Millennial Thought Cubicles Were Outdated. Now She Prefers Them.

Estimated read time 5 min read

This as-told-to essay is based on a transcribed conversation with Sydney Baker, 27, about her experience working in office cubicles. The following has been edited for length and clarity.

I was raised by a single mother who worked long hours.

Sometimes, she’d take me to work with her. It introduced me to the daily grind. You get your coffee, add sugar, sit at your desk, answer calls, and take notes.

As a little girl, I remember watching my mom do those things and mimicking her. She didn’t let me drink coffee, but I drank hot chocolate and pretended to answer the phone. It was really fun.

I knew I wanted to emulate her.

I had a few jobs in between my bachelor’s and master’s degrees, and in July 2023, I got a marketing job working in a cubicle. I was then offered another job working for a senior living management company, also in a cubicle, which I started in September.

Before working in a cubicle, I thought of them as outdated, dreary, and so 90s, perhaps because I saw my mom in cubicles during her career or have seen them portrayed in the media.

Now, I’d say I’m 60-40 in favor of a cubicle environment. I enjoy socializing, but I also get distracted by it.

Baker's cubicle. There are photos green and white tassles strewn on one wall. There is a small desk with a mirror and a picture frame with a green poster that says "Good Vibes only" on it.

Baker’s first office cubicle space.

Courtesy of Sydney Baker.

People think cubicles are dreary, but decorating them can make them light and bright

My preconception about cubicles was that they didn’t get a lot of sunlight. It seemed like the bosses got the nice window view and privacy in their offices, while the rest of us were in a sea of cubicles.

When I went into the office for my first day in a cubicle, they gave me an onboarding gift box that had different branded items and trinkets I could use to decorate the space.

It empowered me to make my cubicle my own space. I went on Amazon and bought things I liked. I keep a blanket at my desk and slippers for when I want to take off my heels.

I’ve enjoyed that with cubicles and desk environments in general, people bring their personalities to their space.

I’d seen people across ages posting their cubicle decor on TikTok. Seeing this trend growing is fun because TikTok can inspire people to decorate their space and make it light and bright.

I also like that cubicles can be social, but you also have the flexibility to not be social when needed. It’s easy to knock on someone’s cubicle and ask for their opinion or just chat with them, but then you can go into your cubicle and shut yourself off.

It can be hard to concentrate in my cubicle

At my current office, there’s a meeting space near my cubicle. I bring headphones to my desk. A lot of the time I listen to a podcast to distract from the sound of the meetings and help me to concentrate.

There are people around me all the time walking by or wanting to chat, so it can be a challenge to maintain focus.

I think using headphones is a double-edged sword because choosing not to participate in conversation with other people can impact relationships negatively.

I try to be very aware of this. When people walk by, I try to say good morning or smile.

In a cubicle environment, you have your privacy, but then again, you don’t. People can see you, and they’re going to determine things about you based on what they see you doing at your desk. Is your cubicle messy? Do you speak when they walk by? These kinds of things are important to me.

I’ve never worked in an open-plan office but think I’d prefer the privacy cubicles afford

I’ve toured open-plan offices but never worked in one. I think open-plan offices are more distracting because you can see everything around you. I’d like to hold onto the little bit of privacy I can have in a cubicle.

I’m a younger millennial, and I’ve watched the workplace evolve drastically from my first full-time job because of Covid.

Sydney Baker sitting at her desk and typing on a keyboard.

Baker in her cubicle.

Courtesy of Bradley McKee.

Pre-pandemic, I remember being so intimidated by corporate culture that I would hesitate to take paid leave because of the shame I would feel admitting to my boss that I needed a break. It felt normal to side-eye someone taking a vacation or spending more than one day at home sick.

Today, there is more emphasis on taking a break and prioritizing your personal life while also working hard, at least where I’m at now.

I’m a working mother, and there are days when my daughter needs to get picked up from school early. I have the flexibility to do this because my superior knows I’ll get the work done.

I go into the office three days a week.

I anticipate cubicles being my normal work environment for the near future and am glad that, with hybrid work, I still have the option to shut myself in and work remotely.