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Cubicles versus open offices - which is better?

Author: Site Editor     Publish Time: 2022-03-12      Origin: Site

Sometimes I find myself longing for a cubicle to call my own. Three walls are mine, in which I can decorate with family photos, make my sporting affiliations known and spend a few minutes zoning out without anyone having to check up on me. And then it moved me: in cubicle life I was separated from everyone else. Contact was made by peeking over carpeted walls.



It's a good thing those walls are falling down.


Cubicles vs. open offices? Open offices are seen as the antidote to isolated cubicles. But they aren't perfect. Ethan Bernstein, a professor at Harvard Business School, or anyone sitting next to a particularly chatty colleague, believes that open-plan offices are detrimental to their productivity because of the loud, visual distractions. And they're right. If not designed properly, then open plan offices can stifle the spirits of more introverted employees, while office gossip takes over. This is why business owners should consider a flexible design when equipping their company offices.

Cubicles and open plans catered for our prehistoric human needs. We are naturally inclined to take refuge from the elements and predators ...... but not in total isolation. We also want to understand what the world has in store for us. Our brains respond positively to landscape, natural light and other creatures. The office should be designed to accommodate both.


Open plan offices are often seen as a workstation system where employees work alongside each other and do not escape. Equipping an office in this way is cost effective; long desks take up less space, can accommodate more people and are much cheaper than cubicle systems. However, assembling a long desk can be as frustrating as a cubicle.


So, when considering open plan office plans, create dynamic layouts that suit all possible workplace scenarios. Often referred to as an agile or activity-based workplace, this design accommodates the needs of small space preachers and social butterflies.


The reason why sub-divided offices are so consistently used is that they absorb and reduce sound, thus increasing attention. In activity-based spaces, workers who thrive in quiet environments have the option of using private rooms, which often means calls that require additional discretion. But another reason cubicle dwellers stay calm and last for decades is that you can distract yourself or be distracted at your leisure without paying attention to the cubicles.


The open office eliminates the ability to slack off. Some say this is the pitfall of the open plan, as employees are always under the spotlight. However, watching you is not always a bad thing. Knowing that anyone can see what you're doing is motivating, so an open office keeps people accountable and productive. Opponents of the open office argue that with full attention on you, you are less likely to interact with your colleagues. While there may be some truth to this, removing physical barriers is designed to encourage collaboration and social interaction.


In activity-based offices, group projects and social gatherings have their own space. Meeting rooms, often equipped with whiteboards and large tables, create an atmosphere where creativity can flourish. Breakout areas are used for quiet, thoughtful work, while kitchens and coffee areas serve as social places for break times.


Ethan Bernstein rightly describes in his article 'The impact of open workspaces on human interaction' that the design provides humans with agency over how they use the activity-based workplace. If that means burrowing oneself into a cubicle-like hole for a day of distraction-free work, or perhaps daydreaming, so be it. Business owners should provide their teams with the tools and space to get things done. It's much easier to make changes when the tools no longer meet the needs of employees.

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