Cubicle Captivity: Working in an Office as a Free-Spirit

By Carly Rome

hellWhen I was 16, I worked part-time in an insurance office. I found it mundane and isolating, but I stayed there because it paid more than my previous cashier job. This was when I learned that I didn’t like offices, and figured I’d go to college for something that would allow me to avoid them. I majored in sociology because I found it interesting, and because it doesn’t require you to work in any one particular setting.

Sophomore year of college, I took a second major in public relations because I realized that I like to write, I like to tell stories, and I wanted to work with the media. And while PR is definitely all of that plus a whole lot of running around, it also requires sitting down and staring at a screen for hours upon hours – researching, drafting, pitching, re-drafting, re-pitching, tracking coverage, compiling clip reports (did i mention hours?), and answering emails.

My job requires frequent traveling around the city, so it’s rare that I’m in the office for all five days of the week. Still, the grass is always greener, and I sometimes find myself reminiscing about certain aspects of my old retail jobs (what?) and wondering if I’d be happier scooping ice cream in the Caribbean when I feel like I’ve been at my desk for too long. I love the work that I do, but I don’t like doing it from an office – sitting in that kind of environment leaves me uninspired and desperate for a change of scenery.

With an abundance of public wifi and innovative new ways of creating workspace such as WeWork, it seems that traditional offices are becoming less and less necessary – particularly for professionals in major cities whose work is mainly done on a laptop. After all, there have been countless articles written about how the millennial generation is going to redefine the “office” – and I really want to believe them.

But it’s not the future yet, and the majority of jobs that require a college degree and pay well (see: white-collar) involve some kind of office setting. Luckily, there are ways to prevent this from crushing your soul. I’m definitely no expert, but here are some things that have helped me.

Make yourself at home. I don’t just mean adorning your cubicle (if you have one) with pictures and pretty things, although that’s part of it. Listen to music when you can, keep your favorite drinks or snacks around, and set up your workspace in a way that’s comfortable for you. Not into the traditional desk and chair? Ask your job to provide a standing desk or a yoga ball to sit on instead – they’re better for you, anyway.

Get up and walk. Avoiding desk time by coming in later, leaving earlier, or extending your lunch breaks will probably look bad. What won’t look bad, but will help more, is taking a five minute break every hour or so to get up, stretch and walk around. Stand up during a phone call, walk briskly to the water cooler or bathroom, or do some light stretching at your desk. If you can spare a little more than five minutes, take a mid-afternoon walk outside. Your spike in productivity when you get back will make up for the lost time.

Take your eyes off the screen. The feelings of isolation that come with working in an office, along with the tired eyes, can often be cured by unplugging for a while and engaging face-to-face with coworkers or doing offline work. Need to read over or edit something? Print it out once in a while instead of staring at the screen, and go sit somewhere that isn’t your desk. Take a few minutes out of each week to shut off the computer screen and clean your work area so that it’s clear of dust, old papers, and anything else that might be making you anxious.

Make your interests known. Speak up about anything you’re interested in doing at work that you may not have been given the chance to do, and make sure your bosses and coworkers know what your interests and skills are. This will help you find projects at work that you’re interested in, and make your office life more exciting. When things get overwhelming, try viewing the work you’re doing as project-by-project, and write out a chronological to-do list.

Make it personal. Wherever you are is a stepping stone for where you’re going, so treat it as such. Use some time in the beginning of each week or day to set some personal goals, both work-related and not. Incorporating your work goals into your personal goals, and vice versa, will give you a better sense of purpose and help you stay engaged at work. Try not to lose sight of your work-life balance, either – happy people make better employees!

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