Monday, March 17, 2003

Nonergonomic! The Cubicle from Hell

Nonergonomic! The Cubicle from Hell
[人因工程 ]

The Cubicle from Hell

The author/editor has worked in a number of architectural firms over the years, and he has noticed a discouraging anomaly. In a textbook case of "The cobbler's children have no shoes", design firms whose mission is "Better Living Through Design" often fail to provide a humane working environment for their own employees. Usually those neglected are employees on the lowest levels of the organizational hierarchy. (This is not always the case however. Below is an atypical instance in which middle managers have wound up with work spaces inferior to those below them.) See Illustrations: Bad Cubicle and So-So Cubicle

Consider the standard office cubicle. Scott Adams, creator of the comic strip "Dilbert," has an extremely low opinion of cubicles in general.

"If you put somebody in a cubicle," says Adams, "you cannot expect him to make decisions which are higher quality than cubicle decisions."

'A former cubicle dweller himself, Scott Adams has made Dilbert's dinky domain a prime symbol of workplace humiliation. There are companies, such as chipmaker Intel, where everybody, even the CEO, works out of a warren. But generally, dispatching someone to one of those pasteboard waffle holes is a public, self-fulfilling prophecy of subpar performance.'

Personally I understand but don't share Adam's intense antipathy toward cubicles. Cubicles need not be as dehumanizing as Adams makes out, with the following non-negotiable provisos:

One: A cubicle occupant must never be forced to sit outside the cubicle. The cubicle occupant must sit entirely inside the cubicle. A cubicle containing only a work surface with a chair pushed up against it is flat out unacceptable. No ifs, ands or buts about it. See Illustration: The Cubicle from Hell.

Two: A cubicle occupant must never be forced to sit with his back to the opening of the cubicle. The occupant must sit with either his back to the rear of the cubicle and his face to the cubicle entrance (difficult to achieve), or he must sit with this back to one of the two side walls of the cubicle (easily achieved and quite common). Anything less is flat out unacceptable. Again see: The Cubicle from Hell.

A cubicle occupant must be able to catch anyone approaching his personal space in either his direct vision or at least his peripheral vision. What makes the Bad Cubicle unacceptable (See Illustration: Bad Cubicle) is that it amounts to half a cubicle. Half a cubicle is like a room with a missing wall. It is especially objectionable if the missing wall is to one's back.

Even more objectionable are what the article refers to as

'other so-called alternative office strategies like Hoteling (spaces are divvied out daily, first come, first served), Shared Space (employees confined like two-to-a-cell prisoners) and Free-Address (workers share large, open, hivelike spaces). The newest horror among the boxed set is "densification," when employers literally close in the walls on the workers to save floor space. "It's part of a constant nickel-and-diming of the employee," says Adams. "I want you to work another hour and make the cubicle two feet smaller."'

-- Bevin Chu

Explanation: The Cubicle from Hell
IIllustration: Nonergonomic! The Cubicle from Hell
Author: Bevin Chu
Affiliation: CETRA Design Information Section
Publication Date: 2003
Original Language: English
Editor: Bevin Chu, Registered Architect

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