Trapped in cubicles

FORTUNE: Trapped in cubicles – Mar. 22, 2006

This is a pretty fascinating article about the history of the cubicle.

Apparently they were originally designed to make work MORE comfortable, spreading work out into a worker’s environment, creating an adjustable workspace that allowed workers a more ‘holistic’ experience. The ‘Active Offices,’ as they were named, were even designed to put work on different levels so workers could stand to work, giving them the chance to increase bloodflow to the legs. In short, they were designed with employee comfort in mind.
The article explains that as economics took over, tax codes benefiting cubiclized companies along with the ability to stick a bunch of workers in a small space, the designers of the cubicle regretted its creation.

Designer Douglas Ball, for instance, remembers the first installation of cubicles he created for a Canadian company in 1972. “I thought I’d be excited, but I came out depressed,” says Ball, now 70. “It was Dilbertville. I’d failed to visualize what it would look like when there were so many of them.”

The article goes on to explain other options people are looking at. New models basically like cubicles seem to be failing, while telecommuting appears to be the new way for companies to reduce real estate costs. So, people work at home or Starbucks and use their blackberry and laptop to do the work that used to be done in the cubicle.

Now, of course, not everyone gets this privelidge, just the whitecollar pairie dogs. All the same, it seems like a more humane option. At least you get to be more comfortable, work on your own schedule, etc.
However, I have seen folks who work this way at the airport, their blackberries going off, laptops through the flight, making calls as soon as they touch down, and i thought about how hard that must be, always available, always at work. This is even an advertising strategy now, trade stocks from home, work anywhere… sounds terrible to me.

Perhaps the Always Office will be the telecommute equivalent of the cubical perversion of the Active Office.