Hard Walls - The Traditional Office
The traditional office supports the top-down way of working. The private office is recognized as a status symbol and it is the best at providing personal territory. Hard-walled offices have some advantages that, if needed, are difficult to duplicate with cubicles, let alone open plan offices. A hard-walled office is more secure and it can provide the best visual and acoustic privacy. It is the ideal space when concentration is required or when sensitive conversations take place.
The traditional office is usually more expensive to create even if the building space already exists because of the individual wiring, lighting and HVAC. A private office can provide superior day-lighting for the occupant, but sharing access to windows presents a challenge.
Cubicle - The New Office
Thanks to Dilbert and the uninspired use by large corporations, cubicles have a bad reputation. Even so cubicles have several advantages; and, when implemented with care, they can even be a superior workspace. In general cubicles support team, project and collaborative ways of working. This is their strength.
Cubicles can be customized to the person and the job in ways that aren't usually feasible in a traditional office. For instance it is very easy to have twice as much work surface at your fingertips. Drawers and shelves can also be located for convenience in the type and quantity needed. The amount of and height of enclosure can vary to support the degree of interaction or isolation that is desired.
For the organization there are several benefits as well. Cubicles can be reconfigured quickly without mess and without changing lighting and air conditioning. Cubicles can be depreciated more quickly and can be re-used over and over. They can house an employee in a better work environment in 2/3 the area of an office. Cubicles have a lower life- cycle cost.
Our first Herman Miller Action Office cubicle components were purchased 30 years ago and are still providing service. They have been reconfigured at least every five years and enhanced with new and refurbished pieces where needed. A 100 SF cubicle provides a much nicer work environment than the same size traditional hard walled office.
Usually the best solution is not an either/or proposition, but a mix of hard walls and cubicles. The ideal solution is to select the best type of work space for each individual and the job they perform. An oversized hard wall office used to house a group, in traditional furniture, cubicles, or a mix encourages a team approach and provides some of the benefits of hard walls along with those of the cubicle.
My personal preference: a large cubicle. But I am also quite fond of an informal home office.