That which is not an office is a cubicle. That which is a cubicle is not really a cube. It can get quite confusing really. It makes me wonder where the concept of cubicle came from? Was it some manager’s way of cutting costs? Was it some kind of symbolic reference to a caste system where upper class employees have an office and those who don’t have real power at all? Could it really be that simple? Of course not, but it does make you wonder.
I’ve discovered that Wikipedia has an article about cubicles that reveals some key history points. The conclusion is that cubicles were first created around 1965 and that it is possible that Intel was the first major user of them.
Here’s a sample from Wikipedia of the typical cube:
The experience with cubicles seem to be universal. A large part of cubicle culture has been openly ridiculed by movies and comic strips alike. It’s a very easy target. There are so many things wrong with cubicle life that most employees would quickly select an office even if it was smaller and in a bad location.
From a designer point of view, cubicles are very efficient since they use less materials, cost less, and can fit more employees into a given space. Walls are expensive and are difficult to rearrange based on changes in the work space. Walls also make it more difficult to manage employees, or at least that seems to be the hidden message.
Most fish bowl residents of cubicles have no sense of space. Nothing is done without potential observation by practically anyone. You never know when someone might pop through through your “door” or maybe a neighbour will pop over the wall to have a peep and a brief chat. Either way, you are exposed in a big way. You might as well install a few web cameras around your office pointed in your direction and declare yourself the next candidate for eviction from Big Brother.
The point is that being in a cubicle is a comical affair. You have to pretend that you can do things that you just can’t. For example, you really don’t want to listen to the argument your neighbour is having with his wife over the colour selection for the new house but you can’t help yourself. You really want to check the stats on you latest fantasy football league but you are afraid someone walking by might see it. Instead you wait for lunch in the hope that everyone will be gone so that you can quickly switch screens to see if you are winning against Frank in the cubicle down the hall. When the tables turn and you really need to do some serious work and you pretend that you can fully concentrate when various noises and voices fire around you like some kind of off beat pinball machine yelling out for attention. You simply can’t win. You must assimilate and become one with the cubicle reality. You must accept that you will never win this battle and it is far better to make fun of it and just enjoy.
I’ve seen this cubicle world in action over a number of years in cubicles myself. The dynamics of it are just so amazing that you just have to appreciate the shear genius of the existence of cubicles in the first place. I mean, if no one in the workplace really wants them, then who does? I think that is the whole point. You and I don’t want them and I’m sure if I did a poll that most employees would respond with a big NO! So, what is this? Is this some kind dictatorship? Is this some kind of over sanctioned fever of the use of cubicles even when they don’t make sense? Well, that is an easy yes.
So, why do people put up with them? The answer is also simple. Either become important enough to justify having a office or just stay there in your pseudo office. If you can’t achieve the position you need to get a real office with a door and you hate your cubicle, well I’m sure there is an assortment of companies that would be willing to hire you… and place you in a cubicle as well. If you find that company that gives you an office as a grunt then appreciate it because most likely they will go out of business having spent too much money on nice offices for their employees. They went broke simply because they just cared too much!
So, what do I say to you comrade? Walk right into your manager’s office and declare your affinity to having his or her office for your own. State that Jeff Muir thought it would be a good idea to declare your democratic right to say that you want better and that “I’m sick and tired of being treated like someone that belongs in a cell”. Well, I’m hoping you aren’t taking this advice to heart but I do hope that you are inspired to imagine what life would be like outside your cube and in your office “cave”.
Now, for the confession. I don’t reside in a cubicle. I have my own office and I can keep it as messy as I want. In fact, if I wanted to I could move to a bigger office without difficulty assuming that building an extension could be expensed. I work from home which means that a room that would have been a bedroom is now an office with the full office support. So, why do I bother to write about cubicles? I don’t know. Oh, I wasn’t sure what to write about and then my wife suggested writing about cubicles. True story!