The Modern Office Part #1: Cubicles That Aren’t Really Cubicles

The Modern OfficeOne of the most rampant and annoying practices in the modern office today with the greatest effect on the modern office worker is use of “non-traditional” office furniture. If you’ve ever set foot inside a modern office most likely you’ve laid eyes upon a strange amalgamation of shiny plastic, amorphous shapes and a lack of distinguishable boundaries that at first glance you thought was maybe a really large and ugly piece of sculpture but upon second glance, you were horrified to learn that it was actually a work station.

I once worked in an office next to one of these monstrosities (myself lucky enough to get a “half-cube” that was smaller than my guest bathroom). We all referred to it as the “S-desk” because the tabletop was shaped like the letter ‘S’ with a foot-high partition in the middle of four stations so that people across the table wouldn’t have to stare at each other in the face all day when sitting. It was about 10-feet long and offered little privacy from the back and sides and if you stood up, you could see over the front partition as well. It was universally loathed by everyone in the office.

Why do companies do this? Who wants to work on a fancy piece of art?

Not only are these modern workstations usually ugly and misshapen, they generally offer little to no privacy in an effort to “encourage personal interaction.” Anyone who has worked in a cubicle can agree that sometimes we’d all prefer a little less interaction with our co-workers. Especially if they practice one of the 10 most annoying office habits of all time.

A cubicle should be just that, a cubicle, and the ideal cubicle will have the following elements:

  • 3 to 4 walls: A work station should provide privacy in front and on the sides. Having a privacy wall at the back is also highly preferred.
  • Smooth, rectangular desktops: Wavy desktops and desktops made of unusual materials are a waste of space. No one likes them. Rectangular desks have existed for hundreds of years, why mess with success?
  • High walls: The most important function of a cubicle is to give people privacy. If you can see over the walls of your cubicle into another, then the cubicle is not serving its primary purpose.

Simple, elegant, traditional—these are things we should be looking for in office furniture. Let’s stop trying to reinvent the wheel and give people a practical space in which to work.

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7 responses »

  1. Pingback: Office Furniture » Good links from across the blogs

  2. Oh the dreaded cube… I’ve been living in what we call a cubifice for a few years – it’s half cube, half office with walls that go almost all the way to the ceiling and reminds one more of a phone booth than anything. It’s nice to have the privacy to close my full size door, but I hate that there is no natural light anywhere in my vicinity… I’d almost rather be in an open cube environment near windows than closed away like that.

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  5. How old are you? In your 50’s?? Cubes are the most stultifying, soul-sucking, creativity-clogging office apparatus around. I much prefer more open spaces. If I need privacy then there should be breakout rooms where we can go to. Otherwise, as long as everyone is respectful of each other open offices are much more conducive to work.

  6. Nick,

    I think the key to your statement is “as long as everyone is respectful of each other.” What if your co-workers aren’t respectful? Or have bad habits such as clipping their fingernails or having several drawn out, daily conversations with their “bunny rabbit”? I’m glad that you work in an office where everyone is respectful of the public space, however, you should consider yourself one of the lucky ones.

  7. If only we could design our work spaces like we design our pergolas! A comfy armchair, perhaps a footrest to soothe our work-weary feet, a side table where we could rest our daily quota of coffee cups, and what about a potted palm to add a touch of color to the otherwise drab interior?
    Okay, I know it’s only a daydream because most folk are required to work in an office whereas a pergola is designed for relaxation, but let’s face it, doesn’t the idea sound enticing?

    And hey, if you don’t get on with your cohorts, you could swivel around in your chair to capture the view out across the lawn to the horizon. Isn’t that where we develop our most creative ideas? Perhaps its time to remind ourselves of the old adage “all work and no play…”

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