Say Goodbye to the Cubicle, For Good

  • June 11, 2009 by Corbett Barr
  • 7 Comments

cubicle-farm

Things could get interesting for the average big company employee soon, if Seth Godin is right. He proclaims that the era of the cubicle may be coming to an end sooner than we think, in a new article in Time Magazine.

Godin cites the uncertain economy as the main driver for the change. “Employers no longer need to pay you to drive to a building to sit and type,” he claims. This may result in the death of the cubicle in the next 5 to 10 years. The results-only work environment (or ROWE) is a precursor of this change.

This transition away from cubicles won’t be smooth for all involved, however. Godin points out that the end of the cubicle is coming because of fundamental changes in the nature of work. Employers no longer need people to do basic tasks like reception, errands, or even processing words or numbers. Those jobs will be outsourced, and only essential people will remain employees:

Work will mean managing a tribe, creating a movement and operating in teams to change the world. Anything less is going to be outsourced to someone a lot cheaper and a lot less privileged than you or me.

The irony of the situation is that even those who manage to keep their jobs could end up longing for the “good old days” of less accountability. It turns out that working for a big employer under these new location independent circumstances could be more difficult that it is today, according to Godin:

We’ll go from a few days alone at home, maintaining the status quo, to urgent team sessions, sometimes in person, often online. It will make some people yearn for jobs like those in the old days, when we fought traffic, sat in a cube, typed memos, took a long lunch and then sat in traffic again.

Where will you fit in all this? Do you agree with Seth Godin’s picture of the future? Will co-working make life better in the post-cubicle world? Has your employer started to increase telecommuting or reduce office space? Tell us in the comments!

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photo by Tim Patterson

Written by . Corbett is cofounder of Fizzle, a place for creative entrepreneurs, writers, makers, coders and artists, all working to support themselves doing what they love independently on the Internet. Follow Corbett on on Twitter.


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James NomadRip June 11, 2009 at 1:31 pm

I think to some degree it will be coming true. The current “standard” work environment is so inefficient for everyone involved, it is not even funny. So much waste on non-essential functions in an increasingly competitive and global climate.

The part about outsourcing should give pause to most of the “privileged” world. Plenty of jobs or even entire fields are being more easily and cheaply filled. Many jobs that people have always thought, “I’m a bookkeeper, I can get a job anywhere” is ringing less and less true (insert any relatively easily outsourced job).

Outsourcing office work to other countries like this does have it’s drawbacks, just like outsourcing manufacturing has killed so many of those type of jobs in the U.S. Those “privileged” areas that no longer need all those local workers are losing their own customers. Every job that goes the outsourced route is one lost here in your market. That jobless person sure can’t afford to buy whatever you’re selling now.

Definitely an economic balancing act, and those other countries are catching up quickly.

Corbett Barr June 11, 2009 at 8:50 pm

It’s a balancing act, for sure, but I’m not sure any individual company is concerned about the balance specifically. It’s more of a macroeconomic question, I suppose.

Colin Wright June 11, 2009 at 10:42 pm

More and more of my friends are taking jobs that are virtual rather than in-person, and I can only assume that, working from home, they are held more accountable for their work as well (either that or they’re getting a REALLY good deal from their employers!).

I personally work virtually with the vast majority of my clients and we’ve all found the relationships (and work that comes from them) to be very solid (and not at all lacking from the lack of a face-to-face work environment).

I’m happy to see this movement maturing for many reasons, but one of the big ones is that it’s fantastic for the environment. The fewer cars we have on the road during rush hour, the better. The fewer reams of bleached copy paper we’re using to print off things that can just as easily be emailed, the better. The technology is available to allow everyone to live happier, more free, more productive lives. Now we just have to wait and see who hops on board first and who will be lagging behind.

Corbett Barr June 12, 2009 at 6:32 am

I have an interview coming up soon with Cali and Jody, the creators of the “results-only work environment,” or ROWE. Hopefully I’ll be able to ask some questions about results, accountability, relationships, environmental benefits, etc.

Celes | EmbraceLiving.Net June 12, 2009 at 1:48 am

I actually agree with that. Basic work should be outsourced so that the employees get to do higher value tasks. I see it as a win-win situation actually – a lot of people are just doing menial work because they have become comfortable in them. If this shift occurs, it’s a push for them to become better too.

Corbett Barr June 12, 2009 at 6:34 am

That’s a great way to look at it Celes. Hopefully there are good tools to help people transition to those higher value tasks. This situation happened in a way already as we transitioned from manufacturing to office work. I’m afraid that many people never really made the transition well, and as a result have become more marginalized in our society.

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