Workplace environments Featured

10:10am EDT July 22, 2002

Workplace environments

Are cube farms on the way out?

By John Ettorre

In the future, you'll spend more on outfitting the office: more space and better stuff to fill it. The future, you see, belongs to ergonomics.

Job-market demographics equals destiny. With an ever-larger slice of the working population becoming deskbound computer jockeys, companies will be pushed to prevent aches and pains in a far broader spectrum of the workforce-not just shipping clerks and data-entry people, but maybe the CFO as well.

If that doesn't stimulate a boom in deluxe, $1,200 chairs designed by downsized NASA engineers, it already has meant a brisk trade in more moderately priced items such as ergonomic mousepads (with wrist support, around $15).

Meanwhile, the once-trendy notion of squeezing employees into ever-smaller quarters has been checkmated by an impossibly tight labor market, which has dramatically shifted the balance of power between employee and employer.

Besides, the wildly popular "Dilbert" cartoon strip has forever trumped management's ability to painlessly resort to the sardine strategy. So adjust your thinking on the office budget; you'll have no choice but to lease some additional poly-shag acreage, lest your human capital suddenly decide to engage in mass egress.

If your workforce is increasingly virtual-either due to a larger proportion of telecommuters or more satellite offices whose occupants share assignments-the big job is figuring out how to make the widespread talent pool work like one big happy team.

And it is an inevitability; if you don't believe in telecommuting for your company, it may soon force itself upon you as the only way to keep good people.

There is, naturally, a consulting discipline arising around the confluence of people, technology and distance. Among companies in Northeast Ohio, look for insurance giant Progressive Corp. to live up to its name by contracting for some of the more interesting ideas in this embryonic discipline. Manco, an organization traditionally big on internal training in anticipation of new environments, might follow closely behind.