My first office job was in the university library while I was in college. The interview took place in a well-lit meeting space on the second floor. I pictured myself showing up to work every day, surrounded by books and light and showering myself with knowledge when it was slow. It was a dream job.
When I found out I got the job, I told all of my friends just how excited I was to work at the library. I was a training assistant and would get to design training professional development courses and materials for the students and staff on campus. It checked all of my boxes for what I wanted in a campus job. I could walk there. It was relevant to my major. And it was in a “cool” space where I could thrive as a creative. I Imagined my time at work in a bright and airy office with shelves of books at my fingertips — aka what the rest of the library looked like.
I showed up on my first day and realized I had never been told where to go. The interview room was just a meeting space that anyone could use. I knew that it wouldn’t be my office specifically, but I pictured something similar. I asked the help desk, and they directed me down a flight of stairs into the basement.
The ceiling was lower. The lights were a weird yellow tint that is somehow reserved for spaces that lack natural light. And I’m confident the entire department hadn’t seen an update since 1974. Down a few hallways, and through a few more doors, we landed in a small room laden with ugly grey cubicles.
“This one is yours,” my escort explained, gesturing towards one in the corner.
I was fresh and young. And despite the lack of windows and light, I was pretty excited about having my own cubicle. My mind exploded with decor ideas to “spruce the place up.”
The office manager must have heard my thoughts because she followed up with “since you’re only part-time, you have to share it with one other person, so don’t leave anything here and hang anything up.”
I also learned that the guy I shared the cube with had worked there longer, so on days when we both worked, he got priority over the desk. On those days, I would use “the cart.”
The cart was a utility cart with a laptop and a metal stool. On those days, I was to wheel the cart out of the closet and set up my workstation wherever there was space.
I asked about occupying one of the handful of empty desks in the room, but those were for “when the department hires more full-time people in a few months.” Maybe I should have fought a bit harder for my a real desk, but my right to take up space wasn’t a concept I had fully grasped back then.
Plus, I was a freshman, and it was a job. So for four years, I would spend 25–30 hours per week in the basement of the library inhaling dust and recycled air. On about half the days, I would roll a squeaky cart out of a closet, apologize to everyone I was “disturbing” while doing so, and sit in a hard metal chair for my shift.
With every job I held after that, my office situation improved slightly. After the library was the gym, where I worked in the sports marketing department. This office also lacked windows to the outside because it was smack in the center of the gym. But at least the walls were glass, and I could watch people come and go. The office was small and crowded, but the people I was around made it worth it.
Then there was a software company. It was my first real, full-time, came with insurance and business cards, job. It came with its very own office. It was a 6x6 room with a door, and you guessed it — also no windows. No windows, but at least I had privacy and a space of my own.
After the solo office, I was tired of existing in the dark. Literally and figuratively. My mental health was in bleak condition, and I thought the solution was to switch up my environment.
I moved to a job that operated out of what I considered one of the “coolest” offices I had ever seen. It was an open floor plan that had the industrial vibe of one of those refurbished city apartments that used to be a garage.
There was funky art on the walls and corkboard full of pinned sketches. And the entire office was an open floor plan.
It was a quintessential 2012 Millennial workspace heaven. The type of space that businesses design to attract young talent while completely neglecting basic employee needs, but you think it’s a great place to work because there’s a foosball table and beer on Wednesdays!
After the solo office experience, I was craving a more creative environment. At the time, working remotely or freelancing was too foreign and scary of a concept for me. So I actively searched for companies with good employee “culture,” which to most businesses still only means having a cool office.
I didn’t know it at the time but working in an open office was not the best choice for this quiet, introverted, thrives-off-of-alone-time, writer.
Being in the same room as 200+ people for 8+ hours every day was draining.
I would rarely get up from my desk throughout the day to avoid having to interact with people unnecessarily, and I would go home every night physically and mentally exhausted.
Just being in that close of proximity with people for that long of a time every day kept me on edge. My computer faced a wall, and everyone who walked by could see what I was doing at any point during the day. When I was updating the company’s social media pages (part of my job as marketing coordinator), I could always expect a snide remark like, “on facebook again, huh? I wish I had your job.”
I wanted to say “fuck off William, I wish my job was walking around the office being the company snitch.” That would have been fun.
But I didn’t. I giggled and commented on what we were posting about that week.
I hated walking and having to say hi and make niceties with every person I encountered. I hated that my desk was in the middle of the office, so no matter what I had to walk past 50 people before I could sit down, bury myself in my chair, and start working.
It was the little things that triggered me the most.
The having to say hi and make small talk with the front desk every as I walk in every day. Having to put on a smile and wave to every person I encountered as I walked through the open office on the way to my desk.
Some days, when my anxiety was extra bad, I would try to get to work as early as possible just to avoid having to walk in and say hi to people.
I hated having to ask permission to do normal human things.
Like needing a day off to take my cat to the vets or explaining why I needed a long lunch to go to therapy every Wednesday. Or having to present a doctors note to use a standing desk because preventative measures weren’t worth the extra expense in our office.
I never understood why I needed to justify non-work-related things.
Like listening to music when trying to do in-depth writing or research. Having to answer questions about what I’m listening to.
Don’t even get me started on entertaining conversation after conversation about what a person had for lunch and how some things shouldn’t be microwaved.
Here’s the thing. If your office rule is that people can’t eat certain foods, then just send everyone home for lunch, or provide lunch for free. Not everyone wants to eat a sandwich or salad every day. Sometimes people microwave meat and Chinese food and vegetables, and they have smells.
For me, working remotely is now a non-negotiable
For all of the reasons I just mentioned, plus more.
My job doesn’t require walls.
I write and do marketing for a living. A laptop, internet connection, and comfortable chair are all I need to succeed at my job. I don’t need walls or a cubicle or an office. I don’t need someone looking over my shoulder and interrupting my creative process. I do need collaboration, and I can still find it when I need it without it being forced down my throat.
No unnecessary conversations or distractions = more productivity.
I never liked how anecdotal every office conversation seemed. Conversations that include “did you hear about….” always irritated me. Especially when they were with people who’s opinions I’m not interested in hearing.
My introversion was seen as a bad thing
When I worked in an office, I was quiet and kept to myself. This was seen as a weakness by my peers and management. I was accused of not being a team player. I was encouraged to get up from my desk and talk to people more often but simultaneously encouraged to make up any time I spent socializing on during office hours (insert eye roll).
When I didn’t attend happy hours after work, I was seen as pretentious or too good to hang out with my coworkers. In reality, I was just exhausted from being around people all day and needed alone time. I could have said that, but it didn’t feel like a very safe space to express.
I might sound petty and entitled. But I don’t care. The environment sucked the life out of me and turned me into the worst possible version of myself. I watched a lot of my coworkers thrive in the same situation, and I would envy them.
It works for some people, but office life just wasn’t for me.
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