Office Space: Is Boring Better for Business?

cubicle-cage.jpgIntel's making some major interior design changes in three office locations to foster "real time person-to-person collaboration." (You can thank Conan O'Brien for their departure from the cubicle revolution of the 70's.) The company earmarked $10 million for a three-month remodeling pilot program it hopes will improve productivity, boost employee morale, and cut costs.

In addition to updating the offices' dreary color palettes, the renovations will also create a more casual, less-structured working environment. At the test locations, up to half of the employees will give up their assigned cubes; instead, they'll bring laptops to work, store their personal belongings in lockers, and sit in cushy chairs (à la Starbucks) at first-come-first-serve desks. Workers left in the cubicle world will still see some change; those who don't have windows nearby will be surrounded by 52-inch-tall cream-colored partitions (over a foot lower than the current gray ones).

Doing away with assigned seating seems like a smart plan since Intel found that 60 percent of their cubes are empty at any given time. With shared space, the company anticipates fitting 20 percent more employees. But will it work in real life as well as it does on paper? While removing the boundaries of assigned space may encourage workers to think outside the cube, it may also create a sense of chaos. It's easy to get distracted when everyone's space overlaps. On the other hand, if workers arrive early, they may be able to choose quieter areas when necessary, and opt for more social spots when their work requires collaboration.

Obviously, some departments use space differently, but it will be interesting to see what Intel finds out on the whole (even though other offices have gotten creative in the past); what office environment gets people fired up without sacrificing too much structure?

(Cubicle Cage image by tyger lyllie)