Walking into an office cubicle has the same reputation as being forced below deck on an ancient Roman ship. Sit down, grab an oar and row. In other words, do your work or else.
Cubicles in popular culture are seen as creativity killers and depression inducers. The partitioned office layout is supposed to take the potential for a competitive advantage and crush it into conformity.
Meanwhile, an open office supports collaboration and productivity, right?
Wait. Not so fast. Workers want privacy in order to focus. Cubicles are a type of modular furniture that define personal space and can adapt to a changing office environment.
Look at the many benefits of modular furniture.
What is Modular Office Furniture
Modular office furniture is pre-made and either ready to assemble or easily moved together or apart. Workstations can be customized for different office space requirements and for the personal preferences of employees.
The components make it possible to have a desking solution for one or two people and then easily add more workstations as needed.
Reasons to Use Modular Office Furniture
Modular office furniture is a perfect solution for companies of all sizes.
Start-up companies can purchase a minimum number of units to get operations underway. As sales and cash flow in, more units can be purchased on an as-needed basis.
Established small businesses and corporations can use modular furniture for freelance and seasonal workers who need workstations on an as-needed basis. This style of office furniture lends itself well to creating collaborative workspaces.
Employees typically want a say in their surroundings. They can easily personalize cubicles, desks and modular shelving.
Businesses that have a lease and will likely move to new surroundings within a few years can buy modular furniture that’s easy to disassemble and store.
Open office floor plans can install modular partitions and architectural walls to create private areas that reduce noise and define individual and department work spaces.
Types of Modular Office Furniture
Look around an office and notice how many items have a modular solution like seating and shelving. Pull modular lounge chairs together quickly and easily for informal meetings. Push them apart when personal space is needed.
Let’s look at one of the most popular types of office equipment—cubicles.
Cubicles can be configured for varying degrees of privacy and collaboration. They work for individuals who want their own well-defined space, and cubicles can be used for individuals or teams who need to work cooperatively.
The components like walls, work surfaces, drawers and shelving can be set up according to workflow demands. Cubicles can have doors and clear partitions so workers don’t feel walled out. Different color options make cubicles attractive so they blend in well with a company’s brand.
Photo: Trendway Snap Workspace
Here’s a fact you likely don’t know:
The cubicle versus open office tug-of-war heated up decades ago.
The Original Need for Cubicles
The legendary architect Frank Lloyd Wright designed an open office layout for Johnson and Johnson in the 1930s. That standard held until the mid-1960s when a designer with office furniture maker Herman Miller created an active office. The layout promoted personal space and focus.
Thus, the cubicle.
In the 2000s, up and coming tech start-ups embraced the open office concept once again.
What about now?
More options exist for cubicles than ever before.
Read on and see how to make decisions based on your company goals and the 2010 Space Planning Strategy.
Photo: Friant Novo Workstations
Gray carpeting on cheap aluminum partitions are gone. Instead, cubicles have color combinations that can reflect any company’s brand colors. Arrange the many different styles to support personal focus, communication within departments and company-wide collaboration.
Project teams that need back and forth dialogue on the client-challenge-of-the-month can use one type of layout while the finance department can use another style.
According to this description from the website Dimensions.Guide cubicles:
- Offer Privacy
- Buffer Noise
- Reduce Visual Distractions
Photo: HON Accelerate Workstations
Companies that have an open office floor plan can use cubicles to create a hybrid office plan where some space is open and other work areas are partitioned and designated for individuals or small teams.
Cubicles no longer fit one stereotype. Some products are similar to long tables with workers sitting across from each other. Privacy screens several inches or higher form a personal workspace.
Other cubicles look like small private offices with partitions that create a three-sided setting by blocking workers to the right and left.
Cubicles can also be in a fan-shaped style and act as pods to fit three or four workers in the same department.
Now see how you can make this well-known office accessory benefit your workplace.
Know How You Want Your Cubicle to Function
Match the style of cubicles to the needed function. Standard cubicles typically allow from 6 feet 6 inches of individual workspace to 6 feet 8 inches. Cubicles for managers can be designed with a larger footprint.
An administrative cubicle for bookkeeping or human resources can have a desk with modular storage on one end and a place at the other end to handle computer work or in person meetings. The Friant System 2 and the HON Accelerate Workstations are good examples.
Photo: Friant System 2 Workstations
Photo: HON Accelerate Workstations
There can be enough space to include a chair for someone to stop in and have a conversation.
Benching cubicles are made for utility tasks like data entry while allowing for personal space and modular storage. Look into a model like the ODS Crossroads Workstation.
You can evaluate who needs what cubicle style by knowing:
- How much repetitive work an employee has to do
- How often that person needs to interact with others
- The use of phone calls with customers.
Choose specific cubicle layouts to support your different office functions.
Clear company goals, supported with clearly defined workspaces and roles, create efficiency and help people work productively.
Competitive advantage: A cubicle can lead to a highly productive work environment.
Photo: ODS / Office Design Studio Crossroads Workstations
Cubicles Can Boost a Company’s Brand Internally
Appearances matter in the workplace—not showy and ostentatious—but neat, functional and inviting styles in furnishings give employees a sense of pride and belonging in the workplace.
Partition colors and clean lines look professional without being overbearing and stifling.
