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Ditch the Cubicles for Better Collaboration

What does your office look like? If you're in corporate America, it's probably some combination of cubicles, offices, and conference rooms. But that trend may soon give way to more open floor plans with fewer walls and partitions -- and fewer barriers to collaboration.

According to Sylvia Ann Hewlett at the Harvard Business Review, companies are realizing that cubicle cultures just don't work. Why? Because the impersonal "cube farms" discourage collaboration, stifle employee engagement, and strangle innovation.

Creative fields have long embraced open floor plans or, at least, minimal barriers between workers. When I worked as a newspaper reporter, the only offices belonged to the bigwigs; the rest of us worked in close proximity -- usually, with open desks -- and enjoyed the ability to tap our co-workers for ideas, input, or just a quick dose of humor. That sparked our inspiration, made our stories better, and created a collegial environment.

Contrast that to being segmented into a Dilbert-like space. Sure, you might have somewhere to hang your Demotivators calendar, and you might be able to play hearts on your computer without your boss noticing. But it also shuts you away from your colleagues.

According to a study called Bookend Generations, both Generation Y workers and Baby Boomers prize interacting with high-quality colleagues -- ranking it equal to or even higher than financial compensation. Speaking as a Gen X-er, I agree. My engagement and excitement about my work usually comes from exciting and interesting collaborations with smart people, rather than from my paycheck.

So think about tearing down some of those cubicle walls and, as Hewlett says, share the intellectual wealth.

(image by Tim Patterson via Flickr, CC 2.0)