Office Space Planning – Open vs Cubicles Part One

The debate between open office spaces and cubicles is a never ending battle, it seems – but why do companies cling so stubbornly to the idea that cubicle = bad and open = good?

The answer isn’t hard and fast – rather the question is wrong. The type of work being done and the type of people doing it determines whether an open office space or a cubicle based design will work best.

So what’s the most common problem with open plan offices?

The main issue with open plan offices is the feeling of being in a middle school cafeteria. It’s known as benching in the adult world; when rows and rows of tables are set in a vast open space. The idea, of course, is that everyone has access to everyone else and that collaborative and creative processes will benefit – it take a village to complete a project.  The hope is that the team will be more effective.

This approach doesn’t always work.

Sadly, this is often not the case. We live in a world where isolation is more and more common, and social contact is as likely to be virtual as physical. Working in the same manner is a given for many. This kind of work style, however, takes time to be recognized, and in the meantime far to many office analysts are insisting that collaborative efforts in an open space environment will yield higher productivity and better results.

How can you fix it?

The problem isn’t the idea of collaboration – it’s with the rigid thinking about what kind of space encourages it. The solution is often not a full return to closed offices or cubicles, but a blended office that allows those who work better in private the ability to separate from the herd and focus, while those who thrive on real time, physical and verbal stimulation from peers to access the hive mind for better creative flow.

Next week:

Next Saturday we’ll explore some specific tips for blended office space as well as highlight common pitfalls and solutions for keeping creativity at a peak while allowing more laid back employees the room and quiet they need to shine.


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