Do you work in a cubicle? Or do you work in an open space surrounded by plants and sit on a hammock with your colleagues? The design of our work spaces has an effect on our happiness and productivity, but how does emotional intelligence figure into the equation? Tracing the evolution of office space design provides insight into the social and cultural norms that have dominated corporate business practices over the years. This history is depicted in a great infographic from the Applied Psychology Department at the University of Southern California.

To view the graphic directly at USC’s site:


From the earliest purposeful attempts to influence employee productivity in the 1920s using open floor plans and direct supervisor observation through the open bullpens and corner-office managerial perks of the 1950s, the emphasis was on efficiency, hierarchy, and control.

The Rise of the Cubicle


The introduction of the infamous cubicle in 1964, allegedly designed to allow more freedom of movement and privacy, actually created isolation and anomie.

The financial strains of the 1980s and 90s prompted managers to overcrowd the existing cubicles, compounding the stress that employees were experiencing.


The end of the last century saw a return to the open office with an emphasis on mobility, but it produced a backlash from associates who felt that this concept adversely affected attention span, productivity, creative thinking, and satisfaction.

Happiness and Satisfaction Matter

The second decade of this century has been marked by a growing recognition that promoting employee happiness and satisfaction will help attract, retain, and reward the best people. A new emphasis on divergence, collaboration, spontaneity, and innovation is driving office designs that cluster “intermixed” associates across different levels and functions. The goal is to create new opportunities for generating cutting-edge ideas, products, and services.

Creating The Vital Organization

This focus on organizational vitality echoes the values and competencies of emotional intelligence that highlight engagement, empowerment, dialogue, empathy, quality of life, and wellness. Many of these elements are shown in the Six Seconds Vital Signs Pulse Points:

Pulse Points

Elaborating on the five Vital Signs drivers of organizational performance, Motivation, Change, Execution, Teamwork, and Trust, the Pulse Points guide the way towards personal and professional vitality. Simultaneously, they can help define the principles for designing state-of-the-art office space in a new world of interconnection and creativity, using EQ to improve performance.

Changing the Design Game

We now have the knowledge to put EQ into action through better office design, trading purely functional requirements for real human needs that optimize thinking and feeling. Consider giving the architect or designer the Pulse Points and specifying that the new office space must 1. promote exploration and encourage celebration, 2. facilitate focus and feedback, 3. accommodate divergent styles, 4. give people a sense of meaning, mastery, and autonomy, and, finally, 5. earn trust through transparency and care. Close your eyes and envision the wonderful designs that could be created using this approach, producing spaces that foster intrinsic motivation, inspire change, promote agile execution, and enable team performance.

Learn more about Vital Signs, the Six Seconds’ organizational model here, including how to become certified in our integrated suite of organization assessment tools. For questions or to explore this topic further, please contact Paul Stillman, Director of Organizational Vitality, at [email protected]

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