The cubicle: Space-saver or productivity-killer?

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Cubicles are ubiquitous in the modern workplace, and the space-saving (and related cost-saving) benefits are obvious. But how do cubicles – and the resulting close proximity between colleagues – impact worker productivity? JLL’s Bob Best discusses a Harvard Business Review article  by Sarah Green Carmichael that explores this phenomenon. 

The cubicle is a mainstay of modern office design – offering privacy without the expense of a private office, yet still facilitating collaboration and open communication among workers. However, in reality, working from a “cube” can breed dissatisfaction and, in some cases, even reduce worker productivity.

The biggest complaint from cubicle dwellers? Noise – in terms of both noise level and space privacy. Whether distracted from the task at hand by a colleague’s loud conversation in the next cubicle or concerned about finding a private space to discuss a sensitive situation, the research is clear – the noise factor is a major cause of dissatisfaction among cubicle workers.

Furthermore, the noise level in a shared workspace isn’t just a distraction. Researchers Jungsoo Kim and Richard de Dear at the University of Sydney have actually found that lost productivity due to noise distraction is actually twice as high in open-plan offices as in private offices – and that even the “increased collaboration” such open spaces can foster does not offset this loss in productivity.

The good news is that there are many ways to reduce distracting noises in the workplace. From reducing noise sources (by separating loud equipment from quiet workspaces, for example) to decreasing noise along its pathways (via sound-absorbing tiles or panels, sound-masking, or other means) to controlling noise at the receiver (such as by providing noise-cancelling headphones or earplugs), there are many tools at your disposal to minimize the impact of noise on your employees.

Interested in learning more? Check out JLL’s Green + Productive Workplace – the Office of the Future … Today.


Bob-Best-85wBob Best is Executive VP for Technical Services with JLL, where he has worked in energy and sustainability, property management, new business development, marketing and a myriad of other areas since 1986. He is a LEED Accredited Professional, a Green Globes Professional, and co-author of The Green + Productive Workplace: The Office of the Future… Today. For Bob’s full bio, please click here

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