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Flimsy and Cramped

It got me right away when I tried to hang up a jacket on our Greek coat rack. It slipped off, and I thought in my dreamlike state, I’d missed the hook. When I looked closer, I saw my “heavy” Canadian jacket had actually bent the thin gauge steel of the extended hook. Well, I never!
Never noticed such flimsy household accoutrements. A fork was so thin it wouldn’t penetrate dense meat. A shower curtain that didn’t quite reach the floor enclosure. Once I started to recall, I could remember similar in French hotels, the Italian agriturismo [which you really should try]. Part of it would be cured by credit card.
Yes, a credit card posted against theft by guests of suite contents and a little fine print would allow for a higher standard of spoon. It’s a shame hostellers have to work against that base instinct of people who ferret off cheap knives, but they do. But it is another refreshing change about Europe that in some corners there is not an excess of legal enclosure, even though they’ve had a lot longer experience of human nature than we have.
But what I wanted to get at was the impact of cheapness. Same for space. When you can hardly turn around in a bathroom, doesn’t it kind of grate on you? Or when you have to turn sideways and shuffle to get into bed? Close in walls, inadequate room to do what the room was plainly designed for – this too is an echo of a constant irritant to me: don’t the people who set these up ever try them? Surely they would notice and expand or improve.
Of course, we don’t do this in North America! Oh yes, we do….
My mantra at this stage of life is “space and grace”. I crave it and I’m not alone.
What about folks who have to spend their working life in cubicle farms. Oh sure, we all know WHY these human cages were adopted: it’s easy to move than demising walls of offices, they “allow for easy collaboration”, the HVAC works better, you can adjust for new electronic requirements and other such … well I won’t go beyond that.
But anyone who works in such physical constraint [which is strangely unboundaried at the same time] has to live with the chronic drag on concentration and focus that they impose.
Because our universal drive to optimize has affected the original idea. Partition heights have crept down driven by cheapness but in the name of ease of access. Average size is dropping, approaching the scale of accommodation offered by call centers in India.
The fact is the owners could get away with it. They themselves would never work in one. And the inhabitants are powerless in the face of the hegemony imposed by cost control. Well, not quite. When people can’t get something necessary directly, they do it surreptitiously.
The N Y Times ran “Cubicle Work, a Difficult Racket” a few weeks ago. The newest trend after barricading – with file cabinets, piles of paper or books – is headphones. Because if there was ever a universal distractor, it is intrusive sound. The other is movement.
We are programmed as primal animals to pay attention to each of these. Our survival was keyed to noticing change. And, if the aim of the workplace is to provide a home for focused effort by knowledge workers, you could not design a worse means to provide it, other than just setting up tables outside. Movement and intrusive sound surround the inmates. Cubicles are flimsy and cramped.
There were some interesting options offered in the article. One was piped in white sound. Another was booths on periphery. Interesting ideas to mitigate the inherent flaws in the basic setup. Maybe they will achieve some space and grace in the process – with an attendant huge jump in productivity.

Doug Bouey
Catalyst Strategic Consultants Ltd.

What’s Our Business?

Bringing out the best in you, your company and your people.

Doug Bouey, President
Catalyst Strategic Consultants Ltd.

Calgary, AB // Phone: 403.777.1144


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