Cube Farm

Cube FarmAnother common term heard around the office is “Cube Farm”. A cube farm is not necessarily a terrible thing, but they need to be planned properly.

Definition: An office filled with cubicles. This really boils down to a room full of people at desks with little more than a smattering of upholstery between them. Cubicles are typically composed of fabric, metal and press-board. Cubicles vary from the full six foot walls on three and a half sides, down to a scant four foot tall partition simply separating you from the next person, if only from the waist down.

When do cube farms work?
In my experience there are two key factors which make cube farms viable, and yes, even beneficial. First, the people within a close proximity are doing very similar tasks. A group of support technicians in a cube farm can generally feed off each other’s knowledge and offer a high quality of support.

The second factor that often plays into cube farm success is that traffic (both walk-in and phone) from outside people is kept to a minimum. Support is the exception to this, however a software developer in a cube farm with support people will be constantly distracted by the support chatter and walk in questions.

To be effective cubes must be planned around the teams and workers they are meant to be occupied by. Cubes put up with little planning just to create a place for employees to work rarely if ever benefit their residents.

When do cube farms fail?
As mentioned above, cube farms often fail due to lack of planning. I am currently working in a cube farm where four different people serve three different functions, all in about 200 square feet.

Another key factor is the height and coverage of the cube. A six foot tall cube wall which completely blocks direct view of coworkers is best. This typically means cubes are almost completely enclosed with just enough space to enter and exit. Cubes with short walls that allow you to see others over them are generally ineffective, and having only one or two walls is not much better than having none.

The two biggest wastes of time in the office are visible distractions and audible distractions. Good cube farms with high walls, workers who spend a minimum of time on the phone, and in an area where foot traffic is minimal can work out very well. Cube farms which are small, poorly laid out, and with no consideration given to the function of the occupants will result in lost productivity, irritability and personal conflicts.

For more information on cube farms check out wikipedia.com’s article on the topic.

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10 thoughts on “Cube Farm”

  1. Cube farms evolved to replace the ‘one office per person’ model, particularly coinciding with work teams. The fiscal reality is that cubes are a more economical use of limited space. That’s not to say they’re desirable to all. I oversaw an entire migration of a large enterprise computing group located in various academic buildings moved to a new, single location on the outskirts of the UNH campus. The anxiety and resistance for the year leading up to the move was incredible. People had been used to single offices. They argued over cube height and square footage. Sysadmins got 8×8’s and everyone else got 6×6’s (the rationale was they had more hardware). The actual move occurred in 2002 and they’ve been adapted well. Do they like it? Some do, some don’t. Nobody likes the Dilbert-ness of it all. But the one point I agree with completely is that those with similar jobs should have proximity in cubes. If they work in teams, I’m not sure the walls should be that high.

    A novel idea might be to put administrators in adjacent cubes. Force ’em to work as team members and be more collaborative.

  2. At least you guys get cubes. My company is so cheap we’re placed next to each other in ROWS. It’s the modernized sweat shops. I hate it. Despise it. DESSSPIIISSSEEEE ITTTTTTT

  3. The author of the Wikipedia article on cubicles has been warned that the article is incorrect.

    While cubicles were quickly adopted because of IRS rules that allowed them to be quickly depreciated rather than the slow twenty or thirty year period for offices there is another reason they were created.

    This will not appear in any textbook. A Master’s Degree candidate from Australia said that it is communicated in lectures.

    In the 1960’s designers of the first close-spaced modern workstations encountered a problem when workers using them began to have mental breaks. The cubicle, Cubicle Level Protection, was the solution to the problem.

    Subliminal sight and peripheral vision reflexes had operated in the “special circumstances” those workstations created to cause the mental events.

    The same phenomenon can be connected to mental events that happen around the world and are being mistaken for Culture Bound Syndromes.

    That is why you are constantly interrupted by other staff walking by your desk. Cubicle walls prevent the subliminal detection of that movement. If you can learn to ignore such movement you can be exposed to Subliminal Distraction. When there is enough exposure in a compact time frame you have the expected mental break.

    Qi Gong and Kundalini Yoga has exposure and users do experience a first psychotic episode when too many sessions are done too close together. Other outcomes may be mass shootings, panic attacks, and even some levels of mental illness.

  4. What is the minimum size allowed in the US for working cubicles? I cant find it anywhere on the web…is there a health & safety law?

  5. Simon,

    I think you’ll find that there is no regulation controlling cubicle size in the US. Other countries (UK, Canada, some European countries) have more specific workplace regulations and may have a published size requirement, but most of the US regulations on the topic are vague saying things like ‘within a reasonable limit’ without defining what those limits are.

    If you do find anything on cubicle size in the US please let me know. I’d love to post about that!

  6. this is an interesting read… though you should quote some sources somewhere… seems like just unproven theory than anything else right now… where’s the research that supports your claims?

  7. I totally agree that taller cubicle walls are most effective for cutting down on distractions. Fortunately, you don’t have to buy all new cubicles to make this happen. You can simply add panel extenders to reach the desired height.

    Daisy

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