking.

    A few weeks or months later, email your employees to let them know that the workspace designers have worked very hard, based on the results of the survey/questionnaire, to create three cutting-edge workspace concepts, and that employees are now invited to vote for their “very favorite.” (Try to use those exact words … this will help to create the impression that the three concepts are so likable that the employees will have difficulty choosing just one!).

    Then select three cramped and confining workspace concepts so stripped of personal space and privacy that the ASPCA would protest if it discovered chickens being confined to them in egg-producing factories. If you really favor one over the others, just make sure the other two are slightly smaller or less private. Even an inch here or there will be enough to stack the deck in favor of your preferred choice.

    Now, I won’t lie to you. This next part is where things may start to feel a little dicey. The company selling you workspace design services will no doubt have created pretty screen mockups or physical prototypes that would not look out of place in a Swedish Museum of Sophisticated and Spartan Design, but since your entire workforce is unlikely to have undergone sudden lobotomies, this fact will not actually distract your employees from the horrifying realization that they’re going to have to spend 8 hours a day for the next umpteen years trying to work in one of the claustrophobia- or agoraphobia-inducing choices you’ve given them. You may even get despairing emails from a few of the more intrepid souls.

    But relax! Really, there is nothing you need do but wait for your workers to finish voting en masse for whichever option their feverish, despairing brains calculate will preserve for them the most space, privacy, and ability to focus out of the Hobson’s choice you have set up.

    Finally, send a cheery email out to the entire company, heralding the new office layout that the “employees have selected.” Or, better, make the announcement at a company lunch — maybe even grumble jokingly about how your workers with their “caviar tastes” managed somehow to choose the most expensive of the three options, but that you guess they’re “worth it”!

    Afterwards, retire to your office (you know, the one with the actual walls and the actual door?) and nominate your company on the Web as a “great place to work” that even let its employees “design their own workspace.”

    Next up — How to take away your workers’ employer-sponsored health insurance and switch them over to the state exchanges! Tip: Hint that Facebook and Google are planning to do it, so it must be innovative, collaborative, and cutting-edge!

  • john caughman

    Maybe I’m missing something here. An open workspace is a terrible idea for a group of computer programmers or other analysts. This is a solitary occupation that requires concentration to be effective. An open workspace just fosters disruption and general unproductivity. If the employment requires constant communication then an open area may be ideal. My current employer has me in an open area, a table with a monitor and keyboard, along with other people on either side of me. I am a programmer and find this setup to be challenging if not insulting.

  • Annie Barrete

    Cubicles aren’t simply about being a “quiet working space”, but also about what it represents.Ask any random person what he/she feels about working in a cubicle, and more often than not, it will be met with disdain and contempt. The cubicle represents everything bad, mediocre, and downright oppressive about Corporate America.

    Bravo to open offices. It makes playing Tetris and surfing for porn at work that much more difficult, and getting ACTUAL work done.

    http://www.occubicles.com/modular-office-cubicles-orange-county.html

  • john caughman

    Annie: I do not know what line of work that you are in. As a professional programmer, I do not play tetris or surf for porn throughout the day. I am there to work. The assertion that the cubicle represents oppression is ludicrous. At this company, the FTE staff have cubicles. The contracting staff have open work spaces. If the agile environment is so wonderful then why doesn’t the company have its FTE staff assigned to them? To me, it is an assignment of my hierarchy at this company. They pay me much more than the FTE staff, I work on assignments they have no clue about and I get things done correctly. Yet, they are too short sighted to see that this work arrangement kills any notion of better productivity and ideas of sticking around with the company long term.

  • Mark

    Many tech firms simply have structured their processes to exclude top talent. The choice between an office, a cubicle, or a bull-pen, should be the choice of the employee, not something imposed upon by the employer. Some are socialites, some do their best thinking in the office.

  • MSD

    Listen this works great for places like Google where the recruit the best and the brightest and everyone is there because they are ambitious, motivated and talented. It also works great for a start-up incubator. I work for a financial services company, where people do pretty much the same thing again and again and again. Most of them have Business Administrative degrees ( read death of innovation or critical thinking) and they lead a soulless life with a culture of the 80′s and 90;s where the culture was of showing off which restaurants you go to, where you vacation and how big your house is.

  • MSD

    Listen this works great for companies like Google or Facebook that recruits the best and the brightest. This open space also works for start-up incubators where everyone is talented, smart, motivated and ambitious. I work in a financial services sector where people still work in a 1980′s 90 culture and where work is mechanic. People talk about things like which overrated restaurant they went to or which expensive resort they spent their money on or how big their house is. Basically they are making up for the fact that they are completely insignificant and easily replaceable.

  • falstaffsmind

    This is a hot topic where I work because our new office space was designed without any input from the people who would be using it. We went from discreet offices to a more open plan, and it’s universally despised. Ask any developer on the planet if they would prefer an office, a cubicle or an open plan, and well over half will choose an office provided there is some kind of open area or conference space to meet. Noise kills individual productivity. It’s the absolute bane of software development. Another factor is lighting. Some prefer a very dark space, and some a very bright office. One size fits all lighting can lead to fatigue and eye strain. And 90% of your time on any project is spent coding, not talking about coding. The office shouldn’t be designed around what you spend 10% of your time doing. The primary collaboration that takes place in open plans and cubicles is a tacit agreement to stop talking and keep noise down. These open plans are designed by accountants and interior design mavens. They are idiotic and insulting. But they are cheap, and people write magazine articles about them as if they are smart. You may as well telecommute. A better design would be many small quiet offices with discreet lighting around a central hub for collaboration and team meetings.