Over the last 9 years, I have worked one type of job or another that involved sitting at a desk within a cubicle. For those who have never had to work indoors for the last 30 some odd years, allow me to explain the cubicle. Most rooms in your house have four sturdy walls and a door separating it from other rooms in the house (as well as a ceiling). When you went to school, the principal’s office had four walls, a ceiling, and a door (don’t even TRY to pretend you’ve never been there). Cubicles are very similar to this except there are only (at most) three walls, no door, and no ceiling. These walls are also only about 2 inches thick. This was corporate America’s way of telling the employee that they do not deserve the investment of a private office (neither does your boss). If you happened to be located against a wall (i.e. an actual wall made of concrete, or stucco, or whatever), the company can save even more money by providing one less wall. Sometimes, there is no actual wall and the only thing separating you from your co-workers is less than a foot of space.
This wonderful labyrinthine layout has lead to a new term of corporate jargon: cube farm. This derives from the fact that the overhead layout of the average company closely resembles that of an ant farm. I can see the similarities between the two entities. Both contain a network of workers doing their respective jobs in their respective area. The only major difference is that I never have to worry about King Kong picking up the building and shaking it.
However, life in the cube farm can also lead to a potentially critical condition: Cube Farm Fever. Cube Farm Fever (or CFF) is brought on by the fact that the relatively thin but sturdy cubicle walls on create the illusion of a separate work space. For example, I work for a company that provides a wide variety of services to other companies. This means you can stand in the aisle, turn your head from left to right at 18° intervals and hear the following conversations:
- “Thank you for calling StaticPhone Mobile. Can I get you started on a 7 year mobile phone contract today?”
- “No, sir. You CANNOT give your computer better memory by coating it with Gingko Biloba.
- “Good afternoon, ma’am. We’re taking a poll today. We’d like your opinion on the President’s proposed Fiber Stimulus Plan which provides tax credits for adding shredded wheat to your diet.”
- “….and for signing up with RisqPul Insurance today, we’ll send you a free CD of the “Flaming DoorKnockers: Greatest Hits” which comes with three free aromatherapy candles”
- “Yes, according to the company dress code, the necktie should be no higher (or lower) than 1 inch above the belt line. You’ll have to clock out and adjust your tie in the men’s room”
These are all in addition to the phone call you are trying to conduct with your customer while your co-workers are discussing the latest and greatest way to clear Level 27 of the latest and greatest computer role playing game. Symptoms of CFF include: a constant rubbing of the temples and forehead, shaking of the head with the eyes closed, and breathing through the teeth while the eyes are as big as the tires on a monster truck.
The onset of CFF can be prevented by using a portable media player to isolate yourself from outside noise or getting up and walking away from the work area for two or three minutes every two hour (company policies usually prohibit doing this for any longer than two or three minutes). Failing to take these steps can result in a craving for extreme isolation and repeated viewings of “Office Space”.
Recently, I was working in my cubicle. I overheard a one-sided phone conversation taking place on the other side of the wall. The lady on the other side of the wall seemed to be having a normal conversation with a customer. At some point the customer on the phone said something hilariously funny. This caused the customer service representative to laugh loudly. This wasn’t so bad except that every four beats of laughter was punctuated by a horrendous snort. This woman snorted so loudly I thought she was going to blow a pork loin through her nose. Then, just as it seemed she had caught her breath and stopped, she started the laugh ‘n’ snort shuffle again: “tee hee hee tee hee hee tee hee hee SNORT”. I started to find myself rubbing my temple and shaking my head with my eyes closed. I looked at my watch and was rescued with relief. It was quittin’ time. I got up and clocked out. I also decided to hold off on watching “Office Space” again.