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Dan Keldsen
Dan Keldsen
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Are Cubicles Killing Us?

There's no single "workspace" design that fits everyone's needs. Not in the physical world, not in the virtual world.

There was lots of controversy in the comments on a recent New York Times piece titled "New Ways of Designing the Modern Workplace," which called for a new workspace (i.e., Death to Cubicles! or Long Live Open Spaces!).

The commenters are writing as though their style of work is exactly how everyone else should work. Not very collaborative of them, eh?

From my own experience, and in using the VIEW assessment (which measures collaboration style, problem-solving style, and decision-making style), I've validated that some people lean toward collaborating as Externals--bouncing ideas off of others, verbally or through gestures, white boarding, etc. Others tend toward collaborating as Internals--bouncing ideas in their own heads before letting them out in some form, explaining what they've been thinking after some thought, rather than jumping in immediately or writing it down in one medium or another.

As you can see, these styles can be at odds, to say the least. Internals will see Externals as yammering away about throw-away ideas, while Externals will wonder why the Internals are just sitting there staring at them, "doing nothing."

My two cents: There's no single workspace design that fits everyone's needs. Not in the physical world, not in the virtual world.

Collaboration needs/wants can change hundreds of times a day, so don't expect open office spaces to be the solution any more than you'd expect corner offices and cubicles to be.

Aim for flexible spaces that give people privacy when they need it and openness when that's appropriate and, importantly, desired.

I currently work in an incubator/co-working space called the Cambridge Innovation Center. It's very flexible, accommodating all sorts of ways to interact--or not. At times, there isn't enough open space to use. Sometimes there isn't enough private space. But it's rare for me to experience either extreme.

How does your organization support the way you'd prefer to work? And how does your virtual collaboration environment reflect changing needs?

Leave comments below. Wherever you stand (or sit), you're not alone.

Dan Keldsen is the chief innovation officer at Information Architected Inc. (IAI), providing analysis, consulting, and workshops on Enterprise 2.0/social business and distributed convergence based on nearly 20 years of work as an analyst and consultant.

Attend Enterprise 2.0 Santa Clara, Nov. 14-17, 2011, and learn how to drive business value with collaboration, with an emphasis on how real customers are using social software to enable more productive workforces and to be more responsive and engaged with customers and business partners. Register today and save 30% off conference passes, or get a free expo pass with priority code CPHCES02. Find out more and register.

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User Rank: Apprentice
10/3/2011 | 6:29:35 PM
re: Are Cubicles Killing Us?

We definitely agree that workplaces (and work practices) are not one size fits all. Not only are there distinctly different work styles and personality traits but when you get right down to it the kinds of 'work' we do is dynamic. Mobility and a multi-generational workforce increases this complexity and requires a better understanding of the wide range of activities, behaviors and settings (physical, remote, and virtual) that together comprise 'work'. As you note collaboration is one one end of the spectrum and focused individual work on the other.

Our thinking suggests that successful workplaces need to have a coordinated platform - spaces, technologies, and organizational policies - that identifies and supports effective work activities, behaviors and settings. Such platforms must be created specifically with those performing the work to both improve their personal effectiveness and further the goals of the organization.

Although the physical design of workplaces affects us significantly, it should not be thought of in isolation from the social and technologically mediated aspects of our work life. Effective workplaces need to provide the right balance and be flexible enough to respond to changes in work and how we work.

This concept of workplace requires a multi-disciplinary approach. How does this play from the information innovation side? Thoughts from business process and change management perspectives would be appreciated.

Dan Anderson


User Rank: Apprentice
8/7/2011 | 5:03:25 AM
re: Are Cubicles Killing Us?
Deb - absolutely - in the ideal world, why shouldn't you have an environment that makes YOU as comfortable and productive as possible? Of course you CAN work in an open environment, but the longer and more often you do, the more it wears on you. It's not that it's impossible to work in one environment or the other, but that working in an environment that is opposite to your normal inclination, is very destructive to piece of mind.

Incidentally, happy to offer a trial of the VIEW assessment to you, to illustrate the differences of VIEW vs. Myers-Briggs (or Kiersey). VIEW is much more focused on problem solving, innovation and decision-making vs. personality. Can be a subtle difference to understand until you can see/feel it for yourself.

More details at:

But feel free to contact me directly, and I can provide information for taking the VIEW.

User Rank: Apprentice
8/7/2011 | 4:57:24 AM
re: Are Cubicles Killing Us?
Great points - and as a "Distantly Danish" guy (I have ancestors from a few generations ago from Denmark), I have to say I really admire the Danish approach to work environments. From information I've seen in the past, Danish buildings are not supposed to be taller than 4 floors (by government enforcement), and personnel are required to be able to see daylight from wherever they sit most of the time, while working.

Workplace design, like many design/engineering approaches has gone through an "over-complicating" phase, driven by office furniture makers whose bottom line is driven by (wait for it...) selling more and more furniture, instead of furniture and environments that support a constantly changing set of needs.

Workers should have far more say in the work environment than choosing what motivational (or de-motivational) posters, Dilbert cartoons, etc., they can decorate their cell (whoops!), or cubical.

Flexible space is far less expensive, and much more suited to handle growth, temporary temp creation, large-scale meetings, and more.

Simpler is better in many ways, which ironically is hard for many office planners to understand.
Deb Donston-Miller
Deb Donston-Miller,
User Rank: Apprentice
8/4/2011 | 1:36:20 AM
re: Are Cubicles Killing Us?
It would be nice if it weren't one extreme or the other. (I, for one, am far too easily distracted for an open environment--physically or virtually.) Maybe employees should be given a Myers Briggs test and placed accordingly :)

Deb Donston-Miller
Contributing Editor, The BrainYard
User Rank: Apprentice
8/4/2011 | 12:09:09 AM
re: Are Cubicles Killing Us?
please note that as a specialist in Interior environments Architect, we are following the trends our clients are pursuing: less rentable space (non duplicating corridors, eliminate door swing space, etc.), eliminate non full-time usable space (through sharing spaces), cutting operating costs (eliminating HVAC zones, cover more illumination with less fixtures, etc.), all this and improving productivity through improving the space/environmental quality. I agree that not all companies work the same way, maybe we should promote user priority design decisions, as opposed to bottom line priority, the way norther europe does it.
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