Category Archives: Cracks in the cubicle?

Designing the hub workspaces – (what…no cubicles?)


The members of the Hubs around the world have polled themselves and analyzed and reanalyzed how they like to work. They have invented new table shapes and experimented with sizes and arrangements and desk heights. But no call for cubicles; there is not a single cubicle in any Hub. Why?

A few reasons. Not that many years ago the equipment and information we needed for work activities (telephones, adding machines, copy machines, faxes, computers, company files, data networks, etc.) were generally sizable and expensive; moving equipment to a different location often required technical specialists. People had to work in the workspace where their equipment was and where they had access to work files and information. Cubicles were designed to give an efficient, comfortable work area for people working out of one place for all their work tasks. Cubicles create a decent work platform for many tasks but they don’t work well for collaborative work (or for fostering collaborative work) and they don’t give enough privacy for most phone calls. Cubicles are partly private and partly open… or you could also say, not open enough for some tasks and not private enough for others.

Technology of the last 10 years has untied us from having to work at a single office location. Business tools for most of us, including vast resources of files and databases, fit in a backpack and they set up in minutes anywhere with wi-fi and electrical power. Hub members are accustomed to working from wherever they can work comfortably and makes sense for their business activity. Member mobility means we can customize workspaces to be more ideal for different tasks; not try to force every work task into a single type of workspace. Members can move between areas during their work day as tasks or moods change. We used the direction and input of our members as well as the experience of Hubs across the world to come up with the designs for our task-specific work areas.

  1. Privacy Booths: Tiny, sound-insulated private offices with glass doors. For private conversations between 2-4 people, private telephone conversations, conference calls and solo work. On a sign-up basis to use one when a task requires total concentration and sound isolation.
  2. Collaborative Work Area: Large open table area with Hub community-designed custom tables shaped for gathering around. For shared working, mentoring, discussions. Also works well for solo work for the person who enjoys the energy of surrounding activity while they work.
  3. Work bars: Long counters for working facing the windows or overlooking the Hubland display area/lounge. No eye contact. Designed for solo work.
  4. The Hubble: Ideation/brainstorming center as well as meeting room.
  5. Meeting Rooms: Configurable for a variety of meeting types and sizes.
  6. Hubland: A networking/display/casual meeting space off of the Chronicle Lobby entrance designed for members to have short, impromptu meetings, receive clients and guests, and learn about their fellow Hub members. On a bamboo wall structure, each Hub member has a photo card displayed describing their work. Hubland member walls are designed to give members an introduction to each other so they can more easily get to know and network with each other. Revolving displays will highlight the work of the Hub and the work of individual members in more detail.
  7. The Nest: A small loft for taking a break, getting above the action and/or thinking through issues from a different perspective. It has casual lounge furniture for getting comfortable.

In addition to the work areas described above, HubSoMa is the first Hub to have Hublets. These are large project rooms intended to provide Hub businesses with several employees a private, lockable office area where they can work as a separate unit, yet be part of the activity and creativity of the Hub.

But no cubicles.


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My mission

My mission is to travel the world and find office environments where people are working with 21st century tools in new ways and in new environments. To find, document and analyze those exciting new ideas and places. To determine which new workplace concepts really work and could work for others. This project is not necessarily about finding beautiful office space, it’s about finding office space that works better. Better for technology. Better for efficiency. Better for creativity. Better for communication. Better for workers. Better for the bottom line. And then to publicize the best of those ideas so we can revolutionize the interior of the American office.

Time to change the office?

Perhaps it’s time for the office environment to catch up with how communication has changed, how our work equipment has changed and how office work itself has changed. It’s time for the work environment to adapt to the new ways people can work instead of making how we work adapt to the old office environment. And, here and there, people are working differently, working better, in alternative office environments. They are being released out of the cubicle environment and working in collaborative spaces together. They are working some days from home with smaller shared workspace at the office. If there are ways that an office configuration can help people work more efficiently and more easily together, that can inspire creativity, that requires less space per worker… why wouldn’t we consider embracing some changes to our offices, some new ideas?

The Office… changing or not?

How we work and the jobs we do in American offices have greatly evolved in the past 30 years due to the explosion of new technologies. The computer, the internet, the laptop, the smart phone, social networking… the next few years will no doubt bring yet more technology that will touch our businesses in significant ways. Business models have changed, work roles have been rewritten, office skills have become more demanding, office culture has evolved. We smile to think about how differently work was carried out a generation ago, back in the 70’s and 80’s. The days when receptionists filled out pink “while you were out” slips and a secretarial pool typed letters on correcting typewriters. Those days when “doing paperwork” involved stacks of actual paper and file clerks carted it all back and forth to file cabinets all day long.
A generation ago, private offices for the managers would line the window walls of the office building. In large open areas in view of the private offices, those doing lesser general office work would work at individual open desks or in “cubicles”, desks with attached panels like fabric-covered fences. Workers would go to a Break Room for coffee and to gossip around the water cooler. The “big boss” got the corner window office. It seems long ago…
…Wait a minute… no it doesn’t seem long ago at all. Aren’t most office spaces in America still laid out more or less exactly like this? Seas of identical cubicles with people plugged into them 8to5 like a human factory? Technology seems to have revolutionized everything about office work except the office itself. Your cubicle may be new with “recyclable fabric” on the panels and your chair may be “ergonometric” but, let’s face it, it’s pretty much the same kind of workspace your mom worked in when you were a kid.

Is change finally coming to office design?

The office equipment has changed but the office itself… pretty much the same place for the last century…

1910 open office area

Bank open office area circa 1910

Jounson Wax open office 1940 Frank Lloyd Wright

Johnson Wax open office area circa 1940 (Frank LLoyd Wright)

Open office circa 2000