From Cubicle to Garden

I know I am not the only one.  Sitting in my cubicle staring off into the bland, grey-blue cubicle wall wondering how in Minnesota’s green pastures I ended up here.  At what point do you wake up, do the morning routine and find yourself sitting in a chair wondering where the rebel that you thought you’d always be went.  And a bigger question for me has always been, when?  When did I stop questioning where I was going and what I was doing?  And when did I become so scared of change?

Moving out the door, heading onto the platform, stepping into the train, walking amongst the mob, going up the elevator, taking off my coat, sitting down in my chair, turning on my PC, and staring into the grey-green blandness.   How many hours has the collective American cubicle workforce spent staring into poorly designed cubicle walls?  The less fortunate of us trapped behind that nasty shade of mauve that was so popular for office building interiors in the 80’s.  And because I know I’m not the only one, why do the cubicle wall designers design such horrid cubicle walls?

 It’s a flat surface, completely movable, varying in height – it could be ANYTHING – a shocking shade of red shiny plastic, a transparent black with opaque grey stripes, or even as simple as a bright color.  Any color – take your pick.  As long as it doesn’t look or feel like the current palette of ‘correctional facilities’ walls.

Considering the sheer number of cubicle walls that must be ordered on any given day, the design team – because you know something as simple as a cubicle wall requires some sort of team or committee effort to make the final decision – can’t make something a bit more pleasant?  Clearly the cubicle wall designers do not sit in cubicles all day wondering why the walls are so wretched and depressing. 

But, that was then.  Now, I am living a life that many people may dream about.  I was a career woman working her way slowly up to some position or another when I fell in love with a Frenchman and followed him to a tropical island on the other side of the world.  Even though I was nervous about moving away from my homeland, I decided to put my fears to the test.  Did they really control me or could I control them?  The cubicle that I had known for so long disappeared.   Currently, in its place is my tropical backyard garden and my previous fears about moving here seem far away.

On Monday, I was having a cup of tea on the outside patio reading a magazine and watching the gardener cut the grass.   Our housekeeper was ironing some shirts and the pool guy was cleaning the pool.  While I was sitting there looking at all of this and wondering when the bananas would be ripe for picking from our banana tree, I started to think back to my working life back in the States.

I wondered why more offices were not filled with light, open space and greenery.  It refreshes you.  It re-energizes you.  I think that what is needed in today’s office environment is to feel exactly that – re-energized and refreshed.   When you are in a state like this, you tend to work harder simply because it’s easier to perform at your best.  What a completely bizarre idea.  To keep workers not only satisfied in the company and in the job, but also to provide them a space where they feel good working.

Somewhere along the way, someone got the idea that to work hard and long, you should remove all distractions, all beauty.  But, in today’s world of PDAs and the internet, I don’t really think it’s realistic to believe that by removing all ‘outside’ influences, the workforce will perform longer and better.  I think that one of the keys to happy and efficient workers may be to cater to the heightened state of enlightenment that I hope our human species has evolved.  I think we can work hard and interact with others while surfing the internet.  This behavior is already happening in offices all over America, why not acknowledge it and design work spaces accordingly.

Many years ago, I worked for a furniture retail company in the corporate headquarters.  The offices were amazing and what had me more awe-struck was the CEO’s attitude towards providing a positive work environment for the workers.  He really felt that by giving workers a space filled with beauty that they would be better workers.

There were no cubicles and here’s a shocker – there wasn’t a problem with noise.  People, recognizing they were adults who were trying to work, just worked in a polite and quiet way.  And if you had a phone call, you got up out of your chair (another wild idea, I know) and walked to a conference room or went outside into the garden courtyard.  The office was built around a center garden courtyard with walking paths, wild flowers and trees, and stone benches. 

All of the materials used in the building from the office furniture to the office doors were made of solid metals or beautiful real woods such as, maple, cherry and walnut.  It was nice to work on a desk that wasn’t made of some sort of composite material.   It felt nice to the touch.  There was art on the walls and sunlight filled every work area.   

Every day at two in the afternoon, a huge selection of seasonal fresh fruits was delivered as a healthy snack and if you needed to really get the blood flowing you could always head to the attached full gym with the on-site personal trainer.  Emails were sent during the day announcing different classes that were being held or encouraging you to jump on a treadmill if you were feeling a little sleepy. 

The gym had fully stocked locker rooms which made heading in and out of the office super quick.  But, my favorite thing about working here was the on-site massage therapist named Joyce.  She was wonderful.  You could book appointments before, during or after work.  My boss would often come back freshly smelling like peppermint right before a big meeting.  All in all, everyone was very laid back and relaxed.  And we worked hard to meet deadlines and to achieve our personal goals just like the mauve-walled workers down the street.  But I have never worked anywhere like this since; nor do I think I ever will again.  And it’s a sad thought because it was such a pleasure just to be in the office.

So, cubicle designers of the world, toss us lowly ‘cubey’ workers a bone, huh?  If we must have them, please design them to inspire us, not to depress us.

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About Minnesota Pilgrim

A GenX Xpat who moved from Minnesota to Mauritius to France with her Frenchman lover. Multiple cultures, total bedlam, absolute bliss.
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