Cubicles are killing your business

Do you remember the moment in the movie Office Space where Peter Gibbens dismantles his cubicle? Try to hold on to that image for a little while.

If you’ve ever worked in a cubicle, you know that sometimes it feels like a cave. Temperatures in the northeast dropped into the sub-zero’s recently, so being in a cave might sound great for hibernating, but if you’re trying to get things done at work, a cave-like cubicle isn’t good for business…is it?

Similar cubical-like caves exist with departmental deployments of technology, where the data is walled off from the rest of the organization. Are cubicles bad for business?

The evidence says no and yes…

First, let’s focus on the cubicle vs open-office debate:

A New Yorker article notes that the open-office concept originated in Germany in the 1950s “to facilitate communication and idea flow.” 66 years later, open-offices are trendy, but do they accomplish the desired goals for better communication and idea sharing?

Some research on open-offices indicates that they create dysfunction. A study from the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health revealed that the “negative effects of acoustic environment increased significantly” when workers moved from private to open offices. These effects include “increased distraction, reduced privacy, increased concentration difficulties and increased use of coping strategies.”

Another study, from the University of Tennessee Knoxville found that a “decrease in privacy reflected a decrease in confidentiality of conversation,” meaning it has become harder to have important conversations.

While the open-office concept might be cool, it sounds like it probably isn’t improving communication and driving innovation.

Trapping data in cubicle walls

By deploying disconnected business applications the data typically becomes siloed; that’s a problem. The information gathered or stored within each application (customer information, analytical data, etc.) is often limited to that particular department, with no continuity throughout the company. With disconnected applications, data gets trapped behind “cubicles.”

As companies utilize more cloud based applications for different aspects of their business, we’re seeing more segmentation of data within these silos, with less interaction between them. This results in poor communication between departments and customer experiences that fall short; breaking down the “cubicle walls” that trap data and creating an open-office data environment will address both challenges.

IT isn’t the only department spending on technology. In fact, some reports show that marketing is spending more on tech than IT. If you combine that with HR, Finance, Sales, etc., it’s easy to see how each department is building metaphoric cubicles throughout the organization. Instead of individual department leaders making tech decisions that impact the rest of the business, organizations need to lean on IT to create a data strategy for the organization. From that framework, business leaders can still maintain autonomy when selecting SaaS suppliers.

Maybe cutting down the physical cubicles for an open-office concept isn’t going to increase productivity, but breaking down the data barriers will certainly “facilitate communication and idea flow.” Further, chopping down the metaphoric departmental cubicles that create data-divides leads to better customer experiences.

Learning from open-office concepts

Like the well-intentioned open-office concept, departmental deployments of technology create dysfunction, restricting the return on investment for the organization. Maybe it’s time to reinstall the cubicle walls and shift the focus to an open-office technology strategy where the siloes are destroyed and data flows freely across the organization, enabling better communication with customers and driving innovation.


I’m sure there are arguments for open-offices, but the majority of research I found supported my point about the dysfunction. I work from home, so I’m neutral on this subject. While we can debate the open-office merits, trapping data is just plain old bad for business.


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