Cubicle height extension gives employees more privacy and acts as a shield against noise. But it also provides a little more space for them to express themselves. They get extra room to display and organize both personal and office items. Here are a few of the things employees could add to this vertical space:
- Pin and clip style document holders for achievement awards, company memos, office cartoons, proofreading, inspirational posters, etc. The more employees get to personalize their cubicles, they more they feel a sense of pride and ownership.
- Adjustable cubicle hangers to hold accessories such as pencil cups, business card holders, post-it dispensers and shelves. Keeping the desk clear can help workers stay more organized.
- Coat hooks for jackets, bags, and other personal effects. With a higher cubicle panel, these items can be hung up without touching the ground or brushing the desktop. It also means employees don’t have to hang outerwear over the back of their chair or stuff jackets in an overhead storage bin.
- Small cork bars and whiteboards for brainstorming and note keeping. Who knows, you might end up finding out that one of your employees is the next Bill Taylor!
- Inventive and artistic cable/cord organization (see examples at Turnstone’s blog).
- Cubicle mirror so employees don’t feel like anyone is sneaking up on them. This is a good option if workers are facing away from their cubicle “door” while they work. They know that their internet surfing habits can be monitored remotely by IT. There’s no reason for them to feel like someone is literally breathing over their shoulder.
- Pictures of family in frames that are designed for cubicle panels. If you choose a fabric-covered acoustic panel extender, you can opt for Velcro backed frames (as long as you don’t mind some wear and tear on the fabric). Holders that hook over the edge of the cubicle are another option that won’t leave any marks on the panel textile.
There appears to be a disconnect between what employees know to be the truth about noisy offices and what business executives are willing to admit. In a 2002 article published in Occupational Health and Safety, we see a very clear example. The author, Tiernan Carsia, points to two studies conducted by the American Society of Interior Designers. In the first one, 70% of office workers agreed that productivity would go up if noise levels were brought down. In the second, 81% of business executives reported that they are not concerned about office noise! This might be because those at the top simply don’t understand what’s going on. If they ever did work in a cubicle, it was probably before the days when the current trend for ultra-low or no dividers came into fashion. They may not realize the struggle the average office worker faces trying to shut out distractions all day long.
It’s time for business leaders and decision makers to start listening to what office workers say they really need. If 7 out of 10 employees are saying they need more noise control to increase productivity, there’s probably something to it. If you’re in the position to make choices about the kind of office space your employees work in, “Designing Workspaces for Higher Productivity” is a must-read. It talks about how to use multiple strategies to decrease noise in an open office setting. Naturally, cubicle panel height is a big deal. Happily, this is one thing you can easily change even after the office is fully built and furnished. Just add cubicle panel extenders!
Does your workplace have a joker who enjoys stirring up trouble by hurling desktop projectiles at coworkers? It’s time to stop the cubicle wars. The easiest way to do this is by making it more difficult for trouble-makers to take aim. Cubicle wall extensions can obstruct line of sight between cubicle snipers and their unwitting victims. Here are just a few of the tools of cubicle warfare that could be stymied by higher cubicle walls:
This is really old school, but some employees will still use a rubber band to snap a coworker to full attention. You might think there’s no harm in this practice. But it’s only fine until somebody takes one in the eye (and you know that will happen sooner or later!)
OK, the special effects in this video are a little over the top – people don’t really explode from being hit with a foam bullet. However, guns of any kind are usually a bad idea in the workplace. It’s fine to take coworkers out for a bonding event at the local laser tag center. Just make sure they get rid of all their weapons before they reach the office door.
If your office is really trying to “go green”, the last thing you need is people using paper for making pointless (yet surprisingly pointy) stuff to throw at each other. Higher cubicle panels make launching a strategic air strike more difficult.
The Air Strike Catapult
ThinkGeek is all agog over this classic Roman style siege device. They admit that the primary purpose (really, the only purpose) of this kind of toy is to annoy one’s coworkers. Technically, this weapon might have enough power to lob a spiky foam cannonball over a tall cubicle divider. But the chances of actually hitting someone go way down when you can’t see what you’re aiming at.
