Furnishing the Cubicle

In which I extrapolate from a sample size of 1 to the general prediction that the denizens of the cube farm are about to embark in a wave of workplace embellishment - at their own expense.

My journey into buying my own equipment for my cube at my workplace started small enough: a mouse. Actually, it was a replacement for a mouse; I was using the mouse so much that by the end of the day, my shoulder was very tight. My solution was to buy a trackball, bring it in, and use it instead of the mouse.

Could I have requested that the IT department buy me a trackball? Sure, I could have asked, but I doubt they would have done it. So I bought my own: the start of a long progression.

Several years later, when I left that position, I naturally took my trackball with me to my new job. I ended up at a company that believed that every employee needed the same computer hardware: a laptop. Now, aside from the likelihood that a laptop is going to be underpowered for a software developer - especially in the Java web applications world - the company also was loath to buy anyone a desktop monitor, so we all had relatively small screens to look down at.

Meanwhile on the home front, my dot-bomb-era recycled 21 inch Trinitron monitor had been replaced by a new LCD when the monitor started being not so reliable. I decided to give the brute another chance in life and bring it to work. After all, if it died, I could recycle it a work as easily as at home.

As it happened, the hefty Trinitron worked just fine, and curiously enough, a few of my peers started bringing in monitors from home, too. Did we embarrass the company too much, or was it just that they had a good year and actually made a profit for a change? In any case, after a year or two, they bought us new monitors. The Trinitron went under my desk until the next job change.

During that time, I decided that after several decades of working on a keyboard, I needed to learn to touch type. I went to school at a time when only girls in the business track took typing in high school, and in fact I never typed a paper even through my entire college career. I could type 30 words per minute in my semi-hunt-and-peck style, but it felt unprofessional.

Being the somewhat perverse individual that I am, I couldn’t just teach myself to touch type like anyone else: I would learn the optimal keyboard layout that I could find. Very soon after starting to go cold turkey and type using the Colemak layout, I realized that the wacky traditional keyboard physical layout was an obstacle, too (question everything!) I found and bought two Typematrix 2020 keyboards - one for work and one for home. I couldn’t see myself trying to adapt to different layouts when the Colemak re-education was challenging enough.

Another job change brought me a new set of circumstances. Of course I had my trackball and my funny keyboard. But I found that I was just sitting much more than I had ever sat before. My new job had many fewer meeting and other occasions to get up and walk around, and even worse, my chair was making me uncomfortable. Around that time I discovered an excellent and scary infographic called Sitting is Killing You. I decided that I needed to change my ways - or else.

A few weeks later, a new device arrived on my front porch at home: a sit-stand workstation. I hauled it into the office and set it up. Passers-by were curious, and expressed interest, but mostly lost interest when they found I had paid over $300 for the machine.

My thinking went differently: I spend more time at my desk at work than anywhere else during the work week. I have been willing to spend hundreds and more for chairs and beds at home, why not a comparable amount to improve my comfort (and productivity) at the office? Especially when the acquisition was good for me!

I must admit that I have not been standing on the job as much as I thought I would. One significant reason why was that I subsequently bought a new ergonomic desk chair for my cubicle. Same rationale, and this time more realistic.

But that’s it, no more stuff!

In a number of lines of work, it is expected, or at least not unusual, for a practitioner to bring her or his tools to the workplace. In my work, sometimes software developers have wanted to bring their own computers to work, especially if the company supplied system is deficient. However, employers do not allow non-corporate devices to connect to the network servers, which effectively removes any advantage of the truly personal computer.

Wouldn’t it be better if employers bought what their employees needed instead of making the workers bring their own things to the workplace? In a better world, for sure, but we are deep in a buyer’s market and employers are shifting more and more of the burden on the workforce. Besides, they don’t want to be bothered with tens or hundreds of different brands and styles of hardware or furniture.

Although I must admit I have not observed any such trend in my workplace, I would expect that I will be seeing more people furnishing their own cubicles. As my (Boomer) generation ages, we are likely to keep on working of necessity. We find ourselves needing more comfort and accommodation, and we find ourselves (some of us) able to afford to supply ourselves if it makes work more bearable or efficient.