×
INTELLIGENT WORK FORUMS
FOR ENGINEERING PROFESSIONALS

Log In

Come Join Us!

Are you an
Engineering professional?
Join Eng-Tips Forums!
  • Talk With Other Members
  • Be Notified Of Responses
    To Your Posts
  • Keyword Search
  • One-Click Access To Your
    Favorite Forums
  • Automated Signatures
    On Your Posts
  • Best Of All, It's Free!

*Eng-Tips's functionality depends on members receiving e-mail. By joining you are opting in to receive e-mail.

Posting Guidelines

Promoting, selling, recruiting, coursework and thesis posting is forbidden.

Students Click Here

Engineering Office Layout.
11

Engineering Office Layout.

Engineering Office Layout.

(OP)
My company is going to renovate the engineering office (12 people) with new cubicles.
Currently, we have solid 61" high cubicles from the 1970s (at least, that's what they look like)
Engineers tend to recluse themselves in their hide-aways, which doesn't help with communication and collaboration.

The question is - high, mid or low cubicles?

Most of the engineers would prefer high, but that doesn't change anything. We're just updating the furniture.
The engineering manager (me) would prefer mid or low.

Any thoughts on the pros and cons of each configuration? (see attached file for some graphics)

RE: Engineering Office Layout.

Are people on audio calls a lot? if so, then high walls are best for sound blocking to reduce disturbances.

I've always preferred high walls; its not that hard to get up and walk around to someone's desks.

Managers like low walls so they can sit at there desk and see if people are present, as if that is a measure of productivity (grrrrrrr).

RE: Engineering Office Layout.

Quote (SWComposites)


Managers like low walls so they can sit at there desk and see if people are present, as if that is a measure of productivity (grrrrrrr).

When I was working in hard-engineering (back in the 70's before I moved into software) our design office was open. Engineers and draftsmen worked side by side (this was before we had computers) most on drafting boards. Department heads had offices along one side of the room where they could look out at their people (the old joke was that when they looked-up, all they wanted to see was a##holes and elbows).

However, when I joined the software company we had high-walled cubes. Now there were some open work areas where testers worked as they tended to share between each other, but the programmers all had individual, high-walled cubes. Of course, the senior team leaders and managers tended to have hard-walled offices. For the first 10-years or so I had a high-walled cube, but once I moved to a manager level, even after I was no longer actually managing people, I had a hard-walled office.

John R. Baker, P.E. (ret)
Irvine, CA
Siemens PLM:

The secret of life is not finding someone to live with
It's finding someone you can't live without

RE: Engineering Office Layout.

About 25 years ago at a large aerospace company I worked at, they did a study.
They changed all engineering walls to low walls, it became mostly more productive.
Supervisors had high walls (not to ceiling), managers had hard wall offices.
Other departments were separated away (sales, buyers, etc) because they are loud.
These days, to save space, they are closer together. This is why a lot of people wears ear plugs, headphones, etc.
High walls, less productive as a team. High walls also give individuals more time to hide to play on cell phones.

Chris, CSWP
SolidWorks
ctophers home

RE: Engineering Office Layout.

4
I have endured many forms of stupidity with office layouts. For the last decade I have put up with 4 person pods, with lowish walls. We all wore noise cancelling headphones, and I have walked up to loud people (managers etc) and told them to shut up. So you can stick your el cheapo open office space saving solutions where the sun doesn't shine. In my opinion.

Cheers

Greg Locock


New here? Try reading these, they might help FAQ731-376: Eng-Tips.com Forum Policies http://eng-tips.com/market.cfm?

RE: Engineering Office Layout.

(OP)
My primary concern is the potential of a mini-revolt if we switch from high solid walls to mid-height walls (53") with 10" of glass.
I'm looking for feedback from anyone who works in this type of cube.


RE: Engineering Office Layout.

Well, people will just paper over the windows. :)

RE: Engineering Office Layout.

there is an olde story about office management. When management consulted the "workers" nearly all changes lead to an increase in productivity.

my 2c ... low walls do not mean more communication ... you can lead a horse to water (but you can't make him drink).
Low walls may help communication, but there will also be a lot more noise and distraction and now everyone is going to hear the various work (and non-work) conversations. How many of your "workers" need quiet so they can concentrate on the problem they are trying to solve ? We have to recognise the personalities we're working with. Yes, most engineers would prefer not to be talking with others all day (we're not in HR !!??), but putting them in low walled cubies will only pi$$ them off !

