Cubicles vs. Open Office – Is There a Winner?

Google has revolutionized the working environment with the “open office” policy which means that an entire floor (or a large space that can accommodate a hundred people) is wall-free. The concept was a response to the US trend of “cubicles” – closed spaces available to a single person, with temporary thin walls.

The cubicle concept was a result of expensive rentals in downtown areas, together with call centers who required some sort of “privacy” or, at the very least, “sound isolation” while conducting calls.

This is the worst. (The Office)

The Washington Post published an article called “Google got it wrong. The open-office trend is destroying the workspace“. The author stresses on the fact that walls are needed, and quotes The New Yorker with:

… the benefits in building camaraderie simply mask the negative effects on work performance. While employees feel like they’re part of a laid-back, innovative enterprise, the environment ultimately damages workers’ attention spans, productivity, creative thinking, and satisfaction.

Fortune is also challenging the model, saying that:

The cons of open-plan offices are obvious: they’re unhealthy, needlessly stress-inducing, hostile to productivity and creativity, and communicate low social status through the lack of privacy. They’re a “Little Brother” state, and even for those who “ought to” have nothing to hide, a surveillance state is an anxiety state.

Here’s an overview of the cubicle model and the open office one with the benefits for each business approach.

1. Cubicles

Compact Area for Larger Teams

Traditionally, cubicles are designed to save space and replicate the same cubicle model across the area. This leads to a very compact plan that aligns small rectangular or square blocks connected to one another, providing enough room for work for different team members.

Additionally, cubicles are often connected back-to-back on two rows, with employees physically facing each other with a single wall separating them.

Personal Space

The cubicle model defines the work place for each employee, within the limited amount of space. One added benefit is the ability for a business employee to personalize their space – adding photos of their family, their favorite mug, or a notebook for drafts and ideas. Since their workplace is “numbered” similarly to booking a flight, workers can introduce some enhancements in order to feel more comfortable during their work day.

Private Calls

Calls may be intimidating with other people around, regardless of whether they are personal, or business. Sales pitches or call support may be interrupted by other employees gazing at the caller, which affects the productivity and conversion rates, along with the customer experience. Cubicles, being separated from one another, provide the sense of intimacy and freedom of creativity for callers on the phone.

Less Visual Distractions

Focus is priority for creative professions, and, according to Wikipedia: “Interruption science is the interdisciplinarity scientific study concerned with how interruptions affect human performance, and the development interventions to ameliorate the disruption caused by interruptions.

A research quoted by Fast Company states:

We found about 82 percent of all interrupted work is resumed on the same day. But here’s the bad news — it takes an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to get back to the task.

Interruptions may be incredibly time- and cost-inefficient, and any distractions should be avoided in a normal working environment. While there are positive effects of certain interruptions (when a worker is stuck on something and needs a fresh perspective), the overall work process should be streamlined for maximum productivity.

Cubicles have less visible area from people who wander around, walk back and forth, or have casual discussions in the middle of the room (instead of next to the watercooler).

Separate Printer Rooms

Due to the limited work area in this model, loud machinery is usually extracted in common areas. Printers have their own printer room, and same goes for other loud tools that may otherwise distract workers.

As a comparison, some of the open office companies that don’t rely entirely on tech often integrate radio systems with regular broadcasts and announcements for the room.


Cubicle plans are compact, but rooms are generally much smaller and dispersed across the building. Additionally, the limited interaction with colleagues and the walls prevent some of the bacteria to freely fly around and affect everyone in the working space.

Think of a high school and how often kids get sick – with hundreds of students walking around the same corridors and rooms, it’s only natural that one or two sick children will pass on their flu to dozens of others.

2. Open Office

Google, Ireland

Friendlier Environment

Open-office environments are extremely popular in startups where company culture is one of the main factors for success.

Approachable Colleagues

The lack of walls is metaphorically believed to help bonding, and regular interaction between colleagues who are free to reach out for help, feedback, suggestions, or a casual chat.

Keep in Touch With All Departments

The isolated working model doesn’t allow for actively interacting with colleagues from other departments. For example, digital agencies employ developers who convert designer’s mockups into live websites. Designers, on the other hand, also interact with the branding team, who’s in touch with the printing company, and so on.

Open spaces meet everyone in the same room, and employees can gather information and feedback from other parties involved in a project. This may give birth to new ideas and directions for a project, or coming up with an innovative and groundbreaking idea for the business.

Fun Corners

Keeping employees happy, organizing team buildings, installing a table tennis table or a snooker at the office are considered somewhat standard nowadays.

Different Working Areas

Open offices are generally wider and more diverse in terms of interior design. Following the company culture priority, companies often provide different work areas with couches, bouncy balls, bean bags and others that employees can use for meetings or work (taking notes or working on their laptops).

This stimulates the creative juices and boosts the results when shifting to a more comfortable spot at work for certain activities.

With the rise of home workers and the coffee shop culture, it comes as no surprise that different models emerge and are adapted for different environments. People working from home decide on building a private work room at home, or work from the living room instead, based on their own personality and working habits.

What model does your company follow?

About the author

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *