Say goodbye to the cubicle: How office size is changing

There once was a time when your office or cubicle was a sign of your career level. A time when the large corner office meant you had “made it.” In the 1920s, the typical office environment had open desks and private offices. The cubicle panel hadn’t been invented yet and everyone worked on typewriters. People worked in what we now call “benching” without privacy or noise concerns.

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Employees used to work their whole career to achieve the status symbol of a large corner office, but in recent years, there has been a major shift away from this type of thinking. Whether this shift comes from a new generation of upper management, such as Facebook’s CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, who, without hesitation, works in an open environment side by side with his employees, or the huge technological advances over the past 30 years, there is undeniable evidence that the space a worker needs to function productively is shrinking.

Before there was technology to worry about, the typical desk was singular. There were no “l-shape” or “u-shaped” desks. The “size” of the desk wasn’t important, but on average they were 3’ x 5’ with some storage on each end for pencils, paper, and files. This type of office remained through the 1950s until G.W. Haworth was asked to create the first modular wall partition.

Since the early 2000s, another major technology shift has affected employees’ workspace size. Flat screen monitors and larger CPUs hold more electronic documents than ever before. Companies started supplying employees with laptops, tablets, and cellphones that no longer tethered them to their desks eight hours a day. Ever heard of a little company named Apple, or an iSomething? We are, and have been for a while, in the Technological Revolution.

With less space needed for computers and paper, there’s less need for large cubicles and offices. We’ve learned that people typically only use the space that’s within arms’ reach, anyway. As less storage and surface area are needed, we’re seeing cubicles and offices reverting back to more open styles.

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Despite some clients being uneasy about such a dramatic change, we are seeing more and more of them moving towards some version of this. Younger generations like Gen X and Millennials are beginning to dominate the workforce and expect workplaces to reflect this style, with smaller footprints, lower panels, shared storage areas, and collaboration spaces that are supported by technology. Although Baby Boomers and Gen Y may not feel comfortable giving up their cushy corner office, it actually allows employees to communicate better, sharing ideas and becoming more productive overall.

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Design, PeopleStephannie Chyz