We're going through the "non-sense" of co-locating the teams. My opinion on this is sub-dividing a small department into very small components (on each team) means that the department will lose it's identity, the various people won't support each other as they would if they were together. But t'was ever thus ... the pull between project or functional organisations; which ever way you organise, there'll always be problems and advantages, proponents, and opponents.

What with Teams and all the message apps, it should be easy for anyone to communicate with anyone else.

Maybe one way to deal with this is to have daily meetings ... department meetings if organised in projects, project meetings if organised in functions.

And, yes, the comment above "high walls mean more time playing on phones" ... well, that's an opinion (a low opinion ?) on how the people will react. if that's your opinion, then one open office, with desks arrayed so the manager can see the screens.

Do you guys have a "work from home" option ?

"Hoffen wir mal, dass alles gut geht !"
General Paulus, Nov 1942, outside Stalingrad after the launch of Operation Uranus.

RE: Engineering Office Layout.

I've worked in an office that had been totally renovated (a few months before I got there) to both generally modernize it and also convert to a mostly open office plan. Everyone had fancy powered sit/stand desks with low walls around the back and sides of the desk. Some privacy, but still easy to talk to neighbors and "collaborate". By the time I got there, everyone had been issued noise cancelling headsets and wore them pretty frequently because the noise from everyone "collaborating" was distracting and made it hard to get any solo work done.

Generally, I don't understand the feeling that high cubes or even hard walled office with doors restrict communication, collaboration, or whatever buzzword tickles your fancy. Between the availability of email, your favorite corporate instant messenger, phone/video calls, and simply walking to a coworker's workspace to talk face to face, I have plenty of ways to communicate with coworkers when I need to. If there is ever something where there needs to be extended periods of back and forth between me and one or more coworkers, that's what meetings in a conference room are for.

Also, I'm with SWComposites on the glass. Looks like a great height to ergonomically post lots of hard copy quick reference materials to help increase my productivity bigsmile. The cynic in me also thinks they're really good at communicating to your employees "I don't trust you to actually do your work if given a shred of privacy, so I need to be able to monitor you at all times." Maybe your employees aren't as cynical as I am though.

RE: Engineering Office Layout.

I've only occasionally been in a cubicle farm and have mostly worked in blocks of four desks with little between them. The mid or level barriers are best and nowadays most people have two decent sized monitors so you're no staring straight at someone else or get distracted by stuff happening.

However I have done two office relocations / redesigns and it was by far the worst job/ task I was ever given.

No one, like NO ONE, says well done, that's great / better... At best you get a "well it could be worse" and then 2 or 3 you will swear have made you into a little voodoo doll and stick pins in it when they get home.

I would go with Low, but allow somewhere for people to go and have all the Teams meetings you get into now. It's a nightmare sitting anywhere where someone is on one 4 hr/s day and even worse if two of you are on the same call due to the slight delay between them speaking and it coming out of your headphones. So institute a NO TEAMS mtg rule at the desk and that will withdraw a pin or two from the voodoo doll.

Remember - More details = better answers
Also: If you get a response it's polite to respond to it.

RE: Engineering Office Layout.

or we could have a room for meetings ?

or maybe a "cone of silence" ?

"Hoffen wir mal, dass alles gut geht !"
General Paulus, Nov 1942, outside Stalingrad after the launch of Operation Uranus.

RE: Engineering Office Layout.

The best layout is with the manager at the same sort of desk as everyone else directly in the middle where they are available to communicate with their team members; the subordinates are arranged in concentric circles facing the supervisor.

RE: Engineering Office Layout.

Cost is a big one. Some companies will go with used low wall cubicles to save $.
Rodger Furey, I like your pic, but they are rarely seen in an engineering environment. They are also more expensive.

Chris, CSWP
SolidWorks
ctophers home

RE: Engineering Office Layout.

I worked in an office that went from high cubes + lab space on the same floor, to lab space downstairs and the office became the low/mid cubes. We had mid height walls on the sides of our desks, but the front was low. Then we were organized opposite who we collaborated most with. You could just tilt your head and wave to get the person's attention and ask them a question. Which, for critical team members was quite useful.

THat said... the mid/low cube layout was far noisier than even the shared lab space we had before that. We installed a white (pink?) noise generating system to be always on. That helped a bit. But even with admittedly quiet co-workers (everyone at that company was pretty soft spoken), we all wound up wearing noise cancelling headphones most of the time.

Having worked in a couple open offices as well as high cubes, I think the best bet for productivity is to make groups of 4 or so that have almost no separation, but keep the office itself "high cube" style noise abatement. You can do this with lower walls... but you need to spend the money for the acoustic ceiling panels, wall panels, and put in some cool plants etc that also block sound and break up the space. Otherwise it will almost certainly become a echo space, easily dominated by anyone who has a strident voice or doesn't tend to whisper.

Now I work from home, and I am way more productive, even without headphones. The ability to think in near complete silence for a couple hours is fantastic.

RE: Engineering Office Layout.

When the office I work in was remodeled from high cube walls to mid-high with 10" frosted glass tops, many women who are 5 feet to 5 feet 4 inches said they really liked the change because they no longer were walking through 'canyons'. Most of the guys really had not noticed the isolation issue because most of us are around six feet or taller and could see somewhat over the top edge of the older high cube walls.

RE: Engineering Office Layout.

3
I vote for option 4 - Walls connected to the ceiling, no windows unless placed in an exterior wall, and a door.

My favorite cube had 6' walls on 3.5 sides and an easel that blocked most of the entryway. It was quiet, private, and free of distractions. I could easily walk down the aisle for questions or conversation, and also enjoy a lunchtime nap, pinch of chew, or put my feet up without hearing busybody comments.

The worst office I've worked in was an open-office - no walls, just shared desks and tables. In the morning and evening you set-up/tore-down everything and either hauled it to/from home or put it in a locker. On a good day you'd waste 20-30 mins doing so, on a bad one you'd waste more and be thoroughly pissed jumping desks bc some a**hole butchered the desk's chair/monitor/keyboard/mouse/dock/cables the day prior. The noise was horrible and the needless conversation and other distractions constant. I rarely wore headphones at work prior but have had music or audiobooks playing almost constantly since. You also couldn't work on any secretive projects bc literally everybody heard and saw everything done by others.

A good rule of thumb is that anything done in the name of improving collaboration generally has the opposite effect. A second worth remembering is that if the restroom is quieter than your office then you have an issue.

RE: Engineering Office Layout.

If the engineering staff prefers high walls, then give those to them. What is the point of deliberately pissing them off?

RE: Engineering Office Layout.

Quote (JRB)

Department heads had offices along one side of the room where they could look out at their people (the old joke was that when they looked-up, all they wanted to see was a##holes and elbows).

Did you ever visit Bldg 15 in Huntington Beach? When I was there the first time, we had the classic hard/high-wall cubicles, except on the 2nd(?) floor of aforementioned building. They had low-wall cubes and the entire bay was visible from any spot in the bay. I asked someone why the walls were so low; they replied, "Have you ever seen our GM?" Our GM was about 5 ft tall

TTFN (ta ta for now)
I can do absolutely anything. I'm an expert! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BKorP55Aqvg
FAQ731-376: Eng-Tips.com Forum Policies forum1529: Translation Assistance for Engineers Entire Forum list http://www.eng-tips.com/forumlist.cfm

RE: Engineering Office Layout.

Ours were three walls high, one with glass panel at the top.
The door panels were mid height.
It blocked enough sight and sound to work but open enough to feel open.

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =
P.E. Metallurgy, consulting work welcomed

RE: Engineering Office Layout.

I recall the creator of reconfigurable cubical wall systems apologizing for how terrible they turned out to be.

RE: Engineering Office Layout.

First place I worked had an office (Industrial Engineering) set up just like school. Big desk at the front where the supervisor sat facing us all, and just rows of desks. Luckily I only had to work there for 6 weeks. Mind you 30 years ago that's still how drawing offices were set up. The iron rule there was no loud conversations, enforced with mighty enthusiastic "Shhh". That is an example of a bad layout, since if the design engineers wanted to talk about the design with the drafter (pretty much the most important part of the job) they had to do so in whispers and murmurs, and of course speakerphone calls to suppliers or whatever were impossible.

On the other hand when we had 2 engineers working with 2 CAD guys in our own little office all working on the same thing that worked really well.

Cheers

Greg Locock


New here? Try reading these, they might help FAQ731-376: Eng-Tips.com Forum Policies http://eng-tips.com/market.cfm?

RE: Engineering Office Layout.

"What is the point of deliberately pissing them off?" ... if not that, then what is the point to being in management ?

ah greg ! ... did your first job come with oars too ? ah, to good ole drafting office ... white shirts and ties.
What do you mean we need quite places to concentrate (that don't have white porcelain seats) ? No, no ... we must be out communicating our own pointless point of view ...

"Hoffen wir mal, dass alles gut geht !"
General Paulus, Nov 1942, outside Stalingrad after the launch of Operation Uranus.

RE: Engineering Office Layout.