One UK writer offers cash-strapped employers a way to make cubicles for less. The trouble is, the quality of these cubicles (as well as their fire safety) is pretty questionable. Basically, you glue several layers of cardboard together to make each cubicle panel of your desired height and thickness. Then, you find a way to prop the whole thing up to make a workspace. Sounds like a lot of work for a cube that might not last a week. If you’re really looking to save money, it makes more sense to purchase used cubicles. Even if they aren’t the height you want, you can easily make them taller with inexpensive but attractive and highly durable panel extenders.
When employees can’t get what they need out of their workstation, they have 3 options:
- Try to live with an unlivable situation
- Request or requisition the tools they need to be more productive
- Come up with their own solutions that seem better than nothing
This actually happens with inadequate cubicle walls more often than you think. Workers who have to sit in noisy areas will go to extraordinary lengths to create panel accessories that cut down on distractions. Here’s one example of an employee who discovered she could no longer concentrate when she was moved to a new cubicle:
“It is very loud where I sit because employees for whatever reason like to stand in this area and chit-chat. Oh, did I mention the “message center” is directly across from me? This is the area where emergency phone calls come in, so it’s pretty busy. Anyhow, I’ve noticed on different floors that some employees have made their own cubicle wall extensions – I’m not sure of the exact name, but basically it’s an additional panel you add to your cubicle wall. I’m thinking I could get some thick cardboard and then wrap it in pretty fabric then figure out a way to attach it to my existing cubicle wall.”
As you can imagine, having a workspace full of cubicles that are each outfitted with different pieces of fabric-covered cardboard isn’t going to appear very professional. It would look like a shanty town where workers have to scrounge for scraps to build cubicles that actually help them be productive. Not exactly the kind of image you want for your office environment! In contrast, OBEX panel extenders allow workers to cut the level of noise they contend with while maintaining a uniform appearance from one workstation to the next. There’s no reason for any employee to be “stuck” in the cubicle no one wants. Instead, you can make every cubicle fully functional with panel extensions.
There are two basic types of cubicle wall stack on tile. The first is the kind you get from the manufacturer of tile based systems. These are common in some of the high-end, ultra-thick panel designs. You can add or take off tiles to increase or decrease the height of cubicle walls as needed. The other kind is a universal tile or panel extender that works on most cubicles regardless of brand and up to 3” thick. Which one makes the most sense for your company?
Stackable tile systems that you get from a major manufacturer like Maxon certainly look good. Plus, they can be reconfigured throughout the lifespan of the cubicles. What you might not take into consideration is how much work goes into specifying what components you need. You don’t necessarily know for sure up front which workstations need higher walls and which ones are OK with lower walls. So, you’re basically guessing when you place an order. Plus, reconfiguring may sound easy, but it can entail a lot of disruption to actually accomplish with a traditional stacking tile system. Finally, those extra tiles can be pretty pricey!
In contrast, panel extenders can easily be added or removed at any time in just a few minutes. There’s no need for disassembly of existing walls or rerouting of cables and wiring. They are much more cost effective than traditional stack on tiles and easier to specify. You can even have yours customized with fabrics that match or complement your existing cubicle panels. There’s no downside!
In our research into what employees need to thrive in a busy office environment, there’s one group in particular that stands out. Many soldiers re-entering the civilian workforce from active duty struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Even though they have the skills and work ethic to be valuable additions to any company, the modern office environment can pose special challenges for these individuals. Some of the symptoms of PTSD that impact office workers include:
- A heightened startle response – these employees may jump or cry out if someone suddenly pops their head up over a cubicle panel to ask a question or just say hello
- Feeling unsafe – this is a particular problem if desks are facing away from doorways or cubicle openings allowing others to “sneak up” from behind
- Inability to cope with high noise levels – constant audible stimulation breaks concentration and makes focusing on assigned tasks very difficult since individuals with PTSD tend to be hyper-alert
Both coworkers and management may have a hard time understanding these responses at first. But employers have a responsibility (ethically and under the law) to accommodate employees with this disability. Sometimes, this may mean adjusting an employee’s work schedule to less crowded hours or allowing telecommuting. Or, it might mean assigning an employee a private office – or even just an empty conference room to work in. In other situations, simply making changes to existing cubicles might work just as well.
