The Shrinking Office Cubicle: Making More Out of Less.

Posted by: Mitchell H. Kirsch 1 comments

A recent study shows that the average office cubicle has shrunk, compared to its size from the 90s. The average office cubicle worker enjoys about 17% less cubicle space than his equivalent from 1994, who had a glorious 90 square feet of space to work in, compared to today’s measly 75 square feet.

The same study, published by the International Facility Management Association (IFMA), finds that most cubicles have shrunk from 8×10 to about 5×5. (Check out this article from the Chicago Tribune to see exactly how much space has been trimmed out from under us!)

The Score: Cost Cutting 1, Office Cubicle Space 0

Where’d our spacious office cubicles go? Part of the blame for their disappearance goes to our tottering economy – soaring rents, among other rising overhead costs, are behind the push to cram more workers into smaller spaces. After all, real estate costs are known to be amongst the largest cost for businesses, after the payroll.

“In recent years, we’ve seen how companies are trying to shed real estate cost,” says Shari Epstein, director of research at the IFMA. “When you have less space to work, you will try to cram as many people into one space.”

“Knowing the rents with the spaces they have, they’ve got to cram people in,” said Don Wehr of Office Furniture World in Santa Rosa, California. “Mathematically, it makes sense.”

More on shrinking office cubicles after the jump. Read more…

The New York Times reports that “in the last three years, companies have given up 137.8 million square feet nationwide, according to the real estate research firm Reis, and would most likely put more on the market if they could.” The need to redefine the space they can afford has forced even the most tradition-bound companies to innovate:

Many companies are redesigning the workplaces that remain, opening them up to make them flexible for multiple uses. Even tradition-bound firms in accounting and banking are embracing open-plan offices and other changes. They have shut sections of floors to save money on utilities, squeezed remaining employees closer together, torn down walls and downsized cubicles or gotten rid of them entirely.


When Your Office Cubicle Gives You Lemons, Make Lemonade

Some of these changes are all for the better: with the office cubicle paradigm falling victim to cost-cutting, more workplaces are looking towards more collaborative office designs that also accommodate more workers per square foot. Open office systems, for example, allow colleagues to collaborate more, increasing productivity.

The Vancouver Sun reports that some former office cubicle workers welcome the open office trend with open arms – they see themselves coming out on top in the tradeoff. “My last cubicle was tucked back in a corner, and you were lucky if you could find a window,” remembers Terry Stegman of PSA Financial, whose workplace replaced cubicles with an open workspace with better lighting and furniture.

Today, Stegman reports, “We’re surrounded by windows on three sides – we have huge conference rooms with drop-down computer screens and more access to them than we had before. And our kitchen looks like a Starbucks.”

“It makes sense,” remarks Angie Earlywine, senior workplace strategist for architectural firm HOK, noting that employers are “allocating space less to the individual and more to the team…. Managers are realizing if they give employees more space to get together and solve problems, solutions come faster.”

May 8, 2011
9:55 am

It will be interesting to see how businesses manage acoustics with open office plans. Even a small cubicle cuts the noise level at least a little. However, if there aren’t any panels, perhaps people are more sensitive to the need to speak in their “inside voice” at work to avoid disturbing others. It’s true that the days when Action Office and similar products were really intended to be about creating private offices for employees is over. Cubicles are just workstations now, so the difference between a panel system and an open system isn’t that relevant in the minds of a lot of employers.


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