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Preview: Dispatches from the Cube Farm

Dispatches from the Cube Farm



Tales from a Central Pa. office



Last Build Date: Sun, 01 Apr 2007 16:37:36 UTC

Copyright: Copyright 2015
 



Like sands through the hour glass

Sun, 01 Apr 2007 16:19:28 UTC

2007-04-01T16:37:36Z

I was thinking the other day and I realized I had not written in a while. I thought a little longer and I came to the conclusion that I had not written because nothing interesting had happened. That's right NOTHING. This is not to say that I have done nothing in my personal life. I've done some interesting reading, had...

I was thinking the other day and I realized I had not written in a while. I thought a little longer and I came to the conclusion that I had not written because nothing interesting had happened. That's right NOTHING. This is not to say that I have done nothing in my personal life. I've done some interesting reading, had some great conversations, and even tasted some incredible food (Eat at Bayou Cafe). It's just that my cube farm is quite possibly one of the most boring places on the planet.

Day in and day out I go to work and do the same thing. Those around me do the same thing. The ritualistic "good morning" to your coworkers followed by "Did you watch Idol last night?". The Idol question can be substituted with "How was your weekend?", if it's Monday. Breaks happen at the same time and with the same people. The smokers exit the building and the non smokers try to refill their coffee, hit the bathroom and make it through the sports page before their fifteen minutes of freedom expire. Even lunch is boring. The same bologna sandwich, hard pretzels, and yogurt cup every day. Maybe, just maybe, you might find some grapes as a surprise.

I started wondering at what point in one's career at the cube farm does this stop being annoying? When does that voice in the back of your head fall mute? Is there a point when you wake up and say "this is who I am and I will never be anything else"? When does the sound of a plastic spoon scraping the bottom of a Yoplait container not make you feel just a little anxious?

I mean, at some point in the not so distant past each of the cube rats must have had aspirations to do something else with their lives. Really, I still remember those late night chats in college when we sat around talking about what we wanted to do with our lives. I remember a lot of talk of traveling around Europe, working in NYC, going to graduate school, or starting a business. For the life of me I don't remember one person mentioning a burning desire to spend every day in a 4x4 cubicle waiting for their chance to retire.

I would love to hear your thoughts on this....

Cheers,

Cube Rat




Private Eyes Are Watching You

Mon, 19 Mar 2007 10:33:55 UTC

2007-03-19T19:41:19Z

Your personal information is not safe at the cube farm. This should come as no great shock, but bear with me for a moment. We all know that IT is reading our email, the boss monitors phone calls and the HR department cannot be trusted with anything at all. But I'm talking about something completely different.

Your personal information is not safe at the cube farm. This should come as no great shock, but bear with me for a moment. We all know that IT is reading our email, the boss monitors phone calls and the HR department cannot be trusted with anything at all. But I'm talking about something completely different.

Every cube farm I've worked in had some kind computer network in place whereby all the terminals have access to one or more shared network drives. My current cube farm is no different. At my cube farm, this drive is to be used to store files and documents that may be needed by more than one user. All this is a great idea in theory. So, today I was preparing a form letter that I planned to store on one of the shared drives. I rarely do this because I prefer to keep things on the local drive where I can find them later date. I was pretty sure that I already had a folder on the shared drive, but I wasn't sure exactly where it was. I opened several folders looking for my lost files when I began to notice a trend. There were several folders labeled with "personal" and "resume" in the title. I got curious and clicked expecting that I would quickly get a message letting me know that access was denied. That was not the case. Without fail I was able to open and read the resumes of at least four individuals. I found a delightful recipe for taco dip and peanut butter fudge. I even found lyrics to a love song(?). Now all this is rather humorous, especially when I discovered that two of our "managers" list their educational highlights as "currently pursuing an associate degree". If you work in the private sector your head may be spinning right now, but this is perfectly normal. A manager in the public sector does not develop policy, work with a budget, establish business processes, make staffing decisions, or any of the typical managerial tasks that you may have studied in college. "Managers" in the public sector equate to first line supervisors in the private. In my cube farm alone we have more managers than I could begin to count. At any rate, a resume is their personal business and they can do with it as they choose. Aside from taking up drive space and giving me something to read these files really posed no great harm.

But, my interest had been piqued so I decided to continue looking through the files. This is when I came across several files labeled "employee evaluation". I would have expected to find blank forms except for the fact that each one was labeled with a staff member's last name. One by one, I opened the files and was able to read their annual evaluation. Now, the employee evaluation in the public sector is something of a formality as well. Salary is determined by a pre-established schedule and raises are based on time served and job class. It's kind of like playing penny poker with your four year old nephew. It doesn't matter how you stack the deck you won't leave the table with any more money than you showed up with. However, I am not sure that any of these employees needed another set of eyes finding out how many hours of sick leave they used during the year and for what reason.

