Downsizing the Cubicle

U.S. National Archives and Records Administration Open-Office-Circa-1930

The open office has been around since the early part of the 20th century with desks being arranged in rows,  after the introduction of the original panel system in the 1960’s, the modern day cubicle has defined today’s office. It’s been the subject of many studies and punch lines. Now in the 21st century, we’re in a time where real estate prices are rising, computers are shrinking and a new generation is coming into the workforce.

Forbes is predicting that by 2020 the average amount of space per employee will drop to 150 square feet while other researchers are predicting it will drop even lower to 100 square feet per employee.

According to Core Net Global, a commercial real estate association, the average square footage per employee in 2012 was 176, down from 225 square feet in 2010.  Are companies investing in less real estate or using their real estate differently?

It’s a little of both, companies are giving their employees less personal space, and adding collaborative space to their offices. Companies are doing away with private offices and reducing the number of high-paneled, fully-surrounded workstations and opting for more open plan or benching systems that puts only a few feet between employees. This is a very intimate and informal way of working but for the younger generation entering the workplace; it’s something many of them don’t mind and are quick to embrace.


Why the migration to more open and collaborative spaces?  It’s not just because the cost of real estate is rising or because collaboration is the new buzz word. Cubicles, more currently referred to in the furniture industry as “workstations”, no longer need to be 8×10 or 5×5 and for one very simple reason: technology. Technological advancements have improved items like monitors that no longer take up half a desk top, the rolodex has been replaced by a cell phone and no one needs to store hard disks, floppy disks or reams of paper files at their desk.  By eliminating the excess space no longer necessary for storage, it opens up space needed for an individual.

Technology has also provided greater mobility.  Research points to sitting all day as bad for health (and overall productivity).  Movement is a healthy component of the workday, and offices are being designed around flexible movement needs.   Open offices provide employees with more movement than ever before because there are more places to work.  Untethering an employee from their  desk and chair is an ever-growing priority.  If there are too many distractions,  individual refuge spaces where someone can go, close a door and not be distracted by the open office provide a key option.  CDI’s Cloud Room, shown below, provides a fully enclosed room featuring a height-adjustable Humanscale Float Table that allows the end user to sit or stand to get their heads down focus work completed.

CDI Cloud Focus Room

Companies have realized that shrinking the workstation allows for other opportunities such as more conference rooms, collaboration areas and community spaces.

Kimball_Dock_(Conference Room) R1

Conference rooms provide the formality of a private office but the team oriented environment that the new workplace is going toward. Oft-loaded with the latest technology, a conference room like the one pictured above featuring Kimball Office Dock® Meeting Table and Kimball Office Stow™ Presentation Wall allows everyone to plug in, share ideas, connect with other cities while providing needed privacy as well not disrupting the rest of the office.

New Dock Meeting (Setup B)_R4

Collaboration areas include everything from tables between rows of desks that enable workers to pull up their own chair to the table to have a quick impromptu meeting to more permanent pieces like the Mio™ from National  or the  Dock® Work Table from Kimball. An added benefit of collaboration areas is that their ability to double as a second work space for employees and provide flexibility to support mobility.

Lastly, community spaces are important and quite different from the other spaces mentioned. Community spaces are areas like CDI’s work café, where employees can work, eat, relax or gather.

This community space is an informal environment within the office that levels the hierarchy much like the rest of the open office does.  It features a varied array of furniture layouts ranging from a large kitchen island with stools to comfortable lounge seating around the fireplace to banquette seating equipped with tabletop power and data access throughout.

The extreme of tearing down all walls in an office and no one having an assigned area is exactly that, while it works for some companies it’s by no means a one-size fits all solution.  What is important is to design an office that can evolve with company growth,  evolving generational workforces  and technology. Any workspace consideration needs to account for the current structure of the company and how it can be enhanced. Key considerations must include:

  • How can a space be more functional
  • How can square footage be best-utilized in an effort to create a productive office space
  • How can space be used to help employees feel more comfortable in the office

A workspace overhaul  or new build out is an exciting process with countless considerations. Corporate Design Interiors has the experts on-hand ready to understand a client’s business, their workflow needs and how best to design a workspace that enhances productivity in an effort that inspires creativity, collaboration as well as admiration and appreciation from both employees and customers alike.

Written by Eileen McGee – Contributor

For additional information on the product or applications noted above, or to schedule a consultation to discuss a new project, contact:

Michele-Aubry-LinkedinMichele Aubry, Director of Sales | 262.278.8916