Throughout my last and unique decade of work life in France, office design has been an important topic of discussion with my colleagues : office size, individual or shared office, locked or not locked, window or no window, who takes which one … All that was nothing compared to the discussions around the ‘cubicle’.
At that point of the post, either you are European and you have no idea what that is - or - you are american and you are already smiling.
Let me explain.
Cubicles are the most hated and loved office design. The word ‘cubicle’ has not direct translation/meaning in any language. In a nutshell, cubicle are offices - more or less small - with walls not reaching the ceiling and no doors. So it gives visual privacy.
It shocked me at day 1, at day 2, at day 3 and I still gives me goosebumps at day X000. I had never seen cubicles in Europe so it deserved some research.
Let's dig a bit
What is a cubicle ?
A cubicle is an office with thin walls that does not reach the ceilings, without door or window and sizing between x and y. They are equipped with a big table and upper cabinets. If you think that getting the one cubicle by the window will provide you with some direct sunlight: wrong → the cubicle by the window has the same walls than all the other ones. Come one.
So working in a cubicle means that you are alone in your little artificial private fake box.
What happens ?
The good : Cubicles are a private space : they belong to you, you do not share it with anyone, you have all the power to do whatever you want in there. American workers do not have much rights in general but this one. Americans have a different perspective of private space than latin population so it sounded like these cubicles are a perfect match. Plus, people master the art of cubicle decoration - from hanging perfect family and pet pictures to diplomas, and equipment - from a summer fan to own personal heater, coffee machine, microwave or fridge. Don’t take me wrong, you will get to understand all that is justified but still surprising.
The bad & the ugly : Cubicle gives employee visual privacy. All other types of privacy - sound or odor - are not preserved and you cannot believe how people are not aware of that !
- Sound : Professional Phone Discussion, Cell phone ringing, Fall (object or person), Whistle (happy whistle), Swearing,
- Smell : Food smell at lunch time,
- Sound : Personal Phone calls, Gossiping, Food mastication, Sneezing and other throat cleaning noise, Farting, Nail cutting,
- Smell : Weird food smell out of normal time
Let's go back in history
Cubicles are born in the late 60’s at a time when office spaces were packed and noisy open floors. Their designer, Robert Propst, meant to give employees personal space and possibility to hang things on the wall by adding 120 degrees moving partition walls to their desks. From this initial invention, corporation developed the current highly cost effective ‘cubicle/box’ design with 90 degrees walls.
Nowaday, more than 40 millions american are working in cubicles so no wonder why you will find countless articles on it. They are loved and hated and what I find interesting is that the concept has never been really successful overseas. Not such a bad news actually. Can we say the cubicle era is over in america ? it is starting … it might take another 40 years…
So based on that
You are about to start working in a cubicle :
Prepare your decoration and equipment
Review the bad and the ugly table and think. Think.
More about it