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Employee Versus Cubicle

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Not every workspace can be furnished like Google’s.  The search engine giant’s offices have become the drool-worthy desire of thousands of employees crammed in tiny work cubes. But your company can take simpler and less radical measures to make sure that employees remain happy and productive in their workspaces.

A CNN report on shrinking workspaces says that from a workspace of 94 square feet for the average office worker in 1994, the number was whittled down to 75 square feet in 2010. Tech-giant Intel was also cited as fitting an employee into a 48 square foot space, down from 72 square feet. On average, Fortune 500 companies have been downsizing work cubicles from 8-by-10 to 5-by-5 areas. Design firm Gensler says that cubicles are attractive because they are functional without having to rely on heavy construction. While companies have justified smaller workspaces for their environmental perks (smaller carbon foot print), we also know better. Less space equates to—you guessed it—saved dollars for any company. Employee Versus Cubicle image Cubicle Office Space 300x246

Unfortunately, this case of cost-cutting doesn’t take into account employee productivity or satisfaction at all. You only have to read some Dilbert comics to see how employees have to contend with “cubicle farms.”  But if you insist to get so formal and technical about it, you’ll find yourself admitting that even the facts support the funnies.  A survey by Hughes of 2000 employees in various organizations and industries show that 9 out of 10 workers believe that workspace design affects productivity. Research by Microsoft Hardware with US workforce respondents has yielded similar results.  Results show that 9 out of 10 employees say that the workstation setup directly affects their productivity.  In addition, almost two-thirds of computer users relate fatigue to long hours working at their computers.  The RingCentral blog also highlights the importance of office space, saying that their own office space keeps their employees social, active, and engaged.

Fortunately, you can pseudo-fy the comfort of a Google office without being as luxurious. Some suggestions:

The Chair Does It

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If you’re going to make a big investment, it’s got to be the chairs.  Just ask any employee who can’t even motivate himself to stand up to pee.  According to Spine-Health, a good ergonomic chair should ideally:

  • have an adjustable seat height.  The ideal seat height for most people would range from 16 to 21 inches off the floor.  This allows you to have your feet flat on the floor with your thighs horizontal and arms even with the height of your desk.
  • let you sit with your back against the backrest while leaving approximately 2 to 4 inches between the back of the knees and the seat of the chair. Tilt should also be adjustable.
  • have lower back support. Sitting for long periods without lumbar support makes you slouch and strains the lower spine.
  • have a backrest that supports the natural curve of the spine.
  •  be comfortable. Cloth material is preferred to a hard surface.

Keep it Natural

Studies from The Journal of Public Affairs and National Renewable Light Energy Laboratory show that natural light affects productivity, moods, and energy levels.  Natural surroundings reduces stress, holds attention, and improves moods. As much as possible, create office spaces that are naturally lighted or have access to natural light.  Inc. suggests customizing lighting for employees, depending on the work they do. An employee that needs to work on spreadsheets all day long will need more light than someone who answers phone calls all day.  Check out these photos by Daniel Goodman in Business Insider  which shows the new jetBlue office. You’ll notice that the office is designed with lots of workspace and natural light despite the cubicles.

Add Your Own Office Space Perks

What perks can you afford to give to employees? Some have a free gym for employees, while others have pingpong tables and medicine balls. Also, adding a dash of color to those drab gray walls may help energize listless workers.

When you design your office space, remember that employees are not a piece of furniture you can safely tuck away in one place all day.  Keep it simple and keep it human at the same time too.

Comments on this Article: 1

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  1. Iliana,

    Great article on the shrinking work spaces and the importance of the proper ergonomic chair. The other issue is that we are seeing more and more contract furniture desks that are 28″ to 29″ high which creat additional typing and posture issues. I’ve attached a blog that may also be interesting regarding the importance of proper monitor heights and the use of keyboard trays to make your smaller work environment a healthy one:

    http://blog.ergoprise.com/if-you-work-from-home-make-sure-you-have-the-proper-setup

    http://blog.ergoprise.com/your-back-isnt-supported-on-your-chair-where-are-your-keyboard-mouse

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