I have a new perspective at work today. That’s because I moved to my third different cube since starting here about 18 months ago. That’s because we’ve had to shuffle while our company renovates its offices. I’m not really too particular about my workspace as long as it’s fairly clean, has a drawer for my coffee cup, headphones, a couple of pens and some paper. Oh, another requirement is a decent chair. The chair I had at my last two cubes had stains I can only guess came from a previous owner’s losing bout with incontinence. On the upside, the stains did have a remarkable resemblance to the shape of Latvia, which at least provided a conversation starter with those touring the office. “Hi! that’s an interesting stain on your chair!” “For sure! It’s the shape of Latvia!” “Uh, nice. Where do you keep your medical supplies?”
It’s also important to me to have what they call good ergonomics. That means your knees don’t hit the counter when you pull your chair up to the work surface. In the L-shaped space, one generally places their computer monitor and keyboard at the intersections of the two legs. Unfortunately, the counter is too low and the arms on my chair are too high, so my fingers can barely scrape the edge of my keyboard, making my job as a writer somewhat more challenging, but not impossible. I’ve figured out how to blow enough air through a straw to depress the keys. It’s takes a little while longer than touch typing but if I add a little sound, I can pretty much hum any song I like. My co-workers are not amused but I did bring a full box of straws and have invited them to form a blow-typers band. Not have yet accepted and I fear I’m being blown off.
Before I retired I was senior manager at a car company and had an office enclosed in glass. It was more room than I needed and way too isolated from my teammates but our HR department said it would “send a bad message” if I worked from a more modest, and sensible space. I actually think it sends a great message when you take up only as much space as you actually need. In fact, I can fit all of my personal items in a small Trader Joes shopping bag and be out the door in 12 seconds when it’s time for me to move on.
One thing I noticed by moving three times is the difference in background sound. At my first spot our team was fairly isolated and I mainly heard conversations that pertained to our piece of the puzzle. Then we moved into the main newsroom and I liked being there because there was a nice view of Ford Field and Comerica Park, but that was offset by the woman across the divider from me who sneezed no fewer than 75 times every hour. When I was new in that space I attempted a “Bless you” and a “gesundheit” but after the first dozen sneezes I no longer wished this person good health, praying instead for death by Kleenex.
My new, and I’m told, permanent cube, is in what can only be called a mixed neighborhood. I’ve been placed between two people who aren’t on my team and they’ve yet to acknowledge me. I suppose I could take the initiative but as someone who mainly works from home, only coming in to the office every few weeks, it seems like an unnecessary burden. They’ll forget my name, I’ll forget theirs and I don’t want to become so familiar that one of them hits me up to borrow a pen I’ll never see again, or asks about my weekend because then I’d have to ask about their weekend and the small talk quotient would simply be far beyond my level of toleration. I do enjoy that sort of chatting with my teammates because I already know their names so half the work is already done.
Meanwhile, my knees are getting sore bumping into the counter so I’m moving things around a bit. I have five drawers and only three possessions so it may be entertaining to switch their locations from time to time then play a game with myself to see if I remember where I put everything, since I have no idea when I’m scheduled to return to the office. Plus, it will take me only 12 seconds to pack up….when it’s time to move…again.
The case for working at home
In my semi-retirement I’ve moved to the next step towards removing myself from society by extending the time I work from home. My boss at Automotive News is either extremely flexible, brilliant, or simply tired of seeing a senior citizen drag his sorry ass into the office every day. Whatever the case, this senior citizen is grateful for the opportunity to replace a 60-mile round trip to/from downtown Detroit with a jaunty trot down 15 steps to my basement office where I can hide Snickers bars…from my wife.
I’ve often heard that working from home can be harmful to one’s career since you’re not visible to the bosses and it’s difficult to form alliances. Luckily, I’m not a contestant on “Survivor” so I’m not looking to form an alliance. I’m also not interested in climbing the corporate ladder, since, at my age, the only thing I’m capable of climbing is the walls every time I hear the Arby’s guy yell “we’ve got the meats!!!” I’m always tempted to respond, “you’ve got the crabs!” At least that’s how I imagine someone with that condition would act out.
Someone pointed out to me that it’s more difficult to collaborate with co-workers when you work from home. I do not have that problem. That’s because I’m not really interested in someone else’s ideas. I’d prefer to screw up on my own, or hog all the credit when things go right. Actually, I’m not that obnoxious. I’m happy to share some of the blame when things go wrong.
