Monday, December 17, 2012

Cubicle World

A sense of territory and ownership is very common in nature. As it grows of age, every red-blooded mammal tends to develop some sense of it. Indeed, it is one of the fundamental Watson&Crick-coded guidelines for survival. So what surprises me is how, despite its extended period of existence the Discovery Channel never airs footage of the corporate world of cubicles and the law at work in the workplace. After all, the cubicle worker (henceforth known as 'Cubicler') is a territorial animal too. And with such gusto that was it was hitherto unimaginable by yours truly.

In this post, whether you hate me or not, whether they sue me or not, I shall try to remedy this oversight on Discovery's part that has led to my unprepared overexposure to elements beyond my ken.

Like any object with a weak Young's Modulus that undergoes unmanageable stress & strain, Cubiclers are permanently set. In their ways and in their ergonomically designed chairs, that tend to be set at a precise angle, a precise height & a precise tilt ever since the chair came into existence. The territorial claims of Cubiclers inevitably extend to the paraphernalia that comes to reside in the cubicle. The Kangaro Stapler, the Bilt writing pads, name-imprinted corporate diaries, pictures of personal Gods, yearly family vacations photos, personal achievement plaques etc. These are the tools a Cubicler uses to demarcate that which is his and inviolable.

Cubiclers tend to stay put. They abhor movement of all sorts - be it physical, cultural, emotional, intellectual or otherwise. A constant source of agony to them is the maintenance crew, which appears in the dead of night in the absence of the Cubicler, and in its misguided zealotry organizes the files, stationery and company-branded Post-it notes at every desk. While a beta-Cubicler rants about displaced staplers the next morning, the alpha-Cubicler sacrifices friends, family and stands guard over his territory overnight to fend off these hyaena-like miscreants. [Or maybe he has no personal life, but that's just wild conjecture on my part and inadmissible here]. To be deemed an Alpha, one must witness enough management mistakes during one's time in the cubicle to help develop an HBR-worthy case study. While Betas are pack animals, Alphas transcend departmental borders and exchange notes with other Alphas in the organization. Therefore, good management practices state that Alphas must be assigned cubicles closest to top management and must be separated from each other by atleast 15 workstations. Betas may be separated by 4 workstations.

On occasion, through the evil machinations of corporate overlords (read: management), a new Cubicler appears. This causes great upheaval in the cubicle kingdom. Initially, songs are sung, life histories are exchanged, management is spit upon and weather is discussed aplenty. But all this for a maximum of 15 minutes during which the Alpha & Betas verify the quality of the new workstation, the freshly-issued company planner, the number of visiting cards and the like and establish the territorial pecking order. The new Cubicler is then sent on (mis)guided tours to find Mr. Rajesh Vora from IT who has quit the firm 3 years ago but is still expected to set up the network on the new Cubicler's workstation. This is the first & last test of experience a new Cubicler faces when he joins a new workplace. At some point, the Cubicler lets slip he has actually joined the HR team and Sales discovers he has been allocated a space near them. After this, all further verbal communication stops & future exchanges occur only via MSExchange. Eventually though, every Cubicler learns the intricacies of survival in Cubicle world and God-willing (read: management-willing) emerges an Alpha or a Beta or a name-less Delta to take his rightful Cubicle.

So life goes on thus-ly in the cubicle world until God plays dice. Which he recently did at my organization. Management decided to combine 3 different offices & house them on a single floor in a new building. Needless to say, unprecedented Cubicle wars are being waged in grave secrecy & bitter earnest. Over numbers, areas, storage spaces, washrooms, conference rooms, distance from top management and whatnot. Unable to witness the bloodshed, yours truly did the unthinkable. I suggested that since a large section travels a lot and/or works from home, maybe we could try the consultant setup and not assign permanent seating to them.

I now dread to see which godforsaken corner behind which departmental storage unit bears my name in the new office. Oh well... a nameless Delta it is then.