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How to lay out friendlier cubicles.

HOW TO LAY OUT FRIENDLIER CUBICLES

In people-intensive departments like tech support, accounting, and telemarketing, most employees end up working in cubicles rather than personal offices. "Badly designed cubicles can be a deadly environment," says Dave Brown, a facilities design consultant with the Software Support Professionals Association. "But with a little attention to detail, you can create a very supportive workplace." His advice:

* Balance privacy and teamwork: A cubicle can be as small as 6'x6', says Brown, provided the wall panels are tall enough (at least 45"-48") to provide a sense of privacy when employees are sitting at their desks. However, a good layout should also include some shorter panels and shared workspaces, to encourage people to talk with each other and feel they're part of a team.

* Keep the noise level down: "The height of a cubicle wall has little impact on the amount of noise that an employee receives," Brown points out. "What does make an impact is the material that the cube is made of." Look for a Sound Transmission Coefficient rating of at least 42-45 (which means the panel material blocks most normal speech) or 46-50 (if there's a significant amount of loud speech). Another useful rating system is the Noise Reduction Coefficient, which works on a scale of zero to ten; ceiling panels are rated at 0.9 on this scale and are one of the best noise reducers.

* Involve employees in the design process: When Intuit moved 320 call center employees into a 32,000 sq. ft. warehouse last year, the company formed an employee design committee that made decisions about color, layout, and cubicle sizes. Intuit employees now have a real sense of control over their workplace, says Brown, so call center morale is high. "It would be a disaster to invest in a design and then have your people mutiny because it's too small or too noisy."

* Shop around: A complete panel system with built-in furniture is likely to cost $2,500 to $3,000 per cubicle, so it's worthwhile to spend time looking at how other companies have solved their layout problems. Then talk to systems vendors (who are essentially office furniture companies) about prices and designs. For larger or more difficult layouts, says Brown, it may also be helpful to bring in a professional facilities designer, who can take over some of the research and design work.

* Encourage personalization: Employees should be allowed to bring in plants and personal mementos, put up posters and photos, and otherwise decorate their work areas, says Brown, even if the result seems somewhat messy and disorganized. "If productivity goes up just 10% because of better morale, you'll recover the whole investment in a new office system in the first year."

David Brown, consultant, Software Support Professionals Association, 16981 Via Taz San Diego, Calif. 92127; 619/674-4864.
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Title Annotation:comfortable and well-designed cubicles can result in higher productivity and employee morale
Publication:Soft-Letter
Date:Nov 4, 1993
Words:473
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