The workstations, or cubicles, you design for your office will impact your employees daily. Positive outcomes measured for workstation redesigns have shown better communication within teams, greater collaboration with other departments, or increased focused productivity among independent workers. The inverse can also be said for possible negative outcomes. Determining specific support goals for each team can help you strategically create workstations that are right for your company.


Every option chosen for your office workstations comes with advantages and disadvantages. What your team members will gain in privacy through tall cubicle walls will be lost in access to natural light. And what will be gained in access to collaboration in an open office plan may be lost in possible noise pollution and distractions. Finding the right balance will be different for each space. 


Proximity generally determines who people engage with most and would seem to intuitively argue for fewer dividers between workstations. However, a Harvard Business Review study concluded that a manager’s main focus should not be supporting opportunities for more employee interaction but supporting opportunities for “meaningful interactions.” While meaningful interactions can certainly happen without planning, they are most consistently encountered through intentionality. A well-structured 30-minute sharing meeting or social activity can deliver more impact in terms of meaningful interaction than passing someone’s desk every day and commenting on the weather.

5 Helpful Big-Picture Design Questions:

By thinking strategically through your teams’ needs, you can identify how your workstations can find the balance needed to help promote—and not inhibit—success. 

  1. With whom does the team need to communicate and collaborate?

  2. How will employees access private and communal working spaces?

  3. What is the overall vision for the space?

  4. What aspects of the project are most important?

  5. Where is the coffee machine?


No one-size-fits-all workstation design perfectly balances the amount of privacy every employee needs with the amount of open access they need to each other—not to mention natural light. Walls in any form, whether partial or full, felt or concrete, help create real and perceived degrees of privacy for employees. Humans are both social and private creatures, and balance can be supported through intentional access to shared public and private spaces.

Workstation Design That Promotes Collaboration

If your goal is to create a culture of lively collaboration, removing all dividers between workstations may, surprisingly, have an adverse effect. When people are all working closely in the same space, they can experience a sense of socially mandated silence, similar to what you may find in elevators, on public transit, in movie theaters, or in line at the DMV. Open office plans can create a work culture of “public solitude.” Astonishingly, that same Harvard Business Review study found that moving to an open office plan caused face-to-face interaction to plummet by 70%.

Promoting Privacy in Workstation Design to Support Focus

In an office design with shorter dividing walls between workstations (or none at all), employees benefit from access to rooms where they can make a private phone call, have a quick conversation with a colleague, schedule time for lactation needs for parents of infants, or reduce sensory input for neurodivergent employees. Some best achieve focus through physical isolation and the removal of distractions caused by other people. However, silently working independently near someone else, aka body doubling, can be the key to greater focus for other employees. Storage and filing banks or strategically placed office plants can create demarcations between workstation areas to diminish excessive distraction while remaining visually open and reaping the benefits of coworking.


In spaces designed with more privacy, isolation can be combated through collaboration spaces, communal tables, and meeting rooms intended for intentional and unintentional meaningful interactions. One of the most strategic tools at your disposal is your coffee station. Coffee stations placed between departments that work together have been found to increase communication and collaboration. However, teams that require more robust internal communication, focus, and less distraction benefit from a coffee station placed in the middle of their own work area.


10 Helpful Workstation Design Questions

  1. Number of cubicles: How many individuals do you need to accommodate?

  2. Height of panels: What level of privacy are you trying to achieve compared to a more collaborative or open environment?

    • 85” and up: Office-like, very private. Consider glass on top to help spread light to the center of the building.

    • 53” to 67”: Seated-height privacy, more heads-down work

    • 39” to 47”: Visually open and more collaborative. 39” cubicles near windows typically allow natural light to spread to the center of the office. 

    • 32” to 39”: Typically used at windows or for transaction counters in a reception area.

  3. Shape/size of cubicles: Do you have specific shape and space requirements for the size of each cubicle?

  4. Uniformity: Will all cubicles be the same, or do you need to account for any special type of workstations or sizes?

  5. Layout: Is there any necessity for deviating from the standard window-facing direction employees typically face?

  6. Work surfaces: What requirements do you have for work surfaces?

  7. Filing: How much filing space is required per desk and/or department?

  8. Storage: What types and quantity of storage are required for each workstation and/or department?

  9. Electrical: Will these cubicles require electricity? If so, what electrical devices do you need to account for, and where will the electricity be sourced from (wall, ceiling, floor)?

  10. Ergonomics: Will employees be able to do their work without causing harm to their bodies over time?

    • Height-adjustable workstations: Improve employee overall health, engagement, and productivity

    • Anti-fatigue mats: Improve the height-adjustable workstation experience by reducing stress on the body

    • Keyboard trays: Increase access to the work area, especially for narrow workstations

    • Monitor arms: Improve ergonomic seating position and increase workstation space

    • Lighting: Particularly important in high-panel cubicles with overhead storage

    • Paper management trays and hanging accessories: Increase work surface area


Leave a Comment

Your comment has been sent.