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Office Cubilces

Over the last few decades, cubicles have become a constant feature of professional life.  It’s not hard to see why.  On paper at least, an arrangement of squares makes for the most efficient use of space, and with business owners trying to keep costs down to compete in an increasingly globalized marketplace, it was a natural enough development.

But how can you put them into practical use in your business?  What can they offer you, and what can they take away from your company life?  Let’s consider the best way to design your work space so that you get the most out of your staff and your money.

How They Can Help You

Office space isn’t cheap.  It’s not just the square footage, of course.  Bright, clean light has to cover as much desktop as possible, to allow your staff to see what they’re doing without straining their eyes.  Central air has to circulate freely to cool, warm, and dissipate smells.  Bottom line: there’s a reason cubicles evolved the way they did.  It’s a cheap and often effective solution to the optimal usage of manpower.

It also allows you to free up space for offices.  This may seem a bit selfish on the part of management, but in practice it lets your team congregate in a conference room setting that can make use of high-tech visualizing equipment and round-table discussions.  A projector or flat screen can be analyzed by everyone at once, and you can make notes and converse fluidly.  This wouldn’t be as easy if more of the space were taken up by closed offices or some other arrangement.

How They Can Hurt You

If you’ve ever worked in a badly designed cubicle space, or maybe read a Dilbert cartoon, you know that it can be stifling and alienating to spend time there.  You don’t have much space, there are severe restrictions on you privacy, and you often find yourself exposed to the watchful eye of management or co-workers in a way that can be anxiety-inducing.  Ultimately, this kind of set-up can demoralize the workforce and make your business growth sluggish, as excitement and momentum drain away.

How to Do Cubicles Right

It’s a tough sell to remove cubicles completely from the picture – they’re too effective.  But steps can be taken to alleviate the negative consequences and improve your general work flow.

Consider clearing a space in your office that’s simply open, with no computers or other work-related paraphernalia around.  Stock it with a coffee machine, maybe a few chairs or a couch.  Even if you find your employees shy to use it, or without the time on their hands to make the most of it, knowing it’s there can have a profoundly calming effect on your staff.

As for the cubicles themselves, try to structure them in blocks rather than continuously through the space: an arrangement of four or five desks together, like an island, makes more sense psychologically than a long table.  (Just think about how you feel eating dinner at home vs. Thanksgiving at the in-laws.)  It engenders a sense of community without much forfeiture of space.

With just a bit of intuitiveness and a willingness to satisfy your team, you can turn the office cubicle paradigm on its head to create a vibrant, fully functional workspace where people won’t just want to earn their money – they’ll want to spend their time.

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