Walls Can Wait

. . . because the cubicle is the current state of office space.
Magazine Contributor
2 min read

This story appears in the August 2000 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

Bob Propst, who invented the cubicle in 1964, has surely learned to hate Dilbert. Still, as somebody who toils in a newsroom for The Cincinnati Post when I'm not walking the Entrepreneur beat, what I wouldn't give for an office cubicle. Co-workers' telephones ring in my ear, nearby sports reporters shout scores, field trips make routine visits to my desk-it's a little like working on the sidewalk.

But I know I'd be trading a sidewalk for something that inspires daydreams of John McCain rotting in a colorless cell. Which is why employees can't be blamed if they leave your cubicle-crammed company for something better.

Fortunately, the cubicle industry is on the job. Social psychologists are always studying the ever-evolving work force and trying to improve on office space for the cubicle companies and their communities-and that office space isn't likely to go anywhere soon, even with the inevitable rise of telecommuting. "We make our money off of the creative process," says Scott Adelson, 37, a co-founder of extension11 Inc., a company that constructs and consults e-businesses. "We thrive because of our ability to collaborate."

So if you run a cube farm, your staff shouldn't have to feel like cattle. Research suggests that if an employee has control over even just the lighting or office temperature, that's freedom, baby. Right angles and overhead lights are out; curves and natural light are in. Even if you can't afford those luxuries now, someday you'll have to. It's the face of the future.

And some of that future looks fun. Expect everything from video-telephones to chairs that can give you a backrub. And your company may grow without moving an inch. Some companies have been going the route of "hoteling," where several people share a single cubicle. If your staff often telecommutes and is not in the office full-time, then you could theoretically have twice as many employees as you do cubicles.

Some companies, like extension11, have literally thought outside the box, giving up cubicles in favor of, Adelson says, a newsroom-style approach. (Groan.) But in a spacious, reconverted movie theater, this sounds retro and cool. There's the issue of privacy, Adelson admits, which is why extension11 is considering using dividers on wheels, so people can build walls when they want them. If cubicles keep evolving, Propst may reclaim his legacy yet.

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