Welcome to the Box

The office cubicle was created by Robert Propst and Herman Miller in 1967 under the name Action Office II. That sounds adventurous, doesn’t it? Action Office! The place where action happens! I expect the sound of sharp, honed ninja blades being yanked from their scabbards each time I hear: Action Office II! Twice the action! Twice the office! To the max!!! (extra exclamation points available upon request.)

The Action Office II (Abbreviated to the max as: AO II) was actually a semi-enclosed, small workspace, separated from others by partitions that are usually 5 or 6 feet tall. Work surfaces were suspended from these dividers, as were shelves and such. Today, we know them as cubicles, a far more boring name than Action Office (The place where action happens.)

Interestingly, in 1970, Herman Miller, co-creator of the Action Office II, made the scathing comment:

“One does not have to be an especially perceptive critic to realize that AO-II is definitely not a system which produces an environment gratifying for people in general. But it is admirable for planners looking for ways of cramming in a maximum number of bodies, for employees, for personnel, corporate zombies, the walking dead, the silent majority.”

20070521-cubiclefarmSLAM on the whole corporate landscape of today. Of course, cubicle farms became the face of the common, modern office. No love for it exists in secular life, with many people agreeing with Herman Miller’s comment. I think it is because we (the current, cubicle-dwelling generation) don’t know what it was like before the cubicle, and it was worse.

The basic pre-cubicle layout of the corporate office prior to 1967 was even more impersonal than today, if you can imagine that; rows of employees sitting behind rows of traditional desks in a large open room devoid of even the slightest pretense of privacy.

Hence, Action Office II (The place where action happens!) came into fruition and those in lower to middle corporate careers have been trying to appreciate it ever since. The cubicle environment breeds three different trains of thought:

  1. Simmering contempt that motivates its captives to do something else.
  2. Compromise; Resigned acceptance and recognition of the drawbacks as well as the benefits.
  3. The remainder are a very few who lapse into a sort of scary denial – like it is just super-cool to work in a non-office with virtually no privacy. I have plants and a poster of a kitten saying, “Hang in there, baby!” And this gun in my hand? It says I am leaving today and maybe you are, too!

Here’s the balance I found in over 18 years of cube-dwelling and this is my mantra, though I have never actually recited it. Ever.

  • A cubicle is just a place to work.
  • My work is challenging, irrespective of the space I work in.
  • When I do well at my work, I feel a sense of accomplishment.

Now, that’s my head-game for keeping sane, and the statements are a little redundant but all true for me. Mind you, the positive found in the statements above is despite the cubicle. I refuse to pretend the environment is great, or to let the fact that it is not great defeat me.

If you work in a cubicle (or any environment, really) and can’t find anything but utter contempt for the work space you are in, you need to leave. Quit. Now! You need to do it before you hurt somebody or yourself, and probably, you need to consider going back on the medication you stopped taking because, “you feel fine without it.”

All in all, daily work in a cubicle involves making the best of being there, the best of being away from it, and no matter what, don’t let it get to you.

© 2012, Mitch Lavender

Sources: Wikipedia: Cubicle http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cubicle
The Week, Is the Office Cubicle Dead? http://theweek.com/article/index/227010/is-the-office-cubicle-dead
How Stuff Works, How ‘Death By Cubicle’ Works http://money.howstuffworks.com/death-by-cubicle.htm


3 thoughts on “Welcome to the Box

  1. You are dead right, when you feel contempt you need to leave. But, isn’t it sooo easy to get stuck in that rut and tell yourself ‘everything is fine’. It’s really only when you are out, looking back you realise how miserable you really were. I think environment is very important for good productivity.
    Enjoyable read. Thank you.

  2. At least with a cubicle you have a little privacy. When I was working, my desk was moved out on to the corridor by my boss! Then it was moved into an empty reception space where the world and her mother passed by. It was the most degrading spot ever. I shiver now when I think of it. Give me a cubicle anyday 🙂

  3. Pingback: Work Humor: 8/15/2012 « Mike's Take…

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