3 Reasons You Might Not Want to Ditch the Cubicle Just Yet

The workplace has seen something of a transformation in recent years, with a move away from individual private spaces and toward a more open concept. Tenants are looking for more flexible offices, with space for collaboration and employee perks that attract and retain top talent.

In the rush to accommodate changing tastes, it’s important to keep in mind the purpose of the workplace and the nature of its occupants. There’s evidence that open concept spaces may not be beneficial to either.  Cubicles and other private spaces serve some important purposes related to employee satisfaction and performance.

The idea of an open office was introduced in Germany in the 1950’s.  It was intended to facilitate communication and the flow of ideas. Open offices do that, to some extent, but numerous studies have found that they have a negative impact on measures like stress level, performance, and even interpersonal relationships.

The main problem with a truly open office is the lack of privacy.  Physical barriers, like walls and room dividers provide a sense of psychological privacy, and privacy boosts job performance. When workers lose control of their environment in this way, they can feel helpless and resentful.

Still, according to Forbes, over 70% of American employees now work in “open concept” offices. Facebook is planning a new space that will put 2800 engineers in one massive room encompassing over 435,000 square feet.  From where we sit, it may be time to reconsider our wholesale commitment to this trend and make sure that we are designing office space that will work best for our tenants in the long term.

Here are 3 big reasons why cubicles should not be counted out.

#1: Private space enhances productivity

The primary idea behind this is simple: Noise. Numerous studies show that the talk and activity in an open office is distracting and impairs our ability to recall information and even do basic arithmetic. Creativity is also inhibited by a lack of privacy.

#2: Job satisfaction

Working in an open office can increase stress levels and create a feeling of uneasiness at work.  Little things like being able to personalize a space –even just a cubicle- make a difference in employee’s feelings of well-being in the workplace. Being in close proximity to co-workers throughout the day actually has a negative impact on interpersonal relationships and can give rise to resentment.

#3: Physical health

Even the health of employees has been found to be negatively affected by the open office.  Sitting in the midst of others makes us less likely to shift our positions and make ourselves more comfortable the way we would in a private space, resulting in more physical complaints. In an open office, we are also in range of many more coughs per day, and employees report more illnesses there, on average.

Considering these factors, it seems likely that many employers will be looking to back off of the open concept idea. Of course it works for some people and is especially suited to smaller operations, but generally the plan is not scalable, so it can become problematic as firms grow. It’s possible to provide some level of privacy along with common areas for collaborative work, and this will be important to our tenants going forward.