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Living in Cubeville
1998, February (September 22, 2008)
By Ceil Shuman, a member of the Education and Training Committee

Do you work in a cubicle? Most of us do. In fact, if you have worked for a company for awhile and the company is growing, chances are you have been moved a time or two to different cubicles, each successively smaller than the last.

Not all cubicles are created equal...some are more spacious, comfortable, and quiet than others. However, most cubicles cause at least one of the following problems:
  • Close, cramped quarters
  • Poor lighting
  • Noise
  • No privacy

Someone told me recently that business owners favor cubicles because they are less expensive to build than walls; they are easy to break down and rearrange; and they depreciate in seven years, as opposed to walls, which depreciate in thirty years. In short, our "cubes" are cost efficient, and they're probably here to stay.

How, then, are we to deal with the obstacles that they present? We don't have enough space to spread out our documents. We go crazy trying to tune out the conversation taking place in the cubicle next door. Few cubicles have doors, and people tend to view our open entranceways as open invitations to stop by and chat. Last, but not least, cubicles sometimes feel like hamster cages, causing us to feel more like "a number" than a human being. There is no way to make it nice; but there are ways to make it better. Here are some ways to cope.

Close, Cramped Quarters & Poor Lighting

  • Move the location of your computer, file cabinet, or anything else you can maneuver to get the maximum space out of the three and a half partitions.
  • Get a copy of the company's office supply catalogue from your department's administrative assistant, and insist that the department buys you the filing racks, desk lamps, file boxes, and other devices that maximize space and produce adequate lighting. Everything you need is there...from document holders to computer screen filters that minimize glare.
  • Get a cubicle hook and hanger for your coat. It'll maximize space, it's classy, and it'll make you feel good.
  • Go to a conference room or other similar location to perform tasks that require ample desktop space, such as administrative production work.
  • Put posters on the wall that give you a feel of being in "wide open spaces." Nature scenes are terrific for this. Mountains, lakes, an open desert scene, the ocean...whatever works for you.


  • Wear earplugs. (Warning: wearing earplugs all day long could be harmful to your health; be sure to consult an Ear-Nose-Throat doctor before doing this.)
  • Use a cassette player or CD player with earphones to tune out noise. If you can't listen to music while you work, try to find "white noise" tapes or CDs instead.
  • Whenever possible, go to an available conference room to proofread documents or perform similar activities.
  • Come in early and get a head start, before the office gets noisy; or stay late and work after people have left the office. Take a late lunch, and work while most of the other employees are out to lunch.
  • Ask your supervisor if you can perform some of your activities at home. If you get permission, reserve this privilege for activities that require the most concentration, such as proofreading and editing.
  • Be a good neighbor:
    • Keep your volume down when talking on the phone or speaking to someone in your cubicle.
    • Go to a conference room when you need to meet with more than one person or when lengthy discussion will take place. If a conference room is not available, go to the cafeteria or break room.
    • If unnecessary noise is going on around you, gently ask your neighbor to lower the volume of the radio, conversation, etc. Always be polite about this; it's hard not to make noise when conducting business.
    • Socialize in the cafeteria, break room, or out at lunch, rather than in your cubicle.

No Privacy

  • Hang a sign in a visible location, directly outside your cubicle (for example, on the wall just near the entrance way) that reads "Meeting a Deadline: Please Do Not Disturb." Only use it when you are very pressed for time; if the sign is up all the time, people will learn to ignore it.
  • Learn to say "no." If people stop in to chat and you are too busy for that, tell them in a polite manner that you are pressed for time. Schedule lunch or dinner with them on the spot, to avoid feelings of rejection.
  • Go to a conference room and close the door if you need to have a personal or sensitive conversation. If possible, reschedule those conversations for times when you are at home.
  • Keep personal items, such as paycheck stubs, tucked away in cabinets or drawers.
  • Turn on your computer screensaver whenever you step away from your desk; password protect your screensaver.

These measures don't eliminate the problems and frustrations that cubicles present at our jobs; but they might make your life a little easier. One positive aspect of being a cube-dweller is that the adjustments I've been forced to make have improved my character and skills. I have become more aware of the needs and feelings of others, I've improved my communication skills, and I've learned to become resourceful about overcoming obstacles. End of article.

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