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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