So, the point of all this is that you may want to do a little research at your own office. You may be surprised what you find. After all, it is nobody's business but your own that you had to take 47 hours of unexcused leave for an "intestinal problem". As for me...I'm going to make some taco dip and hope that our "managers" complete Business Ethics and Introduction to Computers as a part of their studies.




Lock, Stock, and Two Sleeves of Thin Mints

Wed, 14 Mar 2007 22:49:08 UTC

2007-03-14T22:57:07Z

Ok, people it's that time again. March Madness! Alright, I am not a big college basketball fan. In fact, I would probably have better luck completing a bracket based on America's Next Top Model, but that is my own private shame and I would rather not talk about it.

Ok, people it's that time again. March Madness! Alright, I am not a big college basketball fan. In fact, I would probably have better luck completing a bracket based on America's Next Top Model, but that is my own private shame and I would rather not talk about it.

So every year (no matter where I work) somebody approaches me with the same photocopied flow chart and says something like "Hey dude, you want in?" Initially the hushed tone makes me hope that we are about to discuss toilet papering the manager's car or my debut in the world of adult film. But alas, it is just college basketball, which is not nearly as exciting as toilet paper. So I am a good sport, I pay my 10 bucks in the hopes that I can double or triple my drinking money for the week. It starts off innocently enough, but by the end of the week I owe half the office money.

Because it's not just March Madness. It's baseball, and football, and World Cup, and ice dancing, and American Idol. Soon my office resembles less a place to work and more the betting floor in Atlantic City. There's a guy who sits in the corner asking who will give him two to one odds that Harold in the next cube brought a ham sandwich. Yeah, it's just like Atlantic City, minus the cash room. That's probably a good thing, since we can't even keep the lunches from being stolen from the community fridge.

So here I am, I have five brackets and I'm considering another but I need a marker. I've already started using the side door to avoid Gladys, because I'm behind on my Girl Scout Cookie payment. Today as I ducked in she saw me, so I quickly turned the corner, knowing I could beat Gladys on foot because she just came back from having her hip replaced. I slid down another row of cubicles with a sigh of relief, only to come face to face with Rose, Gladys' "muscle". I turned around and there's Gladys, her kind grandmotherly visage, the shawl made by her granddaughter that she wears even during the summer months because the office gets a "tad bit chilly". As I tried to stammer out an excuse I felt Rose's claw like hand dig into my shoulder, to let me know she's there if I should try any funny stuff. Gladys wasn't buying my poor cube rat speech. Finally, I just told Gladys that I would cover the debt after March Madness.

Gladys' face broke into a smile, and she patted me on the cheek in a matronly manner. "Of course dear," she stated, "but the juice is still running."




Friday Night Lights Cube Farm Style

Fri, 09 Mar 2007 12:00:46 UTC

2007-03-09T12:11:27Z

Today is not just any Friday at the cube farm. No, my friends, it's payday! Every other Friday the corporate gods look down upon their loyal flock and they reward us with a little direct deposit blessing. Amen. For a moment we are free.

Today is not just any Friday at the cube farm. No, my friends, it's payday! Every other Friday the corporate gods look down upon their loyal flock and they reward us with a little direct deposit blessing. Amen. For a moment we are free.

Those of us who haven't been floating checks since Wednesday even have a few dollars to spend on fun. Afterall, the city won't shut our water off until the bill is two months behind. So, we will leave our Hot Pockets tucked safely away in the freezer for today we dine like royalty. The feast will begin promptly at noon, but the planning phase is something that begins in the early morning hours. Productivity and service standards are of little importance today because more pressing decisions loom. Do we want hot wings or Chinese? Hmmm....Hot wings or Chinese???? Only after our hunger is dealt with can we turn our focus to planning the Friday evening debauchery. Luckily, that is exactly what the afternoon is for. The rats will spend the last few hours of the day exchanging cell phone numbers and deciding which bar they will hit first. This is a biweekly ritual so well rehearsed and executed that General Patton himself would smile in admiration.

Now, I know as well as anyone that spending all available disposable income on alcohol isn't wise, but I think of it as an investment. This is an extremely small town with a limited menu of entertainment options. What that means to the cube rat is that he should always travel with a camera. A picture of the office manager with her head in the toilet could lead to an endless supply of post-it notes. A well cropped photo of the VP in the middle of a field sobriety test could be your key to a corner office. Your Kodak moment may be worth more to your career than a Harvard MBA and a nice camera comes at a fraction of the price. So remember, stay safe and set your cameras to night mode. See you all Monday.




