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America's Cubicles Are Shrinking

CmdrTaco posted more than 3 years ago | from the everyone-moo-together dept.

Businesses 484

Hugh Pickens writes "In the 1970s, American corporations typically thought they needed 500 to 700 square feet per employee to build an effective office, but the LA Times reports that today's average is a little more than 200 square feet per person, and the space allocation could hit a mere 50 square feet by 2015. 'We're at a very interesting inflection point in real estate history,' says Peter Miscovich, who studies workplace trends. 'The next 10 years will be very different than the last 30.' Although cubicles have shrunk from an average of 64 feet to 49 feet in recent years, companies are looking for more ways to compress their real estate footprint with offices that squeeze together workstations while setting aside a few rooms where employees can conduct meetings or have private phone conversations. 'Younger workers' lives are all integrated, not segregated,' says Larry Rivard. 'They have learned to work anywhere — at a kitchen table or wherever.'"

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Causality (5, Insightful)

Kev Vance (833) | more than 3 years ago | (#34560328)

"Younger workers' lives are all integrated, not segregated," says Larry Rivard. "They have learned to work anywhere — at a kitchen table or wherever."

Could that be because their office space has become so worthless that anywhere else is preferable?

Re:Causality (5, Insightful)

JeffSpudrinski (1310127) | more than 3 years ago | (#34560406)

Amazing how corporations will justify whatever they want.

Because people are not given a choice but to work in less space, they therefore say that they don't need it or want it.

Question: did they ask the workers (really ask them...anonymously)? .02

-JJS

Re:Causality (5, Funny)

skids (119237) | more than 3 years ago | (#34560576)

In other news, factory farm operators claim that today's livestock has, over time, come to crave the experience of being squeezed shoulder to shoulder.

(Just kidding.... I think....)

Re:Causality (2, Insightful)

clone52431 (1805862) | more than 3 years ago | (#34560656)

Actually, animals with herd instincts do feel most calm and protected when they’re being squeezed shoulder to shoulder. So do some autistic people.

Re:Causality (5, Informative)

ebh (116526) | more than 3 years ago | (#34560836)

I'm autistic, and yes, I occasionally need full-body pressure to calm down, but I also need quiet and space to think. I sure as hell don't want to work cheek-by-jowl with a bunch of people I know only by what went into them at lunch and is coming out of them in the afternoon.

Re:Causality (4, Insightful)

Moryath (553296) | more than 3 years ago | (#34560816)

Shocker of shockers... no, not really.

Once upon a time, workers had to deal with crap working conditions in which getting killed was commonplace. In shitass countries like India, or Malaysia, or China where all the manufacturing has been "outsourced" to for slave-labor wages, this is still true.

Today, the US has laws and agencies that are supposed to prevent this. But companies run by the soulless, inhuman "I have an MBA and never did a fucking day of real honest work in my life" types will try to get around it however they can.

OSHA says you have to have an office where phone calls can be private? Fine, we'll give you one "private phone room" for 20 employees. OSHA says you have to have a 30 minute lunch break? Fine, but we'll stick the kitchen in another building 10 minutes walk away, good luck getting there and back and still managing to do anything but bolt your lunch at choking-hazard speeds, sucker, or you can take a bag lunch in and keep it in your desk and you might as well work while eating anyways.

What we need to do is bust up the megacorporations and get rid of the top-level leech class that don't produce anything. But good luck seeing that happen any time soon. Those tax-evading assholes have too much media control to get the word out about them.

Re:Causality (4, Insightful)

cbiltcliffe (186293) | more than 3 years ago | (#34560614)

Definitely agree.

And to me "they've learned to work at a kitchen table or wherever" is only a small step away from "they're all on call 24/7, because they can work wherever they happen to be."

Re:Causality (3, Interesting)

commodore64_love (1445365) | more than 3 years ago | (#34560806)

I have (or had) a small cubicle which squeezed a computer, chair, and closet (for coat) in a space barely large enough to lay down.

BUT the company compensated for that small space by replacing the 4th wall with a window which gave the impression of more space, plus other benefits like being able to wear jeans everyday (nice jeans not wholey jeans), a free lunch, unlimited access to the internet to hear the radio/watch hulu, and so on. Making the cube small doesn't matter if the workers are treated with respect.

In contrast my new job has no cubes and open space, but you're free to do nothing (no radio, no eating lunch at your desk, no privacy). I don't hate it but I don't like it either. I'd rather have liberty even if it meant my cube was the size of my old dormroom's desk.

Re:Causality (1)

Maxo-Texas (864189) | more than 3 years ago | (#34560820)

Also amazing how our executive's private offices are 30' by 40'. That's larger than many houses.

We have 10x8 cubes (12x8 for supervisors and managers).

On a big project, I'm in a war room at a desk with people right next to me now. I see my cube about three times a month.

I don't think I'd leave for a bigger cube tho. I might leave for a private office. But the way policies change, I could leave for one and then not have one less than a year later. So they are probably right that this isn't a big issue.

But when times turn good again (6 years? 8 years?) folks are going to hop for stuff like this.

Re:Causality (5, Funny)

dintech (998802) | more than 3 years ago | (#34560470)

"They have learned to work anywhere — at a kitchen table or wherever."

