Kill the cube

May 21 2008 by Print This Article

Everyone who works in a modern office knows that the cubicle sucks. They really offer no privacy, yet they manage to successfully hamper effective communication between cow-workers. But is there a solution?

That's what Linda Tischler discusses in this piece for FastCompany, pointing out that some companies have switched to an alternative known as the "open office." This is, essentially, a series of desks and no walls.

According to the article, "Open offices do lead to more unstructured communicationÖthose same offices can lead to problems of concentration. If you value reflection or deep thought, it gets tough." This is when the author of article introduces a man named Herman Miller.

Miller is rethinking offices entirely. For example, his office of the future has a signal in the form of a light that connects to your phone. If the light glows red then it lets your co-workers know that you want some privacy. He has also developed technology that will muffle sounds so that an employee can have a phone conversation.

Another person working to change the workspace is a man named Gervais Tompkin, He says that altering how a cubicle looks is like "putting lipstick on a pig."

His group is working on an office space that can be adapted depending on the work being done within it. Create spaces for those who need quiet time but also have plenty of spaces where those who like to collaborate can work as well.

Whatever the solution, most workers would agree that it probably can't come soon enough. Right now the cubicle is the most common method of cramming as many people into a space as possible, leaving to low morale, disgruntled workers and a loss of humanity among employees. The sooner an alternative can come into existence, the better.


Older Comments

yeah, i'm really interested in this kind of stuff. for example, i recently saw an ad in an architecture mag for a company that offers movable walls (i.e. walls on wheels). offices can be instantaneously rearranged to suit any particular circumstance, which is pretty neat. Also, some architects are doing away with big spaces (those usually filled with farms of cubicles) and putting in more narrow, tubular, spaces so that employees can sort of find their own, temporary, workspace.

anyway, this stuff is great. i talk about it a little bit on my blog (

Eamon chicago

I made my department (R&D) as open as possible. This enhances collaboration, and hence it enhances invention. Indeed it is more noisy, but this is more a problem for concentration than for privacy. Who needs privacy in the office can always use a conference room. For concentration, we made the appointment in the office not to disturb each other between 10am and noon (except if the building is on fire or similarly urgent circumstances).

A totally different way of dealing with it is to abolish person-bound office space altogether, and create different kinds of working spots adapted to different kinds of work (private space, meeting rooms, collaboration tables, standing laptop spots, ...). Everyone should take the proper spot for the kind of work that needs to be done when they come in. Huge advantage? You need only 80 desks per 100 employees in many industries, even less in some. Collaborations are created across departmental boundaries. Complication? No personal belongings or paper files.

Rob Hooft The Netherlands