Dude, Where's My Office?
Thoughts on the different styles of seating arrangements in office environments.
lifestyle, work
January 26, 2017


At this point, I’ve experienced them all: cubes, open desks, and half-cubes. Okay, maybe no closed-door offices, but those are pretty rare these days--for anyone except CEOs and HR (well, they do have to have confidential meetings).

Certainly, I see the pros of the open desk. They allow easy communication between coworkers, and shared viewing of monitors. “Hey, does this design look okay?” “It’s horrendous. Start over.” And with that, people do cut back on personal tasks (“I wonder how many Likes my new puppy picture procured.”) We do all like a break or two, so for social media, one can always go for a quick walk, or take a restroom break. (Yea! 11 Likes!)

The cons? There’s usually less room to personalize the area. It’s nice to make your workspace your own. And of course, there’s more noise from others. I once worked at a place where a guy liked to play his music openly and we all got the “pleasure” (quotes used just to make sure the ironical word is not missed) of listening to the same exact music. Yes, he asked if anyone minded, but obviously, no one would say anything and become “that guy,” so he did his thing each and every day. I used ear buds on occasion anyway, but now I was essentially forced to use them full time since the guy’s “music” was a bit peculiar at best. It wasn’t the end of the world, though occasionally there would be that desire to grab him by his lapels, shake him vigorously and exclaim, “How can you be so obtuse?!”

For cubes, the nicety is having a “room of one’s own,” or a place to just consider a home away from home. One can add plants to later starve and kill. A person can place photos everywhere that no one has to look at every day, except when popping by to borrow a stapler.

The problem is yes, more distractions. Before the internet, I imagine it wasn’t so bad. I mean, who really pulled a copy of “Jane Eyre” and read three chapters a day?

Open office environments are not new or revolutionary. Most have at least seen a photo of the steno pool or sixty desks all crammed together with typewriters on each one. The cubicle wasn’t even around until the late 1960s. Before that, you were either in an office, or out on the floor. And “working from home”? That was called “gone fishing.”

Given all that, what’s best for a company? I suppose it depends on the job one does, and how much oversight or shared vision is needed. Ideally, a job is judged by work produced and efficiency, not quantitative hours on a clock. I find a cube is nice for focus and serenity. One doesn’t get the same feeling on a wide open desk.

The biggest bonus of a cube may still be that feeling of personal space--again, that place to call one’s own domain. The more customized it can be, the more comfortable a person may feel walking into it every morning, and the more vested a person may be in the company. Granted, if the job isn’t right, one will likely move onward even if he has a full closed-door office, but if it’s a close call, a person may opt to leave simply because her personal space is no more than one meter of a table for setting down a laptop--complete with a shared stapler!*

*Yes, in the digital age, staplers no longer have the same sacred meaning and possessiveness.

I don’t foresee much changing in the near future. Cubes will be used where affordable, and open offices where square footage is at a premium. And no, a table with a partition does not count as a cube. Even a “half cube” is not a cubicle. It’s a facade.

Who knows. Maybe in the future, work will be inside a virtual world with a headset on, where the cube then becomes whatever the user desires. Although at that point, management may wonder if the worker is diligently typing away, or sitting at the 50-yard-line watching the Patriots and Giants duke it out.

Results-based work. It’s the only way.