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Dec. 8 2009 - 8:22 am | 6 views | 0 recommendations | 2 comments

Has Your Cube Shrunk? Employers Are Downsizing Space, Too

Cubicle Panorama

Image by Kyle and Kelly Adams via Flickr

Great, if depressing, story in The Wall Street Journal about how employers are shrinking their office spaces to save cash. Makes sense — rent is a huge fixed cost and, hey, who needs privacy?

“The majority of our clients are moving in the direction of reducing the amount of personal, or what we like to call ‘me’ space,” says Tom Polucci, group vice president and director of interior design for HOK Group Inc., a global architecture and design firm.

He says new workstations designed by HOK average 48 square feet, down from 64 square feet about five years ago. Partitions between cubicles also are shrinking, to 4 feet high or less, from 5 feet high.

Rivals Stantec Inc., DEGW, Mancini Duffy and M. Arthur Gensler Jr. & Associates Inc. report similar findings. They say companies of varying sizes in multiple industries are reducing per-employee office space by as much as 50%, and their total footprint by as much as 25%.

Some companies are removing cubicle walls to create open floor plans. Others are eliminating assigned workspaces for employees who primarily work off campus or spend most of their time in meetings. At any given time, Gensler estimates that 60% of employees are away from their desks.

I’ve worked in big open newsrooms with no cubicles — the Montreal Gazette and the New York Daily News — and in one with cubes, The Globe and Mail. I’ve twice, heaven!, had an office with a door, both times as a magazine editor in Manhattan. One afternoon, I got such a migraine (extremely rare for me) I couldn’t even make it to the elevator, so I lay down underneath my desk and slept for a while. Try that in an open-plan office.

Everyone who chooses journalism knows that newsroom noise and distraction are a part of the game; every newsroom always has several TVs on all the time. You learn early, or leave, how to do interviews, think and write with as many as 3 or 4 people sitting feet away, each of them talking. But for many employees, hearing your cubemate chew or make doctor’s appointments is gross and annoying. We had a guy at the News who spent much of his day talking on the phone really loudly.

That’s one good thing about working alone at home. Right now, the only sound I hear — loud and clear — is my neighbor’s laughter and phone conversation. I’m not sure, short of a cabin in the woods, you can escape noise or other people and get your work done.

Has your cube shrunk? Or do you head to a cafe to work on your laptop, preferring the background buzz of others?


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    Former reporter and feature writer for the Globe and Mail, Montreal Gazette and the New York Daily News. Winner of a Canadian National Magazine Award (humor) about -- what else -- my divorce. I've been writing frequently for The New York Times since 1990 on almost any subject you can think of -- yup, I'm a generalist. Author of "Blown Away: American Women and Guns" (Pocket Books 2004). Canadian born, raised and formally educated, I've lived in New York since 1989.

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