From Cubicles, Cry for Quiet Pierces Office Buzz

The walls have come tumbling down in offices everywhere, but the cubicle dwellers keep putting up new ones. They barricade themselves behind file cabinets. They fortify their partitions with towers of books and papers. Or they follow an “evolving law of technology etiquette,” as articulated by Raj Udeshi at the open office he shares with fellow software entrepreneurs in downtown Manhattan.

“Headphones are the new wall,” he said, pointing to the covered ears of his neighbors.

Cubicle culture is already something of a punch line — how many ways can we find to annoy one another all day? — but lately the complaints are being heard by the right people, including managers and social scientists. Companies are redesigning offices, piping in special background noise to improve the acoustics and bringing in engineers to solve volume issues. “Sound masking” has become a buzz phrase.

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