Offices vs. Cubicles: What’s the Better Workplace Environment?

Scientific American released an article this week discussing the origin of the cubicle and highlights that “cubicles were invented by architects and designers who were trying to make the world a better place—who thought that to break down the social walls that divide people, you had to break down the real walls, too.” In fact, in the early 20th century Modernist architects such as Frank Lloyd Wright saw walls and rooms as downright fascist.

Have cubicles been getting a bad rap? Wikipedia defines a cubicle as a partially enclosed workspace separated from neighboring workspaces by partitions that are usually five to six feet (1.5 to 1.8 m) tall.  Whereas an office is simply defined as a room or other area in which people work, and that may denote specific duties attached.

But who has the better work environment? Office or cubicle dwellers?  Before bursting out with your answer here are some of the pros of having your own office compared the benefits of working in a cubicle:

The Office

  • Privacy may lead to greater productivity: You have 5 million things on your to-do list and way too many distractions going on, but if you have an office you can close the door and create an environment that shuts out the world (minus the phone/email/IM interruptions).
  • A sense of accomplishment: For many an office can mean you’ve climbed the ranks and earned your way into an office.  And with all your hard work that it took to get an office, you may note that your colleagues and/or employees show just a little bit more respect given all that you have achieved.
  • A ‘safe zone’: If you have an office, you may find that colleagues come to view it as a ‘safe zone’ in which to converse  about challenges he or she may be experiencing in the workplace or in their career. Handled professionally, this can offer short- and long-term benefits for your working relationship and for the company.  At the end of the day, an open-door policy lets people know they are welcome to come to you with questions or concerns and in turn can establish a positive work environment for all in the long-run.
  • Better health and improved job security: Well, perhaps. According to a study published last year in the Asia-Pacific Journal of Health Management, it found that cubicles cause conflict, high blood pressure and increased staff turnover. That’s one more for the office.

The Cubicle

  • Improved relations with colleagues: Whether your company refers to a set of cubicles as the pit or the bull pen, the chances are if you work within a few feet or inches of a colleague you have a better chance of knowing and understanding what’s going on with that person and within their role.  And vice versa.
  • Potential for more opportunities: When you are in the thick of it, working side by side with colleagues, you have the chance to be exposed to a lot more than what you are responsible for delivering.  In other words, the company marketing specialist may have the opportunity to sit next to the company graphic designer and, as a result, each person has an occasion to learn from another beyond their area of expertise.
  • Exposure may lead to greater productivity:  With a cubicle comes a feeling that your co-workers know what you’re up to and when.  Are you closing in on the report deadline or updating your Facebook status? This sense of pressure or fear of being caught slacking off, can help motivate you to use time wisely and complete one task after another.
  • Room for personal expression: Many cubicle dwellers take advantage of the wall space and use them to show artistic creativity.  Items on cubicle walls often serve as conversation starters and can show off a little about who you are beyond your work.  However, be careful about being TOO expressive as you don’t want your cubicle to be known as the company tchotchke museum or be a source of ridicule.

So now tell us – office or cubicle? Where do you feel the most productive or find the most enjoyment from your job?