The Demise of the Cubicle: Designing Office Space for the New Culture of Collaboration

Published Tuesday, April 13, 2010 9:54 AM

1968. 

It was a year marked by political and social unrest here and abroad.

It was also the birth year of that symbol of modern workplace dysfunction chronicled in Scott Adams' wildly popular Dilbert comic strip- the office cubicle.

As highlighted in this Fortune retrospective entitled Cubicles: The Great Mistake, even the cubicle's inventor - the late Robert Propst - came to rue the economical office system he thought would increase the productivity of "a growing breed of white-collar workers, whose job titles fell between secretary and boss." With a nod to the Dilbertvilles he inspired, he openly admitted his "contribution to 'monolithic insanity.'"

In making this admission, Propst might have foreseen the current shift in workplace culture away from worker isolation and towards flexible teamwork, open communication and ongoing collaboration. Perhaps he also knew what recent studies have confirmed: A well-designed office boosts employee morale, engagement and productivity.

Let's face it, we all secretly, or not so secretly cheered during the movie Office Space when the lead character "takes it to the man" by knocking down his cubicle wall with the help of a power drill.  The look of accomplishment on his face spoke volumes, to office workers and managers alike.

Companies looking into the benefits of redesigning their physical space can start with a practical tutorial on How to Build a Better Office that walks you through these key steps:

 

  1. Sizing up your current space
  2. Involving your employees in the process
  3. Deciding what your goals are
  4. Asking yourself if it's time to move
  5. Continuing to tweak

 

For more inspiration, you can virtually tour office spaces designed to optimize collaboration, including Microsoft's cool research facility, Building 99. Among the featured redesign elements are:

 

  • More shared and social spaces for spontaneous collaboration
  • Smaller cubicles with lower walls
  • Fewer private offices
  • Plush kitchen areas
  • Offices with sliding textured glass doors
  • Write-on/wipe-off walls

 

You might also gain some insight from this Fast Company slideshow of 10 Workspaces That Inspire Creativity and this image gallery of the Best and Worst Workplace Design.

by Carly Fadako

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