Friday, May 29, 2009

Office cubicles

I'm sure I'm going to alienate a lot of people when I say that cubicles are not as bad as they're made out to be. It's true that they don't provide much privacy compared to an office, but would you have an office if you didn't have a cube? Almost certainly not. If you watch old movies that show people in a large workplace – “Double Indemnity” is a good example – you don't see hallways full of offices. What you see is a large room with desks arranged in rows, people working side by side with each other. In other words, if you didn't have a cubicle, you'd probably have nothing at all separating you from your co-workers.

It's interesting that the cubicle has become such a target for hatred. While I admit that you get minimal privacy in a cube, especially aural privacy – you can hear the noises around you, and your own conversations are audible to others – at least it gives you your own space. My current employer will not allow us to hang things on the cubicle walls, which is disappointing, but I'd still much prefer it to nothing.

Offices outrank cubes, of course, but not all cubes are equal. One obvious measure is size: team leaders get bigger cubicles than team members (which is reasonable, since they need to hold meetings in their cubes). Another indication of status is how closed off your cube is. Mine, for example, is completely open on one side. My boss' cubicle, on the other hand, is nearly enclosed; he has only a narrow opening for a door. It doesn't make much difference to the noise level, but I guess it gives him at least the appearance of more privacy.

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