Having become the ultimate symbol of the beige and depressed worker, the cubicle has lost ground to working in the open air. Even though, it is far from being the workplace’s Holy Grail, the cubicle is lacking for numerous office employees.
Nikil Saval—author of Cubed: A Secret History of the Workplace—explains in an interview in The Atlantic, “Open-air offices don’t fix many of the problems associated with cubicle-filled offices, and sometimes exacerbate them. The noise, the visual and mental distractions make concentrating difficult, to the point where earphones have become the new walls.”
The cubicle was put on the market at the end of the 60s by designer Robert Propst. He wanted to create a new imaginative, flexible, and private office space. However, his invention quickly turned into a way to pack employees like sardines in a cheap office lacking intimacy.
In comparison, open-air offices have an air of being a haven for mutual assistance and relaxation. To put workers on equal footing, they were widely developed in Germany during the 50s. They became trendy in the 90s. When the Googles and Facebooks of the time took hold of them and encouraged their employees to collaborate. Nevertheless, workers’ quality of life is far from being improved.
Even though, they are not optimal, partially blocked noise and visual separation is more important than open air. Especially, you can escape your boss’ view (who, instead of being behind you, is in front of you) if your cubicle is better positioned. Nevertheless, in both cases, you cannot do anything if the colleagues to your right are yelling into their phones.
Saval continues, “People are getting bored with their cubicle. Even if cubicles fail to offer true intimacy and don’t create an employee-interactive space. They offer the advantage of feeling like you have personal space and the ability to concentrate.”
More or less, we can personalize our cubicles with as much foliage, photos of our kids, and snack-filled drawers as much as we like. These little things brighten up office life. In the open air, employees often take up space surrounded by computers. If they are so crammed that their elbows touch their neighbours, an open-air cubicle is a luxury by comparison.
Socializing, a necessary evil
Open-air office spaces in businesses are often considered more cool and relaxed because employees can interact non-stop. A meeting around a Ping-Pong table? Why not?
Nevertheless, the socializing incentive is a significant distraction and is far from being a worker’s priority. In fact, those working in closed offices are more satisfied than those in either the cubicles or the open air.
While waiting for a promotion and a soundproofed personal office, try to respect some office etiquette to preserve everyone’s sanity or put your earphones in.