Last week, we reviewed 70-80 years of history about workplace seating arrangements. We ended up with a quick look at the cubicle—now one of the most disparaged pieces of office furniture ever. However, when it was first introduced the cubicle enjoyed a positive reception. There’s a perception today that cubicles replaced private offices and companies need to go back to having private offices for everyone. The fact is that cubes were the closest thing a traditional low-level “bullpen” employee would ever get to an office. According to designer Douglas Ball (one of the men who was involved in early cubicle design), this type of workstation was originally intended to be a step up the corporate ladder, not a step down.
Open Office Designs Replace Cube Farms
Unfortunately, what started out as a generously sized, enclosed workspace soon began to shrink. From 1994 to 2010, workers lost 15 square feet of personal space in the average cubicle. The backlash against cubes getting smaller and smaller led to the introduction of the “open office” layout. In an attempt to counterbalance the claustrophobic cube farm trend, dividing panels were shortened and made of partly or completely transparent materials.
Next, benching systems came into vogue. Employees began sitting directly across from each other with no visual or noise privacy at all. This workplace seating arrangement turned out little better than the original bullpen setup of the first half of the twentieth century.
Finding Balance between Seclusion and Chaos
Fortunately, the pendulum appears to be swinging to the center now. Today, more and more office seating arrangements are ‘multiple choice’. Workers may have the option to sit at an assigned desk or take their laptop to a collaborative area or a secluded spot. Coworkers may even band together and rearrange a highly flexible suite of furniture on a regular basis to meet their needs.
Collaborative areas are being more carefully designed to foster voluntary teamwork rather than forced comradery. For example, a social area such as a lounge might supplement or replace a standard benching system. Cubicle walls are going up again at the request of workers who prefer less distraction and a return to privacy.
OBEX panel extenders play a role in creating a flexible office where employees have more control over their level of privacy. Our customers have confirmed that this is the wave of the future—and we’re here to help them create their ideal work environment.