O for Office: oppressive or optimistic?

Photo from the episode “New Slogan” (Image source)

According to shows like The Office and Parks and Recreation, the office is where people stay for many years, fall in love, and find life-long friends. It’s not a silly idea, since most of us will spend much of our lives at our workplaces. They’re like homes, and for those who work remotely, literally home.

The stereotypical office is a corporate building with cubicle walls and an oppressive, grey atmosphere where people robotically tap at their computers. At least, I get that impression from watching Disney’s Pixar short Inner Workings. I also understand why people often feel trapped at work, since offices are confined spaces in which people must stay for a number of hours.

From what I’ve seen of some Silicon Valley offices, tech employers are making an effort to create an atmosphere that will make the long hours at the office bearable. There are fancy walking treadmills, couches for people to rest in, and desks that can move up and down depending on whether its occupant wants to stand or sit. Most famously, Google and Facebook have created giant campuses that provide comfort for workers while isolating them within a bubble.

There’s been controversy over what kind of office plan makes workers most productive. Even though companies are leaning towards open spaces that help people see each other and talk easily, the noise can be quite disruptive for people trying to work nearby. It’s also hard for introverts to recharge at their exposed desks without enclosed spaces where they can retreat to. The most outstanding offices accommodate a wide variety of lifestyles and learning styles.

More importantly, I think offices can be welcoming places when you love the work you do and the people you work with. Currently, I go to work to interact with coworkers and share meals with other bright minds. Despite cherishing my alone time, I brave a nasty commute every day just to see other human faces. Working remotely and meeting over a computer screen just doesn’t measure up to face-to-face interaction.

I’m curious to see what offices look like in other fields of work. What is work like for a park ranger? They might have an official desk at which to do paperwork, but they could also consider nature as their office. Workers who travel as part of their job can consider the whole world to be their office.

Offices have well-deserved reputations for being soulless boxes. But the office could either be a warm place if you are surrounded by friends and meaningful work, or a rightfully soulless space if you don’t have people to rely on. No matter how well designed the environment is, the comfort of your office is determined by your personal sense of fulfillment in your career.

At least, that’s my hopeful assessment of offices as I begin my career. As I accumulate work experience, I try to remember the outdated definition of “office,” which means “service or kindness done for another person.” It seems to embody what businesses should be about. And when I watch TV shows like Parks and Recreation where people love their jobs and their work family, it makes me optimistic that I can have the same experience.

This post is part of the Alphabet Project, where I write an article for each letter of the alphabet. It was inspired by Ash Huang’s Alphabet Meditations.
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