One might think the office environment of an engineer would be rife with desks of solid wood, chairs of finest leather, four walls and a door. And one might be right, sometimes. I thought I’d reflect on the “offices” I’ve had over the years in this post.
I started out in St. Louis working for Monsanto. It was my first experience with the cubical. Only the managers had real offices. Even the most senior of engineers was relegated to the floor with three-quarter high walls, an opening, a desk, some drawers and a file cabinet. A visitor’s chair in addition to a chair for the engineer rounded out the ‘suite’.
Having a cube does lend itself well to communications as you can hear everything within twenty feet or more. This can be great for the rumor mill and gossipers. The downside is having absolutely no privacy, for try as you might to keep your voice low; someone always hears your conversation. It sure makes it hard to do things like talk to your gynecologist’s office about those sensitive subjects we girls sometimes have. Inquiring about work with another company is also difficult. I’ve had to hunt private places, like conference rooms or unused offices for those purposes.
When I moved to North Carolina for a construction job, I had to share an office with one of the other engineers for a few months. Eventually we moved to an older building on the plant site, closer to the construction zone, and there I had my first office. It was huge, more than adequate for my needs. The wall between my office and the one next door stopped about a foot short of the ceiling. I didn’t think that was a big deal, except the other office housed the construction contractor. From time to time I’d overhear the contractors complaining about their bosses (the other Monsanto engineers, including me). Someone would remind the complainer I was sitting just on the other side of the incomplete wall and the talking stopped. Darn it! It would just be getting juicy, too.
The aerospace industry gave me a big wakeup call. Joining Boeing in Huntsville on the International Space Station program meant working in a kind of bullpen arrangement. This meant rows of desks, with no wall in between them. I gathered cost savings on offices trumped productivity for it was almost impossible to work uninterrupted. All it took were two people to begin a conversation, work or personal, and soon everyone in the immediate area was pulled in to give their two cents. Privacy was definitely not a consideration.
During a break from Boeing, I worked for a short time at a chemical plant in Oklahoma. They gave me my own office with full height walls and a door. I joked with one of my former Boeing co-workers that there was one thing my boss had to do when he wanted to talk to me. “What’s that?” he asked. “Shut the door,” I replied. He was jealous.
I’ve given up thinking I’ll ever have another office while I’m at Boeing. Perhaps another career opportunity is lying in wait after my retirement. Perhaps it comes with an office. Perhaps my home office is going to have to suffice. Perhaps…