Open Plan Alternatives: Gleaming the Cube

In my last post, I urged office planners to ask their people what kind of environment is best for them. One surprising thing they might hear is that people prefer—gasp!—cubicles. Yes, cubicles.

rejemy tweet

In the hundreds of comments people have written on my various blog posts about office design, a common theme was of people working in open plans who wished they could have their cubicle back.

In fact, I was surprised when an interview I did with Wired regarding my views on office design was boiled down to a statement I made to this regard:

Wired quote

I’ve heard from several people who were incredulous that anyone could prefer a cubicle to an open plan. I believe this attitude may be a kind of extreme reaction to the giant, soulless “cube farm” that some companies employed (and still employ).

The dreaded 'cube farm'

But, an open plan can turn into a landscape just as depressing when applied uniformly to a large space.

The dreaded 'open plan farm'

We can compromise, right? The Library and the Bazaar can coexist. It’s not an all-or-nothing proposition. And please don’t assume that everyone hates cubicles. It’s no private office, but for many people it beats the hell out of the open plan.

Open Plan Alternatives: Ask Your People

I’ve heard from several people who have the power to make decisions about office space, but feel frustrated that they can’t find practical suggestions on what to do instead of an open plan.

Well, if you’re already open to the idea that open plan offices are not a panacea, but you don’t know what to do instead, here’s a surprisingly straight-forward suggestion: ask the people who work there.

Ask me.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned throughout my writings on office design, it’s that people who work in offices have strong opinions about how they’re designed. The only thing that holds them back from expressing their opinions is a sense of learned helplessness that comes from years and years of working in crappy offices and seeing that no one cares about improving the situation.

This point was buried in another post I wrote regarding open plans, but here it is again: No size fits all. I’m sorry, but you’re going to have to consider the people who work for you as individuals with different wants and needs, because, well, they are.

Cubicle farm from 'Tron'

I’ll end on a quote from Peopleware, as I often do…

A common element that runs through all the patterns (both ours and Alexander’s) is reliance upon non-replicable formulas. No two people have to have exactly the same work space. … The texture and shape and organization of space are fascinating issues to the people who occupy that space. The space needs to be isomorphic to the work that goes on there. And people at all levels need to leave their mark on the workplace.