The Magical Shrinking Cubicle

Just a quick one-off link this time. Given the growing interest I sense in the community in the labor history of computing (see, for example, the recent IEEE Annals issue dedicated to the subject), I thought people might be interested in a recent story from the L.A. Times.

The article describes a long-term trend I was completely unaware of, the shrinking of the average square-footage per person in the American white-collar office, to less than half of the 1970s standard. It attributes this physical change in how people work to:

  1. Technological change (personal computers, laptops, videoconferencing, on-line collaborative software)
  2. Changes in work culture enabled, in part, by that technological change (e.g. an "I can work anywhere" attitude)
  3. Changes in managerial theories, particularly a greater emphasis on teamwork (it's unclear what the relationship is between these changes and the technological changes - do new technologies lead HBS professors to imagine new forms of work organization?)

Curiously, the more obvious driver for reducing office space, simply saving money, is mentioned but not given much causal weight.

This would be a very interesting line for someone to investigate further (maybe someone already has? If so I'd love to hear about it). I'm sure some fascinating frictions have emerged in the last few decades at the intersection of new computer technologies, new managerial theories emanating from M.B.A. programs and various management gurus, and white collar workplace practices. A potential starting point might be the "LANing" of the office PC in the mid-1980s.