Dispatches from Cubicleland

As I’ve mentioned before, I have a day job that requires me to spend the better part of the daylight hours in a cubicle farm. In this environment I am constantly learning new and interesting things about myself, about others, and about life. And since I’m such a giver, I’d like to share these insights with all of you.

Let’s talk about Top 40 radio. One of my cube-neighbors has a small radio at her desk which is always set to the same Top 40 station, all day, every day. True to form, this station plays the most popular songs of the day/week repeatedly throughout the day. In fact, I think calling this station “Top 40″ is a bit generous because it seems more like Top 25, at best. I am considering writing down each song they play one day so I can have some hard data, but believe me when I say that last week I had heard Kelly Clarkson’s new song “Stronger” four times by the time I ate lunch. (And it wasn’t even a late lunch.)

One of the many delicate dances one must do when navigating Cubicleland is The Dance of The Social Hierarchy. Social hierarchy usually has nothing to do with job seniority and everything to do with employment seniority; i.e., how long everyone has been working at the company. I, for example, have only been there about nine months and therefore wordlessly and automatically lose any power struggle that pertains to the physical environment. This is why I can never ask her to turn her music down, change the channel, or just work in silence once in a while.

I learned my lesson about the social hierarchy early on when I opened up the blinds on the large window that my cubicle backs up to. I did this because I like little things like sunlight, and knowing what time of day it is by something other than the little clock in the corner of my computer screen. My immediate next-cube neighbor just got up, closed the blinds, and sat back down. She has been working at the company for 15 years, and that expanse of time suddenly became vivid to me as I thought about where I had been 15 years prior. (Note: I was in high school.)

Hence, I don’t say anything to the other neighbor about her radio. I don’t tell her I hate the stuff she’s listening to, and I don’t tell her that I’m pretty sure Top 40 was never meant to be listened to for several-hour blocks of time. I don’t tell her that I’ve perceived more than I’ve ever wanted to about how an infectious pop song is constructed and executed.

And that’s why I spend my time slowly going mad as I listen to the radio station slowly wrings all possible enjoyment out of these songs and their subsequent dance remixes. I used to love Adele, and in fact my first dance at my wedding two years ago was to an Adele song, but I am starting to feel that if I have to hear her mournfully howl “Someone like yoooooooooou” one more time I’m going to throw that radio out the window. Which is going to be difficult because those windows don’t open.

So does anyone else have a funny story about life in a cubicle? (And of course by “funny” I mean “we laugh or else we’d cry” brand of humor.) We could start a little support group here or something.

13 replies on “Dispatches from Cubicleland”

SPEAKER PHONES.  I pray to whatever deity there is to send the soul of the creator of speaker phones to hell, along with the souls of all of his/her descendants.

In our old building, there was a gentleman in an office directly behind my cube, though he was not my manager (my manager is far more considerate).  He only used the speaker phone feature to answer his phone, participate in conference calls, listen to voice mail, and family-related chores.  ALL WITH THE DOOR TO HIS OFFICE WIDE OPEN.  Granted, I could have closed it myself, but its the principle, aside from the fact that I was new to the department and he had been a manager there for at least a decade.  If I wanted to, I could have recorded everything I heard and stolen his identity.

When I asked the admin to provide me with a headset for my phone for conference calls, one was on my desk within a few hours.

I am thankful for the new building for two reasons:
1. He no longer has an office
2. He no longer sits anywhere near me

In the blissful utopia of my office, we enjoy the company of a cleaning woman with obsessive compulsive disorder. Though we’ve never met, as she cleans after I’ve left for the evening, I feel that I know her well. Our beloved cleaning woman cannot abide by food or drink that is not contained in anything other than Hazmat conditions. Leave an unopened can of soda on your desk?  She’ll lovingly place it in a sealed Zip Lock bag, on top of a coaster (which is especially impressive as I don’t have any coasters at my desk). Have pens in disarray? She’ll line them up in a neat little row according to color and size. Forget to peel off the past month on your desk calendar? Cleaning lady will remove it for you and throw it away; I feel as though I can hear her gently whisper, “It’s not MARCH anymore!! Get it right!”

I’ve retaliated by keeping my cube in “tornado” conditions. Occasionally my trash gets emptied, but I think she’s now afraid to come into my cube.


What do people have against just plugging in their damn headphones? Geesh.

I actually kind of covet cubicles because I work in just a big open room w/ several people. (Very small, very poor nonprofit.) My biggest complaint is my coworker who has to make sure that everyone knows every emotion she is feeling. She’s an attention monger and if she’s feeling anything, she needs everyone to know and to coo over her.

