I recently attended an open house for a small (six person) company’s new office space in a converted residence. Everyone who worked there had their own office. You might remember those: rooms with walls to put pictures on, which the employees sometimes even use when they aren’t working from home or from Starbucks.
Back in the Paleolithic Age before the Internet, laptops and cell phones and the ability to work just about anywhere under any conditions prompted companies to rip down walls and turn workspace into open air bullpens of screens stacked and packed next to one another with very little personal space (saving companies considerable amounts in reduced real estate costs, not to mention the money saved in treating employees in the same disposable way as the equipment they use), I actually had an office for my first office.
Okay, it wasn’t exactly my office; I shared the space with three other writers. But we had four walls and a door we could close, though there was no real reason to do so. In that corporate culture, a closed door meant there was some private confrontation going on related to office politics, a castigation of someone and/or something they didn’t want their spouses to know about. There was nothing Sterling Cooper quality about these offices; there weren’t any couches or scotch bottles or sleek furniture, (though what Don Draper needs all that space for is beyond me as he doesn’t seem to do much but smoke when he isn’t in someone’s bed).
The minions got metal desks and low-backed chairs. As you moved your way up the organizational chart, your status symbols increased with single-office occupancy, higher-backed chairs and, if you were really an up-and-comer, wood-veneered furniture and a window view. One time a low ranking employee had managed to obtain a high-backed chair normally reserved for his superiors because he complained of a back problem; there was considerable disgruntlement among the staff that someone had managed to game the system to look more important than he actually was. Honest to god, people were really pissed. Petty things have and always will get in the way of people actually doing work, but people getting upset about who got what kind of chair just to goes to show how working in an office can be counterproductive to actually getting any work done.
It wasn’t long before my group was forced, not without much bitching, into the brave new world of cubicles. However, we had to leave our old building before the new one was ready, so our corporate overseers rented warehouse space in which everyone’s desk was placed in neat rows right behind one another in a large open space without windows, a precursor to the modern bullpen, but with bulkier and uglier beige monitors.
I was the only freelancer, which meant my status was lowest of the low. The corporate space planners for some reason didn’t want me in the same area as the regular employees, who were unhappy enough with their new accommodations that having to rub shoulders with the hired help would only have caused further aggravation.
So they stuck me in an equipment room. A fairly good-sized room, though it was filled with old copiers and obsolete equipment nobody knew what to do with. And my desk. And me. And only me. And a door that closed, so I was the only one who actually had any privacy, could put his feet up on his desk, make a phone call nobody could overhear, even take a quick nap.
None of which my boss, and my boss’s boss, or their bosses could do.
Which is another reason why it just isn’t as much fun to work in an office as it used to be.