Cube Life: Keeping the Peace in Claustrophobic Work Environments

First introduced by the Herman Miller furniture company in 1967, the cubicle was considered a breakthrough in office design … more than 50 years later, many office dwellers may beg to differ.

According to data from researchers at the University of Sydney, as reported in the Harvard Business Review, “… workers in enclosed offices were by far the happiest, reporting the least amount of frustration on all 15 of the factors surveyed. Workers in cubicles with high partitions were the most miserable, reporting the lowest rates of satisfaction in 13 out of those 15 factors.”

In a study by Oxford Economics, 53% of employees surveyed said “ambient noise reduces my satisfaction and productivity,” and 29% ranked “The ability to focus and work without interruptions” as most important to them in a work environment.

And there may even be evolutionary reasons cubicles make many people uncomfortable. In an article for Psychology Today, Ron Friedman, Ph.D., writes, “Most of us instinctively enjoy sitting in sheltered locations that overlook expansive areas like parks and oceans. Think waterfront property (or apartments overlooking Central Park). In the past, the desire for settings that offered security and a view of our surroundings kept us alive and well-positioned to find our next meal.”

Friedman also notes that, “Our desire for safe locations also explains why sitting with our backs exposed can leave us feeling tense. We don’t enjoy having others sneak up on us and seek to minimize potential threat.”

So, the cube life definitely isn’t for everyone, but most employees have come to accept it as a part of working in a professional office environment. However, that doesn’t mean there won’t be conflict from time to time. That’s why it’s important to take proactive steps to help ensure the workplace is comfortable and productive for everyone.

Here are a few ideas to help foster a more positive cube life for your employees:

  • Provide Headphones – When there isn’t a physical door to close, help your employees tune out background noise by providing them with headphones to listen to their favorite tunes and get in the zone.
  • Encourage employees to schedule discussions instead of “popping in” – Constant interruptions are a part of any office environment, but can be especially problematic when you only have three walls.
  • No “prairie dogging” rule – Popping up like a prairie dog sticking its head out of its burrow is distracting enough. Add in having conversations across the department with other prairie dogs, and everyone is affected.
  • Mandatory quiet hours – Office camaraderie is important to building happy, engaged workers, but setting aside a couple blocks of time each day designated for getting down to business may be what’s needed to maintain productivity.
  • Take personal calls away from the cube – Individual employees personal lives may be important to themselves, but their neighboring cubemates may not be as interested in who is picking up the kids from school or what’s for dinner.
  • Ban the clutter – Even when it’s perfectly contained within the boundaries of an employee’s workspace, an overly cluttered cube can still have an effect on tidy neighbors.
  • Keep food in the break areas – Nothing invades personal space like a funky smell. From burnt popcorn to onions to fish, keeping offensive smells sequestered away from the work area helps everyone stay focused.

Communication and Understanding is Key
In the end, it comes down to communication and mutual respect for personal space. In many cases, coworkers may be completely unaware how their actions affect those around them, so a simple conversation is often all that’s needed to broker a bit of peace.

How do you keep the peace among your cubicle-bound employees? Let us know in the comments section below.

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One Response to Cube Life: Keeping the Peace in Claustrophobic Work Environments

  1. Pauline Alvarado April 3, 2018 at 8:41 am #

    Great information! I will share with our office staff.

    Thanks,
    Pauline Alvarado-Recruiter

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