February 22, 2019

The Perils of Designing Office Space

“If you’re reading this at work, there’s a good chance that you’re sitting at an open desk or communal table. (Hey, is that guy reading over your shoulder? Hi!) And if you’ve been in the workplace awhile, you might be adjusting from the not-so-distant past when you sat in a comparatively private cubicle.

Every generation or two, our offices completely change, driven by culture and consultants. Cubicles, perhaps the most reviled of these trends, were supposed to be the apex of office design. More precisely, the Action Office (zip! swoosh!) was supposed to. A product of the utopian 1960s, this was a flexible, customizable system of office furnishings that balanced community and privacy. It sounds downright revolutionary, doesn’t it?

Unfortunately, it didn’t take long for companies to realize they could take the customized pieces and use them to herd employees into grayscale grids. The Action Office quickly evolved into the Cube Farm.

But the open-plan offices that have cropped up in response are hardly utopian paradises. (Still in a cubicle now? The open-office plan is probably coming for you, too.) Meant to foster conversation, there’s evidence they do the opposite, as employees tune each other out with headphones and use Slack channels to take the place of connecting at the water cooler.”

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