It is quite a stereotypical and clichéd view we Brits have of the American workplace where workers are tucked away in individual cubicles within an office, as opposed to the more popular open plan style offices we tend to favor on this side of the Atlantic. However in truth these types of offices are far less common than we like to think these days and our American cousins have largely embraced the concept of open plan working but should we be discounting off hand the cubicles and partitioning systems that once were so favored stateside?
Whilst keeping people in the office separate from one another seems unnecessarily restrictive and unkind it can still be beneficial in situations where individual workers do require privacy and peace and quiet. In these circumstances should we be allowing staff to have their own personal enclosed space to work in? It very much depends on the nature of the work being carried out and often marketing and sales folk yearn to have others around them in close proximity to bounce off and share energy with. Conversely however some creative types such as writers and designers might very well find such an atmosphere distracting and less conducive to working.
Essentially everybody is different and therefore it’s important to find the right blend of open plan office space and more private individual workspaces for those not wishing to be disturbed. In more flexible and modern offices a combination of the two styles can be very effective, especially when staff don’t need to be tied to any one particular desk and can pick where to work from each day depending on their needs or mood at the time.
Consider the common call centre, an office type that’s only becoming more popular. Call centres require a lot of staff hooked up to a lot of phones, so you need a great deal of space and you’ll want to make the most of that space. This means cramming people in as densely as is practical, but at the same time you need to balance the need for each operative to have some degree of relative quiet and privacy in order for them to be effective in their telephone role. This is where screens and partitions have the most practical common use in today’s busy workplace. There are screens and partitions that have been specifically designed for call centre use which can absorb and therefore significantly reduce noise in the immediate vicinity. And what’s more they allow for each call centre operative to have some degree of privacy and personal space, without actually confining them to a fully enclosed separate cubicle.
So whilst we might look upon cubicles and partitions as a relic of offices of old, in truth there is just as much need today for successful office partitioning as there has ever been.
Peter White is an office space consultant with a passion for maximizing productivity and efficiency in the modern workplace