I think it's more accruate that we don't work anywhere. So why should the office be any different. :)

Re:Causality (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34560682)

Exactly. I'm being paid by my employer to read slashdot from home today.

Which begs the question: employers may be saving money on real estate and associated costs, but at what cost to productivity? If I'm in an cube somewhere surrounded by coworkers, I'm less likely to spend time replying to threads on discussion boards, or spend fifteen minutes cruising around Google Maps.

Re:Causality (2)

dintech (998802) | more than 3 years ago | (#34560726)

or spend fifteen minutes cruising around Google Maps

That sorts out the driving around part, but what do you do to simulate picking up cheap hookers? I think your Sim Kerb Crawler needs more work. (but subscribe me to your newsletter)

Re:Causality (2)

operagost (62405) | more than 3 years ago | (#34560680)

If companies want to save money, they should be eliminating the cubicles and setting up the policies, procedures and infrastructure to have large numbers of employees work from home. It's green and it keeps most employees happier. Besides certain jobs that are obviously well suited for office work, the only barrier to having employees work from home now is the paranoid, incompetent middle manager.

Re:Causality (1)

MetalPhalanx (1044938) | more than 3 years ago | (#34560858)

I'd love to work from home. However, I'd like to point out a second barrier to you: lazy employees who goof off and become almost completely unproductive when working from home ruining it for the rest of us.

Re:Causality (2)

operagost (62405) | more than 3 years ago | (#34560922)

This may be a shocker, but they're goofing off at work, too. That's what I mean about incompetent managers: unproductive employees should be evident whether they're visible or not.

Re:Causality (1)

kent_eh (543303) | more than 3 years ago | (#34560710)

And 15 years ago the same "experts" claimed that multi-tasking was the way of the future. That today's employees are natural multi-taskers. That multi-tasking is good for employees and employers

We all know how well that worked out...

Re:Causality (1)

GooberToo (74388) | more than 3 years ago | (#34560892)

Could that be because their office space has become so worthless that anywhere else is preferable?

Exactly. Its not like executives are standing in line to give up their large, expansive, windowed offices.

What really needs to happen is more and more jobs need to done remotely. Employees can then have a room dedicated to work. Email, IM, phone/video conference, and periodic in office meetings are all that are required for professionals. Obviously, not everything can be addressed this way. Just the same, the foot print and utility savings can be considerable for a large workforce.

Re:Causality (1)

mcgrew (92797) | more than 3 years ago | (#34560934)

More like "We can shrink these cubicles because today's dumb kids will put up with it!"

It seems to have gotten worse and worse since the end of the Great Depression. I put up with shit my dad would never have dreamed of putting up with, my daughter puts up with shit I would never have dreamed of putting up with.

I have no idea.... (4, Interesting)

Haedrian (1676506) | more than 3 years ago | (#34560330)

Why people still like cubicles.

The place I worked had an open plane. My team members had connecting desks to each other. If I needed anything (since I worked in ICT - needing someone else is common) - all I had to do it talk, or move my chair a bit. I think cubicles aren't very good for morale anyway.

Re:I have no idea.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34560370)

The place I worked had an open plane.

Easy to fly to wherever you want?

Re:I have no idea.... (2)

Jimmy King (828214) | more than 3 years ago | (#34560374)

This is what we do where I work, too. There are only 2 of us now, but it was pretty cool back before upper management laid everyone off. It definitely made for higher morale being able to easily communicate, both seriously and for fun, with co-workers and made staying late for projects not quite so awful.

Re:I have no idea.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34560478)

but it was pretty cool back before upper management laid everyone off.

Yahoo employee ?

Re:I have no idea.... (5, Insightful)

nblender (741424) | more than 3 years ago | (#34560640)

yeah; not so much.. As you get older and gain more experience (while doing everything possible to prevent being moved into a management track), you value your privacy... During the work day, I have to deal with personal matters (calls from the boy's school, wife, accountant, etc) and having a cow-orker 3 feet away pretending not to listen is not optimal... In an open plan, people have to get up, transfer the call to some meeting room and take it there, while running across the office with paperwork or what have you. Then there's the little mental breaks you take throughout the day to let your mind stew on a hard problem; you don't want someone staring at your monitor from behind you... Don't get me wrong, my employer gets plenty of work out of me and they're very happy with my performance and my pay is commensurate with that assertion..

Currently, I have a cubicle somewhere in the building... I don't know where it is; I've never seen it. I assume it's like all the other cubicles in the building.. I work in a lab primarily because I need access to hardware and test equipment... The lab is somewhat open-plan but I have a private little corner that I've managed to arrange by moving benches around... It's noisy enough in the lab that I can keep from getting distracted by people milling about or make my phone calls without anyone listening in... I can focus for long periods when I need to and the restricted access to the lab prevents a lot of people from just wandering in for a visit...

When I need to communicate with my cow-orkers, we all use Jabber.. If you're focused, you can hide your jabber window and not be disturbed... I get to choose when distraction is permissible or unwanted.

Re:I have no idea.... (1)

plate_o_shrimp (948271) | more than 3 years ago | (#34560428)

Nor do I. Cubicles are terrible. Give me an office with a door!

