A partially enclosed workspace, made up of partitions, separating you from your office neighbor. Why? They save space. Cubicles make it possible to house multiple employees in a single space without altering the layout of the building. Offices for each employee take up a lot of room and as the number of employees grow leave little options. In the past, they would just put everyone in a big open room at desks with no privacy.
The cubicle provides more personal space for employees, more space for books and manuals, wall space for diagrams and reference materials and a nice surface for computing. Management must control what noises are allowed to keep things civil. No blaring radios!
The word Cubicle comes from the Latin cubiculum, for bed chamber, eventually used for small chamber or small rooms with study spaces with partitions that do not reach the ceiling. Herman Miller, Inc. invented the office cubicle system in 1960.
Their first attempt, in 1964, was called Action Office 1 and did not sell well. It featured desks and workspaces of varying height which allowed the worker a freedom of movement, and to assume the work position best suited for the task
Going back to the drawing board they used the concept of an office capable of constant change to suit the changing needs of the employee, without having to purchase new furnishings, and allowing the employee a degree of privacy, and the ability to personalize the work environment without impacting the environment of the workers nearby.
I worked in a corporation, that when I started, was mostly offices on every floor with a few areas that had completely open concept. By the time I left the company in 2002 most of the floors were using cubicle systems. I kind of like my cubicle.
One negative to cubicles is that, in most designs, you will sit with your back to the opening so that people can walk up on you, without you knowing they are there. Some workers, at my old job, would get mirrors just for that reason.
Another issue is lack of sunlight or even the ability to look out a window, for a majority of the cubicles. Some cubicle designs these day incorporate windows into the set-up allowing a little more vision for the occupant. Cube farms (offices where employees work in cubicles) are often found in high-tech companies, but they are also widely used in the insurance industry and other service-related fields and in government offices. Many cube farms were built during the dotcom boom.