Open-office fad has workers pining for cubicles

It is an indisputable fact that nothing crushes the soul of creativity like an office cubicle farm.

So today’s Boston Globe story on the subject is worth a double take. Once we lose our cubicle, we miss it. So stunning is this assertion, that it made the paper’s front page today.

Today’s workers, apparently, are rebelling against the open-office trend in which walls are removed and people are encouraged to interact. It’s also cheaper for the company.

How horrible is the open office? People would rather be in their soulless cubicles, the Globe says.

A little privacy can go a long way, it turns out. At a factory in China, teams with curtains around them were 10 to 15 percent more productive than those out in the open because they felt more comfortable experimenting and taking risks, said Ethan Bernstein, a Harvard Business School professor who conducted the research in China.

Bernstein also found that at a corporate headquarters that moved from cubicles to an open layout, face-to-face communication declined by 70 percent and e-mail increased in its place — possibly because of the proliferation of people wearing headphones and a reluctance to discuss sensitive information in front of a roomful of people.

Joe Caputo, a principal project manager at Primetals Technologies USA in Worcester, can relate. Since the manufacturing and engineering company moved into a building with an open floor plan a few years ago, “the e-mails have picked up tremendously,” he said. “If I have something important to say to someone, I really don’t want to say it in front of everybody else.”

Another says the open-space in her office is “keeping three coffee shops in business.”