We often neglect to acknowledge the paramount importance of the office cubicle. Yet, it is difficult to identify another piece of office furniture, which has had a greater impact on the efficient use of office space or on the workforce at large. The cubicle has transformed the ways in which employees function both independently and interdependently with colleagues, fueling personal creativity and productiveness while encouraging necessary interactivity within the office. The history and evolution of the cubicle reflects the corporate responsibility to respond to the ever-changing economy, while providing their employees with optimum comfort and encouraging productivity in the office.
Herman Miller (an accomplished designer) collaborated with Robert Propst (an esteemed inventor and artist) to assemble a design, which would solve issues regarding office furniture and efficient use of space in the office. Propst envisioned a workspace that offered both privacy and room to interact. These proposed workspaces would be organized into rows. However, after much trial and error, and taking into consideration customer feedback, innovators realized the greater practicality of organizing these panels into a cube formation—hence the birth of the cubicle!
During the Energy Crisis of the 1970s businesses downsized and offices became more tightly packed. However, with the cheap production and a new tax deduction, there was a dramatic increase in cubicle sales between 1977 and 1997. There were still a few kinks to smooth over.
In the 1980s, the image of the cubicle shifted. Companies merged and shrank. Consequentially, cubicles were shrinking by twenty-five to fifty percent in size. As companies downsized further, employees with private offices were relocated into cubicles. This made for a more oppressive and disheartening working environment. Demoted employees were discouraged by the lack of lighting and creative atmosphere in the cubicle. In response to public discontent, businesses felt pressure to expand employee personal workspace. In 1994, the average cubicle space was extended to about ninety square feet. The importance of a flexible workspace, which encourages movement and innovation, became apparent. The cubicle continued to modernize.
Through the years, like most products, the office cubicle underwent numerous experimental phases. This process of trial and error, and responding to public response, has helped the cubicle to evolve into the quality product it is today. To remedy the mundane plainness of the cubicles of the past, today’s cubicles offer brighter fabric options that create a more uplifting working environment. There are now an abundance of additional features like lighting options, which are tailored to the specific needs of employees. Particular configurations, designs, styles, colors, and sizes are selected to best suite a specific workspace—after all, no two workspaces are the same!
Today, employee comfort is of utmost concern. Optimal space and frequent movement is strongly encouraged. More than ever, employees embrace their cubicles by decorating and personalizing their space. Rather than viewing their cubicles as purely restrictive, today’s employees tend to focus on the cubicle’s potential. The office cubicle, when utilized effectively, minimizes distraction, and maintains space for privacy and personal expression. The modern cubicle encourages an interactive, yet focused working environment.