Gary Conkling Life Notes

Mostly whimsical reflections on life

An Office Without Walls

A few months ago, I moved out of my corner office and into an office without walls.

Gary office 1I had no interest in becoming a Dilbert cubicle dweller, where you toil in the shadow of padded dividers that don’t provide privacy – or natural light.

Our office had been intentionally configured with open working areas, built-in desks and storage and access to natural light. Because of earlier staff cuts, no one was sitting in the space, so I decided I would. I don’t regret the move.

My corner office had been decked out with corner office furniture, which was big and blocked some of the light from floor-length windows.

There was an unspoken expectation that when I entered my office, I would sit at my desk. Because I just sat at my desk, all my papers and reference materials wound up piled on the desk. It took 10 or more minutes every morning just to clear a patch for my laptop computer.

Corner offices must have bookshelves. Empty bookshelves convey a sense of temporary occupancy, minimal interest in reading and a lack of imagination. My bookshelves were so jam-packed, they screamed packrat. I had to put pictures of my family on the top of the bookshelves where I had to crane my neck to see them.

My office had a surface over space heaters that temptingly served as a shelf for files, brochures and never-watched compact disks. Window cleaners cursed these obstacle courses. No one, including me, bothered to dust them. They became an esthetic and public health menace.

Gary chairThe combination of two inside and two outside walls limited the deployment of my clunky furniture, which included a sofa and matching chair, known affectionately as my “congressional seat.” I bought it after failing to win a congressional primary election in 1992. The seat has sentimental value to me. It also has a high back and sprawling Queen Anne legs, making the chair awkward to place.

You get the picture. It was time to move.

Building personnel politely dropped off a large recycling barrel. I sheepishly had to ask for two more to handle all the paper, booklets, pamphlets, outdated books and sheer junk that had accumulated in my corner office. (And this didn’t count the enormous stash of papers hidden away in our basement storage unit.)

My office without walls doesn’t have a lot of storage. Just enough for my “business and professional library.” And instead of needing a ladder, I can reach them by swiveling my chair.

An external office wall provides the perfect platform for my Lake Como painting, a subtle reminder of why I’m still working  and what I’m working for.

When you sit “out in the open,” there is a certain embarrassment factor about maintaining a clean desk. Mine isn’t completely clean, to avoid someone think I don’t do anything. But there are no mounds of material as in my corner office. If I don’t use the stuff left on my desk the next work day, it is recycled or filed. People have noticed, though barely recognize the new me.

Gary deskFamily pictures are close by and at eye level. I have spare work space to spread out a project, such as the reference material for an e-Book that I am helping a client to write. Waist-high counter tops create a division of work space, while inviting interaction. More people drop by, and they don’t have to knock.

Seeing the president sitting in the wide open spaces of an office diminishes any sense of hierarchy. We didn’t have much anyway, but whatever qualms anyone had about how my office “looked” to outsiders seems to have evaporated. I never gave it a second thought after the first day.

We have two conference rooms for group meetings or private calls. You can hear more ambient office noise when you don’t have walls and a door, but frankly the most distracting noise I hear is in the office next door where laughter or loud calls reverberate through too thin external walls.

With more mobile technology, the need for a stationary office is diminished. You feel obligated to show up to justify the cost, even if it makes as much sense to work on a project in your home kitchen or a corner Starbucks.

Before long, our “offices” will consist of shared space . The only walls will surround small rooms for private calls or conversations. When that time comes, I will already be acclimated to working in space, not an office with walls.





One comment on “An Office Without Walls

  1. ampmpat
    July 17, 2014

    You should come by and see our space, Gary. We’ve found the open space not only fosters less of a sense of hierarchy, but also encourages collaborations and informal engagement we’d never have in individual private offices

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: