A group of 16 people sits in front of large Mac desktops in clusters of three and four at a start-up in Brooklyn. Aside from the steady tapping away at keyboards, there is little noise. It’s six o’clock, and people just want to go home. With its open floor plan, casual dress code, and creative staff, this is considered a great place to work—but still there is something vaguely dissatisfying about the space, and it is not the only office like this.
In Cubed: A Secret History of the Workplace, released this week, Nikil Saval tries to put his finger on just where the office went wrong. Certainly an improvement on factory work and types of manual labor, the office remains “at once harmless and ominous.” Saval’s story centers on the question: “Why have the best intentions of planners and architects, designers and executives, fallen short of producing a happy environment for the American worker?”