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Cubicles Vs. Open Space Office Layout

Anuja Marathe Kanhere Jun 22, 2019
One of the key questions to be dealt with when designing new office layout is whether to opt for open spaced offices or cubicle system. This information will help you make the right decision.
When faced with tough office administration decision of selecting the perfect office layout, one cannot just rely on one's personal preferences. Office layouts are deciding factors for office ambiance, work culture, communication and interaction levels between different employees.
Believe it or not, a wrong layout decision has the potential of causing employee dissatisfaction, distrust, low productivity and ultimately reduction in profitability. It is essential to first understand the broad differentiation between the basic layouts.

Cubicle Layouts

The concept of cubicles or cubicle workstations was first introduced in the year 1967 under the name of 'Action Office II'. The design was created by Robert Propst for Herman Miller Research Corporation. This design was analyzed and created after referring to a number of behavioral and industrial psychologists.
Over a period of time, cubicles have evolved into partially separated workstations that have a demarcating wall with a height ranging between 5 ft to 6 ft. Cubicles have undergone variations over the past for decades. They now symbolize the typical office environment.

Advantages of Cubicles

  • Cubicles can offer privacy and personalization to all the office staff.
  • They help in avoiding unnecessary distractions in the work environment, thereby improving concentration levels of employees.
  • One major plus point of cubicles is that, they create amazing levels of storage spaces and cabinets for official and personal documents of employees.

Disadvantages of Cubicles

  • A major downside of cubicles is that they stagnate employee creativity due to lack of regular communication. This is because, cubicles are often considered to be bland and stifling in nature.
  • There is less chance of interpersonal touch between two employees thereby creating a feeling of isolation between employees. Experts in the field of psychology have often said that cubicles have a long term effect on employee moods and psychology. This system has turned many working professionals into introverts.
  • Cubicles are a major cause for employee dissatisfaction and distrust. This layout can create a feeling of discrimination in employees' minds.
A cubicle layout is suitable for professions that need high level of concentration and privacy. They are suitable for professions that are 'back-end' in nature and do not require regular personal interaction with customers and colleagues.

Open Space Layouts

These are more traditional office layouts wherein the work floor is planned without any barrier between two employees. 
William Sims and Franklin Becker from Cornell University have quoted that, 'Work environment that are more open create more opportunities for observing and learning from those with more experience and different skills'.
Open space layouts have existed for more than half a century, first developed by German interior designing company Quickborner. This system was further popularized when industrial giants like Henry Ford opted for open office system. Latest research shows that approximately 10% of offices around the world are designed keeping in mind an open space layout.

Advantages of Open Spaces

  • Open spaces give the freedom of easily accessing colleagues and subordinates in your office.
  • They have the power to cut off wastage of time and office resources as employees get a chance to watch over their colleagues all the time. e.g. Long hours spent over unofficial phone calls or for sending personal emails, etc., during work timings can be curtailed significantly.
  • There is greater collaboration and team spirit experienced by employees.
  • There is a sharp increase in employee creativity as open spaces invite flow of communication and exchange of fresh and innovative ideas between employees.
  • Open spaces play a role of motivation as all employees, members of management and top level management are seated besides each other and are thus, treated on par. Research shows that there are less chances of employee jealousy and distrust when organizations opt for open space layouts.
  • Open spaced offices can generally house more number of employees in a given area than a cubicle layout.

Disadvantages of Open Spaces

  • A major downside of open space layout is lack of privacy. Agreed, that open spaced offices may have private meeting rooms and resting rooms for its staff, but privacy in work place is one of the top priority for some employees. This necessity is felt mostly by talented but introvert employees.
  • Open spaced offices are a major cause of distraction and lack of concentration amongst employees. The slightest noise from an employee may prompt attention of his colleagues which can make the calm work environment go for a toss.
  • Open spaced offices rarely afford the privilege of shelves and storage spaces for each and every employee.
Open spaced layout is suitable for professions like a floor of engineers, technicians, software professionals, clerks and typists, BPO employees, creative artists and talents, etc. Basically, all those professions that thrive with maximum interaction should ideally have open space office layouts.

Deciding Factors

Most of our readers will have figured out which layout suits them the best. But if you are still unsure about the right decision, then here are a few questions you need to ask yourself. Depending on your answers in yes or no, we have made suggestions for office layouts. We hope you find our suggestions useful to come to an appropriate decision.
Do your employees crave for their cubicles and its personal privacy?
  • Yes (Go for Cubicles)
  • No (Go for Open spaces)
Do you plan to expand your business and add more employees to your office?
  • Yes (Open spaces offer better flexibility)
  • No (Cubicles are fine if number of staff will not expand in near future)
Do you have a high budget for planning office layout?
  • Yes (Go for Cubicles)
  • No (Go for Open spaces)
Are most of your employees introverts?
  • Yes (Go for Cubicles)
  • No (Go for Open spaces)
Are your employees doing some critical jobs and require to concentrate on work?
  • Yes (Go for Cubicles)
  • No (Go for Open spaces)
An ideal method of creating a good office layout is to strike a golden balance between both the layout systems. Your office floor can be divided into departments that actually need cubicles and departments that can work in harmony in open spaced layouts.
At times, you may opt for cubicles with glass walls between them that offer individual space as well as free flow of light all around the work stations. Lastly, we wish to say that it needs a good deal of planning and judgment before you actually invest your capital into office designing.