Re:I have no idea.... (1)

Seumas (6865) | more than 3 years ago | (#34560504)

People don't like cubicles. Companies like cubicles. They're cheap. More importantly, a company with a huge portfolio of properties that they lease out to businesses can have a largely empty floor plan and the people leasing the space can configure it however they want, with cubicles. Ironically, cubicles were originally created to "break down the fascist walls that divide us" and give us an open, social, level community. Instead, it has become representative of exactly the opposite. They oppose individuality, privacy, and make people feel like cattle.

I've telecommuted almost my entire life, so I have a rather luxurious office space that allows me to focus on my work without interruptions. However, I did have an office for awhile a few years ago and it reminded me exactly why I never want to have one again. It was in a building with about 8,000 other employees and it five feet by five feet. With a giant drawer/table thing in the corner that took up too much room. And a huge building support column right in the middle of the cubicle. And I had to cram three machines in there. And two 21" CRTs. And a 17" CRT. And a thin-client on my desk for the intranet. And a phone.

Miserable.

Re:I have no idea.... (3, Interesting)

Creepy (93888) | more than 3 years ago | (#34560938)

Companies like cubicles because they are a vastly cheaper way to convert warehouse type space to office like space, and while they don't completely block out noise, they divert it enough so that while one worker is on the phone with a customer, that customer hears you, not the person sitting next to you talking about her cat.

Having worked in call centers with cubicles and without, I vastly prefer cubicles, though I'd prefer never to work in a call center again (both of those were college temp jobs).

I do some telecommuting, but having moved to an Agile team at work makes that a bit more difficult (we don't follow Agile exactly because employees are strewn across about 6 sites, but we do use a lot of collaboration tech to work around that, like virtual teleconferencing and netmeeting-like desktop sharing).

Re:I have no idea.... (4, Funny)

hosecoat (877680) | more than 3 years ago | (#34560724)

Why people still like cubicles.

The cubicle wall provides a place to hide when a button-down, Oxford-cloth psycho who is sick of working in a cubicle snaps, and then stalk the office with an Armalite AR-10 carbine gas-powered semi-automatic weapon, pumping round after round into colleagues and co-workers.

Re:I have no idea.... (1)

Amorymeltzer (1213818) | more than 3 years ago | (#34560740)

I think it depends on the industry and business model. A lot of successful companies are moving to the open, bull-pen format for just that reason - efficiency - as well as cost. There are some holdouts, though, and places that thrive because some people (good executives, for example) take a strong leadership role may want to keep cubicles because sometimes a little privacy and quiet is necessary. I know people who are swapping away from cubicles and one of their worries is that, as reliable workers, the already frequent interruptions from their colleagues will only increase.

Re:I have no idea.... (1)

alcourt (198386) | more than 3 years ago | (#34560782)

People like the illusion of privacy. They like that it is a minor nuisance to bother them and that they have a space that they can make a little bit more their own than is typically considered proper in a more open environment. I know that many people where I work were uncomfortable with open floor plans for this very reason. In some extreme cases, people have effectively constructed cube walls for themselves with books and other items just to let them work better.

The lack of visual distractions of others moving can be significant to some.

Re:I have no idea.... (1)

kellyb9 (954229) | more than 3 years ago | (#34560810)

If you work for a larger company, the likelihood that you actually work in the same location as your co-workers is extremely diminished. I'm not in the same office as any of the people I work with, so this arrangement would be far less efficient for me. Actually, it would probably be a huge distraction which is why I don't mind cubes. I think people prefer a certain level of privacy. I'd work from home, but there are far too many distractions there to occupy my time (it's really not for everyone).

Re:I have no idea.... (4, Informative)

TheRaven64 (641858) | more than 3 years ago | (#34560826)

The recommendation in Peopleware (which my father's company used, independently) is to buy a load of tall and thick cubicle dividers, leave them in the corner of the office, and let your employees arrange the office to suit themselves. This generally ends up with teams that need to work together joining their desks and using the dividers to make sure that they can talk without interrupting anyone else (and vice versa).

If anybody needs me... (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34560350)

I'll be in the basement, clutching my red stapler.

Re:If anybody needs me... (1)

magbottle (929624) | more than 3 years ago | (#34560538)

"one, two, three....'

"no wait..."

"five, ten, fifteen...."

Your no longer cattle (0)

Anne_Nonymous (313852) | more than 3 years ago | (#34560352)

Now you're veal.

Disposable workforce? (1)

Okind (556066) | more than 3 years ago | (#34560358)

"Younger workers' lives are all integrated, not segregated," says Larry Rivard. "They have learned to work anywhere — at a kitchen table or wherever."

Maybe I'm an ergonomics nut (I always insist on a proper chair and desk, plus a good monitor height), but do these younger workers expect to make it until their retirement?
Working just anywhere is very destructive to your body, unless you pay sufficient attention to ergonomics.

Worldwide translation (4, Funny)

Errol backfiring (1280012) | more than 3 years ago | (#34560372)

In the USA, office employees are kept in a sort of shoe-box with a size that, for understandable reasons, is measured in feet. Those boxes have shrunk.

Re:Worldwide translation (1)

thijsh (910751) | more than 3 years ago | (#34560542)

Plus the overall amount of red staplers available to the workforce has decreased by an incalculable amount that, for unfathomable reasons, is measured in a library of congress amount of staples times Boeing 747 total stapler length.

Re:Worldwide translation (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34560750)

In the USA, office employees are kept in a sort of shoe-box with a size that, for understandable reasons, is measured in feet. Those boxes have shrunk.