I laughed inwardly that this was tagged with Office Space, b/c that movie is the story of my life at unnamed corporate job. I had one cubicle neighbor that listened to a “light” music station that played War’s “Why Can’t We Be Friends” at least three times a day, and I wanted to smash her radio into tiny, microscopic bits. I retaliated by listening to streaming comic programs over my earphones and cackling loudly.

We’re not quite cubes but it is close, we have small narrow offices with thin walls. So my colleague and I yell at each other through the walls constantly. The colleague on the other side has a radio going, most of the time it doesn’t bother me and it’s oldies music which is actually really nice. At one time she did have a clock radio that had an alarm going off at midday every day. I swear she was always out of the office when it went off, so in the end I set it to 3am so I’d never hear a tinny version of Jingle Bells again.

I am lucky in that while I work in a cube, my cube neighbors are nice. One listens to music I don’t much care for, but the volume is low enough that it doesn’t really bother me. The other is a salesman and out of the office 50% of the time and not bothering me.

Ahhh, cubicle jobs. They are a special sort of hell. I once worked in a cubicle that was right next to an office of a VP of some kind, and her secretary sat in a desk right next to the office, so the secretary and I were caddy-corner from one another. The secretary was a nice enough lady, but she played this one CD over and over again several times a day – it was all generic solo piano music, the kind you might hear in a hospital gift shop. I was but a lowly temp working on a 6 month technical writing contract and therefore didn’t feel it would be polite to go into a homicidal rampage, so I just gritted my teeth and dealt with it the best I knew how – by playing Bob Marley CDs over and over again at my own cubicle.

Also, cubicle partners make strange bedfellows even in the best of situations but once in a while you’d run across one who was really odd. In my hungry days, I worked at a call center. The lady who sat next to me was, to put it politely, vociferously outspoken about any and all opinions that might cross her mind. She was a vigorous PETA defender, mentioned she was vegan at least twice a day (in conversations that had nothing to do with it), openly complaining about how she was too good for the job and only took it to get good insurance (we did get good insurance), and gave me blow-by-blow accounts about cleaning out her pet rabbit’s seeping wounds. All of this was uninvited information. She also accused me of thinking she was crazy (which I did, but never vocalized it) and brown-nosed to management something fierce. Ugh, so glad to be away from her.

We tried to put a radio in the lab once.  It lasted 2 days.  Folks couldn’t agree on the kind of music.  As for windows, I’ve never worked anywhere we had windows in the office.  My first job was in a tornado shelter building which had no windows, and now I work in the innards of a manf. plant, so the only windows I look out of are in the break room.

My current frustration is just the guy who comes in here and talks and talks and talks and talks and…well…talks.  About everything and nothing.  About nothing that truly pertains to anyone in particular.  About stuff that has nothing to do with our department.  About people in his department who won’t listen to him [because he won’t shut up].  Sometimes I just sit at my PC and work while he just talks at me.  But he keeps coming back!

OMG top 40 radio! I have worked in office environments where someone has been into top 40 and it’s been tortuous. Mainly, in Canada, we have this Canadian Content legislation, where 30% of music on a given station  has to be Canadian…. so Top 40 rapidly becomes like top 5 (with the same Canadian songs played OVER AND OVER). Consequently, I hate pretty much every Canadian pop group ever.

Related- did you know most camps for political prisoners (such as Guantanamo Bay) use repeated music for torture purposes/ to make prisoners talk?!

It’s to make sure that Canadian artists have a place on the radio, because (the thinking goes) without a dedicated quota, radio will fill up with primarily American music, since the music industry in the US is much larger with much more money it can throw behind artists (and thus get them more airtime).

The idea is that it allows Canadian musicians establish a foothold in Canada through extra airtime etc. This is because Canada has typically had trouble with artists of all types being able to establish themselves because of having a strong southern neighbour and because of the lasting influence of great Britain. Mainly, Great Britain remained in control of publishing in Canada long after confederation, and it made it almost impossible for Canadian writers to have any success.

Our boss didn’t allow a radio, and most of us brought our own mp3-players/IPods.

But to share: I’m loud. I have a loud voice, loud laugh and when I get enthusiastic about something, I’m even louder. The majority of my ex-colleagues frankly didn’t give a damn, but there was one who would just brood and stare at me and after ten minutes utter: “Freckle. Please” in such a way that I felt like a toddler put into the corner.
I never shut down properly and he never stopped staring holes into my face.

My job at the mail .. let’s just say that everyone fights over which radio channel so you never can finish a song. And body odor seems to be a plus if you want to work there. The last time I tried to save myself by opening a window I was bombarded with “NO IS COLD”s. Luckily I suffer from colds for the majority of the time. It makes the nose-suffering less.

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