The Oppressively Open Office

My eldest posted an Economist article called, How Workers ended up in cubes and how they could break free :

The march of the cubicle continues. Around 40m North Americans now work in cubicles and they are being installed from Bangalore to Beijing. In 2012 Meg Whitman, the boss of Hewlett-Packard, turfed executives out of corner offices and into cubicles. Even publishers are converting. Last year Hachette installed 520 cubes in its pricey Manhattan headquarters. The boss has one, too, albeit, with a window.

At first, chopping bullpens up into boxes seemed to fit with a new egalitarian mood. Some management theorists regarded cubicles as an uprising against the old order, where the desks of office serfs were lined up for inspection, factory-style, by managers who emerged from plush private domains. But not everyone agreed. George Nelson, a famed designer for Herman Miller, wrote to a colleague in 1970 that cubicles were “dehumanising” and suited for “corporate zombies, the walking dead”. The Dilbert cartoons of Scott Adams have long espoused the cause of the dispirited cubicle denizen and branded cubicles a sign of an uncaring employer.

And as they have become near-ubiquitous, it has become increasingly clear that far from offering a clever compromise between the economy of open-plan and the privacy of individual offices, cubicles are in many ways worse than either. In particular, they cause a number of health problems, some less obvious than others.

The article first reminded me of factory farming, but it also reminded me of something I wrote almost exactly a year ago, Cubbyhole-itis, based on a similar article in The New Yorker:

What is driving open layouts is status and money. Employees with higher status, or a demonstrable need for privacy to do their jobs, get private offices. Providing individual offices doesn’t necessarily cost that much more than a good quality modular work station, but a firm can write off the depreciation of a modular system on its taxes in a way that it can’t write off permanent improvements. They can also move and bring their investment along to a new space.


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