Shared Cubicles: Great Concept, Tricky to Implement
Sharing cubicles sounds like a great idea to planners and facilities managers, but how does it sound to the guys who will share the space?
Stories abound of cubicle mates who came to blows. (Dilbert has a series of cartoons on the subject: http://search.dilbert.com/comic/Share%20Cubicle)
Let’s just accept the fact that there’s always some risk of conflict. If we expect friction– in varying degrees of severity– we can work around it.
If it’s done right, there can be more privacy available to someone working in a pod of six than in a cubicle with one person.
Depends on two factors: the design of the workspace and the nature of the work.
Designing around the job
First, the nature of the space. Two people working on the same project might be comfortable sitting side by side, each facing their own monitor. Behind them could be some tools of collaboration– whiteboards, printers, conference area, coffee machine.
It’s important, even with people working cheek-by-jowl, that they have enough elbow room so they can eat their lunch or set up a clipboard on their side of the workstation.
Second, consider the nature of the work being done. Someone who’s in desktop support needs to be available at all times. You don’t want to pair him or her with a programmer who needs to focus for extended periods.
Although not every company has the luxury of doing this, Google allows its software engineers to choose between a shared space and a private office. Google, with its micro-kitchens scattered around, adheres to the idea that a worker should have access to privacy but be able to connect with someone when they take a break.
Escape route to privacy
Experts say that the trauma of knowing you’ll be working in the same cubicle with another person can be eased if employees know there are places they can go when they need to be alone– without having to offer an excuse or ask their suite-mate to leave the room.
Ally Financial (formerly known as General Motors Acceptance Corp., or GMAC) uses small communal spaces, with desks and monitors, where cubicle partners can go for a private phone conversation or to deal with personal issues.
Musical people, stationary chairs
Another option is to have employees float. State Farm Insurance Cos. follow a method they call Systems@Work. At the headquarters in Bloomington, Ill., more than 5,000 employees don’t have an office. Instead, there are a number of workstations containing desks and electronic devices. Any worker can bring his cell phone and laptop and set up shop in the room.
This concept is called ‘hoteling’ and it dates back to the 1990s. One reason it hasn’t been more widely adopted is that employees cling to the concept of ‘my’ office.
From a management standpoint, that’s exactly why sharing could be useful. Hoteling reduces the amount of hoarded paper files, and requires employees to take a leaner approach.
Judy Voss from Haworth sums up the various aspects of hoteling in an informative white paper. Read it here: http://www.haworth.com/en-us/Knowledge/Workplace-Library/Documents/The-Hoteling-Experiment-Lessons-and-Questions.pdf
Voss says it’s important to set up a reservation system and enforce it. The concept works best for staff who are on the road, in sales, for instance, or those who work from home most of the time.
If you’re interested in trying one of these configurations– shared cubicles or hoteling– give me a call and let’s discuss how it might be applied in your company.