Cubicles have become the symbol of a bygone era of sterile office misery. They were a way to cram as many people into an office as possible. No matter how many tropical island photos, Dilbert comics, or motivational posters you could pin to those slabs of carpet and metal, at the end of the day it was still a cage. From down the rows you would feel the heavy, confident footfalls of a superior coming your way. Injected with fear, you scramble to look busy. False alarm, it was just Gil from accounting. That sort of unnecessary stress surely took years off your life.
Offices with open floor plans have become a welcome alternative to the sea of cubicles. Open offices offer respite from the trapped rat feeling. In this environment superiors typically become less like lurking boogeyman and more like approachable problem solvers. The hierarchy goes from an unscalable mountain to a slight incline. Tearing down the walls allows for a much more human and collaborative working experience.
According to The University of Alabama-Birmingham, three of the top ten best jobs in America are in the tech industry. Tech jobs typically implored an open office layout so if this is your intended field, it’s best to be aware of the types of co-workers you might encounter.
The Former Athlete
Evolutionary biologists believe that the reason humans tense up when something unidentified flies overhead is because the children of our evolutionary ancestors were prey to big birds. To have this sensation in an office environment is just plain not conducive to work. Armed with a Nerf football, a wad of paper, or other projectile, The Former Athlete’s idea of a casual office involves the ability to hurl objects through the air at a wastebasket, a small basketball hoop, or a co-worker. Out of the corner of your eye you see this UFO and think for a fraction of a second that the big bird has come for you.
This co-worker seems to be within earshot of everyone, all the time. Oh, you just mentioned casually to the person next to you that you enjoyed Interstellar? Well from across the room, this co-worker will tell you exactly what that movie got wrong about the fifth dimension, how silly and unrealistic Anne Hathaway’s monologue about love was, and why it was just a rehashed version of 2001: A Space Odyssey.
The Super Loud
They only had to fill their cubicle with their voice before, but now the poor saps have to fill a whole room. They’re so brave for taking on such a task and they perform it so consistently well. Like it’s almost annoying how well they perform this task. Almost so annoying that you wish your superiors would build a soundproof box around them and only let them out if they promise to wear a muzzle. But only “almost,” right everyone?
The Foot Tapper
This co-worker is the cousin of “The Super Loud” and comes in a variety of versions. They’re mostly too unaware or too self-involved to consider their noise-making behaviour a potential issue, but those sensitive to distracting sounds will be driven mad by their subconscious mannerisms. Some varieties include “The Pen Clicker,” “The Overly Aggressive Mouse Wheel Scroller,” “The Heavy-Handed Typer,” and “The Person Who Somehow Doesn’t Realize That Rapping Their Fingernails On A Hardtop Desk Is Infuriating For Certain Individuals Around Them.” This co-worker exists in the cubicle environment as well, but they’re subdued enough that the noise doesn’t travel too far.
The One Upper
The One Upper will always be out-doing you and somehow always ferreting out the opportunity to tell you when they’ve done so. Their methods are direct or indirect. Oh, you got a glowing performance review in which your superior mentioned your impressive efficiency and great teamwork skills? That’s cute. The One Upper of course was told those things too, but they were also complimented on their organization skills and for some odd reason their fashion sense as well.
Additionally, any tragedy that has befallen you, has befallen them ten-fold. Oh, your pen exploded on you? Well a stray octopus just inked all over their favorite suit jacket that they inherited from their late grandparent who was a Medal of Honour recipient.
The open office environment makes it easy for The One Upper to lord over his kingdom. When the floor supervisor or any other individual whose impression of you matters comes around, this co-worker perks up like a prairie dog. Anything you can do, they can do better. At least, according to them.
Open office environments, more than less-exposed office environments, need to be treated as if they were small communities. In order for everyone to be happy, employees should possess the traits necessary to be a contributing member of a community, namely empathy, self-awareness, and interpersonal skills. My stance on this issue is objectively neurotic, but I guarantee there are at least a handful of people like me in every open office environment.
While I see the open office as a welcome alternative to the cubicle, I think some improvements are still necessary. My proposed solution for stifling the quirks of the aforementioned open office tyrants is this: Retractable Cubicle Walls (RCWs) (patent pending). With the flip of a switch, they would give employees the option of privacy or collaboration at any point during the workday. RCWs will sink flush into the floor when not wanted and they’ll be transparent, maintaining the open office feel even when in the cubicle position. If and only if you’re a potential investor, please comment below. Just kidding, unless you really do want to invest.
Feature image: Sylvain Kalache
This guest post was written by Reed Parker. Reed writes about nothing in particular. He just wants to feel better about getting an English degree.
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