There's a plan to start measuring them in cm so that people think that their space is increasing.

"Awesome! My cubicle went from 50 sq/ft to 46, 451.5 square centimeters! And it sounds so exotic - centimeters - I'm in one of those luxury European made cubes!"

Alternative worldwide translation (2)

BenoitRen (998927) | more than 3 years ago | (#34560908)

LOL! Thanks, that really cracked me up. Now, here's an alternative translation for us wacky metric system users:

In the 1970s, American corporations typically thought they needed 152,40 to 213,36 square meters per employee to build an effective office, but the LA Times reports that today's average is a little more than 60,96 square meters per person, and the space allocation could hit a mere 15,24 square meters by 2015. "We're at a very interesting inflection point in real estate history," says Peter Miscovich who studies workplace trends. "The next 10 years will be very different than the last 30." Although cubicles have shrunk from an average of 19,51 meters to 14,94 meters in recent years, companies are looking for more ways to compress their real estate footprint with offices that squeeze together workstations while setting aside a few rooms where employees can conduct meetings or have private phone conversations. "Younger workers' lives are all integrated, not segregated," says Larry Rivard. "They have learned to work anywhere — at a kitchen table or wherever.""

Working from Home? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34560382)

And what about working from home when possible. I think EVERYONE can benefits from this... even mother earth!

Re:Working from Home? (4, Insightful)

alcourt (198386) | more than 3 years ago | (#34560676)

I work from home and have done so for over ten years now. I've made it work successfully. I will very openly state that many of my coworkers cannot effectively work from home.

The reasons that work from home isn't always a good idea vary. Some people require the human face to face contact. Others require the firmer separation, the act of actually going to another building to put them in the work mindset. Some do not have a home situation amenable to working from home. Some are just in jobs that require too much interaction with the rest of the team or just cannot be done remotely. (People who's job requires physical access to specific hardware without waiting an hour for the person to get there.)

Even many of my coworkers who do work from home make excuses to go into the office periodically to meet with peers for lunch. This helps smooth over issues so that work is done more smoothly.

You don't need a whole lot (0)

BadAnalogyGuy (945258) | more than 3 years ago | (#34560394)

When it's just you and your PC, you really don't need a whole lot of space. 7x7 feet seems about right for a comfortable cubicle.

These days many workers don't even have desktop PCs anymore. Everything is done on laptops via wifi. The only static device in the cube is the large monitor which attaches as a second screen to the laptop.

From another perspective, even these cubicles are unnecessary since you could put out a few couches and the employees will work with the laptops from just about anywhere they want. The freedom this provides is important and helps to foster creativity and a lively work atmosphere.

Doors and real offices are certainly necessary for some types of workers. Managers need offices to focus on their planning, so a true office is a must. However, given that a private room can usually be prepared for everyone's usage, the rank and file can usually get their private time taken care of in a shared room.

I'm not surprised by this development at all. It makes a lot of sense to maximize the space, and given how so many employees are versatile and can work from anywhere, it doesn't make sense to waste a lot of room building offices that they can't effectively use.

Re:You don't need a whole lot (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34560590)

When it's just you and your PC, you really don't need a whole lot of space. 7x7 feet seems about right for a comfortable cubicle.

While this might be true for some office workers, it is far from true for all. Anyone in engineering or architecture can tell you that that isn't nearly enough. Try managing a half dozen 2' x 3' sheets of paper and a stack of notes in that small of space. Or even better, the roll sized sheets I sometimes have to deal with which are three feet wide and as much as ten feet long. It's just not enough room.

Re:You don't need a whole lot (0)

BadAnalogyGuy (945258) | more than 3 years ago | (#34560698)

Obviously there would be exceptions to this, but in general most office workers do not need a whole lot of space.

Someone mentioned it above, but a lot of that room used to be taken up by a large CRT. Now with thin panel monitors, that space can be reclaimed. An old 17" CRT could easily take up 24x24 inches of desk space. That's 2 feet the walls can be pulled in resulting in savings of up to 30 square feet (9x9 to 7x7 feet).

Re:You don't need a whole lot (1)

BenoitRen (998927) | more than 3 years ago | (#34560952)

From another perspective, even these cubicles are unnecessary since you could put out a few couches and the employees will work with the laptops from just about anywhere they want.

If you want the men to fry their balls [slashdot.org] , go ahead.

Less is more (1)

Chninkel (1396241) | more than 3 years ago | (#34560400)

"With all those big CRT monitors replaced by thin LCD ones, employee have too much space. Let's reduce that cubicle a bit"

Re:Less is more (1)

teh kurisu (701097) | more than 3 years ago | (#34560668)

There wouldn't have been a computer on every desk in the 1970s. I think it's more down to the fact that there's a lot less paper being shuffled in your average 2010 office than there was back then, which would take up a lot of desk space.

Personally, I would manage perfectly well with a desk half the size of what I have. I don't manage the extra space well; it just tends to accumulate clutter.

Re:Less is more (1)

Sir_Sri (199544) | more than 3 years ago | (#34560854)

ya I remember 15 or so years ago (maybe a bit more than that) when employees all had both computers AND archives of paper and books everywhere. They had more cubicle space, and less elbow room. Today they have less cubicle space, and more elbow room. Document management systems, laptops, google, and desks that are actually designed for computers and not just whatever table they could find that was the right height make a big difference.

