The Cutting Edge of Cubicles


The company I work for likes to be on the cutting edge.  When I first started there they had just gone through a merger (one of many) and (as with most mergers) the layoffs came.  The manufacturing plant where my office was located was one of the locations to be closed.  Our building would be sold and the remaining office people would be relocated to a new office building.

Our original office was nice, though bland; white walls, dark blue carpeting.  But each customer service supervisor had their own office with a window and a door, plus a coordinator that we supervised who worked in a cubicle outside our office.

The new building did away with offices.  The new trend was cubicles.  Then they even started removing the walls from the cubicles.  This was to allow us to “collaborate” more, they said.  Picture Bill Cosby doing his Noah’s Ark routine…Riigghhtt!  Collaborate my ass.

What it did was make everyone’s conversations public. Your personal business is no longer personal. Need to make a doctor’s appointment for that mole you just noticed?  Either do it on your own time with your cell phone out in your car (don’t forget your pen and paper) or risk doing it at your desk and then having everyone else around you discuss it for days.  Calls with your children or significant other?  Your dirty laundry is aired in public.  This became very relevant to me when I went through my divorce about four years ago.  Every day I was running to the conference room hoping it was empty so I could either discuss strategy with my lawyer or scream at my ex for being a jerk.  Though the only person I told about my pending divorce and circumstance was my manager, the entire office new every detail.

Then there is illness.  All the coughing, hacking, wheezing and sneezing spreads like the plague through our office.  Everyone catches everything.  You cannot hide from it.  The only ones immune are those who are at a high enough level to warrant their own offices on the third floor on the west side of the building.  The rest of us must suffer like all the other peasants.

I have to say there is nothing more irritating or distracting as listening to your neighbor sneeze twenty times in a row because spring is here and he doesn’t believe in allergy medicine.  The sneezing turns to coughing, a phlegmy gross cough that makes your skin crawl.  But you can’t make him take the medicine and you can’t close your office door to get work done.

This week we have had three people in my one little department who are sick.  All are men and (I’m sorry to stereotype here folks, but it is what it is) none of them cover their mouths when they cough.  So all day long all you hear is loud hacking coughs.  It’s disgusting.  And don’t even get me started on the nose blowing.  Trumpets would be quieter.

On top of all that, the cubicles are open (only have 3 walls), so you get to see everyone (and I mean everyone) who walks by.  Having no door is like invited everyone who wants to take a break to stop by and chat, even if you are busy.  Our senior leaders are supposed to have an open door policy, but I do not.  I need to get work done.

It’s funny that the people who decided that open cubicles would be so beneficial to working and collaboration are the ones who have real offices with real doors and don’t have to deal with the bodily noises and interruptions all day long.  For me, I just cringe and squeeze as far into my little 5’ x 5’ cubicle as I can and try to avoid eye contact.  I am one of the lucky ones; I have three full sized walls at least (though the walls are only 5’ high).  I’ve been able to avoid the latest round of illnesses, though I did get my share this past winter.  But I am still being interrupted on a daily basis by well-meaning passers-by who want to stop and chat and not necessarily collaborate.

All this just makes me want to find a way to work from home.


3 thoughts on “The Cutting Edge of Cubicles

  1. I couldn’t work in cubeland. I just changed positions and was supposed to move from my basement hideaway to cubes but found a way out of it. Well, at least for now. I have to have 100% silence to work. I have to be in the zone. I wear noise canceling headphones but that isn’t enough for cubeland. And the open concept – as you say, it was created by people who don’t have to live it.

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