To foster open communication among employees. To increase team dynamics. That’s the business case the higher ups make to convince employees that low profile cubes and open work space floor plans are better than traditional cubicle layouts. That’s easy to say when the person who makes the decision manages from a posh corner office. Place a C-level officer in my work space and he or she will be begging to raise the walls back up in less than a day.
Senior management at my place of work decided to tear the walls down between the cubicles. Without turning my head, I can now see three other people in the adjacent cubes. I love my coworkers, but that doesn’t mean I want to look at them all day long. I’ve been in a similar situation before, a previous employer moved away from the high-wall cubicle layout to “collaborative” pods. It was horrible, all I saw across the floor was a sea of heads moving about and the noise level was anything but quiet.
A few departments I work with had opted for the more extreme open work space design, which are just rows of long desks with computers and chairs placed next to each other. It reminds me of a factory assembly line and some how, I feel the people lose a piece of who they are.
Ok, I’m not going to lie. It is easier to communicate with coworkers. It’s very convenient. It definitely does make communication with others nearby much easier. However, the point of diminishing returns is quickly realized. The noise level has noticeably increased, and so has the use of headphones. The design has enabled yelling across work spaces. Before, an employee would walk over to another one’s cube for a face to face discussion. Now without the walls lowered, people would just stand up from their work space and shout across cubes to talk to the other person. Furthermore, sometimes when I’m on the phone with a client, there’s so much noise and cross-talk nearby that I have trouble hearing the other person on the line.
While communications among employees has increased, so have non-business related side conversations. If that lady talks about her cat one more time, I’m going to go apeshit. There is also no longer any sense of privacy, everyone’s monitors can be seen. Hey, is that Bob over there falling asleep? The only way to get some privacy is to book a conference room in advance. There’s something wrong with the work model when you have to leave your workspace in order to focus on your work.
The essential sick coworker barrier is now missing, and this is probably the worse of all, especially during flu season. Before, the high fabric-lined walls protected me from Miss Who Has Either Bronchitis, or a Cat Stuck in Her Throat. I felt sort of safe whenever her cough fits triggered as the physical germ barrier helped to minimize the spread of bodily fluids. Now there’s no stopping the germs going airborne into adjacent work spaces.
For management, I can see low profile cubicle and open floor plan work spaces being an easy way for them to keep their eyes on their employees when they stroll around the floor. Maybe they think it will improve work performance, or it may lead to a case of the set-up-to-fail syndrome.