The Death of the Cubicle, and Other Workplace Trends

Twitter’s San Francisco HQ, designed by Interior Architects

As tenants transition from hard-lined telephones to VOIP, abandon private offices for open areas and clamor for “brick and timber” creative spaces versus “view space”, demand for less traditional office space is on the rise.

Sure, it didn’t take a futurist to figure out that fax machines would soon be nothing more than an ancient office relic, but the cubicle?  Along with the coffee maker and printing room, cubes are the last bastion of the traditional office, and according to workplace strategist Mary Lee Duff of Interior Architects, who recently completed the design of Twitter’s new San Francisco headquarters, demand for them is waning.

The traditional concept of the high panel Dilbert cubicle has definitely been diminishing.  The drive today is for workplace settings to be more open and collaborative with a strong emphasis on flexibility.  For some clients that means going into benching systems, for others it is simply lowering the panel walls and being able to offer greater control over how to reconfigure one’s own space.

Configurability of the office space is paramount to tenants’ desires; something cubicles do not intrinsically lend themselves to.  Tenants are increasingly demanding fluidity and flexibility in almost a minimalist fashion.  Big clunky cubes that cannot be reconfigured or moved without contracting a furniture installer are more frequently being replaced with workbenches (sometimes on wheels) and demountable partitions so as to encourage collaboration.  Ms. Duff continues:

With the rise of open collaborative planning there is a need to evaluate the right balance of both focused, contemplative spaces alongside the energetic buzz of open teaming areas.  This is one of many challenges faced by design firms today in planning appropriate space that aligns workspace with the business, culture, and aspirations of each client.

But foregoing cubicles for more flexible furniture options do not come without their challenges.  Furniture on wheels can easily accommodate a quick reconfiguration due to a change in headcount or department consolidation, but where is the power and data going to come from?  Interior Architects overcame this hurdle during a recent assignment by utilizing a raised floor that could accommodate multiple power and data plan configurations in a myriad of locations.

Twitter Headquarters
San Francisco

External influences to workplace design such as globalization, increased demand for sustainability and a changing demographic are also altering the face of the modern office.  With employees regularly engaging customers and colleagues around the globe in different timezones, video conferencing and work/life slicing is gaining popularity.

Age, gender and ethnic diversity is also affecting the way offices are being built out and configured.  I know of at least one tenant that has a prayer room for their muslim employees, and a “wellness” or “mothers’ room” for new mothers is fast becoming the norm in newly-built offices.

Several other trends that appear to have sticking power are the “work anywhere” mentality, increased importance of having face-to-face meeting areas, highly configurable or “hackable” walls and partitions, small and agile workgroups, and increased transparency whereby an employee can do a 360° spin in their chair and literally see the entire office.

For further insight into workplace trends and to reach Ms. Duff:

Mary Lee Duff, Assoc. IIDA, LEED® AP | Principal