So you’re in the market for office cubicles. Before you run out and buy just any old set, do a little research. Office furniture says a lot about a company.
No, we’re not talking about research on which fabric for the conference room chairs best complements the CEO’s favorite tie or what type of decorative fern can survive the longest without being watered.
When it comes to purchasing cubicles, size does matter. Wall size, that is.
Here’s the low-down (or the high-up) on the three types of cube heights and what they say about your organization.
Low (42″-high walls)
Cubicles with low walls allow employees to see and talk to each other while seated. While this doesn’t afford much privacy, it does allow for a lot of collaboration and free flow of ideas. A company that goes the low-walled route likely fosters team work and creativity. The benefits include spontaneous brainstorming sessions and informal meetings about upcoming projects. Of course, not all employees sing Kumbaya to these wide open spaces. No walls means more noise – from Ken mindlessly humming “Desperado” to Shirley’s 3 o’clock Doritos break — complete with loud crunching and finger-licking. And while the low walls allow for more conversation, that conversation isn’t always work-related. On the one hand, this may allow employees some much-needed respite from long hours staring at spreadsheets; on the other, you might be subjected to endless debates about whether Steven Tyler and Jennifer Lopez were worthy replacements to Simon Cowell and Paula Abdul on “American Idol.”
Medium (53″-high walls)
Picking medium height cubicle walls is the Great Compromise of office layout. Employees have more privacy — and by extension will have an easier time blocking out the office din to focus on work. On the flipside, all they have to do is stand to share a victory high five for landing a big client, or chat with their neighbor about that upcoming presentation or how annoying Steven Tyler is when he sings along with the people auditioning for the show (I mean really, it’s not called “Aerosmith Idol”!) And (bonus!) medium-high walls have the added benefit of forcing employees to get up and stretch their legs periodically — which your ergonomically obsessed HR lady will love. Companies furnished with medium-height cubicles might come across as being more formal and productivity oriented, compared with their free-wheeling, low-walled brethren.
High-walled cubicles are the Rolls Royce of office privacy. Even standing, employees cannot peer into each other’s office space, which allows for quiet, focused work without outside distractions. This layout is ideal for counselors or others who might need to have sensitive conversations on a regular basis and for people who have difficulty focusing in noisier office environments. The drawback to high-walled cubicles is that they could make an employee feel isolated and out of touch with their co-workers, managers and the organization as a whole. And while an employee has the cocoon of silence necessary to finish an assignment, they also might try to sneak in a little extra Farmville between memos. The most formal of the three options, high-walled cubicles seem suited to a more serious or conservative company that values productivity and discretion more than collaboration.
Now that you’ve done the really important work of building an office space, you’re free to riffle through carpet samples and pick a company refrigerator large enough to hold months worth of frozen dinners and yogurt.