Back in days before cubicles, most professional offices had “offices” for the majority of the employees and usually a large reception area and some desks set up for other staff members. That did not mean that every employee had a lavish office, some were nothing better than coat closets refurbished to put a desk and chair into. But the real differences were at least 2 major things that I can remember: we all a door we could open and close and some privacy from distractions when needed.
When cubicles first started showing up in offices and other businesses also; there was a completely different feel to the office. Now suddenly you really felt that it was a one size fits all office; the colors were the colors you usually see at funeral parlors and you could hear everyone’s conversations, phone rings and phone calls, office equipment humming, bodily noises, music, laughter and crying, gossip, etc. If someone leaned up against the side of a cubicle, while trying to impress you with a story; they all went down like a pile of dominos and we would have to call the “cubicle professional” to come and hook them back up again.
Some of the construction and even the styles and colors have improved a bit and if you are just entering the workforce out of college you won’t know anything but a cubicle. So we have adapted; or have become more creative in our rebellion, hence the sites on the internet that point out the best and worst of cube living across the globe. One of the things you don’t get in the pictures are the noise; when you walk into an office and see cubicles as far as the eye can gander, the first thing that hits you is the accumulation of noises and also the smells of burnt popcorn and someone eating fish for lunch. Again, no privacy here, we all share the air.
If the cubicles costs had stayed dirt cheap, I could see their value in a lot of temporary environments; such as trade shows, sales conferences, seminars and the like. But when your whole office environment is set up with furniture that represents adult Lego or Lincoln Log sets it gives me the impression the business is already planning either your escape or theirs. Ok, I am biased!