Workers walking through office of modern cubicles

Once Maligned as a Symbol of 9 to 5 Drollery, Companies—and Employees—Are Rediscovering the Cubicle’s Usefulness in a Flexible Workplace

The cubicle used to be a staple of the modern workplace. Inexpensive, portable, and convenient, it was an ideal solution for companies that couldn’t accommodate all their employees in private offices. But the rise of the open office, spurred on by Silicon Valley giants and cosmopolitan creative firms, quickly dispatched the cubicle from common use. It was believed that its walls and private workspaces hindered collaboration, and that a completely open floor plan was better for productivity.

But the open office has declined in recent years, and designers have begun to return to the old standbys of office furnishings that employees thrived under for years. Among these is the cubicle, which offers a number of benefits that companies took for granted until they went away. In this article, we’ll talk about the ways that cubicles may enhance the modern workplace, and why employers are bringing them back into their offices.

Workers at office desk looking at computer screens

The Drawbacks of the Open Office Plan

Developed in Germany during the 1950s and 60s, the open office was fully embraced in the United States in the early 2000s. It’s estimated that 70% of American offices today use an open floor plan. The idea was that fewer barriers meant more collaboration and better supervision. But as the open office experiment continues, employers are finding that it can actually decrease productivity by causing distractions and harming employee morale. Here are some of the ways the open office has backfired.

  • Open Settings Make for Noise Distractions

It can be difficult to focus when there’s a meeting going on just a few feet away, when one of your colleagues openly approaches you to ask about your weekend, or even when you can hear the person beside you clacking on the keyboard. Combine this with the way that a lack of barriers allows noise to travel and amplify, and you have a workplace white noise that can make concentration impossible.

  • Open Offices Make for Visual Distractions

It’s not just audible noise that makes it hard for employees to focus, it’s also visual noise. Seeing someone struggle with a task, noticing a conversation by the water cooler, picking up on what’s on a colleague’s computer monitor. Movement and action around us can easily break concentration.

Office workers exposed in open environment

  • Open Offices Make Employees Feel Exposed

Studies have shown that workers in an open setting feel reluctant to have work-oriented conversations, nervous about their work habits, and even insecure about their appearance, because they feel exposed to scrutiny at the workplace. It’s what researchers call the “fishbowl effect”, the feeling that you’re being watched all the time. As a result, more employees opt to work from home when possible, and get less done when in the office.

How Cubicles Can Fix the Open Office

Woman in office in meditation posture

Though once seen as an emblem of workaday office culture, employers are rediscovering the benefits that made cubicles so popular in the first place. Here are a few.

  • Cubicles Provide Privacy

They may not have a locking door, but cubicles provide talent with their own private workspace, where they don’t feel exposed to their colleagues and supervisors. This sense of privacy can greatly increase productivity and workplace satisfaction.

  • Cubicles Reduce Distractions

The cubicle provides a semi-enclosed workspace that allows an employee to focus on the task at hand without being distracted by errant conversations and visual noise.

  • Cubicles Can Be Easily Personalized

Because an employee’s cubicle is their own private workspace, they can arrange it the way they like it—and the way that let’s them work most efficiently. This is not just a boon to productivity, but a huge boost to morale, helping companies retain the talent they’ve worked so hard to attract.

  • Cubicles Reduce Noise

Cubicle walls are generally designed with sound-absorbent materials, so they don’t just provide a quiet space for those who use them, they make the entire office a more work-friendly atmosphere.

But Are Cubicles Appropriate for Every Office Design?

As we’ve noted, the cubicle offers a range of advantages to your office; benefits that can boost productivity and keep your talent happy. But they’re not a one-size-fits-all solution. There’s a reason that the cubicle-heavy floor plan has fallen by the wayside—cubes have their advantages, but they don’t fulfill every workplace need.

Cubicles are great for affording employees the ability to focus, but what about tasks that require collaboration and open communication? Cubicles provide employees a sense of privacy, but their task-oriented design can prevent workers from feeling like they have the opportunity to relax and take it easy for a few minutes.

Recent studies have shown that a well functioning office requires balance, which is why we’re big advocates of flexible office design. Cubicles play an important role in this kind of plan, but not the only one. Members of collaborative teams—marketing or creative, for example—may benefit from using a cube sometimes, but often need to engage teammates in collaborative settings, such as open benches or huddle areas.

Likewise, employees will often benefit from the cubicle’s focused environment, but when work becomes stressful or frustrating, they my prefer to take it to a cafe, nook, or breakout area. These kinds of workspaces go along way toward letting talent do their jobs without undue pressure.

The key is to have a variety of workspaces that meet your workers’ specific needs, and to allow flexibility, balance, and movement throughout the office.

How Your Furniture Dealer Can Help

Installing cubicles can make your office a happier, quieter, and more productive workplace, but it’s important to be sure that they are used to the best of their capacity. This is where your furniture dealer comes into play.

An experienced furniture dealer can not only help you find the furnishings that best fit your needs and suit your branding and aesthetics, they can assess your office space to determine the most efficient way to arrange them, integrate new cubicles with existing IT infrastructure, and even handle delivery and installation.

Moreover, a good furniture dealer can help you find just what combination of private and collaborative workspaces will suit the diverse needs of your staff, delivering the balanced and flexible office that will keep your talent happy and maximize productivity. To make sure that you get the most out of your office cubicles, it is crucial to work with a dedicated furniture dealer who understands your needs.

Related Resources