5 Things you weren’t told in college about working in an open-office

By David Sholkovitz 11.12.2014

1. Surprise! You work in a cubicle, not a private office

Coming out of college it’s hard not to want a job that provides you with a corner office. Unfortunately, none of us are Don Draper, and over the past 20 years companies have changed the way they look at their office space. With the invention of the cubicle, companies were able to be more flexible with office floor plans and increase the density of workers. However, along with this flexibility came the loss of privacy, and an increase in distracting noises, loud conversations and unwelcomed ears. As stated in an article in the New York Times this week, “Even as the walls of America’s workplaces continue to come crashing down, leaving only a handful of holdouts — like corporate law firms — a number of recent studies have been critical of the effects of open-plan offices on both the productivity and happiness of cube dwellers.” Welcome to the club.

2. You don’t get to choose your cubicle neighbors

At least in college you get to choose where you sit in class. Well, this is real world, and in the real world, you do not get to choose your cubicle – or your cubicle neighbors. Think happy thoughts while your cubicle neighbor tells the story about her cat for the millionth time. Think happy thoughts while your phone conversation with your doctor is overheard by 2-4 other people, at least. Think happy thoughts because, with all the potentially noisy distractions, you may not be able to get anything else done anyway.

3. Unlike the university library, you can’t actually wear headphones all day

During college, headphones were a great way to block out overheard conversations, loud or annoying classmates or just provide some needed privacy. Unfortunately, when working in a cubicle farm, this isn’t always an option. A 2012 Harvard Business Review article put it best: “The image of legions of headphone-wearing employees sitting silently at their workstations, oblivious to the flesh-and-blood community around them…, seems like a dystopian future envisioned in movies like Minority Report. But that future is here.” With the increase of cubicle space in offices, a new protocol has developed, namely ‘office etiquette.’ One of the big ‘no-no’s’ of office etiquette is wearing headphones. This is thought of as one of the rudest things a cubicle employee can display. Wearing headphones makes you oblivious to those around you who are trying to talk to you, get your attention, or transfer a call to your desk.

4. You don’t get to choose which direction your cubicle faces

Wish you could have a cubicle facing a window? Wish you could be upwind of a loud cubicle neighbor’s phone calls? Or wish you could turn your desk around so that when someone walks by you they aren’t seeing everything on your computer’s desktop? This isn’t Office Space, so, unfortunately, you can’t just bash out the wall in front of you. Cubicles are built for speed, not for comfort, so get used to minimizing your Pinterest tab constantly

5. You may never be working in a private office

Many companies are moving nearly their entire staff to cubicle and open-plan offices. This means that private offices are reserved for extremely senior members, such as Presidents, VPs, Directo

rs, etc. Some companies have even moved to have their entire staff in a ‘cube farm,’ including their Chief Executives. Michael Pietsch is the Chief Executive at the Hachette Book Group in New York and he recently moved from having a big corner office with a large living room area to working in a 6-by-7-foot cubicle, similar to the other 519 employees at Hachette. So, maybe you have time before you are a Chief Executive – who’s to say you won’t have a private office by then? Realistically, unless workspace design changes and goes back to the way it was in Don Draper’s day, it may be safe to say, you will never be working in a private office.

So how do you escape the trials of the cubicle you call home?

Call us! Cambridge Sound Management, Inc. (CSM) is the developer of Qt Quiet Technology™ sound masking systems. CSM offers innovative, simple and intelligently designed solutions to the problems of privacy and acoustic distractions in open-office work spaces. Learn More about Sound Masking.


2012 Harvard Business Review, “Workers, Take Off Your Headphones,” by Anna Kreamer: https://hbr.org/2012/04/workers-take-off-your-headphon

2014 New York Times, “Cubicles Rise in a Brave New World of Publishing,” by Jonathan Mahler: https://www.nytimes.com/2014/11/10/business/cubicles-rise-in-brave-new-world-of-publishing.html?emc=edit_th_20141110&nl=todaysheadlines&nlid=45459751

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