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.

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