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Cubicles Have to Go

Topics: Work Culture

The world is changing faster than ever, yet there are still some antiquated features of our society that haven’t quite caught up to modern times. In order to stay relevant and continue to grow in the 21st century, individuals and companies need to be flexible, and they need to change. A good place to start might just be the office set-up itself – more specifically, the cubicles. Here are a few reasons why cube-world doesn’t have a place in the professional universe of the future.

rat cage

(Photo Credit: David Noah1/Flickr)

1. Almost everyone hates them.

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Although 60 percent of office workers have a cubicle set-up, 93 percent of Americans say it is the absolute worst part of office life and that they’d prefer almost any other arrangement. Noise disturbances seem to be a major complaint, and although the same problem persists with an open floor-plan, this situation may be worse when you can’t see where the noise is coming from, as is the case with cubicles. Being distracted by sound wasn’t the only drawback though; research from the University of Sydney found that cubicle workers expressed the highest degree of dissatisfaction in 13 out of 15 categories, including lighting, air quality, and more.

2. They aren’t serving the purpose they were meant to serve.

Author of the book Cubed: A Secret History of the Workplace, Nikil Saval, explained to Yahoo Finance that cubicles were originally meant to free workers from an open floor-plan and provide individuals some privacy. However, as offices became more overcrowded, (partially because they could be, as a result of cubicles) they’ve instead become a symbol of “a workplace that doesn’t really care about you.” The cage-like atmosphere “connotes dread, hatred, the terrible while collar life,” said Saval. So, if cubicles aren’t serving the purpose they were intend to serve but are instead eliciting and opposite response, isn’t it time to rethink them?

3. Times have changed and so have we.

Things have changed in the last few decades, and workers’ expectations have changed right along with them. Millennial workers are even more interested in the overall quality of their work-life than they are in the bottom-line value of their paychecks. Recruiting and retaining these workers means listening to their preferences and making adjustments. A study released just last month found that although millennials are about as unhappy at their jobs as workers from other generations, they’re thinking about resigning and moving on to something else at about twice the rate. All evidence suggests that this youngest generation of workers isn’t going to tolerate workplace, or space, dissatisfaction the way others have – so, the cubicles are going to have to go.

4. It’s not healthy.

Evolutionary psychology reminds us that environments that would have scared our ancestors won’t work for us either. Because we spent the bulk of our time as Homo sapiens ensuring our safety through keeping our distance from others, while also keeping an eye on them, small cage-like environments in close proximity to each other aren’t exactly ideal for our species. We also understand now that being able to at least see the outdoors is a good thing. Fresh air, on occasion, and/or some sunlight is also nice. When all of these factors are taken into account, the reasons why cubicles make most of us pretty miserable become obvious. Now the only question is, why are so many of us still working in them?

Tell Us What You Think

What do you think of cubicles? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.


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Guntis Liepins
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Guntis Liepins

There is nothing more terrible and greater drag on productiviy than Open Office.
May be it works for people who have to socialize, but I need silence and peace and zero distractions when I am concentrating on complex jobs that do not tolerate even slight mistakes ( maintaining complex, live, real-time computer systems )

Bert Wilson
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Bert Wilson

I’m a social introvert, meaning that I like being alone but I also like socializing until my batteries run down and I have to be alone to recharge. A totally open office environment, with all the distractions, would be a real, soul-draining nightmare for me. I think a good layout would be a hybrid approach where the cubes are reduced a bit to allow for the creation of a shared, open space. That would support ad hoc meetings and collaboration when needed, and allow for a place for people like me to go when we want to be “public” and… Read more »

Jc
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Jc

This article is nonsense. There are plenty of studies showing the high rate of dissatisfaction by employees working in open office work areas. Please do better research.

The irony is that so many workers in open office areas need to use headphones to eliminate noise thus negating the reason for having an open office.

My employer uses cubicles and I will not leave this employer to work in an open office.

Angela
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Angela

Open space is horrible for getting any work done. Everyone is in everyone’s business. All the talking back and forth because you can see all your co-workers is not good for productivity – I’m guilty of it too. Can’t even hear yourself think because you can hear all other conversations going on around you – including phone conversations your peers are having. Who thought of open space? Someone who has an office? The 60% that claim they hate it will love their cubicles if they ever go to an open space concept.

Kathy A
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Kathy A

As an introvert, I need the privacy of my cube to work effectively. Cubes can be set up well, but I have seen some that are downright claustrophobic. Good office design is critical for productivity and morale.

