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It’s All About Me Space

These days, you're crazy lucky if you have a job. If you want to have a job and an office, you're just crazy.

It's true! According to an article by Sarah E. Needleman in The Wall Street Journal, employers today are out to cut costs and boost productivity by shrinking the size of their workers' personal work space.

"The majority of our clients are moving in the direction of reducing the amount of personal, or what we like to call 'me' space," says Tom Polucci, the director of interior design for HOK Group Inc., a global architecture and design firm.

If you feel the walls are closing in on you, you're probably right. According to Polucci, the new workstations designed by HOK average 48 square feet, down from 64 square feet about five years ago. Do the math. If you felt a tad claustrophobic stuffed into a cubical in the first place, you now have 25 percent less breathing room. If this trend continues, you will soon have to fold yourself up like a yoga master to fit into your cube. And every day, at 5 p.m., the boss will come around with a giant shoehorn to get you out.

The walls are not just coming closer; they're actually coming down. Partitions between cubicles are shrinking, to 4 feet or less from 5 feet high, reports Needleman. This is not good news, though there are some people who seem to enjoy the exposure. Brett Widness, a senior programming manager in Dallas, claims he is more productive now that his cubical walls have been cut down to size. "He says he can make eye contact with and talk to nearby colleagues," writes Needleman, "instead of e-mailing and waiting for a reply. 'Everything's more direct,' he says.'"

Talk about scary! It's bad enough that you have to work with a bunch of psycho losers; you certainly don't want to make eye contact with them! Nor is it especially appealing that your "nearby colleagues" can see the work you are doing or not doing — as is usually the case. In this concern, you are not alone. Linus Wright, a project manager for a legal-services firm in Minneapolis, who found his "me space" radically reduced, admits to Needleman that "personal phone calls and Web surfing are more challenging."

"You really have to keep your ears to the ground," he says. "It's a lot easier to get busted."

To imagine an eight-hour day without at least seven hours devoted to personal calls, e-mails and eBay-bidding wars will certainly make work seem a lot more like, well, work. Besides, if you are going to be put under the managerial microscope every minute of every day, how are you ever going to make progress in achieving your serious workplace goals, like finishing play on "Assassin's Creed II" before 2015?

While the incredible shrinking personal office is certainly a reason for complaints, people with teeny-tiny cubicles are still better off than people with no cubicle at all. Reports Needleman: "Some companies are removing cubicle walls to create open floor plans. Others are eliminating assigned work spaces for employees who primarily work off campus or spend most of their time in meetings."

Talk about a game of musical chairs! Management insists you go to a meeting, and then when the endless blather is done, you return to your desk to discover that your work space has disappeared. Hopefully, the company will have a series of meetings to explain why you don't need to have an office, since you spend all your time in meetings.

As satisfying as it is to rail against this latest of workplace indignities, it is possible to regain your "me space." I will soon be marketing The Executive Poncho. This must-have office accessory is a large blanket made of gray, pin-stripe flannel worsted, which covers your head and body as you sit at your computer. It blocks out anything you do, or don't do, in what remains of your personal work space.

Executive Blinders, another product I will soon bring to market, reduce your peripheral vision to zero, allowing you to focus on your computer screen, while Executive Earplugs will shut out the sound of the burping, belching, sneezing, snoring co-workers now sitting inches away. The question of what to do about the colleague who spends the day humming Journey's greatest hits has still not been solved by our product-development folks, but I'm sure they'll figure it out once we take away their offices.

Bob Goldman has been an advertising executive at a Fortune 500 company in the San Francisco Bay Area. He offers a virtual shoulder to cry on at bob@funnybusiness.com. To find out more about Bob Goldman, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at www.creators.com.

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