The IE job was unbelievable. We had to /estimate/ the build time for a given vehicle, process by process, because we weren't allowed to go on the assembly line and time them. This was done in pencil in big ledgers. At home we had a PET clone computer, so I spent a day roughing out how you could use a computer to do this ridiculous job. The manager liked it so much he wanted me to stay on!

Cheers

Greg Locock


New here? Try reading these, they might help FAQ731-376: Eng-Tips.com Forum Policies http://eng-tips.com/market.cfm?

RE: Engineering Office Layout.

Engineers - surely some sort of adjustable system is what is required here?
Imagine electronically raised and lowered partitions.
And they don't have to be manually adjusted - think what could be achieved with a suite of sensors monitoring, noise, temperature (draughts), light, body odour, etc.....

"I love deadlines. I love the whooshing noise they make as they go past." Douglas Adams

RE: Engineering Office Layout.

We have low cubicle walls. I have to wear headphones (classic rock) to drown out the partying and loud giggling coming from planners, buyers, sales.
I don't know how they get work done!

Chris, CSWP
SolidWorks
ctophers home

RE: Engineering Office Layout.

Sadly the people making the decisions about the Floor Plan are managers who tend to be more extraverted and typically haven't done technical work requiring intense focus for years (if ever). So of course they opt for low-walled cubicles every time.


-Christine

RE: Engineering Office Layout.

this is a typical engineering "lose-lose" situation ... very few if any people will be happy with the result.

Management will complain about the cost of the change, and not seeing any commensurate increase in productivity.

Most staff will complain either because they don't like the new configuration, preferred the old configuration, didn't get what they wanted, or just want to complain.

More people will work from home. Let's see how long that option (working form home) survives. I like the convenience but I feel it diminishes the "group" identity/association that coming into the office fosters.

"Hoffen wir mal, dass alles gut geht !"
General Paulus, Nov 1942, outside Stalingrad after the launch of Operation Uranus.

RE: Engineering Office Layout.

First office: purely temporary. I had a desk and chair on the second floor landing of a 4-floor-plus basement stairwell. All the entry noise from below (where the sales folks entered the building) and the constant up/down from people going to the historical files (floors 3 and 4, and the basement) were more than a bit distracting - and there was absolutely no privacy, which doesn't bother me personally all that much. Then again, I was a young engineer just starting out.

Second office: same company, but now a "semi-open" environment. Defined one-to-a-cubes for engineers, with 4-foot metal walls topped by 1 foot privacy (i.e. rippled) glass on three sides, with the fourth side open to the aisle. Drafters were four-to-a-cubes, with open space in the middle and the drafters arrayed around the cube periphery, The drafters' wall facing the aisle was partial - basically just long enough to keep things from falling off their desks into the aisle. Both openings faced directly across from each other. Communication between all parties (engineer-to-engineer, engineer-to-drafter, and drafter-to-drafter was clean and happened easily.

Third office: new employer. Typical 90s version of office space - fabric covered partitions about 6 feet high on three sides, with a half-length wall on the aisle side and no actual door. All cubes were arranged as mirror images, meaning that if one had the door on the left, the next had the door on the right so that they had to pass by each other every time they entered/exited. Also, all openings were directly across the aisle from the opposing set of offices, so all four movements were readily visible.

Current office: 8-foot hard walls with glass door. This is necessary because I am no longer in an "office" environment. I am out in the approximate middle of the production facility. The door is to cut down on the manufacturing noise, not the "people" noise. Plus it gives me the benefit of being able to "wave away" an unwanted distraction if necessary - not that I do that all that often, as my job is to support the floor operations. (I tend to adhere to the "open door" policy in terms of availability, even if I actually close the door because of external noise.) The other benefit of the present setup is that I can lock up the equipment (several tens of thousands of dollars of test gear, and some moderately-irreplaceable component samples) whenever I have to travel - which is fairly frequently.

All above listed configurations have had their uses (and abuses) during my career. As responsibility/sensitivity of the work increases, so does the necessity for privacy.

Converting energy to motion for more than half a century

RE: Engineering Office Layout.

Gr8blu,

For a college summer job, I was working on a drafting board in a trailer. When anyone entered the door, the trailer would shake, and I would mess up my lettering.

Did I mention the grizzly bears?

--
JHG

RE: Engineering Office Layout.

Something as simple as cubicle walls - is really a very big question.

