A 2011 infographic published on the fastcompany.com website makes the argument that lowering the height of cubicle walls is good for the environment. The reasoning behind this viewpoint is that low dividers allow more natural light into the workplace. If you rely more on natural light from outside, you can potentially cut down on artificial lighting – and therefore on energy costs. As an alternative to high cubicle walls, the author of the infographic suggests installing overhead screens like the Resolve canopies created by Herman Miller. Here’s a quote about the supposed benefit: “They’re instrumental in blocking sunlight which causes glare on computer screens.”
Hmm, that’s a little bit of a double standard isn’t it? Are you trying to block natural light in the workplace or let more of it in? Is it beneficial, or is it detrimental? You can’t have it both ways. The author’s suggestion ignores a number of facts:
- As more companies move to a flexible work schedule to make the most of their office real estate, employees aren’t necessarily only coming in during daylight hours. Call centers (which absolutely must have high cubicle walls for good acoustic control) are often open 24/7. It makes sense to design your space around the way it is actually used – not around an imaginary concept of how it might be used.
- Not every office space has windows to the outside (especially smaller companies located in a large building). Plus, not all workers will be near a window space even if one is available. Employers who want to save energy can switch to LED and include passive infrared sensing technology that automatically turns off lights when no one is around. Both of these options are cheaper and more energy efficient than getting rid of your existing cubicles and buying new ones in an attempt to harness more sunlight.*
- It’s true that more natural light can be a good thing. But there are ways to direct it into workspaces with higher cubicle walls while avoiding glare at the same time. For example, light shelves can be installed to redirect more sunlight downward into the room where it adds brightness without blinding anyone. The blinds above and below the light shelves can be adjusted for user comfort throughout the day.
The bottom line is this: workers shouldn’t have to choose between getting enough sunlight and having cubicle walls that are the right height to provide privacy and noise reduction.
*Unlike making cubicle walls shorter, you can easily make them higher without buying new furniture. Simply add OBEX panel extenders to any existing cube panel. That’s always an eco-friendly choice.