This is how you should be celebrating today, the 50th anniversary of what we today call the office cubicle.
I’m sure the guy who invented this now ubiquitous bit of office furniture never dreamed it would engender such deep and abiding hatred. Instead he probably thought he was doing something good for the workplace, like helping offices maximize their usable space and encouraging collaboration between co-workers.
Who knew that these humble desk/separator combos would come to be seen with same affection as the tiny pens cattle purveyors use to raise veal calves? Who would imagine that the most collaboration they would encourage would be inspiring colleagues to gang up on one of their number (the one with the untenable BO and tendency to eat microwave burritos at his desk) and stab them in the neck with a Bic pen?
In an effort to no doubt boost productivity, said designer instead created an office environment with the illusion of privacy but none of the benefits. Despite their poorly insulated wall panels, your cube farm neighbors can still hear every single thing you say, either in person or on the phone.
I’d say that someone needs to come up with a better workplace option, but I’ve already found mine – it’s called home. The office I’m working from right now has a door (A DOOR!) that I can close whenever I want without anyone getting suspicious. It has ample desk space, a comfortable chair and all the equipment is reasonably up to date, meaning I never have to have this confrontation with the printer.
I have indirect lighting (no fluorescent) and the ability to turn my music up to what most would consider a highly unreasonable volume. I can heat up whatever leftovers I want in my kitchen microwave and no one complains about the stench. I’m surrounded by love and support for what I do.
Yes, I left the cubical farm, and it wasn’t at the behest of my boss or any decision by venture capitalists or efficiency experts. I decided to leave, and it was the best decision I ever made. You can make it too, if you so desire.
It takes gumption. It takes planning. It takes an agreement with yourself and with those who are important in your life that what you’re doing isn’t bringing you joy or even a modicum of happiness or fulfillment.
It is not a decision to be entered into lightly, because along with those poorly padded walls, the annoying coworkers and the veal calf feeling comes a paycheck, regular as clockwork, every two weeks. I get it, I really do. You’ll be scared. You’ll worry about going broke. You’ll lay awake at night wondering about the future, when before the future was relatively assured.
But it’s never assured. There’s going to be a cutback, a market adjustment, an unexpected corporate bankruptcy, a grant that runs out, or the always nebulous “downsizing.” And then you’ll be out on your ass, forced to go through the same song and dance to get yourself a comfy spot in another cube somewhere else, where you’ll meet the same characters played by a different cast.
So today, celebrate this inauspicious anniversary by making a choice.
Reconcile what you do in your cube. If it makes you happy and you work with people who make you feel less like you work in a cell and more like you have your own part of a really cool clubhouse, by all means stay.
Decide what you’d do if someone asked you to leave your cube. Even if you don’t use a power screwdriver to create a window office for yourself, you’ll be taking a step in the right direction. Because as comfy as you might feel in your little bit of corporate America’s real estate, there’s no assurance that you won’t eventually be leaving that tiny plot against your will, carrying every bit of “personalization” in a small cardboard box.
Or, decide to work towards leaving your cube on your own terms. It doesn’t have to be to a home office. Follow the old adage to find what you love and then figure out how to make it pay. Then you’ll always be busy and you’ll probably earn money, but oddly enough never work another day in your life.