Thinking Outside the Box: How Cubicles Can Inspire Your Workforce

by Elizabeth Dukes on April 28, 2016

Today is National Cubicle Day! When the cubicle hit the office furnishings market in 1967, it forever changed the workplace landscape. Before, employees worked solely as individuals, only interacting with colleagues during lunch, formal meetings, or when they needed to collaborate on a mutual project. Your status within the company centered around size and location of your office, with the corner office being the grand prize.


Nearly 20 years after hitting the market, the cubicle started to gain a bad rap, with the sardonic comic strip Dilbert regularly poking fun at the “cubicle farm,” blaming its design for stifling creativity and triggering a disconnect amongst employees. While the office cubicle is no longer as widely used, the workplace was forever influenced by the invention, paving the way for its cousin, the collaborative, open workspace.

Both cubicles and the open office concept have been a target of criticism of as of late, with some going so far as to say it is harming our health. The iOffice team has adopted this strategy in our own office; and we can’t imagine going back to the stifling, closed office workplace!

In honor of National Cubicle Day, we wanted to share the top reported advantages and disadvantages to this office setting and let you decide for yourself.

Advantages to Working in a Cubicle

Strengthens teamwork: The cubicle offers that open office feel, yet still provides privacy when needed. By removing the physical barriers of walls and doors, co-workers feel encouraged to communicate with each other, building camaraderie and trust amongst the workforce. These interactions are more frequent and informal, leading to a steady flow of information and fostering teamwork.

“We see what each other does so we appreciate each other more. People who may have been hidden before, due to where they sat or because of their personality, now feel much more appreciated and valued for their work. That’s priceless.” — Sara Belczak, Senior Interior Designer, Architects Hawaii Ltd.

Enhances communication: For improved communication amongst team members, the workplace culture must include 3 elements: exploration, engagement, and energy. An open setting fosters the exploration of ideas, improves team engagement, and generates a National_Cubicle_Day_Cover.jpgpositive energy derived from interaction with others. The more integrated spatial configuration has been proven to support more “intense patterns of interaction and smoother flows of information and while reducing interaction time among colleagues,” boosting productivity in the process.

Boosts morale and engagement: Times have changed dramatically from when our grandparents were in the job market. Employees will no longer stay at a job they’re unhappy with; they will simply move on to the next employer until they find a company culture that keeps that engaged.

With a solid team and a steady flow of innovative ideas, many find they are more motivated and feel a heightened sense of accountability for their work. A more open space generates an energy that is contagious, boosting morale across the enterprise. Recent research has revealed the positive impact employee engagement has multiple key business outcomes, including productivity, reduced churn, client satisfaction, and profit – a win for both the organization and its workforce.

Forced to stay organized: Whether you’re the type of person who works best amongst “organized chaos” or the one who can’t work unless everything is in its place, no one wants to be known as the office slob. Recent studies reveal that a cluttered workspace leads to a cluttered mind, causing you to feel more stress and guilt unnecessarily. And what about that sensitive paperwork you left on your desk last week? You might assume there’s no one in the office overnight that would be interested, but would you want someone taking those risks with your personal information? Having a cubicle desk forces you to pick up before you leave, ensuring both your workspace and your mind are free of clutter when you return.

Disadvantages to Working in a Cubicle

National_Cubicle_Day.jpgThe distractions: It doesn’t matter what type of office setting you’ve worked in the past, we’ve all experienced that one co-worker whose volume is turned to 11. It can be difficult to shut out all the activity around you when you work in an open air office, particularly if you are the type to procrastinate. Learning to tune out the noises around you is critical to surviving in this workplace environment.

Lack of privacy: A primary concern for those working in cubicles is the lack of privacy. If you leave the office for a personal appointment or need to have a private conversation outside, everyone wonders why you’ve left or how long you’ll be gone. Professionals handling sensitive information or who conduct confidential meetings throughout the day would do best in a flexible workplace; one that offers an open atmosphere, with private rooms for those times where isolation is needed.

The monotony: When most of us think of cubicles, we think of a drab workspace with muted colors and no natural light. How is anyone supposed to muster up innovative ideas when working in such an uninspiring space? Cubicles have come a long way since 1967, coming in all shapes, colors, and sizes. Designers can now meet your privacy and creative needs while still offering the open office design that fosters a collaborative environment. Some organizations have even invested in cubes on wheels, offering a new level of flexibility.

A workforce will always refer to multiple individuals working together for some unified goal. The methods in which each workforce is organized, tested, tracked, and rated or inspired will change, depending on the type of workers or management styles which are available and utilized. The key to success is adaptability and flexibility. The modern configuration seems to favor a more open and community-oriented approach. Cubicles are on their way out and common spaces are in. And modern workers are more savvy about making sure they are getting more than just a paycheck, as surroundings and culture rank as high as pay grade for many.

Have you ever worked in a cubicle office setting? What is your preferred workplace environment?


Elizabeth Dukes

Elizabeth Dukes' pieces highlight the valuable role of the real estate and facility managers play in their organizations. Prior to iOFFICE, Elizabeth was in sales for large facility and office service outsourcing firm.

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