Wednesday, December 11, 2013

How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love My Cubicle

At the time of writing, I would have entered my third week working in a cubicle at my new office. Yes, cubicle. I no longer have a room, after more than four years of having one. By lawyerly standards, that is indeed a significant change and - as some would say - a step down. Gone are the days I can talk and laugh loudly on the phone, and blast adrenaline-pumping EDM on my speakers.

Which is all a good thing. For my company, and for myself. It's a change that most lawyers will cringe at and have trouble accepting. Not me. Right from day one, I stopped worrying and embraced my new wall-less, tiny workspace. 

Goodbye, room.

Cutting Slack, Increasing Productivity

When you're cooped up in a room, with the door closed, you're in your own world. The temptation to dive deeper in your own world, away from the realities of your work assignments and deadlines, is high. You settle your credit card bills via e-banking. You check out the latest trends at your favourite online boutiques. You stream videos on YouTube, telling yourself you need a break of five minutes... no, make it ten minutes... okay, fifteen minutes tops.

In a cubicle, you become conscious of what appears on your computer screen. Your boss or some bitchy snake-like colleague might walk pass and take a peek. You won't stop slacking completely - there's nothing wrong passing off some personal time on your computer - but you'll be slacking less.

And look, don't we all detest the lazy sloth-like colleague who's always missing in action? If they're always not at their cubicles, their absence becomes conspicuous. Eventually, they'll run out of excuses for their abstention. They can run, but they can't hide. Without a room, they can't ask an accomplice (normally a poor, helpless secretary) to turn on the lights to give the false impression they've been in office since 9 in the morning.

If you are serious about focusing on work and maximising your time in office, then a cubicle will help you do that. Yes, it feels like you're working in a factory conveyor belt, and being watched by a foreman from the mezzanine above. You feel compelled to make every minute in office count. Which is precisely why it's a good thing.

Office Is A Workplace, Not Home 

People who love their room are the same people who love decorating their room lavishly with personal trinkets. Like hanging portraits and having a personal coffee machine. I, too, liked having a sense of familiarity at my workplace. We all like to feel at home in office...

Wait, what? Come again - feel at home in office? But office is a workplace! It shouldn't feel like home! If you want to make it feel like home, it only means you're spending way too much time in office, and not seeing much of your actual home.

Everyone keeps an altar of devotion. Room or no room, my most sacred ornament is here to stay - Girls' Generation 2011/2012 calender (made in Seoul).

Why do you think certain companies provide shower rooms and dinner allowance? The reason is simple - they want you to make their office as your home. They want you to stay in office - not by force, but by your own volition. They want you to personalise your room, so you don't feel too bad about camping till the dead of night.

Do I like being stuck in a cubicle for hours? Of course not. Which is why I'm more determined, every day, to quickly finish my work so that I can leave my cubicle and go home.

Mistaking Privacy for Confidentiality

Most lawyers will try to justify having a room on the basis that their work involves a lot of confidential information. Oh really? Do you lock your room each time you step out to take a leak? Are your cabinets and drawers equipped with the latest biometric fingerprint or retinal scanners? At night, when the office is deserted, do the walls in your room shoot out invisible laser beams that sound the alarm if an intruder brushes against them? No? Then having walls and a wooden door won't stop your so-called confidential information from being pinched.

This is not your office.

Being in a cubicle doesn't mean the office can't have a safe to secure your sensitive documents, and sound-proof conference rooms to host clandestine meetings. In fact, being in a cubicle makes you more self-aware about confidentiality. You wouldn't simply leave a document you wouldn't want others to see - like your CV or tour guide of Bangkok nightlife - on the table. Whereas a room gives you a false sense of security - a mischievous colleague can just walk in your room after you step out, and post a humiliating status on your Facebook account which you didn't log off.

What a room gives is privacy, not confidentiality. But do we really need privacy in order to perform at work? Privacy is only precious to those who are busy doing personal matters, rather than real work, as explained above.

Some might argue that they can only concentrate with total silence. Are you a surgeon in the middle of an operation? No, you're not. You're in an office. Reading and drafting documents. A little noise won't stultify your ability to think. If it does, then maybe you should apply to be a librarian.

Less Space, Less Clutter

Having your own room means having more space. More space means more clutter.

Imagine an email inbox. It has a maximum storage space, set per company policy. Once the inbox is full, it can no longer receive incoming mails. We have no choice but to move some of the emails into the archives folder. And whilst we're at it, we will delete trivial, personal emails.

Likewise, a room functions the same way. Space is limited, but large. The larger the room is, the more junk gets kept. Why bother sorting out and cleaning up things, when you could simply dump it at a corner, and only later decide what to do with it?

Being in a cubicle means having less space. And that's good, because it compels you to regularly keep track of your things, and throw away things that you really don't need. I hardly keep any physical documents with me. The originals are kept securely in the filling cabinet, the copies are saved on my computer. Less paper, less clutter, less waste. And less time wasted on looking for documents lost somewhere in the clutter.

Captain Planet  needs you!

Also, working with limited space encourages saving and sharing. When I was packing just before moving out of the old office, I gave a lot of my stationery away. I was moving into a public area. If I wanted a stapler, I could simply ask my cubicle neighbour. Or even better, all stationery could be placed in a common area, for everyone to freely use.

Spaced In Tight, Works Out Fine

I miss my room, but not by much. It's just a matter of embracing change and adapting. If even senior managers can live without a room - as do the ones in my company - so can anyone.

Now that I'm in a cubicle, I'm shedding a lot of my bad work habits. Workspace - work and space. It's a synergy of sorts. As I learn to use space efficiently, I also learn to work efficiently. I'm spaced in tight, but it works out fine.

And above all, it reinforces a simple belief I always hold dear to my heart - life is about consuming less, whist creating more

And it's true for work, as in life. Less is indeed more.


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