Tuesday, February 20, 2007


The Emperor's New Office

According to the article at the link below, the latest trend in office design not only eschews real offices, but even cubicles, no matter small or austerely accoutered. In fact, it features no assigned workspaces at all, at least for any of us worker bees. Some corporations find it cheaper to provide their workers with a loose collection of movable walls, regularly placed outlets, and a rolling stock of office furniture, none of which is "owned" by any specific individual. I guess the assumption is that you are supposed to show up at the office - your own laptop in hand, of course, as fixed PCs will be extinct in this scenario - and scrounge up the required chair or table or printer or whiteboard or whatever, all of which might be different or even unavailable from one day to the next. But what the hell, you might ask. If this game of musical chairs has left you standing on a given day, why not just sit on the wall to wall carpeting, next to your favorite modem jack? That is if that isn't already taken, too. Frankly, I can't see the appeal in this. If the office is no longer a home away from home, where you can navigate immediately to your own niche on entering the building, why go in to the office at all? Why even have an office? Why shouldn't everyone be allowed to just telecommute?

This type of office design is wrongheadedly touted as the ultimate in human freedom, where the office becomes an ersatz amalgam of Roman forum, stage in the round, and college campus lawn. A model of the communal, the epitome of the glorious collective. That it might cost less to management is, of course, entirely serendipitous - one of those cases in which the interests of management and labor are harmoniously aligned. Or so we are led to believe. The reality is that no one comes to the office to pursue freedom. No one subjects oneself to the tiresome grind of the nine-to-five so they can confront the chaos of not knowing where they will sit on any given morning. That is not what work is about for most of us. If the bosses themselves, with their corner offices and assigned parking spaces, base their own status on the quantity of fixed capital that is earmarked for their own use, what then must they think of us when they deprive us of anything at all that we can call our own? Can they really believe that we would be content to mill about in a nothingness as bleak as the grounds of Andersonville Prison, fighting for a chair to sit on as though it were a morsel of food? The vast gulf between what pleases them and what they pretend to imagine will please us reveals their hypocrisy. Territory is dignity, and all workers should each be allotted at least one place - whether it be a cubicle, a desk or even a bare corner - where they can do work in peace, day in and day out, without the fear that that place will be gone tomorrow. We sacrifice our lives to the tedium and anonymity of corporate life precisely for the comfort of its regularity, and to take that from us does us no favors.

"Cubicle free as a competitive advantage" from bloggingstocks

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