The Paper Ceiling

Thu, 08 Mar 2007 00:08:47 UTC

2007-03-08T00:14:55Z

A friend told me a story today that made me want to cry a little, so I thought I would relay it to anybody who is actually reading this.

A friend told me a story today that made me want to cry a little, so I thought I would relay it to anybody who is actually reading this.

My friend, like many of my peers, works two jobs. His other job happens to be at a local grocery store. He works there for a multitude of reasons, but the main one is that the grace period for his student loans has recently expired and his salary as a cube rat is not enough to accommodate the additional expense.

Last night he was working the cash register, trying his best to keep the shoppers from stampeding one another in their efforts to stock up on toilet paper, milk and bread. This frantic shopping is something of a phenomenon that happens every time snow is forecast for the Central PA region. Anyway, my friend is approached by a young lady who feels the need to introduce herself. "Hey, I know you from the cube farm", she says. My friend does his best to place her and summon a modicum of care after being at work for 10 hours. "Yeah", is all that he can come up with. She continues, oblivious to his lack of concern, "It's a great job! I've worked there for, like, ten years and I make 22 bucks an hour. I didn't even have to go to college!" She says this with a pride that is generally reserved for clamoring on about puppies or newborn babies. I have no idea what my friend said at this point. In fact, it really isn't that important.

I should mention that my cube farm operates in the public sector. An exchange like my friend's occurs countless times a day in our area. There is a growing divide in the public sector; however, this is not an issue of race and gender, but one of education. Each day more college graduates find themselves entering this world of emphasis on time versus education. They come with their grown up shoes, polished resumes, and dreams of applying what they learned in college. They are enticed by job security, guaranteed raises, and affordable healthcare. This is all true but it comes at a price. Inside the hallowed walls of the public sector is a system that is not a part of any of the business curriculum. A degree is meaningless. What really matters is how long you have managed to stick around, and how many "holiday" parties you remember. The business casual standard can be stretched to include Betty Boop sweatshirts and the latest Sean Jean sweat suit. Forget everything you have learned about dressing for success because pleated Dockers and cable knit sweaters are the high end uniform in this world. Merit based raises are taboo. The compensation increases are based on an outdated system of years of service, one which contains no controls in place to measure actual technical proficiency. The lame ducks get the same step raises as those who go the extra mile. It does not take long before most employees figure this out and begin to do the bare minimum to get by. The focus turns to counting alternating Fridays and how old they will be when they reach 35 years of service. New employees find themselves picking up the slack of those who are "near retirement". So, my friends and I join the ranks and trade everything we know for the status quo.

We understand that our education, life experiences and drive will never compare to the fact that you have been with the agency a really long time. We understand that none of what we did in the past will help us navigate this stagnant stream any faster. In the end many of us had a great time in college. And despite the work we wouldn't trade that for the world. But, sometimes we just don't want to hear about it when we are bagging your groceries so we can afford to buy our own.




Welcome to the Cube Farm

Mon, 05 Mar 2007 22:26:10 UTC

2007-03-05T22:34:53Z

Do you know where you are??? You're in the cube farm baby! And you're gonna die....Okay, probably not. This is the story of what happens when your college degree sounds way more exciting than it is. Buyer beware.

Do you know where you are??? You're in the cube farm baby! And you're gonna die....Okay, probably not. This is the story of what happens when your college degree sounds way more exciting than it is. Buyer beware.

I am a cube rat. My story is not unique. Like many of my peers I toil away in an office filled with an endless sea of cubicles. This is my cube farm. A world upholstered in industrial carpet of non-offensive tones of grey and taupe. Bad fluorescent lighting washes out our complexions making us look like the ghosts of office workers past. My days are marked by small victories--an extra quarter left behind in the soda machine change slot, acquiring the last package of post-it notes, taco salad day in the cafeteria. My weekend is a quest that rivals the greatest of Arthurian lore. My steed is a sensible import with high mileage and a queer rattling when the heater is running. My weapon is a pocket full of "introductory rate" plastic and a Starbuck's half-caff, no-whip, soy milk latte to clear the cobwebs from Friday's happy hour turned happy evening. Shuttling back and forth between area malls, outlets and department stores; I am prepared for battle. I spend my day in search of the best deal on yet another blue oxford in a 16 1/2 inch neck. Hoping upon hope that the clerk will take an additional 10% off at the register. Monday I will return to the farm, a vision in powder blue broadcloth. This weekend I have slain the dragon!

Keep at it fellow rats. Only 35 years to retirement.

Cheers