Sunday, July 16, 2006


More Changes In Cubicle Land

There was a very intriguing sci-fi mystery movie a few years ago called Dark City, in which strange men all dressed in black trenchcoats and fedoras rearranged whole sections of a metropolis while its occupants were sleeping. Welcome to the modern office - in which everything is "scootable". I've tried to find out how "scootable" is defined, but the best I can determine on short notice is that it refers to how something may be assembled with small modular units that can be recombined at will - to expand or contract a workspace, or even cause it to disappear. Perfect! Downsizing as though effected by Santa's little helpers.

I have discussed these changes in office design on this blog before. They employ "curvilinear panels of translucent glass with sliding doors and windows" to give the reality of acoustic privacy while allowing light to shine through, and perhaps for others to see you. Anything is better than a cubicle, it appears.

The research group Knoll Inc. surveyed 850 white collar workers and discovered that 40 percent of those aged 18 to 29 preferred open workspaces without panels. "Young people do not want to work in a sea of cubes," said the Knoll's director. "There's a very negative association."

Indeed there is! The changes in office design thus seem largely propelled by a disgust for the plight of one's elders. Personally, I think it is the nature of corporate behavior that eventually causes a "negative association" with any office design, irrespective of what it looks like. Let's leap ahead thirty years, when those same office workers are in the fifties, and see how well those who are still allowed to earn a living like their "scootable" surroundings.

A sidenote, I'd like to say that the idea of "scootability" reminds me of those Lego blocks some of us played with as children. Those blocks came in all different colors - red, white, yellow, blue - and they had pegs on their tops, and pegholes on their bottoms, and you could snap them together to make any shapes you wanted. They were "scootable" in their day. Not so many years ago, Lego had an R&D department that was like a playground, in which "toy engineers" would happily push the envelope on what you could build with Lego blocks. Sadly, even this workplace paradise could not survive today's ruthless business environment. Lego has laid off 900 employees and begun to relocate its manufacturing facilities from Denmark to Singapore. Perhaps the fate of "scootability" itself will be no less grim.

"The Office Cubicle: Going Full-Circle" from St. Louis Post-Dispatch

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