High end cubicles can house executive desks and cubicle workstations can fit easily within an open office layout. Workstations are flexible and space can easily be added as the company expands and new hires are made.
People see the investment made when they settle at their workstations and can buy in to the brand promise being made to the outside world.
Competitive Advantage: Cubicles are flexible and can lend to collaboration or privacy as needed.
Photo: ODS / Office Design Studio Crossroads Workstations
Cubicles Can Channel Workflow
Direct the workflow of individuals into a complete whole with well-defined cubicle pods, cubicle benches and products like architectural walls.
If you have a few people who are making outbound sales calls, they can have one style of cubicle with partitions in an area of the office. Further set the space apart in a green and pleasing manner using indoor plants and crafted bookcases.
A project team can have their own style of workstation where they can focus on their own work individually, yet easily turn around and communicate with others.
Set apart a meeting space using floor to ceiling walls that are clear and that easily install with no construction mess.
Competitive Advantage: Clarity reduces office stress when people know what’s expected of them and how their work reaches the company’s goals.
Photo: HON Abound Workstations
Cubicles Support People
An office has equipment and furnishings, but the reality is talented people need support in their work. The right layout leads to effective planning and communication. Don’t use cubicles just to house workers, but:
- Respect their space
- Involve them in layout and needs discussions
- Implement a solution that’s satisfactory
Partitioned office spaces have another benefit: Wellness
A Sage Journals’ abstract of a study on healthiest office environments showed that the “Best health was among employees in cell offices and flex offices. Workers in these types of offices and in shared room offices also rated the highest job satisfaction.”
Competitive Advantage: An engaged workforce with people who take a personal stake in the outcome.
Photo: HON Workspace Solutions
Using Modular Desks
Modularity means being flexible and adapting to different needs. A modular desk will start with one piece such as a rectangular surface and fit one person. Add rounded sections and the desk can enlarge to serve two employees.
The concept has been used in homes for decades with dining tables that can be enlarged by adding a “leaf.”
Height adjustable desks are a form of modularity, giving employees the freedom to have the desk fit their personal need.
Modular Seating Options and Tables
Keep your office up to date with modular lounge furniture. The pieces are useful for reception areas where they lend to a cohesive design versus randomly placed chairs that are uncomfortable.
Modular lounge furniture is useful for break areas and for employees who want to pick up their laptops and work away from their normal office setting. You have options of using single, freestanding pieces or bringing the furniture together as a group.
Each solution has a clean, contemporary design, fits a variety of interiors and can be arranged at a moment’s notice.
The Encore Dabble Modular Lounge has straight and curved benches.
Need power ports? Those can be added to products made by Krug Zola where the components link together using brackets. The power connections can be mounted flush on the side or under the seat.
A unique seating option is the Encore Particles Modular Lounge. Pieces taper inward or outward and “nest” against each other for the fit you want.
Modular furniture lends itself to creating a comfortable and pleasant environment, a trend that will continue in office design.
Now what happens when meeting and presentation needs change?
The solution is using modular tables.
Products like the Krug V2 Modular Table has cabinets that can handle flat screen televisions weighing up to 200 pounds. There are 12 modular shapes for the tops and additional shapes for corners.
Instead of worrying about change, modular office solutions help you prepare for it.
Modular Furniture is Designed for Long Term Use
You may wonder how sturdy modular furniture is. Foundational parts and connections are made from steel and aluminum. Quality products are sturdy and built to last even though they’re flexible and one person can assemble many of the available products.
It’s not just the materials that are built to last. Trends in office design and functionality matter, too.
Modular workstations and accessories like sofas are highly functional in many different settings and will continue growing in popularity. Some of the trends include making pieces that cross-over from a work environment into public spaces like museums and homes, as noted in dezeen magazine.
Italian designer Luca Nichetto’s approach is to create pieces that are “universal” to “suit various environments.” One sofa is designed to fit in a corporate lounge, art gallery and a homeowner’s living room.
Public spaces and work settings continue to have elements that were once found only in homes.
Today’s furniture reflects changes taking place throughout society and in every industry. Even healthcare office space can benefit from modular furniture. Patients receive consultations and treatments in one-room clinics, mixed-use commercial buildings and community centers.
Furniture is available to fit all settings and to have a welcoming presentation.
Modular Office Furniture is Ergonomically Sound
Ergonomics is the study of people in their working environment as noted in this definition of ergonomics from the University of North Carolina. The goal is fitting the environment to fit the employee’s needs so they can be healthy and avoid physical strains when working.
Sitting in a cubicle isn’t a passive activity. We’re bending to reach for files, leaning to see the computer screen or turning our necks to cradle a phone.
Modular furniture supports a person’s natural movements and allows for good posture when sitting or standing.
Get the Expertise You Need
Make cubicles work for you and your team. Ask 2010 Office Furniture about their space planning strategy so you can create the efficiencies you need to reach your goals.
The 2010 Office Furniture team has more than 45 years of experience serving corporations, universities and small businesses throughout Los Angeles, Orange County and the Inland Empire.
Read Also: Creating Ergonomic Workstations for Office Well-Being and Productivity
Main Photo by: Friant
Resources & Special Thanks to: Dimensions.Guide, Sage Journals, Dezeen, UNC & Respective Product Manufacturers: Friant, HON, ODS / Office Design Studio & Trendway