Cubicle Ideas Relevant to Healthcare, Too

Posted on August 3, 2011


Although hospitals use less cubicles than most employers, it appears the latest ideas in Fast Company on revamping the common workspace could prove helpful. Healthcare has eschewed, or maybe escaped is the proper word, cubicle culture for the most part.

However now smaller, standardized, de-centralized workstations are becoming more common for nurses than the traditional, massive Nurse Station that presided over a hall or pod in the past. Because nurse travel distance and step counts are driving more design, it makes sense to deploy and otherwise tuck nurse cubicles or stations closer to the patient rooms.

At this point, hospitals are not in danger of ‘sucking the life force’ out of their employees, as office culture pundit and former Dilbert cartoonist Scott Adams recounted with his own cubicle experience. Some of the ideas noted by the designers in Fast Company do mesh well with hospitals, and should be considered. For instance, although shorter cubicle walls allow for more collaboration in some work environments, lower partitions also allow extended sight lines and the ability to locate fellow nurses and doctors easier. Adjustable components like desks assist in improving ergonomics for nurses whose work styles and body types can range from seated to standing, and petite to tall.

Some ideas are probably not so applicable for healthcare. Privacy and HIPAA is a big issue in healthcare and various overhead and flat screens would likely not be useful or even allowed. Noise-canceling and integral plants are two concepts that may need further exploration but might offer promise.

My own beef with cubicles has always been two-fold:  lack of privacy and lack of chance to personalize. Since nurse workstations are more closely related to the hoteling concept (grab one that’s free right now) than an assigned homebase to call your own, personalization is not as crucial. Privacy will always be since our productivity is tied to preferred ways of working, and a quiet or uninterrupted environment—even if only for two minutes—is still tops on many a nurse’s list.

Hopefully cubicle designers of the future will only get ‘smarter’ in those regards, as it seems cubicles have had staying power, and although shrinking (what isn’t these days save for healthcare s.f.), do not appear to be leaving us anytime soon.

Posted in: Interior Design