I am absolutely convinced that the person responsible for designing office cubicles was a direct descendent of the person who designed slave ships. Remember those illustrations you would see in Jr. High American History books that would show slaves crammed in rows upon rows, shoulder-to-shouder, maximizing every inch of the ship’s interior to transport as many slaves as possible. The illustrations were inconceivable to me, I truly wondered who in their right mind could plan on transporting people in that manor, and I didn’t wonder about much in those days. Well generations later a great, great grandchild was asked to make illustrations of how to cram as many workers as possible into an office space and the cubicle was born. Rows upon rows of identical cubicles all made from a pre-fab material that could be erected overnight. Overhead it would look like a prison block, but prisons have doors. I was locked away in 2001 in a cubicle exactly identical to those of my 48 co-workers. I was lucky in that mine was at the end of the row so I only had one direct neighbor while others were surrounded on both sides. You initially just stand in it and look at the grey fabric walls, the type you can stick thumb tacks in, and then at the the hard surface area which is your counter-top to work on. There sits a lone computer. Behind you is drawer space for your files, two file drawers per worker. There is also two cabinet like storage areas with swing open fronts for more storage or personal items. All are made from a pre-fab metal with key holes for which you will never see the key as the workers didn’t think about matching the key to each cubicle despite the fact that the only difference between the 48 cubicles is that they are all individually numbered. Mine is cubicle #19. Oh, there is also a moveable coat hook that attaches on the top of one of your walls with one plastic hanger per cubicle to hang your jacket. Some of your fellow workers stop by to see your workplace and say how lucky you are to be at the end…must be my lucky day. You go visit theirs and it is the exact dimensions as yours with the same coat hanger and it goes on and on…identical working headquarters for everyone. There is NO DOOR…this is key in cubicle living. Doors would offer privacy and be far less efficient in keeping tabs of your workers by instantaneous interaction by management. BAM…you look up and their is your manager standing where a door should be…busted with no chance of retreat. You are locked in this square space with only one way out and that way is being blocked by one of the biggest A-Holes in the company. You can tell him to get the hell out at which point you will be told to follow him into his office, with a door. The door is paper-thin so all screaming and ranting can be heard by all. It’s no secret your getting a new asshole installed. Or you can do what 99% of ass kissing office workers do and comply with management. Your told to get to work done right away but no one can get started without their computers being signed on correctly by IT. They have 48-computers to sign on, so you must take some satisfaction in being #19.
You are now alone in your own private space exactly similar to 48 others. Then it hits you…first in the stomach with slight nausea, then in the head with minor anxiety, a one-two punch that is cubicle fever. This is it. This is what I’ve become, number 19 cubicle among 47 others. At age 47 you have embarked on a new voyage that would last 12-years, all within the confines of a 4′ X 6′ box. The workers in their 20’s don’t seem to mind as it is all they have ever seen. The 30ish crowd are working feverishly to out do their 30ish counterparts, the 40ish group are still analyzing what their lives have become and the 50+ group are just calculating how many more years until retirement…a pleasing thought, sort of like a soldier in his foxhole counting his days until his duty is up. Needless to say there is no roof on the cubicle, items can easily be thrown over the wall into the next cubicle, which does happen as soon as you get settled in and are desperate to try it. You must just accept the fact that anything said in your cubicle will be heard by all the cubicles around you and some much farther than you would imagine. It actually makes a such a constant sound that you no longer notice it. To make a private phone call you simply grab your cell phone and leave the area undetected by management. This happens daily…particularly with those interviewing for a new job or those having relationship problems, everyone speculates as you leave the cubicle area.
In the next several weeks each employee will try to humanize their individual cubicles with family pictures, a basic requirement for married workers, sports “stuff”, each showing off their favorite team, calendars, mirrors, whatever makes you feel different. Women usually prefer a mirror, a unique lamp, and a piece of framed art (usually with a French twist) and actually can make it visually attractive, for a cubicle. A minority do absolutely nothing as to say if I get fired I can be out of this hole in 60-seconds. My personal favorite is the poster of a window with an idyllic outdoor scene to make believe you are out in the woods looking at a waterfall while in reality it is just a pre-fab grey cubicle. The cubicle’s evolve as time goes on…upgraded speakers for your computer, custom lamps, more sports “stuff” and a big crowd pleaser anywhere is the cubicles with candy dishes to welcome you in. Unfortunately there is always the office pig who grabs handfuls at a time thus leaving the the once bountiful dish empty and exasperating the owner from filling it up so it goes empty never to be re-filled. Pigs would never think about spending $1.99 on a bag of candy and re-filling…it actually never occurs to them. Candy gone, move on to another cubicle until the whole office just gives up on candy, not just because of the cost and work involved but they realize candy attracts the co-workers you would least like to see. Victoria Secret calendars are popular with the 20ish men but these will soon come down when Human Resources gets a complaint. The 50+ crowd have a funny habit of crossing off the days on their calendars as to make retirement seem closer. Over time people come and go but the cubicle endures. Then it happens…a modern miracle. The company has downsized and they are bringing people from another floor onto your floor. The maintenance crew refigures the cubicle lay-out to fit in more and after getting the OK from upper management the modern day cubicle does what it does best…come apart and re-invent itself. On Friday you are asked to take down everything from the walls and on Monday morning when you walk in the office it has magically changed. There are now 62-cubicles where there had once been 48. You notice the aisles betwen the rows are thinner and the rows extend beyond where they had before and your cubicle is suddenly not as long or deep. Just a small sacrifice to pay to get in 14 more workers. As you sit at your desk on Monday morning staring at blank walls again the one-two punch of cubicle fever hits you hard…what has my life become. I feel like a calf being prepared for veal. The same pictures, calendars,mirrors, sports crap go back up and by Monday afternoon the office is back to it’s day-to-day cubilife. You do notive the managers offices haven’t been downsized, just a perk of corporate life but it doesn’t really bother you as their work lives seem more miserable than most.
Cubicles have become ensconced in the corporate world and are here to stay until a more efficient way of cramming workers into a restricted space can be designed. I always thought stacking them in a bunk-bed style would double the work space, but I’d never mention that. In the past decade the most overused business term has been ” Think outside the box” to the point of saturation. It particularly became popular during the 2008-10 economic downfall when revenue sources dried up. Every meeting would end with ” Think outside the box ” and then we would all go back into our boxes. On November 15, 2012 I walked out of my cubicle for the last time…it felt more like the cubicle regurgitated and threw me up and out. I never did get to see how hard you needed to kick to knock the cubicle walls down.
NOTE – I would definitely recommend watching the comedy “Office Space” to get a visual of the cubicle. It is a very funny movie…” Ummm, I’m gonna need you to go ahead and come in this weekend”.