The open-office versus cubicle debate rages on, with proponents on both sides claiming their design provides the ideal work environment.
Instead of fighting over superiority, though, workplaces should be set up according to the size and needs of employees while coordinating with the company’s overall culture. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to office layout — no matter how loud each side shouts.
Compare the in-depth pros and cons of cubicles and open offices below to determine which set up will work best for that place you call work.
Benefits of an Open Office
Airy and approachable, the contemporary open-office trend has taken 21st-century workplaces by storm.
However, open-plan offices actually predate its walled cubicle cousins. Early architects — including the prolific Frank Lloyd Wright — were designing wall- and partition-free floorplans for Fortune 500 companies as early as the 1930s. Yet the trend has reemerged stronger than ever over the past decade, inspired mainly by big tech companies looking to infuse offices with an aura of collaborative innovation.
Organizations with open-office layouts often cite the following advantages to trading enclosed desks for expansive floorplans.
1. Contemporary Design
Today’s open-concept offices may have been invented nearly a century ago. Yet some of today’s most popular design trends promote features that are light, airy and natural — a.k.a the exact characteristics of an open office. Workplaces aiming to feel trendy and of-the-moment, therefore, tend to opt for sprawling open layouts. The aesthetics of an open office naturally blend with contemporary style preferences.
2. Buzzing Collaborative Atmosphere
Open-concept offices better support horizontal rather than vertical hierarchies. Less than half of workers feel comfortable initiating in-person communications with their managers, particularly if that interaction takes place within the boss’ office. Interestingly, many managers feel the same. Workplace studies reveal 69% of managers struggle to communicate effectively with their employees. Some even dread it.
Cubicle-free offices blur those traditional boundaries. They allow employees of any rank to engage more naturally across business units and past role hierarchies that may have previously seemed intimidating, if not unapproachable.
Disadvantages of an Open Office
Drawbacks to the trendy open-concept office do exist, particularly when it comes to the following.
1. Noise Levels
Large, open-concept offices have a “noise pollution” effect, where conversations occurring even at normal decibel levels (around 60 dBA) can sound up to 10 times louder. At these levels, employees are far more prone to auditory distractions. Many will turn to headphones for a solution, playing music at 85-94 decimals on average. Using headphones regularly can contribute to significant noise-induced hearing loss, among other health and wellness concerns.
Drop ceilings, partitions, dividers and walls found in offices with cubicles all serve as natural acoustic controls. These room features prevent colleague conversations and calls from becoming distractions that push employees off-task. Plus, they serve as natural noise sponges, reducing employees’ need for using potentially damaging headphones.
2. Lack of Privacy and Personal Space
Without rows of compartmentalized cubicles, open office layouts can feel adrift and impersonal. Assigned desk stations help, but employees still cite privacy concerns in open offices.
This concern over a lack of privacy is particularly pressing for managers holding sensitive conversations and for compliance teams in highly regulated industries. It is also a risk for professionals handling confidential patient or customer information, as there is a greater chance of private information being overseen or overheard.
3. C-Suite Disconnect
Often, company decision-makers who make the final call on an office’s layout are ones who don’t have to deal with its effects. For example, C-suite managers still overwhelmingly have their own private offices. Their teams, however, are relegated to the shared, open-air spaces with noise and privacy issues.
The result is a disconnect between the kind of productive environments executives think they’ve built and the ones that exist. Employee performance and job satisfaction are more likely to suffer when employees don’t feel their workplace needs are being met by management.
4. Germ Incubator
Sorry, hypochondriacs. You won’t like this one. Turns out open office floor plans contribute to faster-spreading germs and more sick days compared to office plans with cubicles or partitions.
Numerous studies have found employees in open-concept workspaces take on average 3.1 sick days a year. Employees in more isolated or separated stations, as well as those who work from home, average only 1.8 sick days. Furthermore, open layouts have also been tied to “sick building syndrome,” a phenomenon where employees report higher instances of headaches, nasal and respiratory problems. Open office plans have also been shown to contribute to weaker overall immune systems.
Benefits of Cubicles in Offices
Cubicles offer an organized and straightforward approach to office layouts with a range of unique benefits.
1. Designated Personal Space
One of the top benefits of cubicles is their inherent ability to give your employees prized personal space.
For solo work or activities requiring high, uninterrupted concentration, that personal space is a premium. It can also foster more productive work habits. Employees are more likely to hold a sense of ownership and routine associated with their private cubicle. They can retreat to their desks to take a break from office chit chat. They also have a place to stash their stuff, such as purses, umbrellas and shoes, without worrying that it will get in the way of their colleagues.
2. Sound Control
Cubicles help control and reduce noise pollution in work environments. That sound control is a boon at a time when only 1% of employees say they can block out noises and reduce distractions without taking extra precautions, such as headphones or relocating to a meeting or private breakout room. It wasn’t that long ago that 20% of surveyed workers said they didn’t have issues reducing sound distractions at work — revealing just how severe the noise pollution problem has become.
Less distracted employees are more productive employees. They’re also far less likely to contribute to workplace absenteeism, which costs the average business $2,650-$3,600 per employee per year.
3. Spatial Meaning
Cubicles offer an intuitive way to organize and designate various departments, and to set up areas for micro-teams within those departments.
This is especially effective in partially open or hybrid office layouts using modular cubicles and partitions. Organizations often have to get creative in allotting space for individual teams requiring specialized areas. Different work requires different environments, not to mention unique equipment and furniture. For example, IT staff managing on-premise technology like servers and cooling equipment can’t be placed out in the middle of an open layout. Likewise, creative or editorial staff may need quieter areas in the office to perform the bulk of their work, from solo writing and editing content to designing digital graphics.
Disadvantages of Cubicles in the Workplace
Consider the drawbacks before implementing any kind of cubicle desk into your office or organization.
1. Old-Fashioned Environment
Cubicles have the reputation of being old fashioned, even if they are technically younger than open-concept layouts. This is particularly true for millennials and Gen Z employees, who have grown familiar with the open floor plans that now make up over 70% of all office designs.
Negative traits associated with cubicles are that they instill feelings of isolation, dehumanization and even soullessness in the workplace. When poorly designed, they can relegate employees into identical, gray, box-like stations without site lines to the outdoors or each other, which can increase stress levels and fatigue.
2. Fewer Organic Interactions
Office camaraderie develops many ways. From team parties, lunches and happy hours to out-of-office, all-expense-paid special gatherings, colleagues grow more familiar and more friendly with one another during these events, contributing to improved employee satisfaction and retention.
However, cubicles can reduce another important form of workplace communications: rapport-building chit chat. While it shouldn’t constitute the majority of an employee’s day, a healthy amount of friendly coworker small talk increases social bonds and feelings of employee happiness. New members of a team especially benefit from these organic interactions and conversations, which can be impeded by poorly designed cubicles.
3. Square Footage Needs
Cubicles require larger offices with more square footage. As a general office layout rule of thumb, employers should budget between 125-225 square feet of workspace per employee.
Without that adequate square footage balance, cubicles will make a space feel cramped, congested and impersonal — the opposite of what you’re going for in a well-designed office layout.
4. Goldilocks Amount
Cubicles won’t grow and proliferate as your business does. These pieces of office furniture must be researched, ordered and installed every time your business hires new talent or expands operations. This is a significant investment, one that’s avoided with a pure open office.
Too few cubicles make your employees feel like sardines. Too many make them feel like they work in a ghost town. No one wants to work in a ghost town.
Sunline: The Best of Both Cubicles and Open Floor Plans
Cubicles designed for modern, open offices — like Sunline’s — are the best of both layout worlds.
Sunline Cubicles are contemporary pieces of office furniture offering the right balance of productivity, privacy and aesthetics. Its lineup of sliding cubicle systems is one of the most functional on the market, with the sliding assembly allowing you to make, move and rearrange your cubicles in minutes to fit any spatial need.
1. Sunline Cubicles at a Glance
- Intuitive sliding panel assembly
- Adjustable cubicle wall heights
- Wide array of cubicle sizes to maximize any office’s square footage (5’x5′, 6’x6′, 6’x8′, 8’x8′)
- Matching work surface included — no need to buy expensive additional desks for each cubicle
- Suite of customizable cubicle station accessories (shelving, file and wardrobe cabinets, desktop monitor arms, overhead storage, Sunline sit-stand desk, etc.)
- Variety of wall panel colors, brightening your space to match your grand
- Variety of wall fabrics, lending texture and dimension
We also offer a build-your-own cubicle category, letting you call the shots on the complete design and functionality of your cubicles to fit your exact office layout.
2. Types of Sunline Cubicles for Open Offices
The Sunline Sliding Cubicles catalog contains dozens of contemporary office furniture types and pieces, including individual and clustered cubicles, standing desks, executive desks, enclosed cubicle offices and state-of-the-art benching systems designed exclusively for high-functioning open-concept offices.
- Standard Sunline Cubicle: Available in 5’x5, 6’x6′, 6’x8′, 8’x8′ dimensions, each with a 41″, 53″ or 65″ cubicle panel heights to achieve the levels of privacy and compartmentalization ideal for your employees’ needs.
- ZigZag Sunline Cubicle: The ZigZag Cubicle gives a facelift to the traditional row of boxy cubicles. The unique set up helps organize and arrange open-floor offices and reduce noise pollution while preserving sightlines and allowing natural light to travel across the open room.
- Sunline Adjustable Standing Desk: Let your employees choose their workplace conditions, with adjustable sit-stand desks available in individual units as well as cubicle-integrated. Employees who have some say in their workspace tend to be happier and healthier.
- Sunline Benching Systems: Sleek, modern workstations where employees are separated by sliding privacy panels, creating the same effect as cubicles without the heaviness or square footage requirements.
- Sunline Desking Systems: Adjoined individual desks giving your office a cohesive yet cutting-edge interpretation on the cubicle. Each adjoined desk contains a feature-packed, full workstation with built-in accessories like tiered cabinets, shelving and customized work surfaces.
3. Advantages of Sunline Cubicles
Sunline Cubicles reimagine the bland, boring office cubicle as a fresh, invigorating and ultimately more affordable workstation made for the modern workspace. Sunline can help your office will improve its:
- Versatility: The sliding panel design means installation is quick and intuitive. The pieces are made to match and easily attach to one another.
- Spatial maximization: All cubicle and desk station designs are modular and re-attachable. They are available in a range of dimensions and wall-panel heights. You have plenty of flexibility to integrate cubicles into whatever floorplan you already have — then easily rearrange them when your layout, building or employee spatial needs change.
- Cost-effectiveness: Sunline Cubicles, Benching and Desking Systems are more affordable than non-modular office furniture yet have more functionality.
- Aesthetics: Select the size, colors, panel wall fabric, work surfaces and cubicle accessories for a customized set of office furniture enhancing your brand aesthetics.
- Environment: Sunline cubicles set the tone for your workplace, imbuing it with the visual and functional characteristics every well-functioning office needs — plus those personal details employees want.
Contact Arnold’s Office Furniture for Sunline Cubicles
Curious about the revolutionary Sunline Sliding Cubicle System? We’re the leading supplier of these one-of-a-kind office workstations, helping people pick the exact furniture system that functions as well as it looks.