I used to be a ninja computer installer. We'd go in to a company between 4:30 and 5:30 pm, talk to their manager to see if there were any last minute changes. And then replace all the computers in an area overnight. Offices and their contents have changed a lot. People used to have their own paper archives of stuff, that's all gone. Technical people especially would have fairly large personal collections of books, again, mostly gone. People have books but it's less reference material and more specifically topical. People don't have their own printers anymore, and they usually don't have their own legacy machines in their cubicle (which used to happen a lot in some places like GE but not others). I don't really know how long the 'legacy' systems stuck around for or didn't, since by definition we didn't take those away, but a lot of people had 2 or 3 full desktop systems which you don't see much outside of places that are in the computing business directly. The other thing is concepts of what separable work is seem to be in flux. It's less of a you sit in that cubicle and drone away and more of a come in, meet with people discuss things etc. then go to your cubicle and do something. I'm not sure that's a better for productivity, but when I'm actually doing work now it seems like there's less of a show up and sit in your cube for 8 hours.

So let them work at home (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34560420)

So let them work at home, if they're used to working anywhere, why not?

PS are the younger generation of C*O's going to get smaller offices too, because they'll be used to working anywhere too.

Too much uncertainty in corporate real estate (1)

Billly Gates (198444) | more than 3 years ago | (#34560452)

With nightmarish escrow (yes commercial real estate has this now too) and little ROI for Wall Street why invest in more buildings?

Co-workers who use speaker phone (2)

spamking (967666) | more than 3 years ago | (#34560474)

Our freaking cubes are so tight (less than 100 square feet) and small that simply talking on the phone is a total pain. There's a guy in the cube next to me who always has to use his speaker phone for EVERY call. I can't even hear myself think when he's on the phone.

That alone should be reason enough to not support cubicles.

Re:Co-workers who use speaker phone (1)

MillionthMonkey (240664) | more than 3 years ago | (#34560786)

You think you've got it bad... I have TWO people in adjacent cubes on loud speakerphones with clients somewhere and every idiotic thing they say echoes three times.

Then there's the guy faintly humming weird music in the adjacent cube on the other side, along with the chick nearby whose phone rings some awful song whenever she leaves it on her desk.

Should I appreciate the sight barriers, even if I don't get a noise barrier? It's hard to say.

Cubicles? Who needs them anyway? (1)

elsurexiste (1758620) | more than 3 years ago | (#34560476)

You can have huge desks where everyone get together if you want to save space. Alternatively, allow your employees to work a few days per week on their homes.

Backwards... (0)

msauve (701917) | more than 3 years ago | (#34560486)

This is America. Cubes aren't shrinking, workers are getting larger.

Welcome to my world (2)

niks42 (768188) | more than 3 years ago | (#34560500)

My personal office space is 36 square feet; I am lucky enough to have a window along one edge. I spend most of my working life with a headset on to shut out the interference to my concentration from my near neighbours, four of whom I could hit with a baseball bat (quite cheerfully, as it happens) without leaving my chair. Welcome to the world of being an IT Architect.

Re:Welcome to my world (1)

Enderandrew (866215) | more than 3 years ago | (#34560600)

I had a large office at my last job. In fact, it was an office designed for three people, but with layoffs it became my office solely. Now I sit in a fairly small 36 square foot cubicle as well, but I don't feel cramped. I don't need to store file folders or anything like that. My desk is large enough for three monitors, my phone, a digital photo frame, and I still have plenty of room.

Our cubicles really only have one tall wall, so we have an open space down a row where I can talk with my coworkers. We all use headsets when we're on calls, and if I take a personal call I just leave my desk area.

Some might say we're learning to accept less, but I actually prefer how social our format is.

Re:Welcome to my world (1)

turtleshadow (180842) | more than 3 years ago | (#34560886)

I haven't had but once a window for my shared office/cube in 15 years of IT.

I think that EU building architects are way ahead of US building architects for sunshine and Natural Ventilation.

Wireless really helped when it was permitted to work that way. To many coworkers abused that flexibility. We had garden quads within walking distance that helped as well. If upwind of the smokers you could actually feel naturally human at some point during the work day.

Dell has cubes that are... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34560522)

7x3x4 feet... you do the math... you won't - its 80 something sq feet... =/

Re:Dell has cubes that are... (1)

clone52431 (1805862) | more than 3 years ago | (#34560550)

My math said those feet were cubic, not square.

Bunk desks! (1)

Geeky (90998) | more than 3 years ago | (#34560526)

I've had this idea for a while - why not exploit the third dimension. Bunk desks - they're the answer!

Seriously, here in the UK open plan offices are the norm. We've recently escaped plans to reduce the size of our desks to little more than the width of keyboard + mousemat.

Re:Bunk desks! (1)

niks42 (768188) | more than 3 years ago | (#34560548)

Isn't that what a 'mezzanine' floor is? Seen lots of those for hot desk areas in a number of companies.

Re:Bunk desks! (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34560678)

Or have twice as many floors in the same vertical space. Getting round the building would be uncomfortable but if you spend most of the day sitting down you'd hardly notice.

