A few weeks ago a coworker asked me if we could trade work cubicles. The coworker who asked if we could trade spaces is in a small, cramped cubicle and because she does a lot of printing she’s in there with at least three different printers. But I have, or rather had, a pretty large cubicle that, in spite of being away for almost all of the last three years, I’m still pretty attached to. It has, or rather had, more than two decades of accumulated stuff, including pictures, frisbees, a Dalek, a Mark Twain statue, books, fun quotes I’d printed and stuck to the walls, the obligatory Far Side cartoons also stuck to the walls, and various other bits of detritus.
So I had to stop and think very carefully for about thirty seconds before I said, “Sure, of course!” As long as I have a place for my stuff, since I’m gradually reintegrating back into office life, I’m fine with downsizing. Or rather I was fine with downsizing.
While doing some preparing to move my boss sent me a message that said, in essence, “Everything you have in the office needs to go.”
That was a shock. I felt a little relief that it wasn’t just me. Downsizing is happening all over the office as some people have settled in to working exclusively from home. Another coworker permanently telecommutes from Cleveland. And it’s not even Cleveland, Tennessee. She’s in Ohio, on the edge of Lake Erie.
Even before the pandemic my job had become more about pushing electrons than papers but there were still advantages to having my own space in the office. When people dropped by, especially new people, they got an idea of who I am. We might connect over some shared interests outside of work.
Some people are comfortable doing all their work from home. They should absolutely be allowed to keep doing that. I’m not one of them, though. I miss face-to-face interactions, even if they’re still conducted with masks and social distancing. Someone might see the King Kong poster in my office and say, “Hey, that’s my favorite movie,” and, for me, that helped make our work-related interactions a little easier.
So did feeling like my work cubicle was a little bit of home-away-from-home. I have a home workspace but it’s also where I like to do non-work stuff—writing and reading and other creating. I never realized before that having some of home at work made it easier to keep work life and home life separate. Now it feels like there’s too much overlap.
For three years people I work with and I talked about what it would be like when we came back. Now I feel like there is no going back. There’s home, there’s work, and there’s the extra effort of keeping them apart.