If there’s one thing the modern worker in the modern economy doesn’t have it’s security.
Some of this uncertainty is new to our age. Teenage high-tech mutants disrupt giant industries, which fall apart before our very eyes. Established companies get antsy and decide it’s time to leave their dowager headquarters and take up with a flashy floozy of a headquarters in Bangladesh.
And what in the midst of this flux can you hang on to?
I have the answer.
You hang on to your desk.
If you think of your desk as simply a piece of furniture, think again. Your desk shows the world that you have a job. It may not be a very good job, and you may not do it very well, but, darn it, you have a desk.
Your desk also tells everyone where you stand. If your desk sits in a luxurious office suite on Mahogany Row, you are going places. If your desk is moved to the loading dock, the only place you are going is to the unemployment office.
But now, in one of cruelest turns of corporate fate ever, management wants to take away your desk. Oh, you will have a place to sit, maybe multiple places you can sit, but no place that is exclusively yours.
You’re deskless, Bub. Like Diogenes, you’re left to wander the office looking for an honest place to rest your butt and display your Hummels. (Except Diogenes got transferred to the Bangladesh office and hasn’t been heard from since.)
This scary situation was revealed to me in “Don’t Get Too Comfortable at That Desk,” a recent article in The New York Times by Steve Lohr.
Lohr’s article raises a battle cry. The office-space designers are coming, and it’s time to fight for our right to have a desk!
The last time the designers attacked, our beloved cubicles were exiled. In their place was the “open office,” where no walls inhibited the “cross-fertilization of ideas.”
Of course, what the open office produced was the cross-fertilization of stupid ideas, not to mention a constant cacophony of moronic chit-chat, eardrum shattering whispers and endless angry telephone conversations, all mixed and remixed with random–and disgusting–body sounds.
The decibel level was so noxious that some office workers were forced to “do a turtle,” retreating into their headphones all day. Others just headed for the hills. They started working from home, or, in your case, not-working from home. Either way, you were home, and if you didn’t have a desk, you did have a couch and remote.
With the open office closed, the new, workplace design du jour is “activity-based.” In place of individual desks, there are “isolation rooms,” coffin-like structures where you can close the door and scream in private. There are also technology-free “quiet rooms,” where you can scream in public. There are hideously named “huddle rooms,” but don’t despair. Add a lava lamp and they could easily be turned into “cuddle rooms,”
Another really wacko idea in the new workplace design is the concept that exposure to sunlight and outdoor views are beneficial. A University of Oregon study showed that workplaces with outdoor views resulted in 6 percent fewer sick days. I know the reason. Outdoor views are constant reminders of pollution and traffic jams, making you decide you’d be better off inside.
Not even senior executives are going untouched by these new concepts. IBM has forced senior executive to “depart wood-paneled offices for smaller, side-by-side glass ones without doors.”
This is a problem. If a lack of privacy makes it impossible for senior executives to hibernate in their wood-paneled hidey-holes, they’re likely to spend more time roaming the halls, pestering nonsenior nonexecutives, like thee and me.
If you suspect that your happiness may not be the only reason companies are adopting these new office design concepts, you may be right. The one activity these activity-based floor plans facilitate is saving money.
In the good old cubical days, each worker was allotted about 250 square feet. In the open office era, that metric dropped to 150 square feet. The new activity-based workplace designs provide each worker with a glorious 60 feet to roam wild.
If you’re claustrophobic, perhaps you should work in a coal mine.
Like these changes or not, they are coming. Ironically, your best friend in this situation could be your old friend, your desk, once again proving the unique utility of this office icon.
As long as you have it, you can hide under it.
Bob Goldman was an advertising executive at a Fortune 500 company, but he finally wised up and opened Bob Goldman Financial Planning in Sausalito, California. He now works out of Bellingham, Washington. He offers a virtual shoulder to cry on at firstname.lastname@example.org.