Re:Bunk desks! (1)

kellyb9 (954229) | more than 3 years ago | (#34560764)

Is it too early to call the top desk?

Maybe it's not the cubicles getting smaller (5, Funny)

petes_PoV (912422) | more than 3 years ago | (#34560546)

maybe it's the occupants getting larger.

42 (2)

phrostie (121428) | more than 3 years ago | (#34560552)

I just checked mine and it's 6' x 7'.

OMG, 42!
it all makes sense now!

new (2)

Gunkerty Jeb (1950964) | more than 3 years ago | (#34560568)

I am new to this whole work world thing. I write for the most part. My problem with cubicles is this: at times all my co-workers in the cubicles around are making sales calls, or discussing web dev stuff, or just hamming it up, and I find it extremely hard to concentrate. It may just be that I am new to the game, but it does get a bit frustrating.

It's not driven by real estate prices (4, Insightful)

Wansu (846) | more than 3 years ago | (#34560572)

In most areas, commercial real estate is going empty.

This is being driven by a desire to control employees. They want to huddle them close together so they are easier to watch and they tend to police each other.

Re:It's not driven by real estate prices (1)

ciaohound (118419) | more than 3 years ago | (#34560796)

Also, as with ladybugs, it's an effective strategy for overwintering.

i'm rooting for 0 square feet (2)

shadowrat (1069614) | more than 3 years ago | (#34560582)

I have no need to even be at the office. I can work remotely just fine. Gone are the days of piles of paper and shelves of reference books. I never have to file away physical files. Most of my communications with my coworkers is via instant messaging and email. For reference i am a software engineer. I am currently working on convincing my company to let me work from the road in my RV.

cubes suck hind tit (1)

confused one (671304) | more than 3 years ago | (#34560592)

hate it. Had an office and when I really needed to concentrate I could close the door. Then they said they needed the office space so moved me into my lab. Fine, I spent a lot of time there anyway and I could ignore the sound of the equipment running. Now there are three (3) cubes in my lab space, I'm in one. The space in each is only 44 sq ft. But at least the partitions are 6 foot tall; so, I can pretend to concentrate. In 4 month we're moving into a new building, with cubes. And the partition walls are 4 foot tall.

So, the point of the rant is, How in Hell do you expect me to concentrate on my work with no opportunity for peace and quiet?

Sq F (4, Funny)

FrostedWheat (172733) | more than 3 years ago | (#34560596)

American corporations typically thought they needed 500 to 700 square feet per employee

Who's running these corporations? Millipedes?

Extrapolation games (1)

Skater (41976) | more than 3 years ago | (#34560602)

In the 1970s, American corporations typically thought they needed 500 to 700 square feet per employee to build an effective office, but the LA Times reports that today's average is a little more than 200 square feet per person, and the space allocation could hit a mere 50 square feet by 2015.

Then in 2025, everyone's cubicles will be two square feet! In 2035, it'll be negative 10 square feet! Zager and Evans will have NOTHING on this!

Sorry, I'm just enjoying the silly extrapolation.

In other news... (2)

retech (1228598) | more than 3 years ago | (#34560616)

The copious amounts of space top level executives in the USA take up has grown exponentially in the last 30 years. It is estimated that in the next 10 years they will need infinite space to just barely function. "I need more space than a third world factory just for my golf stuff. I have no idea where I'll put all my awards and toys. I'm really super worried about this." One Fortune 500 CEO is quoted as saying.

Moore's Law... (1)

khr (708262) | more than 3 years ago | (#34560622)

I guess it's somewhat related to Moore's law... As the tools we work with get a greater capacity in a small space, so do we.

Misguided Rationalization (2, Insightful)

decipher_saint (72686) | more than 3 years ago | (#34560644)

"Younger workers' lives are all integrated, not segregated," says Larry Rivard. "They have learned to work anywhere -- at a kitchen table or wherever."

Y'know when I was younger I would have worked on a shelf if it meant I had a job and I was doing something I loved, I don't see this as anything new.

I really can't think of any cube environment I've worked in that was conducive to work, the best environments always seem to have been open, yet not too big. An open room with 6 to 8 people seems to be the magic zone.

The biggest cube I worked in was at the Provincial Gov't, they had this massive 1960s job that had two chairs, a proper desk, a fully adjustable "computer" desk and a coat rack. I kinda liked that cube because there was enough room for small meetings, pair programming and it gave you some space for thinking (without having three other noisy people two meters away from you all the time). In fact it wasn't until I got into a modern cube farm that I had to go out and buy noise cancelling headphones (though very nearly a noise cancelling shotgun).

It's weird, with walls people are loud and obnoxious, with no walls they have respect for each other.

Why even bother with cubes? (1)

gestalt_n_pepper (991155) | more than 3 years ago | (#34560658)

Issue everyone a laptop and phone with a camera and a Jabra. Let them work where they want. Measure by task and project completion and quality. How much physical interaction is necessary for most information jobs?

Re:Why even bother with cubes? (1)

alcourt (198386) | more than 3 years ago | (#34560720)

Tell that to those who have the job of escorting the field engineer onto the computer room floor, preparing the backup media for removal to secure storage, inserting new blank media into the backup silos when they run low, etc. They are also the ones I call when the monitoring tools are borked because the LOM card is on the fritz and I need someone to physically touch the system or look at it.