Cubicle Extenders Might Help Workers Cope
One of the most cost-effective ways to lower stress levels for employees with PTSD and increase their sense of personal security is to increase the height of their cubicle walls. There’s a big difference in privacy between a 60” high cubicle panel and one that is 72” high. That extra foot means that no one (except perhaps a pro basketball player) will be able to poke their head over the wall to chat. Cubicle panel extensions have the added benefit of reducing noise and visual distractions that may startle a worker with PTSD.
Do you have additional ideas for how to make the average workplace cubicle safer for returning warriors? Please let us know in the comments.
One of the objections some people have to tall cubicle panels is that they block natural light. With the trend toward “greener” and more energy efficient workspaces, this concern is understandable. You may very well want to take advantage of sunlight whenever it’s available. At the same time, glass cubicle dividers don’t really provide much protection from visual distraction. So, at OBEX we’ve come up with a solution that works for everyone.
Our plastic polycarbonate cubicle wall add on is semi-transparent. It lets in the light so your employees can enjoy a brighter workplace on sunny days. The polycarbonate also diffuses the light so you don’t have to deal with glare. At the same time, these panel extenders still offer privacy to cubicle occupants. Best of all, these sturdy cubicle add-ons come in an array of attractive colors to match your branding or to add a welcome pop of color to drab, grey cubes.
There’s mounting evidence that open plan office layouts can create significant problems for workers. But you need to read between the lines in some of these studies. Originally, the term “open plan” was used for all office designs that used cubicles instead of private offices with “real” walls. Today, many people are using the term open plan to mean benching or other workstation setups that have low dividers or no panels at all. They use the term “closed plan” both for actual cubicles and for architectural walls that create separate workspaces for individuals. The difference becomes plain in this Australian study about the health effects of “open plan” offices.
The research compiled globally points to higher stress levels, elevated blood pressure, and more conflict in office environments where walls are lacking. The doctor interviewed regarding the study put the blame on the lack of proper physical barriers/boundaries: “The high level of noise causes employees to lose concentration, leading to low productivity, there are privacy issues because everyone can see what you are doing on the computer or hear what you are saying on the phone, and there is a feeling of insecurity.”
What’s a Business to Do?
Of course, with the significant cost-savings of workstations over private offices, most companies are not going back to the old way of doing things. There’s just too much to be gained by reducing the average office’s real estate footprint. This means employers need a way forward that addresses the problems of:
- High noise level causing distraction and lowering productivity
- Lack of visual and audible privacy making workers feel stressed
Obviously, these problems are going to be much more significant in offices that have little or no panel privacy. Fortunately, it’s now simple to make cubicle walls taller and increase their noise blocking ability. Our panel extenders can be attached in minutes using just an allen wrench (which is included in your order). This means there’s little or no disruption or downtime for your employees.
Have you ever seen someone working in a cubicle without sufficient privacy? Do you feel sorry for them? One tender-hearted Twitterer posted a picture showing a Jackson Hewitt tax advisor stuck in a cube at the local Wal-Mart. His caption reads “Talk about a crappy cubicle location!”
The poor worker has far too little protection from the rush of shoppers and the bustle of the store. It’s hard to imagine someone doing something as complicated as taxes in this kind of setting. It must be tough to concentrate! The location of the cubicle is only half the problem. She could use at least one more cubicle wall and cubicle wall extenders on the existing panels to limit distraction.
Besides not providing enough acoustic protection for the worker, this setup doesn’t offer any privacy for customers. I’d feel more comfortable discussing my personal finances in a setting where passersby didn’t get to listen in or peek over my shoulder. What do you think? Would you get your taxes done right out in the open like this?