A couple of years ago, while reporting a cover story on the United Nations' upgrade, I was given a tour of the just-completed interior overhaul of the famous Secretariat Building. My guide was so proud of the "modern" layout--cubicles everywhere instead of private offices. I wasn't writing about that aspect of the project. Likely because of that, I offered my two cents. "Cubicles are a big mistake," I said. "For starters, they do not provide much-needed privacy and they demean the worker. The lack of noise insulation pits workers against each other. People lose valuable work time dealing with the bad office environment and bad feelings."

Generally, because I am only a worker-bee and not a design professional, whenever I offered my sources my two cents about the ills of cubicles, they would dismiss my opinions, implying, "What do I know? I'm not an expert."

Finally, a report is out that gives credence (the way so many reports do) to my position. I welcome the report, though I wonder why people can't figure these things out on their own.

In this case, Workplace Evolutionaries, a community of practice within the International Facility Management Association, has teamed up with the IFMA Foundation to produce a "comprehensive research-based document to demystify modern workplace strategies."

“Applying What Scientists Know About WHERE and HOW People Work Best,” by Sally Augustin, outlines hundreds of scientific workplace strategy guidelines, each supported with citations.

The crux of the report, to me, is that workplace privacy matters BIG TIME.

Here are some statements in the report, culled from different studies, to back up my position:

“In the United States, denying someone privacy over the long term may well eat away at her or his soul. But even in the short term, just making someone wonder whether or not they really have privacy is a quick way to induce anxiety.”

"Workers and employers can have different privacy goals. Workers may be stressed to work in workplaces with minimal privacy but they continue in use because for the employer 'the reassurance afforded by the easy surveillance of the workforce and the relatively low cost of the built environment may be far more important.'"

"Knowledge workers are more likely to perform at a high level in workplaces that support visual and acoustic privacy. Access to private spaces promotes psychological comfort."

"...more private workspaces or workspaces that provide opportunities to use private spaces were linked to perceived health and job satisfaction."

"Workers need visual and acoustic privacy, when desired, for personal regeneration."

"Knowledge workers perform better in spaces with few visual and acoustic distractions because distractions make it difficult to concentrate."

"It’s distracting to see what co-workers are up to all the time and to believe that your own activities can be observed anytime, which can harm concentration and performance."

"Higher levels of distraction have been linked to lower levels of satisfaction with the physical work environment."

"Speech is particularly distracting to people doing knowledge work because it is processed by the same parts of the brain involved in reading; that particular processing channel gets overloaded when speech is heard."

"When the thoughts of office workers are interrupted as they’re working, their stress levels increase."

"intrusions explain incremental variability in strain (i.e., emotional exhaustion, physical complaints, and anxiety).”

It's going to take 25 or 30 years—or more—to undo cubicle damage. I hope that, based on this report, employers and their design teams will stop tearing down walls and get busy building them.