Re:Why even bother with cubes? (1)

woan (1629447) | more than 3 years ago | (#34560780)

There are few things that can substitute for the richness of communication of a bunch of people around a white board. For collaborative and agile teams working on products where the folks are not representative of the ultimate customer, colocation is incredibly effective. Even better when they are colocated with their customers. I have heard of a number of financial firms in particular moving IT teams out of their silos.

Smaller, smaller, smallest... (1)

Chemisor (97276) | more than 3 years ago | (#34560666)

For some reason I am reminded of that ISS living quarters tour [slashdot.org] .

Looks like... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34560674)

"We're at a very interesting inflection point in real estate history," says Peter Miscovich who studies workplace trends. "The next 10 years will be very different than the last 30."

We got a regular Einstein over here.

Maybe becaseu that kitchen table is the only thing (1)

Fallen Kell (165468) | more than 3 years ago | (#34560704)

... that you give them. And if they don't work there, they get fired.....

This is obviously a stupid trend ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34560728)

Where I work has disbanded cubes altogether for one large noisy area. There is always bad music playing or people talking or some other distraction. I now work from home. My commit rate is 10x the other three programmers combined, my defect list on that code is proportionately less as well.

This has no context until you understand that my commit rate and defect rates were comparable to everyone else when I was working in the office ... the huge improvement is correlated to when I started working from home. The only other person that gets anything accomplished is the project manager, surprise he has an office.

Desk Space has become irrelevant (5, Insightful)

kellyb9 (954229) | more than 3 years ago | (#34560732)

I think the reason for cubicle shrinkage has more to do with how irrelevant desk space has become over the past 30 or 40 years. Everyone works off of computers and doesn't need a large amount of desk space - at least not as large as they had in the past. I have very little on my desk, mostly personal items (pictures, cell phone, MP3 player, etc.). 30 years ago desks would have to accomodate stacks of paper and notepads, and they would also need the ability to spread these items out.

context (1)

fermion (181285) | more than 3 years ago | (#34560734)

This has to be taken in context. In my first jobs I have maybe many linear feet of bookshelves, a work table table that was maybe 100 square feet itself, separate telephone, separate fax, large space for computers. The office was maybe 400 square feet. Pretty quickly that moved to a fewer books and small computer. Office shrank to maybe than 200. I recall one place where the office would have been huge except I had a big printer in it. By the time the late 90's hit my required reference and reading shrunk what would on my desk. By 2000 I basically just needed a laptop with a internet connection.

Office space is money. One issue with business is that money is wasted on real estate instead of filling core objectives, such as providing quality products. Instead profits have to be jacked up to pay for real estate, which means less ability to compete with more agile firms. I never had an office of 500 square feet. Maybe that is because I have tended to work for small competitive firms, rather than large in efficient corporations. And just to head off the wasteful government kick, the people I know in government have cubicle that are around 50 square feet.

Productivity and Corporate Estates? (1)

glatiak (617813) | more than 3 years ago | (#34560736)

I am happy that some people can work sharing a table with a bunch of other people. But I never could -- when working as a software architect I needed to keep the door closed to maintain the quiet I needed to focus. But thats me. In reading this, I am curious about two things -- one, does anyone correlate the workspace and degree of voluntary isolation with their productivity? And two, are the executive offices shrinking by the same amount? Guess everyone should be grateful that they are not yet chained to their keyboards and phones for their work period.

Re:Productivity and Corporate Estates? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34560910)

I am happy that some people can work sharing a table with a bunch of other people. But I never could -- when working as a software architect I needed to keep the door closed to maintain the quiet I needed to focus. But thats me. In reading this, I am curious about two things -- one, does anyone correlate the workspace and degree of voluntary isolation with their productivity? And two, are the executive offices shrinking by the same amount? Guess everyone should be grateful that they are not yet chained to their keyboards and phones for their work period.

Executive space is going the other way or staying the same. If the executive space is staying constant, then the recovered space from the worker bees is going to make more room for more servers. :-):-)

I resemble that! (1)

wholestrawpenny (1809456) | more than 3 years ago | (#34560766)

I feel like I'm in the shrinking trash compactor in Star Wars...

battery farms are next (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34560774)

After all, why not stack? and if we put a conveyor belt arrangement under your cage/cubicle, you don't have to leave for the restroom. Aha! more productivity.

Fine, put the execs in cubes too (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34560792)

Let's see, if this really is more productive then let's put all the executives in cubicles too. The CEO and CFO and COO can all share a wall so they're near each other. The VP's can have the half-wall cubes next to their department heads.

Bastards.

Isnt that the size of a Japanese apartment? (0)

Coldegg (1956060) | more than 3 years ago | (#34560808)

Just kidding of course... but really take our space for granted. I live on an acre and a half outside Chicago... and honestly, I hate that we have so much space that we don't even have decent public transportation outside the cities. I have to drive 15 miles to get to the train station to head down town, and outside of that public transportation in the states is simply archaic compared to most other countries.

Perhaps we don't "need more space". Do cubicles suck? Yeah they do... but, if you wanted enough space to fit every modern day employee in a 500 - 700 sq ft apartment, you'd better be okay with them cutting out a pretty large chunk of your pay check because that would be costly.

In a perfect world, everybody would telecommute and then drop by the office once or twice a week to ensure the company's atmosphere is cohesive, etc. The solution isn't to try and get everybody a bigger office.

