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September 27, 2004

Cubicle mine

My department reorganized in July. Since then, most of us have been figuring out workflows, negotiating relationships with new supervisors and teammates, and learning how our jobs have and haven't changed. We've also been under a directive from our department head to make a concentrated effort to clean up and empty out our workspaces, since a plan is in the works to reconfigure our little warren of cubicles to reflect our new organizational structure. The idea is that everyone should expect to have to move to a new location within the next six months or so.

The master plan for reconfiguring our space was finally unveiled today. Some of the changes are fairly radical, so it's a bit of a challenge to envision what it will be like once the upheaval is finished. My co-workers are greeting the news with either cautious optimism or trepidation, depending on how much they like their current location and what they think of their proposed relocation. I am cautiously optimistic: if the plan is executed as advertised, I will finally have adequate space for the materials I work with. I am also one of those lucky enough to be moving to a space where I will have fewer distractions to cope with.

But others are not so happy, worried that they'll lose necessary storage space, a quiet enough location to work without constant distractions, or simple creature comforts they've had to fight for in their current locations. It seems like it shouldn't be a big deal, but it is: most of us are deskbound upwards of 80% of the time. For many of my co-workers, that proportion approaches 95%. So it's critical to our productivity and mental well-being that we're as comfortable as possible in our workspaces (which, of course, have always been far from ideal). It's always been an uphill battle: few of us feel like we have enough space, we constantly fight filth (our floors are cleaned on a roughly biennial schedule), and it has often been hard to come by small things like a filing cabinet or an extra bookshelf. In other words, resources are scarce, so people tend to guard what they have with some vehemence. We also tend to be suspicious of anything that might upset our hard-won control over our workspaces, so a big move like this is bound to be especially traumatic, even for those of us who are satisfied with what is proposed.

Of course, one of the overarching purposes of such a major move is to uproot people from their zones of comfort (both physically and mentally), thereby forcing them to rethink how the organization does things (and, with any luck, encourage innovation). Another huge benefit will be the cleaning and reorganization of all of the stuff that surrounds us in our current drab (I would even say depressing) environment. The "shiny and new" character of the reconfigured workspace is pretty exciting, and is hopefully something that everyone can be enthusiastic about. It all makes for a complicated dynamic, and points up how risky and difficult change can be.

Posted by at September 27, 2004 8:34 PM