Happy (belated) Cubicle Day!
Yes, it’s the time of year when we celebrate and honor the noble creation of designer Robert Propst, who originally created the concept of the cubicle in 1967 as part of his “Action Office II” concept for acclaimed furniture maker Herman Miller. In 1976, Dick Haworth patented and introduced the first cubicle wall panels with internal wiring, ushering in the proliferation of cubicles we know today.
The original intent of the cubicle was to increase productivity by enabling employees to work in private and with limited distractions. While this may have worked, it was arguably at the irrevocable cost of diminished eyesight, carpal tunnel and social ineptitude.
Additionally, since its introduction in the 1970s, the cubicle has undergone no significant change or innovation and has in fact turned countless offices worldwide into mazes of drab and lifeless squares, devoid of sunlight and any social interaction.
On a positive note, cubicles did give us Dilbert and Office Space.
So how do we celebrate National Cubicle Day when cubicles are considered the bell bottoms of the furniture industry? We look beyond the growing consensus that cubicles are killing us and instead celebrate the way we and our workplaces have evolved.
Scott Lesizza, founding principal of Workwell Partners, a provider of workplace furnishing solutions based in New York City, is very familiar with the evolution of the cubicle as well as our workspaces. After 20 years in the office furnishing business, he seen the rapid transition from cubicles to the hip, trendy and stylish workplaces associated with fast growing businesses and hot startups.
“Although the cubicle is not entirely extinct,” Lesizza says, “it is certainly on its death bed. It is viewed as a relic of corporate drabness and conformity, and at no time in my long career have I ever seen such an incredibly rapid change in the way clients are building spaces for their employees.”
Lesizza goes on to provide a few pointers for new or existing businesses looking to avoid the cubicle trap and spice up their workplace.
1. Create a layout that encourages collaboration.
Many of the most progressive businesses are run on a culture of collaboration. Cubicles, of course, will kill collaboration at its core, so instead look to open areas and create co-working spaces for people to meet, mingle and collaborate.
2. Be creative and progressive.
A hot trend these days is replacing cubicles with long runs of benches that have under-desk cable management trays instead of electrified panels. Also popular are "amenity areas" that include cafes and bleachers equipped with electricity, wifi and roof decks for congregating and working during periods of favorable weather.
Many offices offer non-assigned seating, allowing employees to move around the office regularly, which encourages more collaboration and teamwork.
3. Prioritize health and ergonomics.
Provide a setting that allows and encourages employees to stay active. Adjustable height and standing desks allow employees to sit and stand more comfortably, while replacing the typical office chair with an exercise ball can promote better posture. Some offices have moved to treadmill desks and even a hamster wheel.
4. Focus on what your employees want.
In the past, employers created the workplace based on the business needs and to control the flow of work. These days, however, employers are putting the employee first in the design process, creating exciting and creative workplaces and leveraging them as a recruiting tool. If you want to attract and retain the best talent, then you need to be creating a workplace environment that beats your competition.
Lesizza emphasizes that entrepreneurs need to remember that the needs of your workspace will change often, based on company growth and evolving culture. Hiring a professional firm to help with the task of designing your office can pay off in the long term, as planning and flexibility become more important. Many traditional furniture companies are moving toward becoming "workspace solutions providers" and make great partners in the process.
“Office furniture manufactures and service providers, like Workwell Partners, know very well the needs of growing businesses looking to create attractive, flexible and innovative workspaces,” Lesizza says. “After all, if furniture companies aren’t adapting and evolving themselves, we can’t hope to survive any longer than the businesses we are serving.”
So as the cubicle fades into history, the obvious question that arises is what replaces Cubicle Day?
My suggestion? National Stapler Day.