Heck, I'm okay with working in 10 sq feet at Starbucks as much as possible... what people need isn't more space, but something that draws them away from the fact that cubicles are representative of our contained, lackluster lifes.

paper or plastic? (1)

Ephemeriis (315124) | more than 3 years ago | (#34560812)

To a certain degree, I guess this probably makes sense.

A few years back you'd be working with physical paper. You needed room for filing cabinets. You needed a big enough desk to get work done. You needed paper, pencils, pens, a typewriter, whatever.

These days you've got a computer. You just need room for a monitor and keyboard, and you can cram the box itself under the desk somewhere.

But I think the bigger picture is that employers are genuinely squeezing as much out of their employees as they can.

We're expected to be productive every single minute that we're in the office. Any kind of downtime is frowned-upon. Vacation time is hard to come by. And now some companies are hiring PIs to make sure employees calling in sick are actually sick. Folks get work-related email virtually 24/7 on their smartphones. Folks plug into a VPN and work from home routinely. Folks are expected to work long hours.

And now they're cramming more people into smaller physical spaces.

Anything they can do to get more productivity out of fewer people for less money.

Another example of mgt/tech staff disconnect (1)

thermowax (179226) | more than 3 years ago | (#34560828)

Thankfully, I have an office (and an officemate, but he's cool) now but I have done the cubicle sea thing in the past. I realize the apparent economy of cubicles, but the loss of productivity must be staggering. If I'm deep in the middle of a firewall hack, or trying to configure a router without bringing the entire company down, I *really* need to be able to concentrate. I know my productivity suffers greatly. I found myself working off-hours just to avoid having to listen to the idiot two rows over yap with his bookie or frat brother or whatever he was doing. This also probably impacted productivity, because my hours then overlapped less with the rest of the company.

And, to those of you who can screen out the world with headphones: I envy you. Maybe it's a by-product of being a musician, but even if I put classical music on, it's distracting because I actually find myself listening to it. The noise canceling headsets make me feel like my head is full of cotton.

Not just telecommuting? (1)

ghornik (1408395) | more than 3 years ago | (#34560832)

I'm surprised that more companies aren't going to an essentially all telecommuting workforce, with a limited number of shared workspaces for those who may be in the office at any particular time.

Re:Not just telecommuting? (1)

KermodeBear (738243) | more than 3 years ago | (#34560956)

The problem with telecommuting is that managers don't get that "face time" that they do desperately love. It's a control thing.

I'm lucky in that regard. Right now I spend two days in the office, and the other three working at home. It's a deal I negotiated with my current employer when I was offered work elsewhere. It works well - the management gets that warm fuzzy feeling that I'm a real person, and the other three days of the week I can actually get work done.

I have suggested multiple times that my company allow everyone to do this, perhaps after an initial onboarding period of six months or whatever. They keep having to buy more office space, and they recently transformed an area of cubes into one of those open floor plans. Everyone hates it, production has gone down the drain.

Anyway, the management always says, "Well, how do I know if people are working if they're not in the office?" The answer is simple: Are they meeting their deadlines? Can they show you the work they have done? If not, they're not working, and sitting in the office won't help that anyway. Boot them and get someone who will do the work.

It's a feature (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34560840)

When our cubicles were "refactored" into much smaller units we were told that it was a "feature" to help us be productive. No more having to "stretch" across the cubical to get papers, etc. The thing was, if they just told us that they wanted to cram more of us in the same space we would have been fine with it, but spinning it just insulted us.

Meh (1)

Quiet_Desperation (858215) | more than 3 years ago | (#34560860)

I need to concentrate. My requests at work for a small pocket universe have gone unanswered, sadly.

size doesn't matter much (1)

emkyooess (1551693) | more than 3 years ago | (#34560928)

I'd be fine with space even half of what I have. Just give me full-height walls and a door. Thanks.

fine with cubes, but give me walls and a door (1)

erac3rx (832099) | more than 3 years ago | (#34560936)

I'm fine with being in a small space. I just need a desk for my laptop and a phone, plus a place to stash my bag and coat. But for the love of god, give me some privacy and quiet. I need to be able to talk on the phone with some privacy. I need to be able to think without putting on headphones. Bottom line, if you want me to come to work rather than work at home... you need to make it not be worse than working at home in every possible way. I have a toddler and an infant at home, so one would think I would do anything to leave. Yet at the office I have two coworkers constantly talking to each other, others loudly talking on the phone, the temperature is ridiculously variant to the point that I have an extra coat in my cube and always wear layers, the cafeteria food is awful and oddly more expensive than fast food... plus I have to drive 15 minutes each way (an easy commute) to have the privilege. If you want me to commute, make it worth it. As it is I do anything I can to avoid going to the office because I am _far more productive at home_. Make the office awesome for getting work done, or bail on the concept entirely. This "how little can we get away with" mentality is a waste of money and time for everyone.

Open Spaces Suck (1)

agibson57 (1229752) | more than 3 years ago | (#34560942)

You Asperger cases who love open floor plans and cramped work spaces haven't read Tom DeMarco and Tim Lister's Peopleware, have you? You probably hate Joel Spolsky too. Go pick your noses and giggle somewhere else. Give me some space to concentrate and think about my work.
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