Love your cubicle

Designing cubicles is an art and science. (Photo by a_kartha from http://www.sxc.hu)

By Anthony O. Alcantara

There’s got to be a formula for creating an ideal workplace. You can’t just put cubicles together and expect people to beg that they be allowed to live in them.

I found one promising formula recently while browsing an issue of the Harvard Business Review. It was from an article entitled “Who Moved My Cube?” by Anne-Laure Fayard and John Weeks. The title looked vaguely familiar. Then I remembered that there’s a book called “Who Moved My Cheese.” There must be something to these adaptations of titles. Maybe “Who Moved My Chair” is next.

Anyway, the authors of “Who Moved My Cube” found out that there are three “Ps” that should be present in an ideal workplace: proximity, privacy and permission.

Proximity means there should be shared spaces with shared resources such as coffee machines and photocopiers that allow informal chats. This can encourage innovation and exchange of ideas. I would like to add that people should also share other office tools that are much more intimate, such as ballpens, rulers and even chairs’ arm rests.

The conversations in these shared spaces can go something like this:

“Do you know that jerk at the engineering department?”

“Oh yeah, I’d love to wring his neck.”

“There’s an easy way to do that. Just feed his tie to the paper shredder.”

Yes, the paper shredder is indeed a very useful shared resource.

Privacy is pretty obvious. People must not be afraid of being interrupted or overheard. They must also be able to avoid interactions if they want to.

Here’s a sample scenario if this rule is violated:

“Have you heard that Dingba is having a relationship with Dibo the Gift Dragon?”

“Dibo the Gift Dragon? You mean that cartoon character who indiscriminately opens his zipper to surprise people? How did you know about that?”

“Dingba’s speakerphone is always on. Everyone knows except you.”

Permission means that the space itself as well as the company’s leaders and culture convey the message that casual conversation is encouraged.

Here’s a sample of open communication:

“Hi Mr. President. You said you have an open door policy, right?”

“Yes, that’s right.”

“Then why do you have an alarm that automatically goes off whenever I’m 10 meters away?”

“The alarm is especially designed to warn me when an idiot is nearby.”

And that is how most of us find solace in our cubicle.

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