Monday, August 07, 2006


Mondays in cubicle hell puts us back in touch with the part of our lives that most of us find less than satisfying. No one stops in the hallway to chat about last Friday when they updated two spreadsheets with new numbers and deleted 2 dozen emails from their inbox...they talk about what they did on their weekend. The smile eases from our faces as we ease into the parking space and march up to the office. Like dogs, we all wear IDs around our necks with pictures of ourselves smiling on them (in case we forgot what smiling looks like). We run our IDs through a scanner which opens a county fair-like turnstile to let us into the building. But unlike a carnival, there are no rides or fun, just an elevator that silently brings us up to one of several carbon-copy floors filled with rows upon row of gray-walled cubicles, far too many to count. And soon there will be more.

It's what happens to offices when you need to fit more people in the same space. Our company has schedule compressions several times in the past few years, usually because we have hired more people than we have space for. Cubicles, which at normal size are about 6 feet x 8 feet and have a little room for you to back your chair out from your desk and stretch your legs, get compressed to something more like 6 feet x 4 feet. If you are claustrophic or just like a little fresh air from time to time, these compressed cubicles will cause you some discomfort. Imagine setting up your office in a refrigerator box's kind of like that. The air circulation is limited and there is only about 1 foot of space to back your chair up. Storage is limited to one 2-drawer file cabinet and one overhead shelf, which is why most people who have been moved to compressed cubicles have boxes filled with bits of their former offices stacked up outside in the cubicle hallways. Of course, noise levels, which are already too distracting to get much work done, increase, since you're packing more people into the same space. For those folks who spend all day on the phone presenting to customers this isn't a big deal, but for those of us who have to sit next to those who spend all day on the phone while trying to read news articles or analysts' reports, it is. I have headphones and an online radio station on all the time and have even added earplugs to try to further reduce the distraction, but I still find it very hard to concentrate when my cube-neighbor paces his office with his wireless headset, talking at the top of his lungs to be hear from his poor quality wireless headset.

So compression is something we frequently have to deal with. It's usually one of the side effects of growth, which can be somewhat compensated by the fact that our stock price is going up. The only problem is, this time our stock price isn't going up. And we're not hiring more people; we've already layed-off 1000+ and expect to lay off more. So why do we continue to compress??

I have asked several people this question and no one seems to know the answer. The most likely response is that we've already paid the contractors to do the work back at the beginning of the year so we have to go ahead with it. Ridiculous! Let's get out of our slump by putting our remaining staff into a much less productivity-enducing environment. Let's damage the already crushed morale by forcing people to give up more of their tiny space in this big, big company. I have another idea--maybe its a way to get more people to leave! Then we don't have to pay them compensation after the layoff! Brilliant!

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