Don
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Don

My company just moved to open space and it’s horrible. It’s like a giant Warehouse and fish bowl all in one. You can’t even get up to go to the bathroom or grab a soda without 70 people seeing you. Furthermore the word is intellectually challenging and requires deep concentration at times and not distractions

Betsy
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Betsy

I have never liked cubicles and they remind me of bringing in the assembly line into the office world and way less personal. Also, the configuration of the office space generally forces the employee’s back to the door, thus, making it easier for a superior or others to watch every move the employee makes, leaving a feeling of being breathed upon. Separate offices with doors, lots of space, open space and windows – with the ability to get up and stretch the legs (we were never meant to be sitting 8-12 hours a day), I am with the millenials on… Read more »

Ken
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Ken

While cubicles may be distained, open concept offices aren’t the answer either. In addition knowing first hand as I sit in one typing this, study after study has shown that the promises of better communications and collaborations haven’t materialized. It’s noisier, more distracting and a drain on the ability to concentrate. People are actually less likely to casually collaborate because of creating even more distraction to others around and the pain of having to constantly book and move to a private area (which are always in short supply) for even the smallest quick conversation. They are good for one thing… Read more »

KMax
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KMax

Now before we go throwing millennials under the bus and boomers into the retirement home, why not discuss the real dilemma here? As a person in the office furniture business, these are the kind of discussions we enjoy. We genuinely want to give you the right solution, but sometimes that is a bit of a gray area… As we are seeing in your discussions of this article. The real dilemma here is that it can be difficult for your leaderships to create an environment where several things work in harmony, a lot having to do with the now 4 generations… Read more »

Jon
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Jon

I can see how I myself or anybody else would rather work in cubicles where everybody is sincere and generous with one another and no hierarchy rather than worst, unacceptable, immature and unprofessional bullying, backstabbing, gossipping, discrimination or exclusion of anybody as worst of worst.

Mark H
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Mark H

The possibility that people do not like desk jobs seems to escape the writer’s attention. Everything we have learned about “evolutionary psychology” tells me that “Homo sapiens” still prefers freedom over the industrial office workplace. We have an educational system designed to fill cubicles with computer savvy drones, soon to be eliminated by AI and robots. Say goodby to office drudgery, find a trade involved in making physical objects, and work it.

Stephen
Guest
Stephen

Open space is great. Collaboration is great, but at some point each day we all have to do work. For that, privacy is needed. You need a work environment that allows you to concentrate and free yourself from distractions. Short of everyone in the company having their own office, cubes are the best way to facilitate this. I have found that cubes in a “bullpen” arrangement are the best of both worlds – or at least a workable compromise.

Stephen
Guest
Stephen

Open space is great. Collaboration is great, but at some point each day we all have to do work. For that, privacy is needed. You need a work environment that allows you to concentrate and free yourself from distractions. Short of everyone in the company having their own office, cubes are the best way to facilitate this. I have found that cubes in a “bullpen” arrangement are the best of both worlds – or at least a workable compromise.

Ryan
Guest
Ryan

As a millennial who is graduating college this fall, I was recently promoted from intern to part time employee in my company. That being said, I disagree with this argument. I recently got my own cubicle and I think it is great. Most department heads also work away in a cubicle just like interns do. I’m not saying I would be upset if I didn’t have a cubicle; I’m here to work to earn a paycheck to take care of myself and my family. Regardless of my environment, I’ll make the best of it and bottom-line – do my job.… Read more »

JRaz
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JRaz

I absolutely agree with Chuck. Millennials are whinny and coddled. Unfortunately, by the time they grow up our government will collapse under the weight of its social programs and life is going to be uncomfortable for them to say the least. We have cubicles here and they serve a good purpose. I have been in many offices that are open. I think this works only in Japan where the workers never look up. In the US, open offices don’t work because we are too wild and free, let alone distracted at every turn by anyone walking by. I hate to… Read more »

Chuck
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Chuck

I think most millennials are just a bunch of whiney babies to start with. They think the world (and the company they work for) revolves around them. They need to realize that neither is true. By the time they hit 35 most will have grown up (15 years later than all previous generations did) and come to that conclusion. I mainly blame the schools and parents for teaching kids that “its all about them”. It is not. It never has been and it never will be.

LAM
Guest
LAM

Seems like someone needed something to write about. This is not an issue but I can see some work comity coming up with this to valid their jobs and find something to change.

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