Cubicle captive | BCBusiness

Cubicle captive | BCBusiness
Don't get stuck in cubicle country. Opening up your office can help spark employee creativity and productivity.

Cubicles aren’t the solution to office inefficiency. They’re the problem.

Once, in San Francisco, I visited the offices of the social media tracker Klout. The first thing I noticed was that they had a huge space so big you could play floor hockey in it.

Scattered around were clumps of desks where workers would happily do whatever they did to keep the business running. Not a cubicle to be seen.

Ah, the cubicle. Most of us work in some kind of cube farm or have done so at some point in our lives. And most of us have hated it.

Ever wonder why?

I’m indebted to Mary Colak, an efficiency consultant with Victoria’s MNC Consulting, for the answer. In a blog, Mary points out that cubicles make us sick.

It wasn’t always this way. When cubicles were created by Robert Propst in 1968, he envisioned it as a solution to the loud, clattering and privacy-shattering big-room office.

But over time, companies started to cram more and smaller cubicles into the same spaces until they became the cube farms of today. And efficiency experts and behavioural scientists are realizing that cube workers display all the same characteristics as lab animals confined to cages — stress and stress-related ills.

Cubicles decrease productivity and squelch creativity, which are much needed in business today. They are also responsible for eye and back strain and are blamed for such ills as inhibiting concentration and ruining a worker's sense of well-being.

Mostly they make people who work in them feel like they’re prisoners and faceless drones, which is a large contributor to depression.

Cubicles have become a symbol of everything that’s wrong with working in a big modern office. This is best illustrated by one of the most popular blogs on the Internet today, Pam Slim’s Escape From Cubicle Nation, which trains ex-cube dwellers on the fine points of running their own businesses.

So what can be done about it? The answer, it seems, is to follow the lead of all those young creative businesses like the one I saw in San Francisco and many of the new businesses dotting Gastown and Yaletown.

Tear down those cages and put people in “open areas.” They’ll adjust to whatever noise is there, and they’ll be a lot happier for it.

That means they’ll also be more productive and creative.