September 26, 2022

The end of the cubicle office?

As many of our previous posts have covered, the pandemic created numerous different trends when it came to office layouts and office life more generally. We’ve now moved from speculation to some data driven insights on how office life is forming after the pandemic. 

Today, we’re going to examine the relevance and effectiveness of the cubicle office in the context of a post-pandemic society. 

Pros and Cons

There has been a considerable shift to hybrid working, or to a lesser extend complete remote working in recent years. Putting the pandemic to one side, it’s important to consider the strengths and limitations of the cubicle office today now that restrictions are over. 

A lack of collaboration is probably the biggest limitation when it comes to cubicle working. This is particularly magnified in the context of hybrid working. There is consensus that the key strengths of the office are to provide in-person collaboration, as well as creative and strategic discussions. This is simply not as effective over a video call. Many companies that offer services to offices have noted the spike in office collaboration midweek, particularly a Thursday, with more remote working done on Mondays and Fridays. There is very little to no point of a company calling staff in for collaborative time when everyone is in a cubicle. 

However, there are scenarios where office cubicles are most effective. For example, many people may rent a room in a shared house, or potentially in an area where noise pollution and lack of space may not be conducive to productive, happy working. In these scenarios – particularly in sectors like finance and law – a quiet cubicle will provide sanctuary for the employee. 

Nonetheless, here are plenty of other difficulties when it comes to cubicles. There is a real lack of flexibility, and with offices that utilise hybrid furniture such as wheeled standing desks for example, cubicles can’t be easily moved. If the working week involves a company-wide meeting, a deep work day of limited collaboration and head-down work and teams meeting with a mix of remote and in-office staff then the layout would need to change at least two to three times. 

Finally, and perhaps most ironically when thinking about employers who are insistent on office participation, is the difficulty when looking to track productivity and maintain eyes on productivity as an employer. With remote working there is more of an emphasis on updating project management tools and dividing responsibilities up. With an open plan office these same considerations can be discussed openly, and employers have a physical view of the team. Cubicles offer limited visuals in the office – not ideal for a line manager who wants to keep his or her troops monitored and motivated. 

A happy medium?

This week the BBC reported that over 80% of employers believe staff are less productive when working remotely, while 80% of employees felt they were more productive working remotely. What this indicates is that there is a misalignment when it comes to what bosses want and what their staff want – at least when it comes to productivity. 

This also symbolises a wider trend for employees to want more remote work and flexibility in their lives. Less commuting, more work/ life balance. However, despite being an employees market currently, there boss still make the call and if the majority feel that the office is more fruitful than the home study then a compromise is needed. This is where quiet areas – such as office pods – come into their own. 

For most companies that operate at the office at least some of the time, the most value is there to be had through providing an office environment that can serve multiple functions and be agile enough to respond to the demands of any given day. You can find out more about agile working via our previous post. 


Closing thought 

While the cubicle layout has it’s benefits, it’s clear that for the majority of organisations that operate in the office to some degree may find them outdated. A hybrid office with quiet space, collaborative areas and agile furniture will – for most – be the better way of working. However, every organisation is different and there will always be exceptions. For some, the cubicle is here to stay. 


You can find out more about our office space planning services here.


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