Five days a week I come to this physical place called work, where I do non-physical work that works out into a paycheck. The environment I work in is a typical office layout, though it is strikingly different from the set-up I was in previously. I have a cubicle, a fairly large space sectioned off with lovely fabric-covered, temporary walls. I have a large desk space which allows me to spread out my belongings, which mostly are comprised of the various containers I use to truck my food here daily. My cubicle is in a small sea of other cubicles, probably 15 in total, in the middle of an office surrounded by actual offices, i.e. spaces delimited by drywall that reaches the ceiling and doors that close. Prior to coming here, I was working in a building that was once a hotel, among other things, and there was no attempt to revamp the space for office culture. My office was fashioned out of a former hotel room, though nothing that would come close to being billed as a “suite.” I shared this space with someone else, and there was a bathroom adjoining our office to the one next door. This was, well, an interesting arrangement to say the least.
When I left my hotel room for greener pastures, namely a public bathroom, I imagined an idyllic place of morning hellos and water cooler chatter, because if there was one thing that was especially difficult in working in a space intentionally designed to keep you isolated, it was making connections with co-workers. People tended to keep their doors closed, or at least the ones I would have talked to, and hallways aren’t exactly great places to gather over coffee; just chatting with one other person would impede any other business traffic, and our floor was also shared by multiple other work groups. Perhaps because we were so sectioned off, most people spent their days adorning headphones, probably a survival mechanism to create contact with an outside world. When I was pondering a new gig I frequently made statements like “It’ll be so awesome just to have people to talk to!” or “I can’t wait just to walk by [new boss]’s office to chat.” Expectations…well, they’re a tricky beasts.
I’ve been in my new office space for about two months now, and while I am not writing this post to report that my witty banter has won me an award, or has even really had the chance to shine, it’s forced some reflection about work spaces, professional relationships, etc. Things around here are almost as quiet and isolated as Hotel Paperclip, and my new boss’ door? Yep, mostly closed. Not only that, but there seems a general unwillingness to exchange pleasantries when walking around. Too many times I haven’t been able to make eye contact with someone to greet them, or a smile with a hello has gone ignored. Is it me? Am I the only one that is not so busy as to have constant tunnel vision? (Plausible.)
As someone who self-identifies as an introvert, I’ve begun to question this selection. The thing about work that has always been valuable to me was precisely being forced to be around other people, sometimes a lot of them, and learning how to talk to them. It’s been easy over the years to foster work friendships because I’ve been with the same people daily, the same reason it was so easy to make friends in school; you’re just there together, frequently. The small conversations add up, and at some point you feel like you’ve gotten to know someone, and vice versa.
It’s not that this isn’t happening, per se, it’s just not happening as readily and easily as I had hoped sans solitary confinement. Even if you are not limited by a former hotel room, I suppose there has to be a reason to commune. Perhaps these two situations are more similar than not; neither have required me to attend many in-person group meetings, so my work in and of itself has not very social. (Though, this was also not expected in both cases.) In my somewhat limited experience with personality quizzes, there are always questions about your preferred work style – teamwork vs. individual work – and I’ve always answered that I prefer to work alone. But I realized that I’ve always answered that question in the context of collaborative situations, i.e. my answer was unknowingly baked in an attempt to preserve some time to myself to get things done and to decompress (or to just, I don’t know, secretly blog for awhile). Most of my previous bosses, the last two aside, organized at least weekly meetings for team check-in, so if nothing else there was that one touchstone in the books. The other silver lining to meetings? They tend to make your day speed up astronomically.
But, alas, here I sit, awaiting the sparse rises in volume around me, feeling oddly extroverted. I’m almost desperate enough to attempt organizing a group lunch, an office book club, something. Almost…