Is the cubicle dead or just dying?

By IanIn standard15th March, 2016

As Millennials are becoming the largest group in the North American workforce, companies are changing their office strategy to attract and retain them. This is because, unlike previous generations, they are less loyal and more demanding. Millennials are not interested in being stuffed in cubicles and being told to just get the work done; they work differently than those who preceded them.

Businesses are not just giving into the wishes and wants of Millennials, they are putting money into research to see how to best accommodate a group of people that are predicted to make up to 30% of North American retail spending by 2020. Happy and productive employees also make for good customers. Companies responding to their growing relevance are increasingly turning to human-centered designs to attract them.

Researchers are observing human behaviour and envisioning a way to do things more efficiently, enjoyably, productively and intuitively. In doing this, they are learning that cubicles are not the way to keep millennials productive. They have learned that the way people work is changing. Production-line workplaces that have been the norm for over 100 years are no longer a productive way of keeping people, getting the job done, and being happy employees. In many cases, they have actually become counter-productive!

The type of work that businesses are giving their workers and expecting results from is better done in collaboration, rather than working alone in a cubicle or closed and lonely office. The cost of poorly designed and obsolete workplaces is too large to ignore. Millennials are not interested in working in them and sometimes even refuse to work for companies that have not changed the way they layout their office space.

Besides removing cubicles, what else can businesses have to do to accommodate the next generation workforce? Here are just some of the things that businesses have done or should do.

Companies like Google have created activity-based workplaces that allow employees to work freely from a variety of specialized spaces that are deliberately designed to support specific types of work – depending on the expectations for the worker and on how most effectively work. Some workers need private/quiet spaces to perform some duties, but the bulk of their work may need to be done in a collaborative team environment. Having some small shared private and quiet spaces, some conference-room space for specific team collaboration, and large team space is often the solution for many companies. While this is especially true for tech and creative companies, it is also working in other industries that have traditionally used cubicles.

Because millennials have replaced the concept of work/life balance with work/life integration, the workplace policies need to reflect these differences. Having flexible work hours and the places where work is conducted can truly change productivity. Allowing workers to take work home, work at a coffee shop or at a local park, lets them work without the stress of the office or working around other people. Some companies save on office space by having memberships at local coworking spaces. The cost of co-working offices for staffers who do not need to work at the head office can be a big plus for a company that has a small office for its essential staff.

Large companies like Google, Microsoft, Facebook and Yahoo have offices that some people jokingly call “playgrounds for millennial workers” that attract the top workers and help keep them stay. They often provide free on-demand meals, but not every company can afford such luxuries. For a small business that does not have the deep pockets of these large tech firms, there are other less expensive ways to keep employees happy and fed. Just offering free coffee, snacks and other beverages can go a long way. Even some coworking offices have discovered ways to keep members happy, including having a “Pub Friday” where they open a keg of draft beer at 4 pm.

Regardless of the size of your business, hopefully you will take away from this blog a thought or two of how you can “kill off” the cubicle. Sometimes, even a small change at how you set up your office can change the productivity level of your millennial staff.