Buying Cubicles? How to Choose the Right Office Furniture

By Karina Fabian
Business.com / HR Solutions / Last Modified: May 25, 2017

Cubicles help set the tone for your office culture. Read on to narrow down your options for cubicle styles and choose the right setup.

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Cubicles - the butt of office jokes and the bane of call center employees. While mocking these modular office setups is practically a business culture tradition, the truth is that the right cubicle setup can strike a balance between giving employees a personal space and maximizing the space of your office.

Modular setups let you adapt to the needs of your office. For example, you can change them to suit your needs – two 2 x 5 cubicles can be repurposed to a single 4 x 10 area. Materials have also improved, allowing companies to add color, design, even glass doors. If you need a compromise between the expense and isolation of individual offices and the potential noise and chaos of an open office, cubicles are the way to go.

When selecting the best cubicle systems for your office space, you should first take some time determining what you need. Price is only one factor. Consider these elements of your company culture:

Do you value creativity or tradition? This can determine layout and color.

What's more important: spontaneous interaction or security and privacy? This helps determine wall height.

How "paperless" are your employees? More paperwork means a bigger cubicle.

What's your employee turnover? Employees who are staying a long time should be able to set down roots in their cubicles, and that means a small shelf, the ability to put up a photo, a place to put things they need, but not every day. Employees doing shift work in a high-turnover business, like call centers, may do fine with a small area that they share with someone on a different shift.

Editor's Note: Looking for a cubicle solution for your business? If you're looking for information to help you choose the one that's right for you, use the questionnaire below to have our sister site, BuyerZone, provide you with information from a variety of vendors for free:

 

Cubicle basics

Height: Cubicle furniture comes in three heights, each with its own purpose:

  • Low heights (approx. 42 inches). These make it easy for co-workers to talk to each other from their desks, and for supervisors to see what folks are doing at a glance. However, they make for a noisier environment.
  • Tall heights (60 inches or higher). These mimic private offices and maximize privacy. They block sound better, but are more expensive.
  • Medium heights (approx. 54 inches). These are a compromise between low and tall. While they are better at creating privacy, co-workers can still stand up to talk to the person next to or across from them.
  • Tile style. Some modular office kits come in tiles rather than walls. Thus, you can use the same kit to make a tall wall or a low one. You can also mix tile types, so you could have a cubicle with a window. Tiles cost more than traditional setups.

Materials: Cubicles used to come only in metal and fabric, with laminate desks. Nowadays, you almost have more choices for modular walls than standard ones. While frames remain metal for strength, the walls can be fabric, wood, glass, even whiteboard. The desks and shelving can be metal, wood, fabric or Formica. The variety of materials not only helps you make an attractive and comfortable environment but also assists function. For example, glass brings light and visibility to a manager's office.

Color: Like materials, colors have come a long way from the drab tans and grays of the '60s. Look for colors that support your brand and complement the culture and mission of your office. For example, bright colors like orange and red are energetic and stimulating, which may be perfect for a creative, busy marketing firm. A bank or doctor's office may prefer blues and greens, which are more relaxing.

Size of individual cubicles: The size of the individual cubicle depends on the job of the person working in it and their work situation. A balance between business needs, budget and worker comfort can prevent your employees from feeling they are living a Dilbert-esque nightmare.

Naturally, you need to determine how many you can fit in your floor space. Many cubicle sales companies have an online planner or can send someone to evaluate your space and needs.

Power: Most modern modular office setups include electrical outlets. In general, if you are not putting the cubicles against a wall, where employees can plug in directly, you are better off routing the electricity through the cubicle.

Accessories: No longer is a cubicle just made of walls, a flat desk space and despair. Accessories can include cabinets, task lighting, and little corner shelves to hold desk plants or family photos. Desks and even walls can have curves, and walls can include attachments for pictures, whiteboards or monitors.

Cost

While cheaper than building structural walls, cubicles are still not cheap. Simple workstations (walls, a desk, maybe a cabinet) run from $200 to $3,000, depending on size and materials. Tile-based workstations cost $800 to $3,500, depending on tiles, size and materials. Workstations are often bought in groups and may require a minimum number. Some companies offer discounts with larger orders. Accessories like extra cabinets, trays and lighting don't cost much more than their stand-alone counterparts, but are designed for the cubicle system.

If you are looking for a deal, check refurbished and used systems. Modular furniture can stand up to regular use well, so you may be able to get a system that suits your needs and is still in great shape. Used cubicles are "what you see is what you get," so if your company grows, you may not be able to match what you buy. Refurbished modular offices keep the steel frame but replace the interior materials, so they are less expensive but newer, and can be customized in many cases.

Jokes about the life-sucking ennui of cubicles aside, modular office systems can give your office a balance between privacy and price. Just be sure to consider the needs of your workers as well as your budget.

Image from August_0802/Shutterstock

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Karina Fabian
Karina Fabian is a full-time writer and mother of four. By day, she writes reviews of business products and services for Top Ten Reviews and articles for Business.com, Business News Daily and Tom’s IT Pro. As a freelancer, she writes for Catholic educational sites and teaches writing skills. She has 17 published novels of science fiction and fantasy. Learn more at http://fabianspace.com.

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