Once upon a time the factory, with its dirty, noisy machinery, was the standard workplace of industrialized nations; today it’s the office. Hundreds of millions of people—at least 15 percent of the population in developed countries—work at a desk, with or without a partition that separates them from the desks of their co-workers. That’s an awful lot of swivel chairs.
But a cubicle is more than a mere physical workspace. In recent years social and organizational psychologists have begun to amass evidence that the character of people’s personal work environments affects their performance in profound and surprising ways. The size of our desks, our proximity to natural light, the quality of the air we breathe and our privacy (or lack thereof)—all are major predictors of our comfort, our contentment and our productivity.