Together and Alone in the Office

cubicles“Having a cubicle is weird. I’m surrounded by people yet no one talks. I can go all day without speaking to a single coworker.”

A friend recently posted that on Facebook after starting a new job.

Most assuredly that’s the opposite of some of the other well known reasons people hate working in cubicle-land; dealing with the unexpected ‘pop-ins’ from colleagues, hearing every utterance from the loud talker, or finding that your office mates leave papers, mail and other items in your chair as if it’s the post office depository.

I’ve worked with those people.

And I’ve been in office environments where industrious workers, sitting in row upon row of beige cubicles, go through the day speaking in the sort of hushed reverential tones that one uses in a church or cathedral. No music (however muted), no laughter, and only whispered conversations allowed.

Not that long ago I visited a local business with hundreds upon hundreds of suited-up employees stacked in cubicles on every floor. While a few people resided in offices (the higher the title, naturally, the closer one sat to a window) the vast majority of staff members were lined up in soul-sucking cubes. There was minimal color, aside from a few patches of greenery from a plant or two, and I saw nary a human interaction happening in any of the departments through which I wandered.

I didn’t see coworkers huddle with a few chairs pulled together in a shared workspace. Those on phone calls were murmuring in low tones. And while a few people were gathered at the communal coffee pot it was all business; fill ‘er up, make no eye contact, and scurry back to the busy and demanding work that was, apparently, piling up during this 2-minute break.


All I know if I had to drag myself to the office every day only to be “alone” while surrounded by fellow team members, peers, and colleagues I would lose my shit sanity.

Environment, and culture, can energize. It can also causes one’s soul to atrophy.


5 thoughts on “Together and Alone in the Office

  1. Your environment has a huge impact. When I was in University I had a summer job with an insurance company that was just like the one you described in your post. I literally felt my energy get sucked away the second I entered the building. The money I earned those summers put me through school, but I made a promise to myself that once I started my career I would never ever work for an organization with that kind of culture. Great thoughts Robin!

  2. Now if people were smoking or drinking in the office. it would be a health issue.
    But because the addiction described (and the resulting anomie) is from technology, there is no cry for digital detox.
    Because technology has become a deity and if you have problems with that, try a new gadget.

  3. This speaks to the culture of the company you mentioned in the post. Could it be that this is out of necessity? Could it be that the culture created itself and, in turn, everyone’s “too busy” in their own micro-culture environments that they do not notice? I’ve worked in cubicles…I’ve been in offices (with and without windows). At one time, my office was my desk – no walls at all. In some ways, I think it goes back to the individual. Could that one person choose to speak at the coffee pot and, by doing so, make true contact? Maybe…maybe not……..but the choice is there.

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