Top 3 Problems with Systems Furniture Workstations (Cubicles)


Woman working on Haworth Compose systems furniture workstation

The term systems furniture workstations is a fancy way to describe what many workers have long loathed about office life – the cubicle. And, after years of trending out of vogue, cubicles are once again growing in popularity.

But today’s versions are nothing like the dingy boxes that filled offices back in the 60s. They’re more stylish, more comfortable and less confining, thanks to shorter panels and height-adjustable work surfaces. Systems furniture is modular, so it’s often favoured to create highly customizable workstations.

Nonetheless, they do have a few significant drawbacks we believe you should know about before deciding whether they are right for you and your office. Let’s look at three of the most common issues with systems furniture workstations and what you can do to offset them:

#1 They Don’t Provide Sound Privacy

Not everyone can have a corner office with a spectacular view. But everyone should be able to have a little privacy when they talk on the phone or have conversations with their colleagues.

Unfortunate, in many offices, they don’t. Yes, workstations do give employees their own space, even if it’s just using a short wall or privacy panel, but they don’t do much to prevent conversation sounds from being carried from cubicle to cubicle.

This lack of auditory privacy is one of the biggest complaints people have about working in an open layout, even if they have their own cubicles.


One of the best ways to improve auditory privacy across your entire office space is to use sound masking. Sound masking digitally creates white noise sounds that are designed to match the frequencies of human speech.

The result is a soft, pleasant sound that’s distributed evenly throughout the space using special speakers. It fades into the background and makes other office noises, including conversations, less noticeable.  While sound masking won’t eliminate the sound of your neighbour chatting on the phone, it will muffle the noise to the point that the speech is rendered inaudible.

You can also choose sound-absorbing materials for your workstations. Sound waves bounce off hard materials like wood and plastic, so these materials allow sounds to travel throughout the space. By choosing fabric-covered seating and panels and using soft materials like carpets and drapes for design touches, you can significantly reduce noise levels and increase privacy.

#2 They Don’t Reduce Distractions

Busy offices have a lot of distractions: ringing phones, loud typing, the constant parade of people walking by your cubicle – all of that can make it hard to concentrate. In one 2016 study, employees ranked the ability to focus without interruptions as their top priority. When people can’t focus, they often get frustrated, and frustrated workers aren’t productive.

Office noise is also cited as one of the reasons for the growing interest among millennials (and others) in telework. Since there are too many distractions at work, they feel they can get more done at home. One U.S. study showed up to 90 percent of the office workers surveyed said they would like to telework at least part-time


One way to reduce distractions is to adjust the height of workstation panels. Placing the panels just above a worker’s line of sight provides greater visual privacy as well as auditory privacy.

It also makes it easier for employees to concentrate on their work. You can also make your office more flexible by providing designated areas for quiet, focused work and more open spaces where your team can collaborate.

#3 They’re Modular Not Mobile

Flexible office space with modular furniture has a lot of benefits. For one thing, you can reconfigure it to support a variety of workstyles. On top of that, being able to use a variety of height-adjustable workspaces and privacy panels can give you a lot of freedom when it comes to office design.

However, it’s not realistic to think you can transform the space in an instant. Systems furniture isn’t that agile. You can’t easily take it apart for a meeting and move it back after the meeting is finished.


If it’s on-demand flexibility you’re after, you might want to consider lightweight or wheeled furniture, which is ideal for quick reconfigurations in open layout offices. You can also add moveable privacy screens to your space, which allows you to quickly transform a private workspace into an open area for collaboration. 

Is Systems Furniture Right for You?
The big selling point with systems furniture is that you can make it whatever you need it to be. You can transform your office into a productive and collaborative space without having to do messy or expensive renovations.  But as you can see, there are some issues you should first consider.

Wondering when you might receive your new workstations? Check out our article on how long it takes to buy office furniture; we break down all the steps and how long each one takes!

Cory Porteous
Director of Marketing & Inbound Business Development
Office Interiors

New call-to-action