Office space planning with cubicles and other highly modular furniture may seem fairly straightforward. But it’s actually very challenging to foresee all the ways the workspace may change and how this affects the functionality of office furniture. Often, business owners and facility managers find themselves wondering if they should just buy new cubicles to fit a new office space. This is true even if the existing furniture could technically be reconfigured to fit a smaller space.
The Workspace Is Shrinking
With today’s high commercial real estate costs, many companies are reducing the amount of space they lease and building a high-density workspace that brings employees closer and closer together. In the 1970s, companies typically allotted 500-700 square feet of office space per worker. Now, that number is closer to 200-300 square feet per worker. From an eco-responsible perspective, having a smaller office footprint isn’t a bad thing. It often means less energy used for heating and cooling. For a built environment, it means fewer raw materials are used in construction.
Workplace Stress Is on the Rise
Unfortunately, tighter quarters pose a “people problem” by making it difficult for workers to concentrate. To make matters even more complicated, the push to house more employees in less space has coincided with the trend of purchasing cubicles with lower walls. The promise of the “open office” design as a means to promote collaboration has remained largely unfulfilled.
- According to a 2012 paper published by the Gensler research firm, focus work is the most critical work mode for most office workers in terms of productivity. In fact, employees’ ability to collaborate effectively is tied to how well their work environment supports high levels of concentration.
- Lack of privacy and poor noise control are both tied to rising stress levels at offices with low or no cubicle panels. (“The ‘Open’ Office Is a Hotbed of Stress” published on Time Magazine’s website in August of 2012 is just one example of recent popular articles citing studies on the topic).
Higher Cubicle Walls Are Coming Back
It’s no wonder many employers are seriously considering purchasing new cubicles with high walls or tearing down and rebuilding existing workstations to incorporate higher panels. However, there is another option that’s less resource intensive. Adding cubicle panel extenders to an existing workstation provides a substantial level of privacy and noise control. Panels typically attach to an existing cubicle wall using brackets and can be installed in minutes. Nothing is dismantled and no cubicle components head to the landfill.
Some of the available products on the market in this category are particularly eco-friendly. For example, textiles and fiberboard used in acoustic panels may be made of recycled materials. Other products featuring semi-translucent polycarbonate provide visual privacy without blocking light. These panels may be more suitable for work environments designed to earn LEED points by incorporating natural light access and potentially reducing energy costs for electric lighting. With the right set of panels, businesses can keep using their cubicles even when the office layout changes dramatically.