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Will Office Cubicles Vanish in 2017?

Will Office Cubicles Vanish in 2017?

Posted In // Design Tips

Just like every couple wants the restaurant’s cozy corner table on Saturday night, so, too, do many employees dream of that private corner office, framed in windows that illuminate a sleek desk and separate seating area from which to brainstorm.

Not happening in the real world.

Still, study after study links employee productivity to employee happiness. And cubicles and contentment are rarely found in the same sentence:

  • The Harvard Business Review reported research from the University of Sydney that looked at 15 frustrating office elements from messy office desks to noise level and found that workers in enclosed offices were by far the happiest, with workers in high-partition cubicles the most miserable. The study indicated that space matters – and matters the most.
  • Oxford Economics found employee satisfaction and productivity were affected negatively by the distractions inherent in cubicle setups.
  • Cornell researchers studied 229 employees at eight firms and found workers in cubicles were more likely to have long, loud conversations - and not necessarily work-related - with colleagues or on the phone.

How cubicles came to define office furniture

In the 1960s, an alternative to rows and rows of crowded office desks in an open space, surrounded by private offices was created. The first modular office system called Action Office 2, included the suggestion that each worker have privacy and a view in a workspace that was also equipped with standing and sitting office desks.

According to The Economist, commercial furniture-makers, including Knoll, were soon producing their own cubicle systems. Not only were they typically inexpensive, but benefited from a tweak to the tax code that made it easier to write off depreciating assets such as commercial furniture. Between 1977 and 1997, sales in America grew 20-fold as cubicles dominated office furniture trends.

Today’s office furniture trends borrow from the old

Over time, though, cubicles frequently became a way to shoehorn in more workers into smaller spaces – and without the view or the office desks of varying heights, which would foster some much-needed movement and encourage periodic standing. What seemed like a good idea at first – offering privacy and design flexibility – soon grew to be a source of angst – and literally angst cubed.

Ironically, today’s corporate out-of-the-box thinking begins with open space once again. But rather than merely replacing laptops for the typewriters that once dotted the rows of desks, there’s the blending of layout, office furniture trends and technology with the individual business’ needs.

Because many studies also indicate distraction as another cause of employee frustration, that blank open space needs to be customized for optimal functionality, with departments or team members near each other. The current trend is also to crush the coveted corner office.

However, according to Business Review, Baby Boomer and Generation X executives sometimes have difficulty with an open work environment, as the more traditional closed-door office is associated with status and privacy. So an open layout should include private spaces for meetings and confidential discussions.

And yet, while there is more social interaction and collaboration in today’s open workspace, there’s still that annoying distraction. So, office furniture trends of the future might include:

  • Strategically placed colorful cubicles, perhaps a large S shape for two employees, which punctuate the office space without interrupting flow.
  • The ability to foster movement from setting to setting. So along with office desks, there will also be communal workstations, a comfy place to plop outside a conference room to continue a discussion and private spaces in which to plug in the laptop and focus.
  • A reshape of the office with the “Living Office,” an attempt to combine the best of private and social space. Office desks are set in friendly clusters and separated by low, clear partitions. Pods are available for concentrated work. Everywhere there are glass-encased meeting rooms and a few solo spaces. About 30 percent of the staff have no permanent desk.
  • A Global Analytics study found 95 percent of workers rank the ability to telework as critical in determining whether they stay with the company. For many, there’s no space like home.

Confusing? For sure. So why not let the professionals at Beaux-Arts Group help you sift through the data and trends to design the nurturing work environment that you need. Contact us today!
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