My home office is a room tucked away in a remote corner of my basement. I have everything I need to conduct business: desk, computer, Walter White bobblehead, adjacent bathroom and microwave oven for nuking popcorn and experimenting with exploding a number of polymers. I also have photos of my family in case I forget who those people are plodding on the hardwood floor one level above me.
I have a phone, but never use it. If I need to communicate with someone from the office I can email or text them. Not only is it expedient, it’s an efficient method for avoiding co-workers with speech impediments.
Most importantly, I can do at least twice the work, twice as fast, with higher quality results by working at home. That’s because at work there’s free coffee and vending machines, which I am constantly drawn to as a means of filling my stomach and filling my hours, thus avoiding work. At home I’m much more focused since to grab more coffee or a snack I would have to walk up those 15 steps.
Oh sure, it’s nice to see my co-workers in person from time to time. They’re very pleasant and often bring in snacks to share. Working from home, you do miss out on the shared snacks, which is one of the few downsides.
Indeed, my days as a full-time desk jockey are over. At some point my semi-retirement will morph into total retirement, at which time I’ll simply sit at my home office desk, crank up my laptop, make Walter White’s head bobble, bounce some ideas for kazoo-based operas around in my head…and order a pizza.
I don’t need much space to do my work. I’m good with enough surface space for my computer, phone, and a flat area close to me where I can place my coffee cup and maybe a pad of paper. Yeah..I like pads…with paper. I call them MYpads as I semi-conduct myself in today’s tech-obsessed world. I’m also good with one drawer where I can keep a couple of pens and extra MYpads and my lunch bag.
Truthfully, that’s all the space most anyone needs, but they always want more. I bring this up because we recently were notified that our workspaces will be upgraded. To what? You can’t make my desk any flatter, I’ve got plenty of surface space and I already have THREE desk drawers, two of which are empty.
Everyone is entitled to a clean, comfortable, functional workspace… one suitable for the job..but the fact is, however, corporate culture can sometimes fool you into thinking the size and amenities of your workspace translates into power, self-worth and respect, resulting in misguided and honestly, idiotic aspirations.
For example, at the very large company from which I retired last year one can walk up and down an office suite and immediately discern the pay level of an employee. The spaces ranged from deep, narrow cubes that looked like the chutes holding a rodeo calf before it’s released, then hogtied by a cowboy. The similarity is not unintentional. The occupant of such a demeaning space is being sent the message that you are just meat on the hoof, performing some simple task with little hope of advancement.
As your pay level, or “band” increases, your cube becomes less shallow, but wider with a little more surface space, more desk drawers, even overhead bins and a little counter with enough room to entertain one lucky visitor.
But the Holy Grail is the GLASS ENCLOSED OFFICE. It takes years to land one of those and every single employee aspires to occupy one. It says, “I’m hot shit! I have power! I’m important! I know more than you!” Indeed, many of those pining to spend their days in a corporate isolation booth have no desire to attain this dubious achievement..they just want the damn office.
Indeed, when I was promoted to such a level that included the granting of a glass office I asked to remain in my current, more open workspace. I was denied this request by HR, firmly scolding me that doing so would “send the wrong message.” I explained that I would perform to the standards that landed me the promotion and, at the same time, stay in better touch with my team by working in an open space, but again, it was explained that I would not receive the proper respect of co-workers unless I worked in a space too big, too hot and stuffy and isolated. So I moved into the cell that made me feel like a convicted felon. Suddenly, people who had sniffed at me previously came by and wanted to give me high-fives for reaching bureaucratic nirvana. At the same time, latent jealousies were exposed and one whiny co-worker who had hoped to occupy that office went crying to her supervisor that she was cheated.
When I explained this moronic culture to my Italian boss his face turned grey as he said to me, “you are lying to me. Who could come up with such a foolish system?” Heh. Tell the CEO to end it. He didn’t.
Now, in semi-retirement, I’m often able to work from home in a small office of my making. I get a lot done in that little room. The door is always open. So is the window. But when I’m asked to come to my assigned workspace at my part-time job, I’m fine with my little cube, space for my laptop, drawer with my coffee cup, two pens and some MYpads..and I feel pretty freakin’ good about myself…and get the job done. You see, the physical space you work in isn’t nearly as important as your mental space..it’s where your talent and motivation live.