I once endured an 'efficiency' consultant who insisted that open office / high collaboration layouts were the best thing for everyone. It became clear after a couple of days he relied on collaboration to do *anything*. He did not understand what deep work is or how important it can be, and he tried to enforce a design philosophy that made interruption the norm rather than the exception. He intended to make it hell on anyone whose work is strongly disrupted by interruptions and distractions, and made it sound like the need to concentrate uninterrupted was just personal preference, we were being old-fashioned, and you can't knock it until you try it.

I'm sure he made good money going into companies where the culture was workers using cubicle walls as territorial boundaries and barriers to working with others. I don't think my company had a serious problem with that - at least not serious enough to break apart the technical team, intersperse them among the sales team, and prevent the technical team from completing their deep work. There's a lot more to that story and context but suffice it to say, it didn't happen as our "expert" consultant had planned. What actually happened was a hybrid, wherein the team that handled countless little transactions per day and relied heavily on collaboration, took away their cubicle walls and it largely worked for them. The highly technical teams that handled a few transactions per day kept their cubicle walls and were actually moved across the building entirely. Based on the lack of complaints about the new distance between those teams, I conclude it must not have been the problem.

I see 'open office' philosophy to be well suited for business processes that are highly variable, constantly shifting and evolving, and hard to pattern. If your business and workers are happiest chatting on Slack or Teams, open-office will complement that environment. Agility and flexibility is good, provided it doesn't undercut your ability to execute core business. There are plenty of <derogatory term redacted> people who use open-office as a cure-all (quick win at best) for a lack of good processes. So be very careful that teams don't take advantage of open-office to skip the critical business processes or pass along work before it's ready with an innocent-sounding "I'm sure you'll have questions, I'll be right over there". This only really works when there are suitable processes and they are being followed and every transaction remains fully, properly documented.

The question is a form-follows-function one: does everyone in your office feel welcomed to visit another worker or another department? Do your deep-work people fall back on headphones with music to actively ignore what's going on around them? In any given team, how many minutes/hours per day do they need to be actively collaborating?

RE: Engineering Office Layout.

I finally took the time to download the images. Nix on the low, although the cops on TV seem to be OK with that sort of arrangement. Maybe for the mid; I would vote for the high, just to force your managers to do MbWA by actually "walking around"

TTFN (ta ta for now)
I can do absolutely anything. I'm an expert! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BKorP55Aqvg
FAQ731-376: Eng-Tips.com Forum Policies forum1529: Translation Assistance for Engineers Entire Forum list http://www.eng-tips.com/forumlist.cfm

RE: Engineering Office Layout.

Work on your plan to manage the mini-revolt.

Ted

RE: Engineering Office Layout.

With only 12 people, why not list the most common selection issues, then discuss and then ALL can vote. If there is a common choice, then do it. If not, then the manager can make the choice explain why, and then move on. My opinion of the pictured cubical is that it for telemarketers and not for engineers!

Some selection issues might be in no order:
Noise (ventilation, elevators, outside traffic, and voices)
Function(desk space, wall hanging space, and book/file storage)
Lighting
Heating and Cooling
Interuptions (passerbys stop and talk)
Safety (fire egress)

I was very glad to get out of the cubical environment years ago!
Walt

RE: Engineering Office Layout.

Low walls will become trahylooking with all the stuff people will put there to 'personalize their space.

Ted

RE: Engineering Office Layout.

OP
Briefly read some of the Very hot topic.

First of all your the man, your door should be open to all guys.

Second engineering in my book old g style
Should be quite and away from noise and interruptions.

Third all communications should be written.
Not verbally, old g saying avoid verbal orders
Or AVO. Definitely and communication with engineering should always be written

In my eyes privacy matters. So what if guys relax some times and kick their legs up.
What matters are the task and projects being compleated

My recommendation, keep your crew happy and they will cover your back.
Take them out to lunch once in a while..

And PS it doesn't take much to walk around a cubicle to ask for help.

Red Flag This Post

Please let us know here why this post is inappropriate. Reasons such as off-topic, duplicates, flames, illegal, vulgar, or students posting their homework.

Red Flag Submitted

Thank you for helping keep Eng-Tips Forums free from inappropriate posts.
The Eng-Tips staff will check this out and take appropriate action.

Reply To This Thread

Posting in the Eng-Tips forums is a member-only feature.

Click Here to join Eng-Tips and talk with other members! Already a Member? Login



News


Close Box

Join Eng-Tips® Today!

Join your peers on the Internet's largest technical engineering professional community.
It's easy to join and it's free.

Here's Why Members Love Eng-Tips Forums:

Register now while it's still free!

Already a member? Close this window and log in.

Join Us             Close